Mandarin: March 2021

· 2 min read

Back to school. It has been over a decade since that phrase felt relevant.

I had just made it back from my bicycle trip around the island — still living out of hostels with only my backpack. I extended my stay night by night while apartment hunting and attending class.

I didn’t do much research before enrolling in the “intensive” class during my trip. I knew a few people that had taken the course and they were speaking with locals at night markets in a way that surpassed a major life goal of mine. That was all I needed to know.

While somewhat mentally prepared to return to seeing some resemblance of structure in my life, I had grossly underestimated the amount of work involved in rapidly learning a language. Sure, three hours of class and daily homework. “Plenty of time to work on my product,” I thought.

I was handwriting over 40 traditional characters by the third day of class. My vocabulary list has since grown to over 200 words and phrases. I am burning through notepads and ink through repetitive writing.

Writing was the lowest of my priorities but it was mandatory for the course. I would have skipped it entirely if I could. I was perfectly happy with typing. Many of my local friends forget how to write as they seldom do. I can see how the additional sensory input helped accelerate my learning. I wouldn’t attempt to skip it if I were to learn another language.

The learning style is effectively immersion. English instruction is rapidly fading as we learn new vocabulary and grammar. We are tested daily — listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The intensive class is intense. Surprise!

Things were a bit overwhelming at first but such rapid language progress is highly motivational. I often find myself surprised when I understand some text or parts of conversations overheard in public. Knowledge gaps are quickly being filled, at least for purposes of day to day life.

I’m feeling more settled into my new neighbourhood. I found new favourite restaurants, fastest routes to school, and a reliable source for fresh coconuts. I’ve revived some of my old routines that slipped while living on the road and begun to layer back in some of my other passions.

This is my life for the next five months. I can’t plan anything beyond September — there are just too many variables. I’m forced to live in the present and harness my focus. I’m exactly where I need to be.