The Nelson Mandela tactic

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Before I start, I must ask to you some questions:

  • Do you love/Are you interested in languages?
  • Do you love making friends?
  • Are you interested in other cultures?
  • Would you like to say something in other languages even if you don’t speak it?
  • Would you like to make the day to a stranger?

If you answered “yes” to at least three questions, then this entry is made specifically for you; otherwise, you may skip it and go to other topics. Continuar leyendo

Chinese Bridge 2012: My experience (Part 1)

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Hi, everyone! Sebastián here. Today I’ve been witness of a new champion in soceer football: Germany, that overruled for the first time as a reunificate country, as well as became the first European champion on American soil (America is not only US, but a continent, but that’s another issue). Germany won 1-0 against always-strong Argentina. But that’s another story I’ll talk later about. Today it has been one year that I took part on a contest organized by Confucius Institute and Hanban in order to promote Chinese language learning around the world. For more information, you can visit this website: Chinese Bridge You have to click on it, because I won’t lose time explaining many things.


 

It was the 12th edition of this Chinese Bridge and I took part on the Mexican Qualifiers, after gaining the spot in my language center. For the international competition, there’s a established number of spots per country that reppresent that, as well as another place to go as a visitor. For Mexico, two contestants are available; so the first two places go to China. I was second, so I claimed a spot to tak part in that competition. In these videos, mechanics about competition are explained detailledly:

After all the procedures (Visa, inscription, sending photos, etc.), finally I was ready to go to my first trip ever since 1998. I was plenty of illusions and high expectations about take on the fight concerning to Chinese language; besides that, I knew already that I’d be in Babel tower too, so all of the knowledge acquired previously would be assessed in a higher degree. Finally I would be able to put in practice in a real polyglot context all of my languages. Imagine: 128 guys from 78 countries. I had another mission: I heard that there would be contestants from Latin America and Spain too, so I inteded to make a video explaining the differences between different accents in Spanish language. God, it might be my Eden, as well as I might fulfill my childhood dream 🙂 


 

Diary of my linguistic adventures around China

Disclaimer: If you are waiting for the whole adventures I had, you’ll be dissaponted, because I will only write about my language practice.

Day 1

I flew in June 30th. I must confess that as a Latin American country, Mexico is a priviledge country, due to the fact that it’s the only country that has direct flights to China. I remember my Argentinian fellow that had a 36 hour trip (Buenos Aires-Sao Paulo-Doha-Beijing), while we had only a 14 hour journey (Mexico City-Tijuana-Shanghai-Beijing). On the stop-over in Shanghai, we had to wait for our plain. And in waiting room, I found some Italian guys, whom I practice Italian with. And then I found a Dutch man struggling with Internet. When I found out that he was Dutch, I immediately switched to Dutch, before the astonished sight of my fellow. Well, I was warming up all the knowledge, and yet I didn’t miss the chance to brush up my Chinese in order to immerse myself.

So when we arrived to Beijing, I just realized that my Chinese would be not decent enough to handle all the possible situations. I found that my fellow spoke better Chinese than me and I barely understood what our driver said. Well, we finally arrived at our hotel (5-stars of course) and after the check-in we went to our room. But I was eager to make friends from scratch, so I went to the lobby, just to find the contestant from Israel and later, the South African guy came into scene. Yep, the Israelian (his name is Yoni) also spoke lots of languages, including Spanish and Russian, so we kept switching between English, Chinese, Russian and Spanish. But it was only warm up, because I didn’t want yet everybody that knew about my abilities, so I begged them not to tell anybody. After some chit-chat and the routine questions (situation about our countries, our profession and so on), we went back, because we had the dinner (in China dinner is served at 6 p.m.). When we were back to our room, I had the best idea ever: to take out a lucha libre mask and to wear it. Previously, I discovered that the girl from Iceland (Weitzhen Lo, aka Susan) spoke basic Spanish, so I practiced with her. And also, as neighbours we had a Tajik guy (Muhibullo) and an Australian one (Alistair, eventually the big champion). We spoke a little bit with him and then I felt the urgence of practicing Farsi and Russian, but I held myself. I knew that it was not the time yet.Then I wore that mask, provoking laughs of the South African guy (Merwe). While we were picking food, his roommate from Russia (Misha) told me in Chinese that Merwe told him that I spoke in Russian. Obviously, I complained with him about that. He apologized about that, and to compensate, he suggested me to go with my Mexican friend (José) and Yoni for some beers. Well, during dinner, contestants from Romania (Bogdan) were there, and then I reafirmated that my Chinese would not be enough to communicate, and the fact that I would have no other choice but to speak English scared me. Then I knew that the Greek lady (Christina) spoke flawless Spanish because he had lived in Venezuela for five years. And then I saw the Sri Lankan girl (Chathurangi)

Finally, Merwe, Yoni, José and me went outside for some beers and we spoke more about our situation. I had the brilliant idea of returning to Merwe’s room. There was Misha and a Russian girl that spoke Russian. In order to break the ice, I gave them a Mexican peso coin. But I felt that it would be nice if I practice Russian, so then I switched to Russian. Obviously, Misha and the girl (Sonya) were surprised that according to them I spoke very well Russian. Sonya said that many foreigners tend to speak Russian with a noticeable accent, while I hadn’t accent at all. Then I said some slang, and they were even more surprised. Again I asked them not to tell anybody I spoke Russian.

 

Day 2

I tried to watch the Confederations Cup final (Brazil 3-0 Spain) but I woke up so late that I could only watch the final 15 minutes. And then I had a Skype call from my parents. All of this caused that I couldn’t eat breakfast (served from 7 to 9), so I went to the grocery store to have a rare breakfast. We had a photoshoot session for the contest, where we went later, because finally Yoni’s roomie came. He was a Canadian guy (Luc) and he surprised us when he spoke fluent Chinese, beside his native languages (English and French, from his father) and Spanish at a high level. And I has so happy because he knew all the language learning community, specially Benny “the Irish Polyglot”, Tim Doner. At first sight, he didn’t believe that I spoke so many languages, but after seeing me giving a sample, he just convinced himself. Luc, as a plus, had a explosive and easy going personality. I knew that we would be good friends. Then we went to take the lunch and there I saw many guys that reciently arrived: an Austrian couple (Simon and Katharina), a Bulgarian guy (Konstantin), a Croatian men (Martin), and so on. I discovered that Katharina spoke Spanish too with a Castilian accent, because not so long time ago, she had a Spanish boyfriend. Then, Konstantin started to speak to me in Spanish from Mexico when he knew I was Mexican. In the dinner, I found a Latin American guy because of the physonomy. I was right: Alonso, from Ecuador. While we ate, we spoke about the competition and I was happy of chit-chatting with a brother. And a Canadian girl, who was terrificly hot: Heather. She used to be a cheerleader, explaining why she had a sexy body (sorry, I’m a man), and she spoke Spanish too because she had lived in Mexico for six months.

Then, the photo session came. I allowed  Obviously we had the order of bringing typical costume from our countries, and I became a Mariachi, letting go my explosiveness and my extrovert personality, subtly flirting with the girls: British (Anne), Czech (Tereza), Chathurangi, girl from Madagascar (Rotathiana) and Katharina. But there were men too: Luc, Simon, Konstantin, Martin and a Belgian guy (Edouard). I wasn’t ready to let out my knowledge, so all the time we spoke in English. In the lobby, I saw a roomates couple: one girl from Italy (Eleonora) and one from Georgia (Salome). I already saw Eleonora on photos, and she had a pretty face. In order to know them, I started to speak to them in Chinese. Then, when Salome said she was from Georgia, she said in English: “Nobody cares about my country”. Well, in the end she didn’t know I was the Tlatoani of languages. But at the same time, we went to Simon’s room to hang out. Then I saw that Katharina was really hot and most important, she spoke 8 language flawlessly: English, Spanish, Italian (from her mother), German, French, Portuguese, Hebrew (she was Jew) and Chinese. I tried to make an interview to her, but she refused. As Simon had a guitar, we started to sing some songs. My field was “world music” and then I grabbed guitar and started to sing a Israelian song: “Od yavo shalom aleinu”. Katharina joined me, but then she had the idea of singing the second national anthem of Israel: “Yerushalayim shel zahav”. Imagine this randomness: a Mexican guy and an Austrian girl singing a Israelian song in China. I don’t know guys, but I was in paradise.

Then I went back to the lobby while wearing the mask (a guy from New Zealand, called Campbell, a true maori, complimented me), and I saw a girl from Morocco (Btissame), France (Momo), Argentina (Leo) and Brazil (Aristeu), but I decided it was not time yet. Again I wanted to see who else was in the photo studio. Then I went back, and I discovered that Muhibullo was speaking to some businessmen. For this part, I must tell some fact: there’s a guy called Moses McCormick who makes some level-ups, videos where he practices his languages in malls. I knew that I had the very first serious practice: these businessmen were from Iran, so they were speaking Farsi with Muhibullo. So I switched to Farsi and they were surprised that a Mexican spoke Farsi. Maybe my Farsi was too basic, but still was a surprise, because the leader called his delegation to show that fact. He gave me a card, and he was the CEO of an Iranian oil company who was here in China just to make some business. Then Muhibullo remained, and then I switched to Russian. Obviously I recorded the conversation with Iranians and Muhibullo (in Farsi and Russian), Belarussian girls (Julya and Katya, in Russian) and Christina (in Spanish).

Then to Btissame, Momo and Rotathiana in French, Leo in Spanish, and Aristeu in Portuguese. But Muhibullo wanted to try my mariachi custom. Even though he had a deep accent in Russian, I could understand and he took the photo, without letting the chance of wearing his custom, even thought he was smaller than me. And then the dinner came. Konstantin practiced his Spanish with me, obviously I allowed him to practice. Meanwhile, I practiced with Momo in French, and he told me at the end: “Tu fais des progress avec le français” (You’re making progress with French). There was also a contestant from the last year, from France too (Marine), and I also practiced my french. As I ate at a slow pace because I was practicing my languages, I had the chance to meet even more people (Tereza and Slovak girl, Slavomira, who also spoke Spanish), and a Kazakh girl (Aigerim), surprised that I spoke Russian Then, I remembered the words of Merwe: his fellow was so sexy. Then when I was about to finish my dinner, I found a couple of Turkish guys (Ataberk and Mahmut). Ataberk spoke Spanish and he was the first guy to ask me to teach him some Mexican slang, and when I told him that I knew teams from Turkish league, he replied me that he knew Mexican football too, mentioning my team at the first place. 

There comes the best moment. At the end, I saw a very smoking hot girl, so I followed her. She was the South African girl (Jani) with guys from Zimbabwe (Michael aka Obama), Tanzania (Balthazar), US (Juliet) and Indonesia (Audrey). Then after I asked them to introduce themselves, Michael asked me in Chinese:

-Where are you from?

I answered him: “I’m from Mexico”

Then he asked me: “Ты говоришь по-русски”? Why? Because in Chinese, pronunciations of Mexico (墨西哥/Mòxīgē) and Moscow (莫斯科/Mòsìkè) are quite simmilar. So, Michael misthought I was Russian and as he knew Russian from his mother, he was free to speak to me in Russian. But I wasn’t a multilingual guy for nothing and I replied in Russian, but then I switched to English so all of the guys understand. Michael was surprised that I spoke Russian even thought I was Mexican, and then with Jani I spoke in Dutch, as Afrikaans is a daughter language from Dutch boers. I remember that Michael said: “This guy’s an inspiration”. This was my feeling

In order to celebrate Yoni’s birthday, we decided to go to La Bamba, a bar-club famous for students from abroad. There was nothing remarkable in languages, except that Luc won the duel for Katharina, and my friends got beers from Chinese guys because of speaking Chinese. After the club, we went back to hotel, just to find British guys  (Ricky and Josh), and speak English showing my mask.

 

To be continued…