New Travel Book: ‘Dreaming in Chinese’

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  08.31.10 | 6:42 PM ET

Anyone who has ever tried to learn even a few words of Chinese will appreciate the difficulty of the task. It turns out it was a serious challenge even for a woman with a Ph.D. in linguistics and six languages already under her belt.

That would be Deborah Fallows, author of the new book, Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love and Language.

NPR just profiled her. My favorite passage from the radio piece concerned her attempt to order take-out Taco Bell, of all things:

Her tones weren’t very good at that point, though, so Fallows’ request for “takeout”—dabao—was met with a blank stare from the Taco Bell employee. Fallows tried saying dabao with every combination of tones she could think of—rising tones, falling tones—and when that didn’t work, she started pointing at the menu, and then miming the action of walking out the door with a bag of food. After a consultation with several other employees, finally—eureka! Yes, dabao! Yes, of course, they did takeout.

I feel Fallows’ pain.

3 Comments for New Travel Book: ‘Dreaming in Chinese’

Kerala Tour Packages 09.02.10 | 3:07 PM ET

great post..i always like travel and tourism related posts…many thanks

Costa maresme 09.04.10 | 12:12 AM ET

Nice one!!! Have you written any book on Spain ??? Spain is a beautiful destination. I love this place….Costa Mallorca, Costa Blanca and Costa maresme are my favorites…Vacation rentals are ever ever best in Spain…

LQ 09.04.10 | 1:02 AM ET

This is one reason why I quit studying Chinese. I don’t know if it’s a linguistic feature—if it’s just totally impossible for Chinese listeners to correct for mispronounced tones—or a cultural feature, but Chinese listeners are extraordinarily unhelpful if you’re not a fluent Chinese speaker. (On average, they’re even less “sympathetic,” in the sociolinguistic sense, than Americans listening to accented English speakers, which is saying a lot.)

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