Mandarin and Yale Law – Weeks 78 and 79



I just published an update to my French Fluency Recovery Project



I just went to a Walgreens here in New Haven, Connecticut. There were several young Chinese people in the drug store buying food and beverages, among other things. They were chitchatting among themselves, and—lo and behold—I could pick up a lot of what they said! I understood things like, That’s not delicious, drink, Let’s go, Why?, What’s that? / It’s tea, a girl counting her coins, and so forth. I am so excited I came back to my hotel and immediately starting watching some scenes from Hero.


Today I had two informational interviews at Yale Law School, which I scheduled since I knew I would be in the area and I’m trying to decide what I want to do after I finish my degree at the University of Brasilia. Last night, as I thought about the interview and prepared to articulate my motivations for studying Law, I reflected that, in a sense, they are similar to my motivations for acquiring languages.

Both Law and languages are instrumental to understanding and navigating a particular society. If you speak the language in a country, you have far better access to everything it has to offer than a foreigner who does not. One of my basic motivations for studying Law in Brazil is that I noticed how lawyers there were much more effective in handling various practical situations as citizens—not to mention consumers, entrepreneurs, landowners, as so forth—than those not versed in the principles, concepts, specific regulations, and even the jargon of the legal profession.

Beyond the evident practical advantages, both language mastery and deep understanding of a country’s legal system provide incredible insights into the culture, the people, and what makes a society tick. On an intellectual level, I take great satisfaction in having these tools to help me interpret not only my countries, but the world and human nature itself.

Incidentally, as I wandered the Yale campus between interviews, I passed by countless Chinese tourists. One group saw me in formal attire, sitting on the Law school steps, and—possibly mistaking me for a student—asked to take a picture with me. They were from Beijing, which may be why I was able to understand many words they spoke among themselves. I felt attracted to the various groups of Chinese people in a way I never would have before my experiment began, and I felt quite motivated to continue my project! That is quite funny because, in truth, a big reason for my Yale visit was to motivate myself to plough through the remaining 2½ years of Law classes in Brasilia. Thus, I will leave New Haven with at least a somewhat renewed drive for my studies of Law and of Mandarin.

Since I last wrote, I have watched Qiao Hu and clips from Dragon or Hero on most days. I have put in 383.5 total hours, which means that in just 16.5 more I will have completed one-third of my experiment.

I should also mention that I spoke a few hours of French this past week with a friend from Switzerland, who is a near-native speaker. I dutifully logged the time in my spreadsheet, along with a good deal of listening to Radio France Internationale (RFI). Just this month of June, I have logged 10 hours of French for my French Fluency Recovery Project—by far my best monthly tally to date. Prior to this month, my daily average—considering the entire period starting December 20, 2014—had been about 6 minutes, and now it is just over 8 minutes, closer to the minimum of 10 that I established as my goal.

I was quite happy to be more conversational with my friend than I had been in January of this year when I took spoke for an hour with a Français Naturel teacher, and by the third day of the visit I was feeling more comfortable with the language than I have since 2006, when I similarly listened to RFI for a few months and also had some classes and conversations with the native-French-speaking manager of NLI at the time. I still feel far from fluent and natural in my speaking, but I believe I am making good progress. Of course, I do need to diversify my listening, as I noted that I was my news-related vocabulary was sharper than my recollection of simple day-to-day words.

Starting over again – Weeks 73-77

I hope at least one person has missed me on the blogosphere. I kind of like to think that some secret skeptical follower has been checking in occasionally and thinking, “Ha! He’s teetering out and giving up on his inane and futile experiment.” I guess that, when I’m confident of my purpose, I thrive as much on skepticism and challenges as I do on friendly support—even if just in my mental dialogues.

If that imaginary skeptic had access to my Chinese-viewing log between June 20 and July 4, his doubts would have redoubled. I heard absolutely no Mandarin during those 15 days. Actually, that is similar to what happened last November-December, and the reason was the same, with an added element. Once again, I was one of the main persons responsible for organizing a large conference of Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI), this time in the beautiful city of Quito, Ecuador. Additionally, however, the big event occurred the week before my Law exams, one of which I particularly dreaded.

In any case, since July 5, I’ve been averaging 40 minutes of daily viewing, and I expect to increase that time somewhat during the next few vacation weeks. For anybody who actually missed reading my posts, I’m truly sorry that, for the first time ever, I did not post for four straight weeks. I hope it won’t happen again. At least—in case you’re wondering—the SAI event was successful and I got through my first semester back in Law school with good grades, despite a few scares.

In the past few days, I’ve mostly been watching Qiao Hu episodes. This is certainly not the most exciting viewing, but it holds two distinct advantages: I can understand a good deal with no subtitles, and, consequently, it is relatively easy to review and decipher vocabulary.

I also began with a brand-new viewing source: television news, streamed online. I understand next to nothing! It’s almost like starting my experiment all over again, in that I’m hoping the incomprehensible sounds will gradually coalesce into intelligible words and sentences. It’s different, of course, in that the phonemes and rhythm of the languages are already familiar, and I do understand a word here and there. However, if my current comprehension when watching dialogues in a movie or drama is 15%, as I have estimated, when watching the news it’s probably closer to 2%.

I have just begun exploring news sources, but can comment on the two I have found thus far. CCTV is an official government source, and thus has the advantage of being in perfectly standard Mandarin (I presume), and the disadvantage of being boring to an extreme. Phoenix TV, out of Hong Kong (if I’m not mistaken), is of much better quality, but I’ve had occasional problems streaming.

I look forward to watching more and more Mandarin for the rest of this month, and posting a report at least once every two weeks. Thanks for reading!