Well my month of gallivanting about the Chinese countryside has come to an end. Now I need to knuckle down and get to work. For those of you who are not personally acquainted with me, a little explanation of what the next several months hold is in order.
I currently work as a Technical Writing Consultant, helping companies put together training materials like manuals, PowerPoint slide presentations, handouts etc. Ever since I can remember, I have dreamed of becoming a writer, and I am now, technically, a paid writer. Yippie! The goal of becoming a paid Creative Writer is still in the works, but one step at a time.
The project I am currently working on is nearing a number of crucial deadlines. Most of my colleagues are in China, so I’m setting up camp here for a while to be in closer contact.
I’ve lived in China before so I have some idea of the fun and stresses before me. I also speak a bit of Mandarin Chinese, which comes in handy, although I am still making hysterical faux pas on a regular basis. (For example, I’m notorious for muddling up zhenzhu (pearl) and zhizhu (spider). It doesn’t take too much imagination to envision the complications.)
Tackling the Local Lingo
It is interesting how Creativity comes into play when dealing with a language other than your mother tongue. I intend to write a post at a later date about creative methods for learning languages, so keep on the look out for that one. But one interesting aspect I will discuss now is word choice.
When you speak in your mother tongue, the full range of the language is at your fingertips. The words flow from your mouth like water. When you begin speaking in another language, the words flow like frozen molasses. Each seems to be painstakingly chipped out of the tiny space that is your vocabulary. As your vocabulary grows, you begin making the few words you know work for you in very interesting ways.
For example, don’t know how to say restaurant? Say ‘eat food place.’ Don’t know how to say hand basin? Say ‘wash hands place.’ Don’t know how to say ‘phone credit’? Try ‘add money’ and point meaningfully at your phone. Actually, gestures can be the most creative means of communication. I still don’t know how to say ‘toilet cleaner’ but I’ve managed just fine so far.
Lowering your expectations from ‘always having the perfect word for every situation’ to ‘saying whatever word works to get what you need’ not only relieves the stress of perfectionism, but also reveals the wonders of language. There is very rarely only one way to say something. Finding other, sometimes more descriptive, ways to communicate leads you on fascinating journeys of discovery.
Now I’m not saying I don’t get frustrated, or stuck for words, or stared at blankly by people I’m talking to. I get all of that, and more. I’m talking about those delicious moments where you find a new and creative way to combine words or concepts, bridging the language gap to converse with another human being. Those moments make the complexities of learning a language all worthwhile. We revelled in those moments when we were learning our mother language as children. Why not capture that excitement again?
What about you? Have you discovered the quirks of word choice?
By the way, the photo above is my own taken on Gulang Islet.