I attended a Mandarin Lecture and I’m Chinese

I pretended I wasn’t completely fluent


One of my housemates told me recently that he’d been taking the Chinese language as his minor. Intrigued to see how “authentic” his Chinese language was I tagged along with my housemate to the lecture.

I got some lecture materials from my friend in advance so I could prepare myself, and also to secretly judge his level of proficiency in Chinese.

The lecture was purely about grammar, such as sentence structure, question types and prepositional phrases. The lecturer aimed to teach six different grammatical features in a 50-minute-long lecture.

There were a lot of linguistic terms which made things way more complicated and confusing. Straight up – just tell us the rules and examples, no technical jargon, please.

I was genuinely confused about the countless grammar rules that I was not aware of.

The Chinese grammar rules scarred me for life

During those 50 minutes, the class was silent. Not even the occasional bleep of a Facebook message. Except for two Mr. Smarty Pants who competed shouting answers from their seats. Thanks for saving us from the awkward silence!

Sometimes the lecturer just stood out there waiting for somebody to answer – which no one did. It was safe to say I felt sorry for him, realising it was just like any other seminar where no one bothers to speak.

It was difficult for me not to answer when I knew all of them, or not to correct someone’s wrong answer.

After a few attempts of repressing my urge, I shouted the answer for the first (and last) time. He asked: “Are you sure?”

I stuttered and nodded with a look of uncertainty, didn’t want to blow my cover that I was in fact a native speaker.

It was not until we got to the later part of the lecture, I realized that I overestimated myself a little even though I am a native Chinese: Mostly because I was genuinely confused about the grammar rules. I found it ironic that I was not familiar with them at all.

Having said that, I was really impressed by those two guys who had answered, or tried to answer almost all the questions in the lecture. It was adorable that they spoke Mandarin with a foreign accent.

At the end of the lecture, I asked the lecturer a question about the difference between the two expressions of “how much” in Chinese – “多少” and “幾” ( or “几” in simplified form).

I asked him because I have never heard of that rule before, and also because I wanted to know if there’s actually such a rule.

I could not hide my disapproval as he explained. I thought he looked quite confused about my question. It was probably his thinking face, or maybe I looked too Chinese to not be able to speak it.

So he asked me: “Where are you from?”. I panicked and answered: “America”. I couldn’t figure out why I said that but I guessed anywhere besides “Asia” was fine.

Mission Accomplished. I need to work on my own grammar rules.