Before travelling to China, John took quite a few Mandarin lessons with Dr X. I attended a few lessons, but not as many as John. Although, Wuxi is a big city, English isn’t widely spoken, so learning to communicate is a priority for both of us. My ideal situation would be to attend a group class during the day, so I can get to know some other students at the same time. John has to be at school from 7.30 to 16.00 every day, so he really just wants an hour or two on a Saturday.
It is surprising how difficult it has been to organise. A company was recommended by one of John’s colleagues, but they could only offer one-to-one lessons and we would each have had to pay for over £1,000 in advance – in cash. I have since been in touch with a school that might have another beginner starting lessons soon who I could pair up with. We are also meeting up with a teacher on Thursday who was recommended by another of John’s colleagues and who may be able to offer us one-to-one lessons.
In the meantime, we are muddling by as best we can using dictionaries and phase-books. We have had some success – John managed to arrange a delivery of water for our water cooler and I (kind of) translated the instructions for our new electric slow cooker. We have also had some near misses – John bought a pot noodle and asked the shopkeeper for his money (instead of chopsticks), he bumped into someone and said ‘you’re welcome’ rather than ‘sorry’. I will be pleased to able to communicate by a means other than smiling, nodding and looking like an idiot.
Last Friday, we went for dinner in a hot pot restaurant with a couple of John’s English colleagues. It was really nice to be able to speak to them ‘normally’ and it was so relaxing just to be able to speak English and be understood. I am starting to appreciate why expats might want to stick together and just socialise amongst themselves. However, one of our objectives in coming to China was to reach a certain competency in Chinese so we will have to persevere.