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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Speaking Book Marketing Or Mandarin


“It’s Greek to me” is a phrase we hear when someone admits they don’t understand what they are looking at or being told.  I felt those words the other day when my son, who is taking Mandarin in the fourth grade, asked for help.  I took one look at their letters – actually they are called characters (but look more like pictures or symbols or emotions that you’d find on a smartphone) – and realized I was at a deficit.  But we couldn’t just throw in the towel.

As much as I truly love the English language and all of its quirks and curves, Mandarin seemed like a whole other universe.  It is read top to bottom.  The way things are translated leaves room for misinterpretation.  Every stroke of the pen could greatly alter the meaning of a word.

He wanted to just quit.  Give up.  Act as if the class was meaningless and an impossible puzzle that was no longer worthy of his time or emotional investment.  He was tired of failing at something he never really understood.  It just doesn’t make any sense to him.  The problem is compounded when the teacher expects greatness while speaking in broken English.  If only they could find a way to communicate and teach each other their language, then my son would no longer feel beaten up.

I took language later in school than he is taking it now. I had Spanish for five years, starting in junior high school. I didn’t excel at it, in part, because I felt like I was cheating on the English language.  I wanted to perfect my use of the written word – in English – and not have to filter everything through a language and culture that were foreign to me.

I can’t imagine what my kid feels when he has to speak, read, and write a language with no natural reference points.  At least Spanish and English are similar.  But Chinese is like speaking dog or bird.

As I sat down with my son to finally look at what he’d been talking about all school year, I discussed a few things.  First, he really knew more than he realized.  I told him to teach me and suddenly he rose to the occasion.  I repeated an old Chinese saying to him: “When the student shows up, the teacher appears.”

Second, I was able to pick up a few words from our lesson and realized it was fun to enter a whole new world.  But I also saw how challenging it is to look at similar-looking symbols and to make heads or tails on what each one means.  Language is good for people with great memories.

Learning something new may be challenging and rewarding and can even be entertaining.  He enjoyed studying with me and for the first time in seven months he started to feel confident he could do better than what he’d done so far.  A switch went off.  Instead of complaining and reminding himself that he hates it, can’t do it, doesn’t get it, doesn’t care, he suddenly saw himself being able to score better than the 3 in 50 he got on a recent test.

The key with any challenge, whether it’s to learn Mandarin or market a book, is not to lose faith in your ability to learn and then execute.  We all need a tutor or mentor who not only teaches but inspires.  And once we produce a positive result, no matter how small, it’s something we can build on.

Book marketing may seem like Chinese to you but if some two billion people can speak it, you can speak marketing.

Good luck.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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