November 16, 2012 | Mandarin

Acupuncture and Chinese Pimsleur

My experience of Chinese culture is not being limited to grammar.

I am working away on Chinese Pimsleur. Each lesson is taking me three or four tries, though maybe things will speed up at some point. I am making my way multiple times through lessons 11 and 12 (Level I) at present.

I like to get through a certain number of Pimsleur lessons before I work in books, because there are few books for foreign-language study that one can use without having some knowledge of the language. That’s true for all languages, not just Chinese, though it is especially true for languages with different writing systems.

Even when they purport to be books for beginners, they often seem to forget what the poor beginner actually needs. Pimsleur, on the other hand, is set up for total neophytes and can warm you up for written learning tools. It can hold your hand through those difficult early moments.

Learning Chinese Characters, by Alison Matthews and Laurence Matthews

Learning Chinese Characters, by Alison Matthews and Laurence Matthews

Still, I have taken a look at the beginnings of a couple of books. One, Learning Chinese Characters by Alison Matthews and Laurence Matthews, is highly enthusiastic. It says it is “a revolutionary new way to learn and remember the 800 most basic Chinese characters.”

As most people who would be inclined to read a blog such as this probably know, there are thousands of Chinese characters.

I admit I was afraid of Chinese before now, mostly for this quantitative reason although also partly because of the whole tonal thing. 

But, in a very friendly way, Learning Chinese Characters uses imagery to help with memorization of characters as well as with pronunciation. I have read very little of the book, but what I have read (up to page 16) was effective. I will report more later when I am further along.

Chinese is difficult. That cannot be denied. Nonetheless, the mere fact that I have learned to say things, just as I learned to say things in other languages, is encouraging. My fear of studying Chinese, which exceeded my fear of any other language, has dissipated entirely.

I now know how to say things like, “I would like to eat lunch with you at 5:00.” And “What do you want to buy?” And “Would you like to drink tea or beer?” 

If I wanted to offer someone a different beverage—say, water—I would be stuck, but the slow accumulation of phrases and sentences is encouraging. I am getting a little addicted.

In fact, I tried to run a Chinese Pimsleur lesson while I was full of needles in an acupuncture session the other day. My acupuncturist suggested that this might not a good idea. You are supposed to relax totally when you are in a porcupine state, and I admit, I do not relax totally during Pimsleur lessons. They sometimes make me rather hyperactive.

So I listened to a burbling brook and chirping birds instead.

China Institute, 125 East 65th Street

China Institute, 125 East 65th Street

Yep, I am trying acupuncture for muscle pain. I think I will not go into too much detail about the needles and all that, since I don’t think there is a high correlation between reader interest in language and reader interest in needles, but I have had some fascinating experiences so far. My acupuncturist is not Chinese—she is someone I met before beginning the Chinese phase of my studies—but she has trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I capitalized that because it is often capitalized, or written as TCM, which keeps making me think of the business acronym TQM, total quality management, thereby causing me to translate TCM as “Total Chinese Medicine” by mistake.

To supplement my first-hand experience of having needles inserted in me, last weekend I went to a talk on acupuncture at the China Institute. I never knew this place existed until now, but I discovered it on one of my Google searches. Founded in 1926, it offers events and resources relating to Chinese culture and history. 

There might have been a couple of partly nutty people in the audience, but the speaker himself was sincere and rational, albeit a little excessively wed to PowerPoint. (As almost everyone is these days, to my dismay; there is so much good in a straightforward conversation with the audience, is there not?)

The main impression I left with was of a treatment gaining popularity and support in the West. I know increasing numbers of people who can get acupuncture covered by their insurance. This most surely was not the case years ago.

I am going to go do a Pimsleur lesson right now. I am at present learning to ask how much something costs and also how to answer such inquiries.

Chinese grammar is surprisingly simple (so far). More on that another time, but in this sense at least it feels like the opposite of a language like Polish or Russian.

Comments (2)

Charles • Posted on Sun, November 18, 2012 - 11:43 pm EST

The China Institute is a really great place. Be sure to check out their current and upcoming exhibitions. Every time I visit New York, I make the rounds of the China Institute, the Asia Society, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Anything else I happen to see is great, but these three are essential for my visits.  I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, November 19, 2012 - 8:42 pm EST

Thank you for reminding me I need to go back to the Met!

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