Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons In Life, Love, And Language by Deborah Fallows (PDF)



Ebook Info

  • Published: 2011
  • Number of pages: 208 pages
  • Format: PDF
  • File Size: 3.41 MB
  • Authors: Deborah Fallows


Deborah Fallows has spent a lot of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin, China’s most common language, or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying learning the language of her adopted home provided small clues to deciphering behavior and habits of its people, and its culture’s conundrums. 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.Fallows learned, for example, that the abrupt, blunt way of speaking which Chinese people sometimes use isn’t rudeness, but is, in fact a way to acknowledge and honor the closeness between two friends. She learned that English speakers’ trouble with hearing or saying tones-the variations in inflection that can change a word’s meaning-is matched by Chinese speakers’ inability not to hear tones, or to even take a guess at understanding what might have been meant when foreigners misuse them.Dreaming in Chinese is the story of what Deborah Fallows discovered about the Chinese language, and how that helped her make sense of what had at first seemed like the chaos and contradiction of everyday life in China.

User’s Reviews

Editorial Reviews: Review “Dreaming in Chinese is chatty and colloquial, with helpful photographs and drawings, as well as a pronunciation guide. The eager student will learn a fair bit about the history of the language and how its array of characters and tones were systematized, all the while gathering insights into the country’s customs and culture. Rather than draw sweeping conclusions Fallows sticks to her own experiences and observations, which makes her book all the more valuable. China hands will have many moments of recognition. For others, Dreaming in Chinese will be a fascinating introduction to a foreign culture.” ―Lesley Downer, New York Times Book Review“You don’t have to know Mandarin to be captivated by Deborah Fallows’s Dreaming in Chinese…. Forget Berlitz – that just teaches words. Deborah Fallows shows us that the cultural implications of those words teach us about each other.” ―Sara Nelson, O: The Oprah Magazine“Fallows has a good ear for aspect, the way of stressing certain words and syllables to change or add layers of meaning to a simple word or phrase. She veers to the gentle, seeing the generosity behind brusque gestures, the intimacy and friendship behind rudeness and the priorities that language reveals. Playfulness, respect, affection and the virtues of solidarity with the common people — a different traveler might miss all these but not Fallows.” ―Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times“While it isn’t necessary to know the language of a foreign country when you live abroad, studying that language can infinitely ease and illuminate your entrée there. Deborah Fallows underscores this lesson again and again in this compelling account of her own trials and triumphs with studying Mandarin while residing in Shanghai and Beijing. A linguist by training, Fallows shows how even small advancements such as mastering a single word or phrase can unlock grammatical and cultural secrets…. Over the course of her three-year immersion, her ever-deepening insights immeasurably enrich her engagement with China–and ours as well.” ―Don George, National Geographic Traveler“Reading Dreaming in Chinese, we follow an intelligent, analytical, sympathetic — and humorous — guide who knows it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts.” ―Patricia Hagen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)“For anyone with a connection to China (and particularly for anyone who has attempted Mandarin) her book is a gift: it’s all the thoughts that escaped you in your travels and studies. It’s as revealing of the way a Western, English-speaking mindset perceives China as it is of what “makes a billion people tick.” For readers hoping to truly journey in China (rather than just plant your feet firmly on the Great Wall), Dreaming in Chinese is mandatory reading.” ―KJ Dell’Antonia, Double X“Thinking of learning Mandarin? Read this…. For beginners, Dreaming in Chinese is an easy entry into an ancient land.” ―Tish Wells, McClatchy Newspapers“Fallows manages to take the relatively dry subject of translation and create a warm and witty memoir…. [taking] readers on a ride through Chinese culture that is as entertaining as it is informative.” ―Colleen Mondor, Booklist“Any traveler who shudders at the prospect of deciphering Chinese should be armed with a copy of this book.” ―Evan Osnos, former Chicago Tribune Beijing bureau chief, and staff writer at the New Yorker“China seems an impossible mountain to climb, yet Deborah Fallows takes a less traveled path, climbing the mountain from the inside. She recounts her journey with a perfect balance of wise observation and wit. To follow her climb yields startling insights about the Chinese people and culture, the kind of insights lugubrious China essays rarely yield. Dreaming in Chinese is both vital and a joy to read.” ―Ken Auletta“Dreaming in Chinese is a little gem, sparkling with wonderful tales about China, its language and its people.” ―Rob Gifford, former NPR Beijing correspondent, and author of China Road“In Dreaming in Chinese, Deborah Fallows opens up a window onto Chinese urban life through its notoriously difficult language. A charming and insightful book.” ―Susan Shirk, author of China: Fragile Superpower“While all too many books on China try to make sense of this infinitely provocative country from the top down, Deborah Fallows looks at it from the bottom up, trying to figure out what makes the place work through personal encounters, the language and everyday occurrences. She has written a refreshing and insightful book.” ―Orville Schell, director of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations“Dreaming in Chinese is original, entertaining, gracefully written and provides important insights into life and culture in contemporary China. Deborah Fallows is a gifted linguist who helps her readers understand the complexities of the Chinese language. But she does much more. She is an astute observer and through simple yet compelling anecdotes she helps her readers experience everyday life in China. This is a terrific book for anyone who wants to improve their understanding of this extraordinary country.” ―Laura D. Tyson, Professor of Global Management, Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley“Deborah Fallows’ sparkling memoir of her three years in China makes us feel we are on the streets with her in Shanghai and Beijing–haggling with merchants and cops and learning to be rude and friendly, Chinese-style. The joy of this book is its sense of humor and adventure: Deborah decided to live outside the expatriate ghetto: learning the language, drinking the water, living the real Chinese life like a laobaixing (ordinary person).Whether it’s learning not to say ‘please,’ or understanding why Chinese hate the number ‘4′ or ordering take-away at a Chinese Taco Bell, Deb jumps in head-first and makes us laugh at her often comical embrace of this culture. I can’t think of a better book for someone who wants to understand the lovable, infuriating and hilarious country that is China.” ―David Ignatius, columnist for the Washington Post and author of Body of Lies About the Author Deborah Fallows has lived in Shanghai and Beijing and traveled throughout China for three years with her husband, writer James Fallows. She is a Harvard graduate and has a PhD in Linguistics, and is author of A Mother’s Work (Houghton Mifflin). She most recently worked in research and polling for the Pew Internet Project and in data architecture for Oxygen Media. When in the US, she and her husband live in Washington, DC. They have two sons and two daughters-in-law.

Reviews from Amazon users which were colected at the time this book was published on the website:

⭐As I am writing this, I am aware that at least 48 folks reviewed this before me…well covering the various features, themes, problems, and / or points of contention for Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language by Deborah Fallows. Their words and the book’s own title inspired me to try it! 🙂 I am so glad that I did. So, now I’ll add my own voice to the mix. I encourage others to examine the book’s Amazon page and reviews to see if this book appeals to them too! For me, this book provides a satisfying, unique insight into Chinese culture through the eyes of someone who actually put feet on ground in the country and observed the everyday people with keen, penetrating eyes…the eyes of someone who looks beyond the normal Western tourist views into something far deeper. lasting, and important. The content structure of the book is part of its charm. Progressing through each chapter, the reader encounters bits of Chinese language (Characters and Pinyin) which are connected to larger concepts and themes. Pictures are sprinkled throughout the book to add a bit of flavor to topics being discussed. The book includes a Pronunciation Guide for the Chinese words in each chapter, which is helpful, giving the reader an approximate sense of how the language sounds. There is also a quick question and answer section with Deborah Fallows at the back of the book–allowing the reader to explore the author’s inspirations and thoughts about the book and China. (I wish this part had been longer and more detailed!)What I Like–>Favorite Passages & Concepts from the Book:The Beijing expression “Walk Slowly” / màn z’u offered as a “goodbye” (Pages 32-33). / I was not aware of this bit of culture before this book, and I enjoyed learning about it. Item note: IMdb lists a cultural exploration movie called Man Zou: Beijing to Shanghai, and I am interested in watching it as a result of reading this book. The DVD appears to be available for purchase on Amazon! :)Quotable Quote: “It is difficult to avoid a crowd in a country of 1.3 billion people” (Page 63). I just found that to be an amusing comment. Of course, I know the country has a huge population, but I never thought about what it might be like to live, to study, to survive there on a day to day basis.Quotable Quote: “With the one-child policy, which began in 1980, Wang Ming Yuan’s will be the last generation where it is normal to have siblings. Her children will have cousins, but her children’s children probably won’t” (Page 81). / I knew about this policy, but I had never thought what it might mean beyond a simple family unit…for the country and people as a whole.Quotable Quote: “…my language teachers all taught us to think of Chinese as moving the focus from big to small: addresses telescope in from country, to city, to street, to number, to apartment. Personal names are ordered to start big with the family name and end small with the personal name. Dates are referenced from year to month to day” (Page 93)./ I find this to be a true, defining statement of China’s culture, history, philosophy, etc as I’ve studied it to date from my beginner’s point of view. I also believe that this will help me with my own learning of the Chinese language.The Chinese concept of balance / opposing forces–yin yang–is expanded in this book to introduce useful compound words from Chinese (Pages 119-122). / Language shapes people’s thinking and expression, so this chapter offers some insights into the Chinese mind.For some readers, especially those who have in-depth knowledge of Chinese or Mandarin, this book will seem simple, light on content, perhaps, even stating what is obvious. For beginners like me, though, this is a great collection of thought-provoking experiences, even if the author may use poetic license in certain areas as some have suggested. Deborah Fallows is the storyteller, and this is HER personal narrative. The reader is looking at Chinese and China through her lens. I accept her story, her narrative as is. The book, in my opinion, is actually more about observation and appreciation rather than a hard and fast Mandarin 101. It’s an appetizer that prepares one for the main dishes. 🙂 The book prompts me to search out other personal narratives about China…to travel more paths in this fascinating genre.If you want a personal, beginning commentary of Chinese culture, read this book. If you plan to travel to China, read this book. If you enjoy personal narratives that offer cultural nuggets and insights, read this book. If, however, you are looking for a strict, academic analysis of the language or people, look for another book. If you are wanting a formal beginning in Mandarin, look for another book or other materials.Overall, I am well-pleased with this book, and I find myself re-reading parts of it, especially where Chinese vocabulary words are introduced and discussed. I believe it would make an interesting supplemental text to a Chinese culture and / or informal language class.

⭐I must say, this book is right up my alley. Although I know nothing about the Chinese language, as a translator and lifelong language learner, my life revolves around languages and how to learn them best. Dreaming in Chinese depicts the author’s journey through the Chinese language (Mandarin), Chinese culture and the joys and pitfalls of living in Shanghai and Beijing. In the process, she is quick to teach us the differences between the various Chinese dialects, the Chinese writing system and the different way of thinking that is diametrically opposed to Western concepts through key words that Fallows picks up in her day-to-day experiences.When I read that Deborah Fallows was a linguist, I thought maybe her book was going to feature academic descriptions and International Phonetic Alphabet markings. I must confess that I was somewhat hesitant to open the book for fear of having to slog through metalanguage and the like. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is entirely suitable for the layperson, but in no way watered down or “gee whiz-like” as you might find in a soundbite on the evening news. Instead, Fallows employs a style that is a mix between casual and intellectual that reminds me very much of how my high school librarian spoke or perhaps the snippets of conversation I overheard at a place like The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle.One theme that intrigued me was the nature of learning a complex foreign language, that is in comparison to one’s own native language. Fallows mentioned that she was sorry that she had not grasped enough of Mandarin, and that during her stay in Beijing, she understood the Spanish spoken in a Chinese television program better than Mandarin, even though she had never studied Spanish, but rather French. Though there is immense satisfaction in mastering a foreign language (and I use this word “master” arbitrarily, because language learning is infinite), there is also something alluring about being a beginner. Paul Theroux, who also visited China and wrote a book about it, said somewhere in one of his books that he liked being a beginner in a given language because he didn’t understand what everyone was saying, that there was something childlike about it. I feel this way too. I enjoy connecting the dots between the bits and pieces of knowledge I pick up. I also think that when it comes to pronunciation, if you have to struggle to understand, you notice more. With one’s native language, I believe it virtually impossible to consciously control how each word comes out of one’s mouth, at least entirely.In keeping with Deborah Fallows’ simple but enlightening approach to portraying her life in China, she is both humble and open to the Chinese culture and language. She never once measured her success via her pronunciation, or trying to “pass for Chinese”. Rather, she based her and others’ competence on understanding what words, and more importantly, concepts meant. Indeed, she is the epitome of a language learner, because if you are not willing to change your point of view and think like a native (such as following maps on which North is not always up) you’re going to end up with words that do not necessarily form ideas that are wholly intelligible to the target culture.I recommend this book to anyone who is going to live in China or learn Chinese as well as anyone who is learning a language what has an interest in languages and cultures. If I had read a book like this about Chile, I may have picked up on more nuances, and either agreed or disagreed with them; but only other hand, there are so many things that I take for granted, that I no longer notice. Therefore, it was a delight to be surprised, to experience the author’s adventures, albeit from the comfort of my own home.

⭐Recommended by the Open University as useful background reading for their excellent L197 Beginners Chinese course and the first non academic book about china i read while studying. Entertaining and easy to read.


⭐A wonderful wee book, for all expatriates wherever they go.

⭐I’m currently studying Chinese with the OU and enjoying it immensely. I’ve been reading quite a few books on China but this is one of my favourites because it’s written by a Westerner trying to get to grips with the culture and the language. If you’ve ever been to China you’ll recognise many of the situations she finds herself in, and if you’re learning the language you’ll identify with some of her questions (why is the future “down” and the past “up”? Why do they use the same word for “him” and “her”?)Even if you’ve never been, and never intend to go, or have no interest in learning the language, this is still a very entertaining book.The writing is journalistic and easy to take in, and the chapters are short enough that you can finish one in 10-20 minutes. In fact I read the whole book in one day, over a few sessions. That leads me to my only complaint – I wanted more!If you’re visiting China, or learning the language, read this book. If you’re not, read it anyway.

⭐Enjoyed the book well written light and amusing. BEWARE. author has another book listed on Amazon which by inference is list as “a peolple who bought this also bought” Its the SAME book with slight title modification. Save your money


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