"Deborah Fallows has spent much of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises involved in learning Mandarin, China's most common language, or in 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 conundrums of its culture. 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.
In Dreaming in Chinese, Fallows unravels Chinese culture by explaining the intricacies and subtleties of Mandarin, devoting each of her fourteen chapters to a particular linguistic quirk, interwoven into these explanations are wonderful stories of her encounters with everyday life in China-- real, often funny, and always very human. Fallows learned, for example, that in China, an abrupt, blunt way of speaking is a way to honor the closeness between two friends-- she found that by adhering to an English speaker's standards of politeness, she was actually being rude! And when Fallows tried to order fast food, she realized that her own difficulty in articulating tones-- the variations in inflection that can change a word's meaning-- was matched by Chinese speakers' inability to understand the meaning of a phrase when foreigners mangle 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 the China of the laobaixing (lau-by-shing) (everyday people) to Western readers in surprising new ways."
I haven't really thought about visiting China, much less living in the country, but after reading Dreaming in Chinese, I'm more interested in visiting now. I don't think that I will ever become fluent in Mandarin, but it's just fascinating to read about the nuances of the language from the perspective of an American learning Mandarin. As a linguist, Deborah Fallows interviews native speakers and works hard to get to the bottom of her own language blunders so that she can learn from them and share them with readers like us.
This is a good introduction to Mandarin and some of Chinese culture (because they're interconnected). Because of Ms. Fallow's book, I'm looking forward to reading more books about China and other countries around it, if I can.
I feel like I don't have a lot to say. This is a memoir, so you can't critique what she's writing about, because that is what she is feeling, experiencing, and seeing. Fallows writes clearly and everything she has to say is quite interesting. You will not regret picking up this book, especially since it's a fairly quick read (I read it in two days, but I bet it could be done in less time, if you were determined).
I give Dreaming in Chinese: