Angie McKeown

              I'm only me, but I'm very good at it

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Mandarin, part 1

So, despite it being a bit of a CoronaCrisisCliché, I actually started learning Mandarin in early February.

It all started at the end of January when I watched a Chinese series on Netflix called The Untamed.

Lán Wàngjī | Wèi Wúxiàn

It’s full of magic martial artists flying around with swords and talismans, fighting ghosts/zombies, and having incredible amounts of angst, while trying to negiotiate sect/clan politics. I’ve always been very fond of MMA/wire-work in film and The Untamed is pretty traditional as far as fights and magic work in Asian cinema. But this really blew me away in the end, because it’s just so pretty, the music is lush and the pace is easy – all together just super relaxing to watch.

Rewatches did not disappoint, either, as there is a slowly revealed backstory through an epic flashback which lasts until episode 33. Yes. Seriously. This thing has 50 episodes. I immediately began again as soon as I finished. You can see the character interactions in a whole new light the second time around, and the more I learned about the traditional names and customs the more nuance I realised was there.

So, I had already picked up a bunch of random filler words just from this. Thank you, You!, Shut Up; all the good stuff, lol. And I knew already I’d love to make more sense of the subtitles…

By now, I was addicted to this world, so I found the original novel (Mó Dào Zǔ Shī) translation online, which filled in more word gaps for me, and then I started in on Duolingo. Just super casually, at this point, as it was just a bit of fun.

Around this time the lockdown happened, though it isn’t really relevant as I still have to work, so at most it’s freed up an evening a fortnight that I might previously have gone out.

I tried out Meteor Garden on Netflix around this time, which is a modern day high-school drama in Mandarin. It was good for language learning but my heart wasn’t in it so much, as I’m a sucker for high-magic/swords/monsters. So I moved online, where I found there is an Untamed SPIN OFF! Whoop! More good Untamed characters reprising their roles in The Living Dead.

Obviously I exhausted that quickly, but I had heard good things about the Mó Dào Zǔ Shī anime (or donghua, in chinese), which follows the novel plot a bit more closely. Again, it’s Very easy on the eye, good music… So my words were building up at this point just through hours and hours of listening, even though I wasn’t doing it very actively.

At this point I found out about MemRise, which is a really nice filler for me as it teaches everyday phrases and words that are actually useful, with video from native speakers. However it doesn’t do as good a job of helping you recognise the Simplifed Chinese characters, the way that Duolingo forces you to. I also found a pop song in Mandarin on Youtube that I really liked, and began gradually learning the lines from the chorus. I’m still working on that, very slowly.

In Duolingo today I just made Gold on all the circles in the first section of Mandarin. That’s really slow progress, to be honest, but like I said I am trying to keep this fun and light, and I don’t like to move forward until I absolutely feel each category is embedded in my head and I can call it to mind without any reminders. I have rewarded myself by buying the original novel in Mandarin. I’m having too much fun to stop. The sense of accomplishment from being able to catch more and more words in a drama I’d love to be watching anyhow, is kind of addictive!

And as I’m writing I’m realising that all this means I get to go watch Mr Vampire again, and a bunch of other great films I had only for the MMA & monsters before. Amazing! Lam Ching-ying’s work is beautiful to watch in everything he is in, too.

So it is a cliche – you definitely don’t have to learn Mandarin or some other overly-righteous self-improvement thing during the lockdown. But it’s one of the few hobbies I have that is away from the computer (which I desperately need), and it’s actually great fun.

I am also beginning to find these reference things useful, though they’re a bit more advanced than I’m at:

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