Language Week at Outside-In

I’ve decided to blog around a theme this week, namely the Chinese language and language learning. Each day there will be a new post related to that theme.

At the same time I am launching a subscription drive, complete with a “lucky draw.” New subscribers and/or those who recommend new subscribers will be entered to win a free copy of my book, “Survival Chinese Lessons.”

To enter the ‘lucky draw” you will need to either subscribe to this blog or recommend someone to subscribe. You can do so by entering your email in the “subscribe to updates by email” section on the right, or by subscribing to the RSS feed. If you subscribe to receive it by email, a verification email will be sent to you.  You will need to click on the link provided in that email in order to activate your subscription. Be sure to check your spam box if it doesn’t come through right away.

After you have subscribed, please leave a comment on THIS post letting me know. If someone recommended this blog to you, please indicate that in the comment.  Just give the person’s first name and last initial. I will most likely be able to figure out how it is!

The deadline to subscribe is the end of the day (wherever you are on the planet) on October 13, 2012. 2 names will be chosen randomly to receive a free copy of my book.

That’s all there is to it!

Now, with that out of the way, and to whet your appetite, here is the introduction to the book:

In 1582 an Italian Jesuit named Matteo Ricci arrived in Macau to begin learning the Chinese language. He would eventually master the language and come to be recognized as a true Chinese scholar by the intellectual elite of the day. He not only spoke the language fluently; he translated the Confucian classics into Latin and even wrote books in Chinese himself.

After establishing communities in Macau, Guangzhou, Nanchang, and Nanjing, he was granted permission by the emperor to live in Beijing in 1601, becoming the first westerner to reside there. He died at his home in Beijing in 1610.

In March 2010, to mark the 400th anniversary of his death, the municipal government of his hometown in Italy sponsored a special exhibition on his life and work at the Beijing Capital Museum, titled “Matteo Ricci: An Encounter of Civilizations in Ming China.” The exhibit included many 16th century artifacts, including original Chinese language books written by Ricci.

One section of the exhibit focused on his years of language study in Macau, and was titled “In the Whirlpool of the Chinese Language.” It is an apt description of what it is like “foreigners” to learn Chinese.

Many people come to China with the hope and/or intention of learning the language, but soon give up. The tones, the unfamiliar sounds, and he complexity of the characters quickly form themselves into a whirling mass that overwhelms the motivation and desire to learn. The task seems too big.

Learning Chinese is a big task, but learning how to use the language to accomplish simple, everyday tasks is not.  You may never, like Matteo Ricci, translate Chinese classics or write books in Chinese yourself. But even Ricci had to start with the basics, learning the sounds, the tones, and the vocabulary to accomplish the stuff of everyday life.

And there-in lies the purpose of this book – to help you learn the sounds of Chinese as well as some basic vocabulary, questions, statements, and conversations. It is by no means a comprehensive Chinese language textbook. You will NOT be fluent by the time you work through it. Rather, it is something to help you get your feet – or should I say your big toe –wet. Actually, if you can use this material when you are done, you will have just enough Chinese to get you into trouble.

Whether you are trying to learn some Chinese in preparation for a visit to China, for a short-term work assignment, or as the first steps in a life-long journey of learning, it is my hope that these materials will be helpful to you.


You can read more about the book by clicking “My Book” at the top of this page.

Related Post:

A Letter to Chinese Language Learners

A Smiling American Fisherman

Last month I played host to a group of new and old friends who came to Beijing for a week of activities to help my mom celebrate her 85th birthday. We had more fun than should be allowed running around the city seeing the sights, meeting people, and of course eating great food.

One of the best parts of the trip for me was having all my friends (many of whom were visiting for the first time) fall in love with China and the people here. One of the teenagers is already planning his future career here.

One of the partiers, Jerry, is a commercial fisherman from California. He sent me a note this weekend telling me of his encounter with some Chinese tourists in Santa Barbara.  It is too good not to share, so here’s his story:

I was on the dock yesterday afternoon, when about ten oriental people crowded around the truck to watch us unload our big catch of Red Rock Crab. Lots of big digital Nikon cameras emerged while the onlookers, between the ages of 40-60, closed ranks on the back door of the truck.

Noticing they were Asian, and didn’t seem to have any regard for overstepping the boundry of the “personel loading area”, I wondered where they might be from.  China perhaps?  I didn’t hear any ‘familiar’ words that I learned after spending a lengthy stay in Bejing this spring, so I carefully observed their hand gestures and determined they were asking me to hold up some big crabs so they could get pictures.

A wave of “oohs and aahs” erupted from the foreigners as I pulled two jumbo male crabs out of the box and I listened as they spoke in their native tongue. Lots of pictures with the friendly smiling American fisherman ensued.

Remembering that a truck needed to be loaded with several thousand pounds of crab, I thought to myself, “OK, back to work!”

I jumped onto the dock with my back to the crowd and managed to pick up a gentle word from one of the men.  “Xie Xie”.  I turned and looked at all of them in the eye and said, “‘xie xie, ni hao” ?

They all looked back at me and said, with loud cheerful laughter, XIE XIE !!!

Oh Lord, you’d think there was a family reunion going on right there on the dock of Santa Barbara Harbor.  Hand shakes, more pictures with crab followed.  Then, as I leaned in to be in a photo, with my long lost “xie xie” brother, one of the oldler women pushed me into him and also leaned in with her arms around me and we had a lovely family photo taken.

After the photo, my new Chinese mother started firing off a series of sentences in Chinese at me.  I panicked!  I didn’t understand.  I looked at her speechless, my mind grasping for any word from Jo’s  book Survival Chinese Lessons.

Then came that awkward moment.  I realized we weren’t related. Silence followed.  She put her hands together as if she were going to lift a soup bowl to drink from.  Then it hit me.  I said, “Da”.  She nodded enthusiastically saying, “da da da da da da da”  (which I believe meant, big) thank Spring for that!

Turns out, they were from Shanghai.

As they walked on, I turned to go about my business and noticed Devin (my crewman) staring at me with a blank look on his face.

I smiled and said, “I never would have thought I’d be speaking Chinese to tourists here on the dock upon my return from China.  I love the Chinese”.

He just smiled back at me.

(image source: ScenicUSA)

Book Give-away

My friend Noel Piper, who blogs at Tell Me When to Pack is giving away two free copies of my book “Survival Chinese Lessons.” To enter, visit her site and leave a comment.


And while you’re there, you can read about our upcoming adventure– following in the footsteps of Esther Nelson, a Swedish immigrant from Minnesota who worked in China in the 1930’s and 1940’s.