Fabiana in China: Chinese Interrupts My Sleep


That’s what my brain did as it switched back to English mode on Friday. I had stepped out from my midterm exam exhausted, but accomplished; I had successfully finished half of my time here in China!

Later that day we went to celebrate to a Hotpot restaurant with two of our teachers. We invited them to join us because we had never talked to them in English before, and personally, I wanted to change the impression I thought they had of me: I was a 5 year-old that thought everything was “很好” (very good) and that the weather was always “特别冷”(specially cold). With all honestly, with the limited Chinese we have, we can’t really have “deep” conversations. This was my time to really get to know them.


As we arrived, we were given red aprons, zip block bags to cover our phones, hair ties, and hot towels. I was quite confused. I had been to a hotpot restaurant in Hong Kong before, but never was I offered such service! (For those who do not know what hotpot is, Wikipedia explains it all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_pot) As I tried to form questions regarding this curious meal to my teachers, my mind went all crazy again. Suddenly, I couldn’t speak English anymore (?) My brain and my eyes didn’t agree: I guess this happened because I associate their faces with speaking Mandarin and my brain just didn’t want to cooperate. This was quite an experience.


During the meal, some were speaking English, others Chinese, and I unconsciously started to speak Spanish (?) I was really confused. This whole event reminded me of a question I was made regarding speaking three languages: “since you are fluent in English and Spanish, is it easier to learn Chinese?” My answer: “NO. It’s harder.” He looked at me confused and continued, “but there are studies…” I listened to him and continued, “In my experience, I consider it harder because I tend to change the language in which I think.” My mother tongue is Spanish, but I have been studying English for about the same time, so both languages come naturally to me. (To my bilinguals out there, have you ever thought about the language in which you think?)

Spanish and English have different sentence structures, ways of expression, and the list continues. So if I change the language in which I think unconsciously, it makes it hard for me to translate my thoughts to Chinese.

I considered the idea of writing an extended essay regarding the reasons why learning Chinese has been hard for me, but I will only write it once I find a scientific explanation behind it. You’ll have to wait for it.

Just to give you an example of how confused my brain has been for the last two months, ask my roommate. Today she came up to me and told me I sleep-talk A LOT: “During the first week you spoke English, some days you switched to Spanish, and you’ve been recently speaking Chinese!” Now that I think of it, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a headache: I had forgotten a word in Chinese in my sleep and my brain has just been going over and over the same sentence. I have to say, that going through experiences like this have been both frustrating and interesting. They just leave me thinking, why is this happening to me?

As I try to leave aside what I think is unexplainable at the moment, I dream about our beautiful Wei Ming Lake back at Peking University. “It’s no longer frozen,” I think to myself. I have been seeing more green in its walking paths and small gardens. What a wonderful way to start the spring!

Till next week!


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