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Mandarin

It surely sounds bizarre for a Chinese to have Mandarin being his third language. Well, this happens to the people of Hong Kong, thanks to the colonization effect.

Back in those days when we were still under the British rule, English was more important than Mandarin. In fact, many people did not like Mandarin. Somehow we did not want to associate ourselves with the communist China. When asked where we were from, most would answer, “We are from Hong Kong, not China”.

Of course, things have changed over the years. Many foreigners rush to learn Mandarin, as they see the business opportunity all over China. Today, everybody tries to associate themselves with China as much as possible.

I took a short rudimental Pinyin course back in my university days. That was all I knew about Mandarin, as well as the greeting and ‘thank you’ phrases, and how to pronounce my Chinese name. I wasn’t even sure how to count from 1 to 10.

During the past few years, there was a tremendous influx of immigrants to Toronto from the mainland China. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by Mandarin speakers. In the past, if I met a Chinese-looking person in the mall or the Chinese supermarket, the de facto protocol was to communicate in Cantonese. We would connect right away. In recent years, chances are that the person won’t understand you at all, and we will switch to an English conversation. Most Chinese stores and companies now only hire sales people that are trilingual – they must be fluent in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin.

So I decided to pick up Mandarin seriously about 2 years ago. I relearned Pinyin in a more proper way. In addition, there were tons of resources from the Internet. Of course, I also want to thank my Mandarin speaking colleagues, who from time to time were patient enough to converse with me, listen to my broken Mandarin, and try to guess what I was trying to say.

I am satisfied with my progress so far. I still need to work on my oral fluency. Doing normal conversations are no problem to me, but I still struggle with fast and unclear speakers, and under extreme conditions such as noisy backgrounds. I also try to do some simplified Chinese reading from time to time.

It is interesting though, that native Mandarin speakers don’t necessarily know Pinyin well. They don’t need to. It is us the learners that need to master it as a learning tool. If you are learning Mandarin and have some questions on Pinyin, I am more than happy to try my best and answer them. I also have many learning tips if you are interested.

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