Book read: Dreaming in Chinese

Deborah Fallows, Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language (2010)

Deborah Fallows, an American Ph.D. in Linguistics, lived and worked in China for three years. Despite her background in linguistics and her previous studies of languages, she found learning Chinese to be quite difficult. This book offers her thoughts on how aspects of the Chinese language offer insight into China and its people. The book is divided into fourteen chapters, each of which describes some part of the author’s experience living in modern China and the language surrounding that bit of life. I highly recommend this book to those interested in China or the Chinese language.

One constant theme throughout the book was the author’s difficulty in learning Chinese. Her candor about this was quite refreshing. My normal expectation of a Ph.D. in Linguistics would be that they would find learning languages to be quite easy. Even though I’ve never attempted to learn a language as difficult as Chinese, I empathized with her struggles quite readily. Given her background and her recent beginner’s experience, I’d be interested in seeing her write a book about how to learn languages. There don’t seem to be many of these types of books around despite the large market in language learning materials. The book that most readily comes to mind is Mario Pei’s How to Learn Languages and What Languages to Learn, which was first released in 1966. I would enthusiastically welcome an updated version of this.

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