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Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language

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Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language

avaliações:
3/5 (160 avaliações)
Comprimento:
178 página
2 horas
Lançado em:
Sep 7, 2010
ISBN:
9780802779243
Formato:
Livro

Descrição

Deborah Fallows has spent much of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin, China's most common language, or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying the language of her adopted home provided small clues to deciphering the behavior and habits of its people,and its culture's conundrums. As her skill with Mandarin increased, bits of the language-a word, a phrase, an oddity of grammar-became windows into understanding romance, humor, protocol, relationships, and the overflowing humanity of modern China.

Fallows learned, for example, that the abrupt, blunt way of speaking that Chinese people sometimes use isn't rudeness, but is, in fact, a way to acknowledge and honor the closeness between two friends. She learned that English speakers' trouble with hearing or saying tones-the variations in inflection that can change a word's meaning-is matched by Chinese speakers' inability not to hear tones, or to even take a guess at understanding what might have been meant when foreigners misuse them.

In sharing what she discovered about Mandarin, and how those discoveries helped her understand a culture that had at first seemed impenetrable, Deborah Fallows's Dreaming in Chinese opens up China to Westerners more completely, perhaps, than it has ever been before.

Lançado em:
Sep 7, 2010
ISBN:
9780802779243
Formato:
Livro

Sobre o autor

Deborah Fallows has lived in Shanghai and Beijing and traveled throughout China for three years with her husband, writer James Fallows. She is a Harvard graduate and has a PhD in Linguistics, and is author of A Mother's Work (Houghton Mifflin). She most recently worked in research and polling for the Pew Internet Project and in data architecture for Oxygen Media. When in the US, she and her husband live in Washington, DC. They have two sons and two daughters-in-law.

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Dreaming in Chinese - Deborah Fallows

China.

Wǒ ài nǐ! I love you!

1. The grammar of romance

One spring day in Beijing, I was trudging home from the local market with bags of bright vegetables and fresh, soft tofu. Few people were out, and my eyes were on the ground to watch my step around the minor rubble and broken bits of pavement. It was not a pretty walk. Then I heard it, sotto voce but clearly distinguishable above the whine of nearby traffic: Hello, I love you. Buy my jade. I love you!

I looked up as a handsome young man, a Uighur, strolled briskly past me, his hands full of jade bracelets. The Uighurs are a beleaguered minority in China, Muslims who came from central Asia. They are darkly attractive, with deep eyes and unruly hair. It’s easy for a foreigner in China to feel a quick bond with the Uighurs, however irrational and unwarranted, for their Western looks.

I knew this man must have come from the farthest northwestern edge of China, the Xinjiang region. The street signs there grow long and cluttered with scripts in Russian, Arabic, Chinese and English. Xinjiang is an outpost, lying beyond the deserts and mountains of Gansu Province. In Gansu, farmers till the soil around the crumbled remains at the end of the Great Wall as though it were a nuisance rather than a relic. When my husband and I recently traveled to Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital city, people stared at us curiously, still unused to foreigners.

Uighurs often journey from Xinjiang, traveling a thousand miles or more to sell their home region’s plump, chewy raisins or sweet almonds to the city slickers in Shanghai and Beijing. Some will sell jade. I imagine them bartering for their jade by dark of night in the bustling Xinjiang markets, where I saw piles of ruby- and lapis-colored rugs and knives made with ox-horn handles.

The first time I bought raisins from a Uighur’s overflowing pushcart, while we were in Shanghai, I took them home to wash them, hoping that enough sudsy scrubbing would immunize my husband and me against the germs that had passed through a hundred hands between a Xinjiang arbor and our apartment kitchen. I rinsed the raisins again and again, but each new bowl of water turned brown. I laid them out on a towel to dry, just as I had seen the farmers lay out their fiery red peppers along rural roadsides. The raisins grew fat with water, but sat uneaten; dull, tasteless and messy. Finally, I threw them away. Then I bought a second batch, which we dared to eat straight from the Uighur’s cart. They were delicious. I kept buying raisins and have never washed them since. By now, we have eaten a lot of dirty raisins, and they haven’t made us sicker than anything else in China has.

I didn’t end up buying jade from the Uighur who called out that morning, but I fell for his I love you in an instant. Wǒ ài nǐ, I thought. How often I heard those words in China. Wǒ ài nǐ is the staple of pop songs, movie titles and ring tones on young girls’ mobile phones. Rock stars dance to wǒ ài nǐ music on China TV’s ever-popular Las Vegas–like extravaganzas.

While the word ài, to love, can be tossed around lightly in China, I also caught hints of something more complicated. Why, for example, do so many of the Chinese-Western couples we know describe the same mutual incompatability in romance? The Westerners lament that the Chinese can never quite utter the words I love you, and never, ever their native Wǒ ài nǐ; the Chinese scoff that Westerners say I love you cavalierly, sounding hollow and insincere.

And why did one of my Chinese friends, upon learning that I have two sons, ask me which one I love more, as if love were some kind of a zero-sum calculation? It was a question so alien that it sent me on a mission to find the true Chinese meaning of ài.

I spent a few days with a woman named Julia, who explained to me her version of love and marriage in China. Julia is like many Chinese women in their thirties whom I have met; she has a husband, a career, a new baby and a mother-in-law who babysits. Sounds like a good deal to me, I told Julia, thinking how many women in America struggle to arrange what comes as part of the filial bargain in China. For now, China’s first generation of only children, like Julia, are becoming parents of only children. The four grandparents, often retired and living nearby, care for and dote on their only, shared grandchild. Pick any park in China, and you’ll see smiling grandpas pushing strollers.

Julia figured, rightly, that my husband and I had been married for a long time. She said that I must love my husband very much to be married so long. An odd comment, I thought. I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment, or a statement of longing, or an opening for a question back. Of course, I said, and added rather lamely, I’m sure you must love your husband a lot, too.

Yes, she said, I love him for now.

For now? Was this all about cold convenience? Did her husband and all those grandparents suspect she might be here right now confiding in me, someone she barely knew? Or was there something else, some veil across the language between us?

I found some clues in a novel that I bought after watching a Chinese girl, my seatmate on an interminable long-haul flight from San Francisco to Beijing, reading it straight through. The book has an intriguing title: A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. It tells the edgy story of a Chinese girl from the countryside who makes her way to London. Z, as the narrator calls herself in London, struggles from the beginning of the story to the end over her love affair with a British hold-over hippy. She struggles with his artist’s temperament, she struggles with the concept of love and she struggles with the grammar of the not-perfectly-translatable words ài and love.

"Love, this English word: like other English words it has tense. Loved or will love or have loved." All these specific tenses mean Love is time-limited thing. Not infinite. It only exist in particular period of time [sic]. In Chinese, Love is " " (ài). It has no tense. No past and future. Love in Chinese means a being, a situation, a circumstance. Love is existence, holding past and future.²

So here was Z, deploring the idea that her ability to love should be confined by the boundaries of time and the tenses of English verbs. And there was Julia, talking about love in cold, practical terms, and actually punctuating its transitory nature by saying she loved her husband for now. Two Chinese women whose ideas of modern love were so different, apparently bound up with how they used the word.

Z is right about the grammar of English and Chinese verbs. Chinese verbs are simple; there is a single form of a verb, ài, which never changes form for tense as English verbs do (love, loved, loved; sing, sang, sung) or for person (I love, she loves).

Every day in China, I praised the simplicity of Chinese grammar and the absence of the forced march of memorization, which makes Latin, with its amo-amas-amat and the like, notorious—and which makes English, with its irregular and random-seeming verb variations, so hard for foreigners to master. But I also found it disorienting. Verb tense is so second-nature for speakers of most Western languages that we hardly notice it; yet we feel unfinished without it. We English speakers use tense to build information about time right into the verb itself. If I say I sang a song, using the past-tense form of the verb sing, I mean that this action happened at an earlier point in time. In Chinese, since there is no tense, you instead have to throw in some words of context to indicate time, like yesterday or today or tomorrow. For example, Zuótiān wǒ chànggē is literally Yesterday I sing song.

Chinese can also add a few shades of meaning to a verb with something called aspect. You might use aspect, for example, when you want to stress that the action you’re talking about is continuing or ongoing, as opposed to saying something more general.

Here is how it works: say I ask Julia how she helps her child fall asleep at night, she might say that every night she sings a song to her: "Wǒ chànggē or I sing a song. Very straightforward, nothing going on with aspect. But now imagine the scene where Julia is singing a song to her daughter, the phone rings, it is for her, and she is summoned to talk. She might want to say that she’ll call back because she is busy singing a song to her daughter: Wǒ zài chànggē or I am singing a song." In this case, she wants to stress that the action is ongoing, and she is engaged in doing it right now. She does that by using the aspect word zài. You can think of it as -ing in English. Some languages, like Russian and Greek, have very elaborate sets of aspect expressions that add different nuances of meaning. Other languages, like Chinese, have just a few.

Maybe, I thought, these entanglements of tense and aspect and how to use them in a foreign language explained the trouble I was having understanding Julia. Maybe she didn’t mean she loved her husband for now in a temporary way, but rather she was being more existential, or even more romantic, like I am in love with my husband. I hoped that was so. But I also know that problems with love go beyond problems of grammar.

Certainly, China’s changing concepts of love and marriage have not segued gracefully through the twentieth century. Rather they have lurched along, matching in turbulence the country’s changing identities: Confucianism; an East-West Confucian-Christian mélange during the brief Nationalist period; the revolutionary and doctrinaire Communist era; the new Socialism with Chinese characteristics, which the rest of the world thinks of as capitalism with an authoritarian state. The Confucian tradition of harmonious but strictly regulated love and marriage gave way to Mao’s more egalitarian, yet politically correct, marriage, followed by a cracking apart of the old rules, and now circling back to a Confucian revival alongside youthful love-by-choice in the newly affluent era.

When I was out on the streets, looking at the faces of the people I passed, I

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  • (2/5)
    Deborah Fallows writes a simple and sentimental book correlating the Chinese language and her experience with it to her views of the culture itself, as a foreigner who lived there for three years.

    It is part travel memoir, linguistic essay, and Chinese cultural blog.

    What's impressive is not necessarily the book itself or its writing---it's that the author was able to conquer learning and using one of the most difficult languages, Mandarin and Cantonese, to learn, write, speak, and understand. And she does so with humble respect, quiet confidence, and affection.

    This book is a motivational piece to one who might consider tackling the language or backpacking to China for more than a week. Its cultural implications are as honest and politically correct as a foreigner can be, who attempts to integrate him or herself into the culture itself.

    It's a soft introduction to the ebb and flow of the life lived in Shanghai and Beijing and a kind discourse on learning a foreign language---its frustrations and its joys.

  • (3/5)
    Anecdotally written -- it almost reminded me of blog posts, although I don't know that it started out as a blog. Interesting, but slight. Recommended if you are interested in China or Chinese. If you know a lot about languages or linguistics you are likely to be disappointed, as it does not explore the Chinese language in much depth.
  • (5/5)
    This is a interesting book about living in China and learning chinese. It's about the experience of learning a challenge language as It is mandarin. A nice book.
  • (4/5)
    I totally recommend this book to people who are interested in China and the Chinese language (especially Mandarin). I already knew about 75% of what she was talking about, but the vocab I did learn from reading it was very valuable, and the way she talks about the language and the culture is very engaging and I would say similar to my own experiences.
  • (4/5)
    I wish I could write a book like this, exploring the foreign cultures I have lived in through their languages, so I'm grateful that Deborah Fallows has written such a graceful, perceptive account of her explorations of the Chinese people and the Chinese language. This is a warm, elegant book.
  • (3/5)
    I can see how this would be exciting and interesting for a multiculturalist looking to get a quick picture of modern China and its language, but for someone who's lived in China, this book comes across as a fellow naif posing as an expert and presenting her thoughts and experiences as particularly illustrative. But maybe I'm just jealous that she's the one with the book contract.
  • (4/5)
    A well-written, accessible account of one American woman's experience of learning Chinese in China and of what it taught her about Chinese people. As someone also learning Chinese, I found it has given me a useful perspective on the task and some encouragement on how to go forward into the dark forest that the language can seem to be. The author's background in linguistics provides some weight to her observations which are nevertheless contained in an easily digested, entertaining introduction to certain aspects of the Chinese language and what it tells us about the Chinese people.
  • (4/5)
    I found this slim book thoroughly enjoyable. Linguist Deborah Fallows proves an amiable American guide to Chinese culture through her thoughtful engagement with its official language, Mandarin.
  • (5/5)
    In this book, Fallows recounts learning Mandarin Chinese during the three years she spent in China and trying to understand the country’s culture through its language. I’ve found it a quick and interesting read. You’ll definitely learn something about the Chinese language and life in China, but there’s no heavy-duty linguistics here.The author touches upon how Chinese hieroglyphs are constructed. My favorite part of this were the combined words, where two hieroglyphs are combined to create a hieroglyph for a new word. For instance, "open" and "heart" mean "joyous," while "small" and "heart" mean "watch out!" Some are similar to English: "hot" and "heart" mean "warm-hearted," "wound" and "heart" mean "heart-broken," and "put in place" and "heart" mean "set your mind at ease." Sometimes they combine opposites either in obvious ways (open + close = switch, exhale + inhale = breathe), or to make abstract concepts which include them as opposites on a scale (good + bad = quality, big + small = size), or even more creatively: Left + right = approximately, nearly or about: "There is enough coffee to make left-right one more pot." East + west = stuff or things. "I'm going out to get a few east-west for the house." I guess it's like "odds and ends" in English. I guess it's easier to remember that, for example, the hieroglyph for "electric" and the hieroglyph for "brain" together mean "computer" than to remember a brand new arbitrary hieroglyph, and personally I loved these aptly combined words. Fallows also explains why the Chinese have to stick with hieroglyphs rather than come up with some kind of phonetic writing system, as the Japanese have done. Because the vast majority of Chinese words have only one or two syllables, homonyms abound, and so even native speakers of the same Chinese language often have to write characters in the air to indicate which word they mean when they speak, and all TV programs run with subtitles. Throw in the fact that there are a dozen or so Chinese languages which all use the same hieroglyphs, but pronounce the words differently, and it becomes clear that a phonetic system wouldn't work there. Homonyms also give rise to many puns, which are a comedic genre in their own right, as well as superstitions: number four is unlucky because it's pronounced the same as "to die," while number eight is lucky because its pronunciation is close to the word for "wealth"; on New Year many people hang a banner with a hieroglyph for "good fortune" upside down over their doorways because the word for "upside down" is a homonym of the word "to arrive"; and a clock wouldn't make an appropriate wedding gift, because the word "clock" is a homonym of the word "end."The author also provides some vignettes about daily life in China. Personally, I wish she had also included some information about the quality and affordability of education and health care and about the basic work and employment issues, to get a general picture of what life is like there, but I guess her expat status limited her view of China to what could be observed directly, or, perhaps, she wasn't interested in these issues because they don't concern her personally. The only reference she makes to the quality of life there for the Chinese themselves (and I don't measure quality of life by the kind of material objects one can buy) is when she writes about what happened when the teacher in their Chinese class asked them to talk about what they believe in: "All of us students started with the predictable Western concepts of democracy, free speech, or pursuit of happiness.... When my turn came, I stalled for time by asking our teacher, Sandy, to tell us what she believed in. Sandy... paused for a moment, and then declared almost defiantly: 'I believe in myself.'" Fallows commented on this thusly: "Sandy recognized and was declaring that, once raised and educated, her destiny was singularly up to her. She could well have been speaking for the whole cohort of people in their twenties, who are growing up in a very different China from that of their parents. Sandy's generation will not see the cradle-to-grave care and control that the state both provided and imposed on earlier generations. This was a new world, where she would make her own way.... I wondered if she also knew how this use of 'self' flew in the face of the tone of her parents' generation.... 'The old comrades in the work unit would say, how can you think of 'self' most of the time but not about others and the whole society?'.... I do know that we were impressed (by their teacher's answer and attitude)." Well, I'm afraid that personally I couldn't be more under-impressed by either. On an intellectual level, Sandy's answer strikes me as childishly naïve, possibly born out of as unthinking a response to outside influences as that of her students. On a moral level, while I know that communist China didn't leave up to its ideals, I can't admire the I'll-get-what-I-want-for-myself-and-to-hell-with-everyone-else ethics of the jungle either. Mostly, I felt sorry for this young woman's future disillusionment when she realizes that in this "new" world one can have a well-paid job, a health insurance and a nice apartment one day and see it all gone the next, and that while self-confidence can give her a bit of an edge at a job interview, it won't really do much for her. I also don't see how the author who comes from a country with a staggering unemployment and health care and professional education costs can dismiss a cradle-to-grave care so cavalierly. I was also lost when Fallows commented that the Chinese say "I love you" to customers, but feel uncomfortable saying it to their spouses because Westerners say it too casually, "sounding hollow and insincere." And in the same chapter, she describes match-making parents meeting in one park and young dating couples meeting in another and concludes that the parents are "stuck in the old idea of love," while the young people "are the youth of the marry-for-love generation," going even so far as to imagine that the young people "may have been locked in embrace on the Number 2 subway line" while their parents are trying to find someone for them. Except, why would they be doing this if their son or daughter was already going out with somebody? And what makes the author think that the young people who are first introduced by their parents marry not for love, if they end up getting married? Does she imagine that the parents today drag off their kids to the City Hall, or wherever people get married in China, by force? Or that the young people feel obligated to marry each other, even if they don't like each other, because their parents met each other in the park a few months ago? What difference does it make whether a couple were first introduced by their parents, friends, siblings, or accident? And isn't it more natural to suppose that some of the dating young couples in the second park are the result of the matchmaking activities in the first park? Somehow, from the author's descriptions of both dating and social conditions in China, I got the feeling that although she's curious about another culture, she's really convinced that the way things are done in her country is the best in every respect. However, with the exception of these two episodes, I've found this book very charming and entertaining, and quite elucidating about the Chinese language.
  • (4/5)
    This is an interesting book from my perspective because I am a native speaker of mandarin Chinese, so the approach that Deborah Fallows takes: approaching the Chinese culture through the initial attempts to learn the Chinese language was a very good one. After a while though the inadequacies of the English language to deal with the nuance heavy Chinese became very pronounced. The sounding guides that Fallows put in the book was of no help, I resorted to reading the Chinese characters to understand her intention. The other part of the book, understanding the Chinese people and the culture was actually quite charming. Fallows and her husband refrained from the usual condescending approach of many westerners, they actually sought to learn from the people without too many preconceived notion. The stories she told were informative and in many ways quite representative of daily life in China. The book is pretty much devoid of controversy, just some nice story telling.
  • (4/5)
    Deborah Fallows, a Harvard linguistics professor, writes about her adventures with learning and practicing Chinese in China. An admirable effort in itself as Chinese is really difficult to learn and practice for anybody speaking a Western language. Talking about Western, I was amused by Fallows’ typically Western behavior including washing market raisins in an effort to disinfect them at the beginning of her stay, but then was somewhat reassured by her jaywalking attempts together with the Chinese as she grew more accustomed to the country later on. I quite enjoyed the book. There were some nice insights there- Fallows seemed to have enjoyed the people and the culture, and was a keen observer of both. I usually enjoy anything language, and this compounded with my trip to China last summer made it for quite an interesting reading. Each chapter was nicely organized, readable and informative, but I liked the chapters about Chinese names and the earthquake most.
  • (4/5)
    Short but interesting memoir of the author's attempts to learn Chinese after she and her husband moved to China. She talks about some of the areas of cultural difference by relating them to the differences between Chinese and English. I feel like I actually understand the concept of tones in a language now (not that they'd be easy to learn to use if I tried learning Mandarin though)
  • (5/5)
    This is a thoughtful book. I was fascinated by the author’s experience with language learning and the window it provided into the culture, history, and people of China. One of my favorite chapters was “Rules to follow and rules to break.” It was amusing, and it illustrated that communication is about so much more than simply speaking words. The only drawback was that I wanted more; the book was a quick read.
  • (5/5)
    I didn't expect to be chuckling and laughing out loud reading this book on language and linguistics. Deborah Fallows writes about the three years she spent in China, diligently learning more about Mandarin and other Chinese languages and about the culture - linguistic and otherwise. Misunderstandings because of pronunciation problems put her in amusing situations, such as when she asked for takeout in Chinese at a restaurant but mistakenly told the waiter she wanted a big hug. A brief overview of the history of Chinese language, oral and written, past and present, given in an easy and down to earth way for the general reader.
  • (3/5)
    Deborah Fallows’ book Dreaming in Chinese. Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language is a collection of anecdotes that are part of her Mandarin learning adventure.If you are like me and have no intention to learn Chinese (any of the languages that can be put in that bucket), and hence have no reason to be disheartened by how forbiddingly complex the language seems, then these stories about everyday life in China – early morning tai chi, Blind-man massage, and Chinese Taco Bell, amuse and delight.
  • (3/5)
    Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love and Language was sent to me by the publisher through the GoodReads First Reads program. I looked into the book a bit before I got started, and learned that it was written by Deborah Fallows, who is a Harvard graduate with a PhD in linguistics - though you'd never know it from reading this.The book was written in a quasi-diary format, and each chapter focused on a different language concept. Tone, diction, dialects, etc. I am a person who's generally very interested in languages and I certainly learned a few things from this book. The author discusses her experiences in moving to Shanghai and learning the language, and many of the things that came up were quite unusual and made me think.However, this book lacked the depth that I hoped a linguist could bring to it. Each tidbit was just that; a brief glossing over of a much larger issue. Learning a language is such a rich experience, and it's about more than just communicating with people - it's about understanding their culture as well. Mrs. Fallows does touch on this, but I really fell that with her background she could have provided more insight. As it's written, this book could have been written by anyone who's moved to a foreign country.I wouldn't recommend this book to someone who wants a deep understanding of the way that language affects culture, or the way it's formed by culture. I also wouldn't recommend it for someone who just wants a light, breezy read - though it is that, it's also a bit dry at points. Overall, I'll give it 3/5 stars but I do believe it has a very specific, small audience.
  • (2/5)
    As an introduction to the Chinese language, I found it rather weak. It is much more a travelogue plus the author's musings on the language than to be of any use to anyone who might want to know more about the language. The only chapter that interested me was chapter 10, about dialects, although all factual information can be found in much more detail on the Internet.As a factual introduction, I would still suggest, for example, About Chinese by Richard Newnham, or a book I have recently read, which tells you all about the experience of learning Mandarin, Keeping my Mandarin alive. Lee Kuan Yew's language learning experience by Chua Chee Lay.
  • (3/5)
    Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows follows the author as she tries to learn and understand a language, culture and people. Her experiences are both frustrating, confusing and fascinating. The book is less about her personal experiences and more about the history of the language and how it defines the Chinese people. Sometimes the grammar lessons could be a little dry and confusing but ultimately, it is a fascinating look at this ancient language. It was a little hard to follow her train of thought sometimes as she jumped from subject to subject as she eventually came back around to her original point. I occasionally had to go back and read the lead-in paragraphs to remind myself where the chapter was heading. It is hard to relate to the author since the book was so literal and I susequently never really connected with her or her experience. According to her author's bio, she has worked in research and has a PhD in linguistics and this clinical approach to writing shows. Her process of breaking down an incredibly complex language was interesting and easy to understand. Interspersed within the grammar lessons are stories about the culture and history of the Chinese people.
  • (3/5)
    I really loved a lot of the examples and snippets I learned from this book! The 92-shi story that other reviewers have mentioned, the wordplay examples, the doubled verbs, the orphans' names, &c. The book delivered on its promise with those, and overall I found it to be a light, enjoyable read.Still, I rolled my eyes to learn that the author has trouble with the way Mandarin associates the word for up with prior in time, and the word for down with later in time. She wrote about having trouble remembering "this (to us) arbitrary system. Out teacher seemed surprised that we had so much trouble, baffled that we didn't find it normal that place and time were melded into a single word, which was the way her world worked."As a native American English speaker, I'm baffled as well! Has the author never pushed back a meeting or moved up an appointment, told a friend that her destination is 5 minutes away, or had a deadline coming up?That one quibble aside, this really was a charming collection of anecdotes and linguistic quirks, and I'd cheerfully recommend it as such.
  • (5/5)
    An inside look at China and an illustration of the ways language influences the way we think influences the way we communicate.
  • (4/5)
    This book will be of interest to English-speaking students of Chinese, and more generally to people like me who have never visited but are eager to learn as much as possible about modern China. That said, the book tries with only mixed success to be two different things: an accessible discussion of how Mandarin Chinese works as a language, and how its differences from English shape differences in Chinese and American worldviews; and a memoir about daily life as an expatriate in China. Perhaps another author could meld these successfully, but I doubt it. The portions focusing on the language were the most effective and exciting; in particular, I appreciated chapter 10, which discusses the relationship between Mandarin, Shanghainese, Cantonese, and various dialects; and chapter 3, about language play in Chinese (including a 92 word poem composed of a single syllable repeated over and over with a different meaning each time). The chapters with personal stories were more often lost on me, in part because many of the stories didn't deliver a punchline; several wrapped up in midstream and left me rereading to see if I'd missed something. I imagine they would carry more weight if I knew the author personally; she comes across as a person it would be a pleasure to know.
  • (4/5)
    What a fun book. I've never had the opportunity (yet!) to travel to China. When I do I will try to learn at least a few phrases. Fallows doesn't offer much hope, yet in a perverse way, she does.I did NOT win this book from EarlyReviewers, but realized I can order those books that sound intriguing from my public library. I look forward to an interesting future!
  • (4/5)
    Lovers of language and cultural immersion will find this an enjoyable read. Those linguists with a real facility for acquiring new languages are to be envied above all others. The cultural mis-steps and misunderstandings on the way as Fallows meanders her way into Chinese life are a real pleasure. When you begin not just to speak a language not your own, but to think and dream in it, then you have arrived. When the day came that she bawled out a cabbie in Chinese for cheating her, then she knew she had made it and you will too.
  • (4/5)
    The author uses the learning of the Chinese language and its nuances as her primary entry into understanding Chinese society. I found it quite enlightening and that it added to my picture gleaned from other sources. It also helped me understand in a general sort of way how the Mandarin spoken and written language works. It's well written and is easily read.
  • (3/5)
    If you love learning languages and think that the best way to learn about people and culture is through language, you will love this little book. It's basically a language learner's diary. The chapters cover topics like dialects, tones, different Chinese words and expressions. Despite the fact that the author is a linguist, this is not a book that focuses specifically on linguistics. It simply attempts to show how culture is reflected in language and vice versa. I think if you are learning Chinese and finding it quite difficult, this book will be quite encouraging. The author herself says that it is quite challenging for her, particularly the visual part of it, i.e. writing and reading. Despite this, she obviously enjoys learning the language. It's a very quick read, and I found it quite entertaining. I thought the chapter endings were rather abrupt and at times sort of awkward, like the type of endings you find in school essays, but overall a very enjoyable read, particularly if you are interested in language learning or thinking about learning Mandarin.
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed thoroughly "Dreaming in Chinese" by Deborah Fallows. I was excited about reading it because she is linguist. She had already mastered several languages and is working on Chinese. Personally, I have taken and year and half of Chinese in community college, another year in a class for Chinese American children and also tried learning the stroke sequence of many characters on my own. My purpose in reading this book was to see how a professional linguist experiences with learning Mandarin compared with my own and to pick up more understanding of the Mandarin language and characters. Both desires were well satisfied. Her struggles with the language were very encouraging to me! I had thought that I was just very slow in learning a language before. She reassured me that it is one of the most difficult languages an English speaking person could learn. She said that she and her husband made the perfect team. Her husband was the star with learning characters and she shone in speaking the language. My own struggle was making sure that I even use the tones. I could say the words but I wasn’t sure that my tones were correct. There characters are fascinating to me as most of them stand for a picture originally and some have a story to tell. Deborah Fallows did enrich her book with quite few stories about the characters. Her writing is clear and crisp and I loved her observations. One of them, I had mentioned to my husband who is a native Mandarin speaker and he said that it took him twenty years to figure it out. I will leave it to you to learn about by reading her book. She explained several things that I had wondered about while living with my husband. Why does he add sounds to some words when he speaks in English? I had asked him of course but he didn’t know. The most basic thing that I learned from this book is that there are cultural reasons for different behaviors and learning the language of the country can make you aware of the differences. It can help you understand a culture. That alone makes it worthwhile to learn a different language than your own. The author, Deborah Fallows did an exceptional job of trying to understand the language and that is what I most enjoyed about the book. Now I know why tones are absolutely necessary to Mandarin. When I was in a community college, I was surrounded by a sea of Cantonese speaking students. It was very difficult for me to keep up with them since they already knew all the characters in the second year book. But at the end of the first semester of the class, they all dropped Mandarin and decided to take Japanese. Why? Now, I know. A reasonable answer to this question is in her book. I recommend this book to people who want to learn Mandarin, those want add to their knowledge of Chinese culture but most of all to those who like me who are in the process of learning Mandarin. I received a copy of this book from GoodReads but that did not influence my opinions in my review at all.
  • (4/5)
    Learning a language is difficult, and Chinese is one of the most difficult. When Deborah and her husband moved to China, she attempted to learn the language and to fit in with her environment. She makes the journey funny, sympathetic and demystifying and exposes the hidden joys of the Chinese people. This is not a novel to read just to be reading a book but for someone who likes and even loves languages the book will take you on an adventure you would not have gone on without Deborah's excellent guidance. I did not come away knowing the language, but did come away with a better understanding of the language and the people. I highly recommend this book .
  • (3/5)
    Fallows accompanied her journalist husband to China. She tried to learn Chinese during her time there, but found this task to be much more daunting than she’d expected. She also learned many strange things about the Chinese language which she shares with us in this little book.
  • (5/5)
    I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Deborah is married to James Fallows, whom I've heard a number of times on NPR. Regardless of the connection, Dreaming in Chinese deserves acclaim in its own right. Each chapter highlights a feature, idiom, idiosyncrasy or eccentricity within the Chinese language and how that surfaces within the greater culture. Like Japanese, Chinese is a very visual language, and one that overwhelms as much as it reveals. Having spent four years in Japan learning Japanese, I can relate to Ms. Fallows' frustrations, successes and failures. I noticed interesting similarities between her language and cultural experiences and my own--although the spoken languages differ significantly (linguistically unalike), each uses the Chinese characters (kanji) as their predominate form of writing. Unlike Fallows, however, I found learning all aspects of Japanese a pleasant and relatively satisfying challenge--perhaps because of the lack of tonal differentials in Japanese that she clearly, and somewhat painfully, highlights in several parts of the book.Fallows writes both an informative and entertaining narrative that reads quickly without lacking depth or intrigue. It is a book I plan to share with my writing group as an inspiration for writing about our own experiences about Asia.
  • (4/5)
    This book was a lot of fun. I didn't know much about Chinese going into the book. I like that the book teaches about China's culture through its language. I found it good light entertainment, the kind of book to leave in the bathroom. What I got out of this book was that I will never try to learn Chinese if I don't have to!