Mandarin Rules’ Final Rule

After a couple of years of dedication to the column tackling putonghua, we read the final thoughts of mandarin rules. Find out what the language inspiring columnist has to say.

Some of you, dear readers, will remember how, a couple of years ago, I invited you to share in my language journey, promising to let you witness my trials and tribulations en route to that far-fetched goal, Mandarin proficiency. Every month since I’ve kept my promise, I’ve offered you a glimpse of my newly acquired linguistic knowledge and insights, as well as shared the frustrations that often accompany the acquisition of that beautiful, yet infuriatingly difficult language.

We’ve been through a lot together, you and me. You’ve heard me whining about how impossible it is to master the numerous Chinese characters, but also rejoice over conquering a particular linguistic milestone, like the coveted HSK 5. Together, we’ve explored the confusing dialects of Mandarin, as spoken in this vast country’s various corners, and we’ve taken linguistic detours to pay our respects to other Chinese languages in our vicinity, like Cantonese or Hakka. Wherever I’ve traveled during these years, you’ve been with me: obsessing over Chinese characters in South Korea or Japan; wondering why it’s still so much easier to grasp the meaning of an article in the newspaper in Spain than in China; noting numerous signs and posters in Mandarin popping up at airports and shopping malls all over Europe.

Along the way, I’ve treated you to some of my favorite Chinese words and expressions, many of which lack an English equivalent. I’ve introduced you to strange verses that might have changed your view a little of Chinese poetry, as well as the dreaded four tones of Mandarin. You’ve also had to play the role of my confidants and are by now privy to any number of my confessed weaknesses and obsessions that tend to flare up particularly during those endless Dongguan summers, from binge-watching Chinese TV dramas to overindulging in mobile apps or simply succumbing to indolence.

I’ve aspired to address some of your questions, from “Why study Mandarin at all?” to “What is the best way to do it?” and “Is it really the most difficult language in the world?” The answers might not always have been quite as comprehensive and thoroughly researched as you had wished for, but I assure you, they were honest. Hopefully, they provided a little bit of entertainment as well.

We’ve explored the confusing dialects of Mandarin, as spoken in this vast country’s various corners, and we’ve taken linguistic detours to pay our respects to other Chinese languages in our vicinity

Well, as of next month, I’m officially relieving you of your duties; you don’t need to be my faithful acolytes anymore. I’d like to thank all of you for patiently reading my incessant musings on the nature of language or the joys of learning, as well as for your kind comments and interesting questions. Writing about learning Mandarin has helped me appreciate the process even more. Above all, it has made me more aware of what it really takes to master this impossible language. I’m simply in awe of the millions of people who’ve managed, through sheer perseverance, to become literate in Chinese. I’ve truly enjoyed every aspect of creating this column, from the exciting hunt for ideas to the search for appropriate format to the discussions about the content afterward. It’s been fun, and it’s been real.

It’s not that the journey is over, mind you. This fascinating language has got plenty of complicated characters, idiosyncratic expressions and convoluted grammatical structures, enough to keep me busy for years and years to come. Mandarin still rules my world. I am all too willingly susceptible to the sunk cost bias when it comes to learning plus it’s just too much fun to give up. So, my journey continues. Yours too, I hope.