Read Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, And Language by Deborah Fallows Online

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Deborah Fallows has spent much of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin, China's most common language, or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying the language of her adopted home provided small clues to decipherDeborah Fallows has spent much of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin, China's most common language, or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying the language of her adopted home provided small clues to deciphering the behavior and habits of its people,and its culture's conundrums. As her skill with Mandarin increased, bits of the language—a word, a phrase, an oddity of grammar—became windows into understanding romance, humor, protocol, relationships, and the overflowing humanity of modern China.Fallows learned, for example, that the abrupt, blunt way of speaking that Chinese people sometimes use isn't rudeness, but is, in fact, a way to acknowledge and honor the closeness between two friends. She learned that English speakers' trouble with hearing or saying tones—the variations in inflection that can change a word's meaning—is matched by Chinese speakers' inability not to hear tones, or to even take a guess at understanding what might have been meant when foreigners misuse them.In sharing what she discovered about Mandarin, and how those discoveries helped her understand a culture that had at first seemed impenetrable, Deborah Fallows's Dreaming in Chinese opens up China to Westerners more completely, perhaps, than it has ever been before....

Title : Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, And Language
Author :
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ISBN : 9780802779137
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 208 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, And Language Reviews

  • Kathrina
    2018-12-23 07:04

    What this book has made immensely clear to me is that I have, at some vague point, clearly passed the era of my life where all-thing-are-possible. There are some things I'm good at, very many more that I am no good at, and those two lists are not likely to change a whole lot in the future. I know that I will never climb mountains, perform surgery, skateboard, or ever again have the complexion/figure of a 19-year-old. I don't mean to say that I've given up on striving or learning new things -- that's equal to death. I'm just saying, the world is not as limitless as I was once given to believe. This book presented to me a brand-new limit to contemplate: I will never learn Cantonese, Mandarin, Wu, Gan, Min, Hakka, Yue, or Xiang, and I certainly will never keep room in my head for all those Chinese characters. Even if I learn a few helpful phrases -- where's the bathroom? no icecubes, please -- in the most popular Chinese language, Mandarin, I will probably pronounce them wrong and be utterly misunderstood. But, I can accept that. Having no pressing need to learn the language, I can be content with my ignorance. And I can enjoy the memoirs and stories of others who have tried and sometimes failed. Fallows doesn't utterly fail, but even after years of living in China, taking endless classes and hiring numerous tutors, I still don't think she'd call herself fluent by any means. Unfortunately, her book doesn't feel fluent, either. She kind of tap-dances over ideas about the nature of Chinese people, Chinese language, and the learning of a language in general, without really making any solid, sustained case for anything. The book is too short and choppy to really be a memoir -- she gives barely any sense of self to her narrative -- she seems to have written out a few ideas that she kept in a notebook in her back pocket, without much sense of order or progression. The bits are interesting, but they remain just bits. I think this book was interesting because Chinese languages are endlessly interesting, and she's dug up some fascinating facts and asked some good questions. But for me, the only question she's answered is, "Should I learn Chinese?"

  • Tim
    2018-12-27 03:00

    There should be a book like this for every language and country!Deb Fallows does a brilliant job using her experience learning mandarin as a key to understanding the Chinese mind. The book isn't just insightful, it's a compulsive read. I consumed it in one sitting. Each chapter is a new window on the language and the mind.If you've ever wondered how language shapes the mind, you owe it to yourself to read this graceful book. It's intensely personal, anecdotal style is more convincing than a dozen academic treatises.Now, if only someone would write Dreaming in English, so we could see ourselves as others see us.

  • Tammy
    2018-12-24 05:57

    Interesting look on how learning a language helps you better understand the culture. Quick and easy read with lots of fun stories from the author.

  • Lara
    2019-01-02 02:16

    Really I'd give this 2.5 stars, because there were certainly some things I liked about this book. The actual words and definitions and origins included were really interesting; I very much enjoyed the linguistic parts. But I had a lot of problems with the cultural descriptions and with the way the book as a whole is written. Each chapter is basically a short essay based around a particular Mandarin word or phrase, and Fallows generally includes anecdotes relating to the word or phrase from her time in China. It's a great idea in theory, but I found a lot of her sentences awkward and repetitious, and a lot of times I didn't feel like she was actually saying ANYTHING about China at all. For example, the first chapter is "I love you!" and her dramtic conclusion seems to be that there are conflicting views of the meaning of love in China. Really? That's it? There are conflicting views of the meaning of love in every country in the world! Later on she goes on about how there are a million rules in China and that people tend to disregard the rules they know they can get away with breaking. Again, how is that different from life in other places? What on earth makes that Chinese in particular? To me, it felt like the majority of her observations on life in China were based more on her discomfort as a foreigner than they were on the actual culture or people of China--it's very much an outsider's view, and that of an outsider who seems to have trouble recognizing the fact that just because China is different from what she's used to doesn't mean things are "arbitrary" or have "no reason." She does qualify her statements with words like "seemingly" or "to me" at times, but it always comes across as an afterthought. There are also several times when she makes statements about foreigners when she is clearly talking about Westerners--as though Westerners are the ONLY foreigners in China. It's a very narrow point of view. I do have an advance reading copy, so it's possible that some of this has been cleaned up for the actual finished publication. But as it stands, I feel like this has all the depth (and length) of a high school research paper--a few interesting points, but for the most part unilluminating.Received this book through First Reads.

  • Neil Crossan
    2019-01-17 07:12

    There is a part of me that wants to just unload on this book. And then there’s the other part that says, “C’mon now Neil. Let’s be fair here. You’ve never been to China.” And then the first part gets really annoyed and just takes over like an irrational two year old on a cross country flight. Here comes the screaming … #1: No book under 100 pages deserves to be published in hard cover unless it’s a photo book of my trip to Vancouver for my parents or its poetry. And don’t tell me this book is 188 pages, because the publisher pulls out every line spacing, increasing margin, smaller pages technique I used in 6th grade to stretch this into something I could turn into for a book report or they can charge you $20 hardcover prices for. C’mon now this is 80 pages tops.#2: I was hyped to learn about Mandarin. It’s amazing to think that people can walk on Stockon Street (San Francisco) and actually read those characters and understand what they mean. Oh that’s an acupuncturist that is closed on Mondays. Each one is a puzzle. Every Chinese person must score 1600 on their SATs to figure those things out. That’s what I wanted to hear about, which I did … on page 145 of 188. Here’s my cynical take on what actually happened. Fallows husband was writing awesome stories for the New Yorker. She read his stuff and thought she should be having the same awesome Chinese experience. But she wanted to write what she knew so she focused on language, BUT … BUT. Chinese is hard. It can’t be mastered in 3 years. But she had to come up with something. So she threw in a few anecdotes like, “Shopping in China is hard”, “Once a dude let me have a cab” and “Massages are awesome” with language anecdotes like “there is no he or she in China, it’s just ta” and thought she had a book. I’m calling bullshit. I didn’t gain any real insight to the Chinese language from this book and that was my expectation.

  • Lynn
    2019-01-03 09:53

    I am fascinated with how people learn, speak, and use language. Thus, this book was right up my alley. Deborah Fallows is a linguist who lived in China for years and studied Mandarin. As she begins to master the language she also broadens her understanding of the people and the culture. She peppers the book with interesting observations. Did you know that the same word in Chinese has a different meaning if said in a high or low tone? That Mandarin is big on Yin Yang-like compound words. For example, the word for size is Big/Little and height is Tall/Short. Or that the loud abrupt sound of the language is meant as an endearment. This book is not for everyone but I found it eye-opening.

  • Stewart
    2018-12-23 06:20

    When I saw a review of this book, I made an effort to get a copy. I have several Chinese-American friends in the Bay Area who came to this country as adults whom I have helped with some of the finer points of English. Because Chinese has a simpler grammatical structure than English and does not have articles (a, an, the) or verb tenses, learning to use these in English is difficult. Also, Chinese does not distinguish between he and she. The word "ta" serves for both. Deborah Fallows, who has a Ph.D in linguistics and spent three years with her writer husband in Shanghai 2005-2008, shows that learning Mandarin is as difficult for an English-language user as learning English is to a native of China. The biggest hurdle for an English speaker is that Chinese is not an Indo-European language (Spanish, German, and even Russian share at least a few words with English) and does not have an alphabet, using pictographs instead. The Chinese sound system uses only 400 syllables compared to 4,000 in English. Most Chinese syllables consist of a consonant and a vowel. English, in contrast, has many consonant clusters unknown to Mandarin or Cantonese: st, str, br, bl, pr, cr, fts, shr, thr, etc. Because of this paucity of consonant sounds, Chinese uses four tones to differentiate between the multitude of homonyms. Ma (first tone) means mother, ma (second tone) means hemp, ma (third tone) means horse, and ma (fourth tone) means curse. "Ma" without a tone when used at the end of a sentence signals a question. Fallows relates a funny story about trying to order takeout at a Taco Bell in Beijing. She thought she was saying "da3bao1" (takeout) but because she used the wrong tones, the clerk could have thought she was asking for a newspaper or a hug. She writes, "Mastering tones shouldn't be as hard as in practice it seems to be; there is no physiological or linguistics reason for tones to be so difficult. In fact, more languages of the world use tones than don't. And many have more tones than Mandarin does; Cantonese has seven tones; Vietnamese and Thai five." (English only uses one tone -- a rising one -- at the end of questions.) Fallows said that learning the language helped her to learn about the country; indeed, knowledge of the language is indispensable. "For me, chipping away at the language not only made China more survivable, it also tipped the balance ever so slightly from my being an observer to being a participant in the fray and chaos of developing China."

  • Lona Manning
    2019-01-02 10:11

    I've been living in China for almost three years now, and Deborah Fallow's meditations on the struggles of learning Mandarin, and expat life in general, certainly struck a chord with me. She writes: "Chinese seemed so arbitrary, and there was nothing to grab on to." That's so true. To a Westerner, Chinese is a collection of random sounds. One can repeat and repeat a new word or phrase, trying to commit it to memory, and it just "slips away," as Fallows says. However, Fallow's explanations about Mandarin, along with her examples of interesting sayings and idioms, just might help whet your appetite if you are thinking of tackling the language. The book is a collection of short essays, each with a different theme, rather than a narrative of Fallow's time in China with her husband, journalist James Fallows. Fallows also writes about learning Chinese body language and daily life on the crowded streets of Beijing and Shanghai: "the bruising, wearing, embattling encounters of simply getting through everyday life, with so many people who all seemed to want to be just slightly in front of wherever I happened to be."I'd recommend this book to anyone who is planning to come and live in China for awhile; it might not be so useful for tourists on a whirlwind visit.

  • William
    2018-12-30 10:09

    Deborah Fallows, an American Ph.D. in Linguistics, lived and worked in China for three years. Despite her background in linguistics and her previous studies of languages, she found learning Chinese to be quite difficult. This book offers her thoughts on how aspects of the Chinese language offer insight into China and its people. The book is divided into fourteen chapters, each of which describes some part of the author’s experience living in modern China and the language surrounding that bit of life. I highly recommend this book to those interested in China or the Chinese language.One constant theme throughout the book was the author’s difficulty in learning Chinese. Her candor about this was quite refreshing. My normal expectation of a Ph.D. in Linguistics would be that they would find learning languages to be quite easy. Even though I’ve never attempted to learn a language as difficult as Chinese, I empathized with her struggles quite readily. Given her background and her recent beginner’s experience, I’d be interested in seeing her write a book about how to learn languages. There don’t seem to be many of these types of books around despite the large market in language learning materials. The book that most readily comes to mind is Mario Pei’s How to Learn Languages and What Languages to Learn, which was first released in 1966. I would enthusiastically welcome an updated version of this.

  • Mag
    2018-12-31 04:52

    Deborah Fallows, a Harvard linguistics professor, writes about her adventures with learning and practicing Chinese in China. An admirable effort in itself as Chinese is really difficult to learn and practice for anybody speaking a Western language. Talking about Western, I was amused by Fallows’ typically Western behavior including washing market raisins in an effort to disinfect them at the beginning of her stay, but then reassured by her jaywalking together with the Chinese as she grew accustomed to the country later on. I quite enjoyed the book. There were some nice insights there- Fallows seemed to have enjoyed the people and the culture, and was a keen observer of both. I usually enjoy anything language, and this compounded with my trip to China last summer made it for quite interesting reading. Each chapter was nicely organized, readable and informative, but I liked the chapters about Chinese names and the earthquake most.3.5/5

  • Kim
    2019-01-11 06:58

    This book is delightful and gave me a serious case of wanderlust! Deborah Fallows makes the technicalities of learning Mandarin so VERY interesting! After reading this book, I am considering the MIT Openware course on Mandarin - Ms. Fallows has given me a bug to learn a new language!

  • Ms.pegasus
    2018-12-29 08:17

    Fallows and her husband spent 3 years living and traveling in China, primarily Shanghai and Beijing. DREAMING IN CHINESE is her travel journal organized around various linguistic themes. Chapters include contemplations on social space, lack of pronouns, language play based on the vast number of homophones, the frustrations of learning a tonal language, and the equal frustration of learning the characters of written Chinese.One of my favorite stories was “The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den.” There are only around 400 syllabary sounds in Chinese. A poet named Shi loves to eat lions, goes to the market to buy ten of them, takes them home to eat and discovers they are made of stone. All of the bold-faced words are “shi” in Chinese, each with a different written character. The entire story can be narrated with just that one syllable. She later notes that even the Chinese have trouble understanding each other sometimes. For this reason, and because of the many dialects, television programs routinely broadcast with Chinese subtitles. Wily bloggers use puns which appear to tell one story, but in spoken form say something entirely different. Thus a fable about a horse that lives in the desert and is threatened by an invasion of river crabs is really a story about Party censorship on the Internet.We are impressed that Fallows has gotten as far as she has with the language, so her “takeout” anecdote is both funny and surprising. At, of all places, a Taco Bell, she attempts to ask the sombrero wearing greeter if they do take-out. Using just about every combination of inflection imaginable with the simple query “Dabao,” she manages to ask, apparently, about hail, satiety, and embracing, among other things. Reinforcements from the kitchen are summoned. She might as well be playing a game of charades. Finally, someone apprehends the word she is trying to speak. Just that one tone made her question incomprehensible. Other foreigners encounter similar problems. One friend confides that his Chinese friends tell him to warn them when he is speaking Chinese, so they can focus on the deciphering process better.Her deconstruction of characters is enlightening. She includes a charming diagram of some pictograms from 12th century BC oracle bones compared to the modern day characters. Using the character for anmo (massage) as an example, she parses out hand + roof + woman + the sound ma. It's a good example of the process foreign students of Chinese (and Japanese) go through in attempting to memorize character after character -- grasping at any clue that might enhance recall.Fallows' experiences also include the 2008 earthquake. She was 1000 miles from the epicenter and still felt it. From that event her observations offer a touching view of both Chinese grieving and fortitude. It brings her full circle from her initial impressions of a crowded overwhelming country with incomprehensible rules and rude behaviors. This is an informal and highly personal collection of essays. Along with observations about the language, Fallows offers some of the flavor of life in Beijing and Shanghai. The reader comes away with a small amount of knowledge about the language and a great deal of admiration for her determination to learn, speak and participate rather than merely being an observer.

  • Azaghedi
    2019-01-13 06:03

    Thankfully I picked this book up and wasn't scared off by a few of the bad reviews here on Goodreads. Fallows is a linguistics PhD who has written a very accessible book about a language she finds decidedly inaccessible: Mandarin. Each chapter focuses on specific words or features of the language which she believes find apt parallels in Chinese society. This is not a linguistics textbook; it's a book for laymen. In that sense, she doesn't bog the reader down with much technical lingo. She sticks to the basic facets of the language: hanzi, pinyin, tonality, tenseless verbs, the monosyllabic of individual characters, and other such things. It may not completely change the way you look at Mandarin as a language, or the Chinese as a people, but it does shed some light onto the challenges Westerners can expect to face when learning such a language. Despite being a linguist, Fallows laments the fact that even after living in China for a few years, she still felt she could understanding Spanish better--and she doesn't even Spanish, she speaks French!As far as the cultural aspect, I think some people may find that Fallows is too hard on the Chinese. I completely disagree. I thought she was nothing if not completely even-handed and honest. She is just as willing to praise as she is to crticize (though she never does the latter in a mean-spirited way, in my opinion). She is obviously fascinated by Chinese society, but not blind to its faults. She mentions problems of overcrowding, or people spitting without regard for others as she walks the streets of Beijing or Shanghai, but she also mentions the little boy who bows to her like a knight, or the Premier who comforts distraught children without any show of political calculation, or the skinny firemen who work until complete exhaustion to save those who were buried in an earthquake.This is no hit piece on China or the Chinese: it's the observations of one foreigner who happens to be a linguist who sees certain connections between linguistic and cultural features. I find things like that fascinating, and so does Fallows. It comes across in her writing, and that fascination makes it well worth reading.

  • Jane
    2018-12-22 06:02

    Dreaming in Chinese is a book about learning about Chinese language and culture, written by a British author-linguist who had the good fortune to live in China for a few years. If you're already studying Chinese or thinking of studying it, it's a great read.And yet you really don't have to be a language buff to enjoy reading this little (188-page) book. If you like to take mental vacations to exotic places; if you want or need to learn more about Chinese culture, perhaps to make it easier to work with Chinese colleagues; or if you simply like well written nonfiction, Dreaming in Chinese will entertain and educate you. It focuses on Mandarin, the main language of China (what we usually mean when we say "Chinese") but touches on the bewildering variety of languages, cultures and dialects in the country.The language, culture and personal experience topics are arranged into short chapters that each loosely deal with one aspect of Chinese life and language, and are associated with a Chinese word or phrase. The writing is excellent; the style is relaxed and chatty, accompanied by illustrations, Chinese characters and photographs. Pinyin (the romanized version of Chinese, which is much more accessible to English speakers than the characters) is used throughout, and there is a pronunciation guide at the end so if you've never encountered Mandarin before, you won't be overwhelmed.The whole book was an easy, entertaining read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My one warning is that if you're not already studying Chinese, you will probably want to by the time you reach the end of Dreaming in Chinese.

  • Znic
    2019-01-07 08:55

    Author is a PhD in linguistics who has lived in Beijing and Shanghai for extended periods of time, and studied Mandarin. Each of the short chapters is framed around a Chinese phrase or concept, from Wǒ ài nǐ ("I love you") to Nǐ de Zhōngwěn hěn hǎo ("your Chinese is really good" - I am copying from the text here and apologise if I've stuffed up the tone markers. I spent a year trying to learn Mandarin and am still not convinced I ever got a tone right intentionally). There are some nice moments in here, but it never really breaks out of this format in order to generate an actual narrative (yes, it's nonfiction, but it could still tell a story), and there's an odd sense of starting again with each chapter. In chapter 6, for example, she gives one of the staff at her local beauty shop an English name, Sasha - it's presented as a special moment, as Sasha - Xiǎo Xuē - is from a distant rural province, and doesn't have an English name like the city girls she works with. In chapter 9 Sasha shows up again, as if she's a new person - "a working girl from the coal provinces in the middle of China" - and any significance of her name is unmentioned. Another woman, Miranda, shows up in chapter 7 and chapter 8, and is both times introduced as "a young Chinese woman", as if the reader is expected to have forgotten her already.I like that the author discusses the language, tones and hànzì and all, and looks how it's used by the Chinese (for fun as well as communication) and not just how it's grappled with by foreigners. Overall, though, I wanted either more narrative or none at all (and, ideally, more).

  • Mary
    2019-01-01 08:57

    This is an enjoyable short book about trying to learn Chinese, and that understanding how the language works is a key into understanding the Chinese people, and vice versa. While I have nowhere near the experience in China that Fallows has, and speak/understand virtually no Chinese, a lot of this resonated well. Chinese people who are fluent in English have spoken and written to me in e-mails always seem to be particularly blunt in their communications, which to date I have attributed to the fact that they learned "simple English", and for instance have only learned a very limited vocabulary. Fallows has expanded this for me, such that I now understand that Chinese does not include niceties as one is used to hearing in English, like interjecting "please", and that while these are expected by us native English speakers, they are not present in Chinese. I also enjoyed the descriptions of maps and local understanding of geography - I was once working with a very bright Vietnamese banker who was headed home for the Tet holidays, but it was clear that he had no idea where his home village was, only that it was a certain number of hours away. Finally, she does describe the rescue efforts following the Sichuan earthquake in very tender terms, very much the impressions that I had while being in China just a few days after the event.Given the great popularity of Mandarin courses and bilingual schools in the US now, it will be interesting to see whether we can develop any competency in Chinese.

  • Diane
    2018-12-30 08:18

    In light of my upcoming trip to China, a friend recommended this book.Deborah Fallows has a PhD in linguistics, and recently spent three years living in Shanghai and Beijing. She talks about the difficulty of learning Chinese (Mandarin), and weaves in and around her language growth some of the life experiences she had while living there.It's a short book, and gives some interesting insights into the Chinese people and culture. I'm glad I read it. I think it will enhance my experience while I'm there.I've read several books on China over the years - Wild Swans by Jung Chang, Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng, Mao's Last Dancer by Cunxin Li, Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, Pearl of China by Anchee Min, Gail Tsukiyama's books, to name a few. And of course The Good Earth by Pearl Buck.Those books have all given me a small view into the vast country and culture that is and has been China. This book gave me a little glimpse of very current China in Shanghai and Beijing. It will be fun to see it in person.

  • Yoonmee
    2019-01-16 03:55

    I'm torn on this one. Sometimes Fallows overgeneralizes about the Chinese so much that it really annoyed me and other times I found myself nodding my head at her descriptions of her attempts to learn a new and difficult language, of living in a foreign country, of being utterly confused by different customs. (Note: I was an expat in Seoul, Korea for three years.) I'm giving this one 3 stars because I'm in a good mood, but it's probably somewhere between 2 and 3 stars. I just wish Fallows hadn't spent so much time generalizing. I realize she was trying to fit a lot of information and personal stories into a short book (then again, why not just make it a longer book?), but sometimes I couldn't help but roll my eyes and think to myself, "She's Harvard educated with a Ph.D. in linguists, has lived in many different countries, and she's still making these inane, very American, very privileged generalizations about the Chinese? Good grief."

  • Nikki
    2018-12-19 09:55

    I've been studying Cantonese a little, and I hoped that, despite being about Mandarin, this book would provide some good insights into the relationship between Chinese language and culture. Unfortunately, it doesn't go deep enough into any topic to achieve what I would think of as an insight into anything. The author is a linguist, so presumably she is better at this than I am, but I could have told you after 10 hours of studying Cantonese why Chinese people mix up the words "he" and "she" in English. The answer, for anyone who doesn't know, is that they use one word for both, at least orally. What I hoped for was some insight into how using this genderless pronoun impacts Chinese society, or their world view. But I didn't get that. All I got was that Chinese people commonly make this mistake. The end. Still, the book gets a couple stars because it's interesting to read anecdotes about life in China. I was just hoping for more.

  • Carol
    2019-01-17 02:05

    I enjoyed thoroughly "Dreaming in Chinese" by Deborah Fallows. I was excited about reading it because she is linguist. She had already mastered several languages and is working on Chinese. Personally, I have taken and year and half of Chinese in community college, another year in a class for Chinese American children and also tried learning the stroke sequence of many characters on my own. My purpose in reading this book was to see how a professional linguist experiences with learning Mandarin compared with my own and to pick up more understanding of the Mandarin language and characters. Both desires were well satisfied.Her struggles with the language were very encouraging to me! I had thought that I was just very slow in learning a language before. She reassured me that it is one of the most difficult languages an English speaking person could learn. She said that she and her husband made the perfect team. Her husband was the star with learning characters and she shone in speaking the language. My own struggle was making sure that I even use the tones. I could say the words but I wasn’t sure that my tones were correct. There characters are fascinating to me as most of them stand for a picture originally and some have a story to tell. Deborah Fallows did enrich her book with quite few stories about the characters.Her writing is clear and crisp and I loved her observations. One of them, I had mentioned to my husband who is a native Mandarin speaker and he said that it took him twenty years to figure it out. I will leave it to you to learn about by reading her book.She explained several things that I had wondered about while living with my husband. Why does he add sounds to some words when he speaks in English? I had asked him of course but he didn’t know. The most basic thing that I learned from this book is that there are cultural reasons for different behaviors and learning the language of the country can make you aware of the differences. It can help you understand a culture. That alone makes it worthwhile to learn a different language than your own. The author, Deborah Fallows did an exceptional job of trying to understand the language and that is what I most enjoyed about the book. Now I know why tones are absolutely necessary to Mandarin.When I was in a community college, I was surrounded by a sea of Cantonese speaking students. It was very difficult for me to keep up with them since they already knew all the characters in the second year book. But at the end of the first semester of the class, they all dropped Mandarin and decided to take Japanese. Why? Now, I know. A reasonable answer to this question is in her book.I recommend this book to people who want to learn Mandarin, those want add to their knowledge of Chinese culture but most of all to those who like me who are in the process of learning Mandarin.I received a copy of this book from GoodReads but that did not influence my opinions in my review at all.

  • Taylor Storey
    2019-01-17 05:16

    This is the kind of book I want to read right now! It's a perfect accompaniment to living in China and trying to learn Chinese. The author Deborah Fallows -A PhD in Linguistics- spends 3 years in China learning Chinese. It is a series of stories about her experiences connected to different words and concepts of the Chinese people and their language. She does not write like a PhD in this book. She writes like a normal person (who you can tell is quite knowledgeable) in a very accessible manner. I look forward to reading it again, or at least glancing over it again. There are many things I related with and many 'aha' moments reading this book. One frustrating thing that is so common in China is when you can't understand something they are saying, a lot of times the chinese will pull out a pen and paper and write the characters down for you. As if I was even close to being able to read those characters! ...But! that is the great strength of the Chinese language! it is like our roman numbers, if you go to israel they will see "1" and say "ehad" and in Spain they will say "uno" the US says "one" but we all understand it's written meaning. The same is true with Chinese and the myriad of languages found in China. You can write anything down and if they can read they should be able to understand- this even extends to a certain extent into Japanese (correct me if I'm wrong, but that's what I understood). I had this suspicion about the language but Fallows confirmed it!I gave it 4 stars because for some reason it didn't quite absolutely grab me in a compelling manner. Still though, I would highly recommend this over the previous book I read on China (Lost on Planet China). I am looking forward to reading another like it. Or even reading this one again. I'm sure as I spend more time with the language and the people more of these stories will become real to me!

  • Maria
    2019-01-09 08:52

    Washington, D.C.’s, Politics & Prose bookstore’s Travel book club discussed this book for their January 2013 book group.This was the first time I read a book about a different culture that approached it from a linguistic perspective. Because of this approach little was written about the author or her family, the food, the architecture of their home, or other routinely discussed elements in travel books. It inspired me to picture a different country from a novel perspective.I appreciated the elements of language that Ms. Fallows focused on. For instance, that saying please was impolite as it added a word, which takes up time or space, between the giver, and the recipient. Also, she referenced how saying the same word twice softens the request and could be regarded as polite. Also, she focused on tone, and how the same written word could mean many things; how some people needed to write the sentences on their hands in order for the speaker and the recipient to understand what was being said. Ultimately, as in learning any language, being perceptive about body language was necessary.I wanted to learn more about characters and the different roots of words, which would be the starting points of characters. I decided to make a character out of my name. I started with the female sign, then added a line with two curves to reflect *marine*, and then added a starburst in the upper right hand corner because *ia* or *io* seem to add a celebratory end to a word. Mario would be the same except with a male sign instead of a female sign.Would I recommend the book: yesWould I read it again: Not likelyWas prose elevated to poetry: No

  • Jason Shorb
    2019-01-02 01:58

    Quick enjoyable read, particularly for a former expat living in ChinaThis book had been on my list for a while. I went into it with mixed expectations. On one hand, I was interested in reading it to help jog my Chinese language skills and understand another foreigner's experience with trying to learn he language. (Speaking of the word foreigner, I'm now a bit surprised the Chinese term "laowai" never came up as it has some different connotations). On the other hand, I was perhaps a bit skeptical that I would learn much from the book that I hadn't already experienced or the book might be another retread of other foreigner stories of living in the Wild West of China.After finally reading the book though, I can say that while it may not be one of my favorite reads of all time, I came away with a rather positive impression. First of all, it's a pretty quick read and the author does a good job of keeping the flow of the story moving along. Secondly, I did learn something, notably more than I expected, both about the language as well the culture. The author Deborah Fallows does a good job of using some keen awareness during her time of living and traveling around China to really shine a light on interesting snapshots of China life as viewed through the prism of the Chinese language. It gave me some new perspective to consider for my future travels to China. The book may not be for everyone, but if you have lived in China or plan to do so or are just curious about the Chinese culture, you will likely enjoy his read, and frankly you could do a lot worse.

  • Graham Mulligan
    2019-01-09 06:17

    Dreaming in Chinese, Mandarin lessons in life, love and language.Deborah Fallows, 2010Reviewed by Graham MulliganDeborah Fallows is a linguist married to a journalist, James Fallows. They have lived in Shanghai and Beijing and struggled to learn some Mandarin. This is her collection of fourteen useful, commonly-heard words or phrases and some cultural tales that they inspired her to relate.Wo ai ni – I love you! (the grammar of romance)Bu yao – Don’t want, don’t need! (When rude is polite)Shi, Shi, Shi, Shi – Lion, ten, to make, to be (Language play as a national sport)Dabao – Do you do takeout? (Why the Chinese hear tones, and we don’t)Laobaixing – Common folk (China’s Ordinary Joe)Ni hao, Wo jiao Minyi – Hello, my name is Public Opinion (A brief introduction to Chinese names)Dongbei – Eastnorth (Finding your way in China – the semantics of time and place)Wo, Ni, Ta, Ta, Ta – I, you, he, she, it (Disappearing pronouns and the sense of self)Renao – Hot-and-noisy (Think like the Chinese think)Ting bu dong – I don’t understand. (A billion people; countless dialects)Hanzi – Characters (The essence of being Chinese)Bu keyi – Not allowed (Rules to follow and rules to break)Dizhen – Earthquake (Out of calamity, tenderness)Ni de Zhongwen hen hao! Your Chinese is really good! (A little goes a long way)

  • Li
    2018-12-24 05:14

    Some mixed feelings about it. Being ABC and also with family not from the mainland, I'm pretty much as clueless as the next American off the street about what China itself is like, so I enjoyed the anecdotes. I could see things I recognize from my family visits to Taiwan, but it's also still different, and then there were definitely bits that were very much written from Western viewpoints. Though overall it didn't make me cringe with exoticism, at least. And as an English-speaking person learning an East Asian language, I found some of the passages about the difficulties and triumphs in studying an East Asian language to be something I could empathize with at times.Partly I just really enjoyed reading a book with random Chinese phrases thrown in, half of which I don't know (I don't actually speak much Mandarin myself), but some that I did. That part felt really familiar to my general lived experience, English mixed with Mandarin, so that was fun. If you're looking for a book to help you in your language-learning studies, this is not going to help much. But if you want to go from know-nothing-at-all to having-some-vague-idea about modern Chinese culture and history, this is an entertaining read, basically.

  • Alan
    2019-01-12 10:02

    "I did inch away from being overwhelmed at such a massive, intense, overwhelming country or touching a few people one by one and getting a little closer to their lives however small the increments this reward gave me at least the illusion that I belong, if just for a little bit, in this extraordinary country at this moment in history." Don't be mislead by this seemingly short book. It is about so much more than the challenge of mastering the Chinese language. I was struck by my continuing disagreement with the trite aphorism that "all people are the same, no matter the culture or country." [By the way, the author does not address this.] Yes, all people want similar things in life. Like protection, food and health care for their children and loved ones. However, each culture has a unique set of values that are often impenetrable by the outsider. So many of the authors' examples could be re-written, with very few changes in details, to describe my experiences living in Russia, Papua New Guinea and other parts of the world. And the few times that I received the same reward from a native speaker of "You speak our language very well," I sensed that they were speaking to a deeper reality of connecting with their culture. But those "rewards" were so few.

  • Holly Morrow
    2019-01-14 08:04

    Fun little book for anyone whos ever done battle with the Chinese language, or tried to navigate the absurdities of living in China as a foreigner. Deborah Fallows is the wife of Atlantic columnist James Fallows, and a linguist in her own right. She recounts her attempts to learn Chinese before and while living in China on a 3-year assignment of her husbands. Americans learning Chinese and living in China generally have some variant of the same experience - laugh at the same things, are bewildered by the same things, and exalt at similar small triumphs with the language. This is a light, quick (read in one afternoon!) examination of all those things, and particularly the link between peculiarities of the Chinese language and peculiarities of Chinese culture. I don’t know if it would be as enjoyable for someone who has never studied Chinese – the use of pinyin and Chinese characters might just read like gobbledygook, and for me the fun of the book was the “Ah, yes!” of familiarity and memory.

  • Robin
    2019-01-18 07:15

    3.5 stars rounded up, because my interest waxed and waned depending on the topic, but overall I was pleased to find something like this, which I've been looking for ever since I started trying to learn Chinese: a book written by a native English speaker, with decent writing skills, who through hard-earned experience has grown familiar enough with the language and culture to go into detail with what makes learning Mandarin frustrating and fascinating, how it puts you through a life-long wringer but occasionally feels deeply rewarding.I appreciate that pinyin and tone marks were used throughout the book, and characters provided when relevant.I enjoyed meeting someone who liked to geek out and muse about the characters and components, much like I did. (How many times had I bored my friends with the story of how popcorn was literally "exploding rice flower"?)Wish the author had a running article somewhere where she muses on a word or cultural tidbit for the day. If it were a podcast I would totally subscribe.

  • Daniel Reid
    2019-01-10 04:11

    If you're completely unfamiliar with China or the Chinese language, this book may be moderately interesting. However, there are far better books on China out there, and she herself admits to not being an expert. Essays of this quality can be found all over the internet.I started reading it with high hopes. The very first chapter talks about the Chinese concept of love, something I've long been confused with. She states her own confusion, and then wonders aloud what it all could possibly mean. I kept waiting for her to make some new insight, but the chapter ends abruptly with no wisdom offered. The chapters didn't get much better. In chapter two, she attempts to explain why Chinese can seem so rude. Her explanation (you shouldn't act formal in intimate relationships, because it creates distance) is common knowledge, and does nothing to explain why they are so blunt with complete strangers.There were a few decent essays, but nothing worth paying for.

  • Jack Cheng
    2019-01-09 02:12

    After finishing this book, I immediately thought: "This will now be the first book I recommend to someone travelling to China." And then last night, someone called and it WAS the first book I recommended.In this slim volume, Fallows presents language oddities through a memory or anecdote, and then considers some of the implications. You don't need to know Chinese to enjoy it; at the same time, when I discussed this with my mother, she was delighted by some of the observations Fallows made that a native speaker doesn't usually think about.One of my favorite passages was where Fallows points out that combining two extremes becomes a compound word for a given quality. In other words, "big-small" means "size." Or "tall-short" means "height." But then "east-west" means "thing"!?Scattered through the book are also notes on the historical quirks of Chinese and how the Chinese appreciate their own language and wordplay (make me understand my uncle better!).