My boss wants to send me to China. But he doesn’t want me to tell anyone yet. That probably means nothing will come of it. But, just in case, maybe I should spend more time practising Chinese.
“He speaks Mandarin,” my boss keeps telling everyone.
But I don’t. Not really. Last week I was ill and I went to see a Chinese doctor. I sat in the waiting room and listened to four Chinese people having a conversation. I could only pick up a word or two here and there. Sichuan cuisine. Prawns. Squid.
“We’re talking about food,” Lanying told me.
“I know. Sichuan cuisine. Prawns. Squid.”
“Hey, he speaks Chinese!”
“He taught himself,” she told them.
“But I don’t speak it well.”
“You speak it very well,” they said.
But I couldn’t even understand the conversation, let alone join in.
I practise for one hour a week every Friday, talking, reading and listening. I no longer have time to practise writing. Every Friday I’m reminded of words I’ve forgotten through not practising enough.
If you don’t use a language every day you forget it.
I spent so much time learning Chinese that I’d stopped reading English books and I was forgetting how to write in English. This time last year I decided to stop learning Chinese, read two English books a month, and spend five hours a week writing a novel.
So far everything has gone to plan. I’m nearly at the end of the 2nd draft of my novel, I’ve read at least 24 English books and I’ve forgotten lots of Chinese.
Lanying has never wanted me to learn Chinese. “I want to read your novel,” she reminded me last night.
Well, I will take a week or two to think about my next steps. The novel needs another draft before I can allow it to be read. And there’s another novel that I want to write.
So maybe I will have to make Lanying speak to me in Chinese. Usually whenever I say anything she gives me a blank look and stays stubbornly silent. Either that or she bursts out laughing.
Now I will tell her “如果你要看我的小说, 你就要说汉语!”
If you want to read my novel, you’ve got to talk to me in Chinese!