I spent 3 years in China and hardly spoke a word of Chinese, partly due to my Chinese wife speaking excellent English and partly because I didn’t think I could learn it. I did practice with my wife a little but she only laughed at my pronunciation and so I gave up. However, now that I am back in the UK, alas no longer married, I have decided to learn. Talk about doing things back to front but I do plan to go back and this time I want to be better prepared.
I started using the Michel Thomas course which is really an excellent introduction to the four tones and some basic phrases. It is so essential to master the tones and I strongly recommend this short introductory course. Then I moved on the Pimsleur course and to be honest it is not as difficult as I thought it would be. I had previously convinced myself that the language would be too difficult because it is a tonal language. However, once you get used to the tones, it is quite an easy language because the grammar is much more straight forward than English.
Learning a language is all about attitude, if you believe you can learn it and practice every day, it does sink in. Of course I’ll know how well I’ve learnt it when I visit China again but at least I will be able to say something and not seem such an ignoramus.
I really do recommend learning as much as you can before you go, especially if you’re not getting married to a Chinese girl or boy! This will be especially important if you don’t go one of the major cosmopolitan cities, where you’ll probably find that only your students speak English.
Bye the way, I’m 57, so it’s never too late to learn.