My husband Jim is in Beijing getting work writing for musical theatre. I am getting mouth-watering reports of great food, culture, and calligraphy. How hard would it be to learn enough Mandarin to be able to travel to the correct destination in a cab, order the food I want to eat, and say culturally appropriate things to the people I meet?
For me, very very hard. I had many years of French, from middle school to college and I can't do much more than "parlay-vooooo" which just proves my brain is only good at writing poems in English and even then I wonder if my grasp of language is enough. But if I love reading poems in translation, how much better would it be to be able to read them as written?
I think I could learn to read it better than speak it. Years of graphic design and differentiating type faces have made me sensitive to the slightest curl or straight in a letter shape. I have painted watercolors for decades, I know how a brush moves, the slick and stick to paper, the thick flow to scumble finish as the pigment goes from bristle to pulp. I've taken a lot of calligraphy classes... I know this. I also like the idea that the written language is independent of the sounds--pitch can't change the meaning of a written word-- I could learn to read and paint some word shapes. I think I shall try. When Jim gets back with ink and brush and a book for little kids to learn their letters.