Monroe Mann Photo
  • DIVER: Monroe Mann
  • CATEGORY – Linguist
  • DIVE: Chinese (Mandarin)
  • LEVEL: 1
  • REQUIREMENTS: Can read, write, speak, and listen at a basic level

When and why did you decide to start studying this language?

I began studying Chinese in 10th grade, at Fryeburg Academy, in high school, up in Maine.  It wasn’t actually a Chinese class, but rather an after school Chinese calligraphy program.  I remember distinctly asking if he’d be teaching us Chinese itself, and he said no. Haha. So I just ended up using a brush and drawing some characters.  This was back in the early 90s.

Why did I start studying Chinese? My dad was in WWII, and spent much of his deployment in China in the mid 1940s.  My grandpa (who I never met) imported Chinese Ming dynasty replica furniture and so growing up, at Grandma’s house, I always felt I was in China, because virtually every piece of furniture from beds, tables, and chairs were Ming dynasty replicas!  So, it always interested me, and any chance I got, I would try to teach myself Chinese. It never worked out very well.

How long did it take for you to reach this level of proficiency from the day you decided to pursue it?

I tried to learn the basics for over 20 years since that first calligraphy class.  Teaching yourself Chinese is hard. It’s not ‘hard’ as in ‘oh my gosh, it requires so much intelligence’, but hard as in ‘without a good program teaching you the tones, stroke order, pronunciation, listening exercises, etc., it’s going to be an uphill battle’.

Thankfully, sometime in 2011, I found a Living Language Complete Chinese set, and I ordered it.  And it was (and is) really fantastic. It comes with a basic, intermediate, and advanced book, and I’m still working through the Advanced book now actually.  But it also came with CDs, and plenty of exercises, and through it, I absolutely learned the basic basics. But it wasn’t until 2014 when I moved to Shanghai that I really solidified those basics in my classes there.  

So technically, it took me 20 years to learn the basics, but of actual study, probably about one year

What do you think is the hardest & easiest part about studying this language?

The hardest part is getting over the initial fear and trepidation caused by the tones and characters.  Once you learn those basics (3 months), everything else is pure joy and fun. The easiest part? There are no traditional verb conjugations.  So I am (我是) is virtually the same as You are (你是) and They are (他们是). Notice that the verb ‘is’ 是 never changes! No conjugations. Meaning: becoming comfortable using correct Chinese grammar is easier than virtually any other language.  If you can make it past the first 3 months, you’ll end up with a lifelong hobby.

What is your advice for someone who is pursuing this dive?

Get someone to help you with tones, characters, stroke order, etc. in your first few months. Nothing will discourage you more than feeling overwhelmed by those basics.  Further, don’t forget to practice writing the characters. While most communication will be via cell phone and computer, using pinyin-to-hanzi transliteration, if you can’t write with a pen, you are functionally illiterate.  Nothing to be proud of, and more importantly, your cell phone battery may die one day and if you’re in China with laryngitis and can’t speak… knowing how to write with a pen will come in quite handy! Also, since most foreigners can’t write with a pen, it makes you something of a rock star when they see you can write the characters

How did you prove you met the requirements for this level?

I was tested by BD Fluency Project staff member Echo Yu on my basic speaking and listening ability, and my writing and reading ability was tested via live Chinese chats I’ve had with Echo in the BD community, and from sharing a number of my handwritten essays

Please share some original writing in this language, with perfect spelling and grammar (Title, plus one paragraph).




Will you be pursuing the next level?  If so, what is the next level, and what is your plan?  If not, why not?

Yes, absolutely.  My lifelong dream has been to speak fluent Chinese.  I am so excited to be able to say with certainty that I am on my way.  I’ve passed HSK4, and I am now studying for HSK5. In my next certification, I will share what it was like taking HSK 2 & 3.  加油!

And having made this post, and provided adequate evidence to the dive committee, Monroe Mann is now hereby certified by Break Diving, Inc. as: LINGUIST – CHINESE (Mandarin) – LEVEL 1.  Congratulations Monroe!  Thank you for being an inspiration to others!

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