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Thursday, April 30, 2015
Speaking Book Marketing Or Mandarin
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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