It’s getting embarrassing, I’ve been here three years and I’ve learned so little Mandarin (and less Cantonese) that my wife and my Chinese friends now give me a round of applause if I can get a taxi driver to understand where I want to go.
I’ll admit to being really lazy when it comes to languages, I find it a struggle to get any kind of vocabulary to actually stay in my head for more than a minute or two. I also find the tonal variation of Chinese languages really hard to get to grips with, there’s a good reason I wasn’t allowed to sing in the gang show as a kid.
My wife’s Chinese but part of the deal for me coming to China was that she would improve her English so all our conversation at home is in English. I don’t work with Chinese companies mainly because I only sell my services to English speaking organizations (I don’t expect to be able to read and write Chinese any time this century). And all my friends speak English too, my best friend (and business partner) speaks fluent Cantonese (he grew up in Hong Kong and has spent most of his adult life here too) and excellent Mandarin so when we’re out and about he handles all communication.
So the sum total of my Mandarin is around 100 words and I can’t distinguish my Mandarin from my Cantonese either, leading to all sorts of confusion. So this year I’m going to do better and devote an hour a day to learning the language. In real terms that means by the end of the year I’ll probably have learned an extra 20 words or so, and most of them not to be used in polite company. So in apologies in advance to all the Chinese who put up with my cussing, I suck.