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Dreaming in Chinese

3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  1,387 ratings  ·  288 reviews
Deborah Fallows has spent much of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin, China's most common language, or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying the language of her adopted home provided small clues to decipheri ...more
ebook, 208 pages
Published September 7th 2010 by Walker Books Ltd (first published January 1st 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,870)
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Abby
Deborah Fallows lived and worked in China for three years with her husband, journalist Jim Fallows. She is a linguist by training and sought to understand the country through understanding its language. Even after many years of language study (beginning in Washington DC before she moved abroad and then with both informal tutors and formal classes in China), Fallows seems unable to grasp the rudimentary aspects of either the Chinese language or its people.

Fallows seems to spend the bulk of her t
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Kathrina
What this book has made immensely clear to me is that I have, at some vague point, clearly passed the era of my life where all-thing-are-possible. There are some things I'm good at, very many more that I am no good at, and those two lists are not likely to change a whole lot in the future. I know that I will never climb mountains, perform surgery, skateboard, or ever again have the complexion/figure of a 19-year-old. I don't mean to say that I've given up on striving or learning new things -- th ...more
Neil Crossan
Jan 02, 2012 Neil Crossan rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Neil by: SF Book Club
There is a part of me that wants to just unload on this book. And then there’s the other part that says, “C’mon now Neil. Let’s be fair here. You’ve never been to China.” And then the first part gets really annoyed and just takes over like an irrational two year old on a cross country flight. Here comes the screaming …
#1: No book under 100 pages deserves to be published in hard cover unless it’s a photo book of my trip to Vancouver for my parents or its poetry. And don’t tell me this book is 18
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Stewart
When I saw a review of this book, I made an effort to get a copy. I have several Chinese-American friends in the Bay Area who came to this country as adults whom I have helped with some of the finer points of English. Because Chinese has a simpler grammatical structure than English and does not have articles (a, an, the) or verb tenses, learning to use these in English is difficult. Also, Chinese does not distinguish between he and she. The word "ta" serves for both.
Deborah Fallows, who has a
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Lara
Really I'd give this 2.5 stars, because there were certainly some things I liked about this book. The actual words and definitions and origins included were really interesting; I very much enjoyed the linguistic parts. But I had a lot of problems with the cultural descriptions and with the way the book as a whole is written.

Each chapter is basically a short essay based around a particular Mandarin word or phrase, and Fallows generally includes anecdotes relating to the word or phrase from her t
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Tim
There should be a book like this for every language and country!

Deb Fallows does a brilliant job using her experience learning mandarin as a key to understanding the Chinese mind. The book isn't just insightful, it's a compulsive read. I consumed it in one sitting. Each chapter is a new window on the language and the mind.

If you've ever wondered how language shapes the mind, you owe it to yourself to read this graceful book. It's intensely personal, anecdotal style is more convincing than a doze
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William
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 ...more
Mag
Deborah Fallows, a Harvard linguistics professor, writes about her adventures with learning and practicing Chinese in China. An admirable effort in itself as Chinese is really difficult to learn and practice for anybody speaking a Western language. Talking about Western, I was amused by Fallows’ typically Western behavior including washing market raisins in an effort to disinfect them at the beginning of her stay, but then reassured by her jaywalking together with the Chinese as she grew accusto ...more
Kim
This book is delightful and gave me a serious case of wanderlust! Deborah Fallows makes the technicalities of learning Mandarin so VERY interesting! After reading this book, I am considering the MIT Openware course on Mandarin - Ms. Fallows has given me a bug to learn a new language!
Jane
Dreaming in Chinese is a book about learning about Chinese language and culture, written by a British author-linguist who had the good fortune to live in China for a few years. If you're already studying Chinese or thinking of studying it, it's a great read.

And yet you really don't have to be a language buff to enjoy reading this little (188-page) book. If you like to take mental vacations to exotic places; if you want or need to learn more about Chinese culture, perhaps to make it easier to wor
...more
Diane
In light of my upcoming trip to China, a friend recommended this book.

Deborah Fallows has a PhD in linguistics, and recently spent three years living in Shanghai and Beijing. She talks about the difficulty of learning Chinese (Mandarin), and weaves in and around her language growth some of the life experiences she had while living there.

It's a short book, and gives some interesting insights into the Chinese people and culture. I'm glad I read it. I think it will enhance my experience while I'm t
...more
Mary
This is an enjoyable short book about trying to learn Chinese, and that understanding how the language works is a key into understanding the Chinese people, and vice versa. While I have nowhere near the experience in China that Fallows has, and speak/understand virtually no Chinese, a lot of this resonated well. Chinese people who are fluent in English have spoken and written to me in e-mails always seem to be particularly blunt in their communications, which to date I have attributed to the fac ...more
Ms.pegasus
Fallows and her husband spent 3 years living and traveling in China, primarily Shanghai and Beijing. DREAMING IN CHINESE is her travel journal organized around various linguistic themes. Chapters include contemplations on social space, lack of pronouns, language play based on the vast number of homophones, the frustrations of learning a tonal language, and the equal frustration of learning the characters of written Chinese.

One of my favorite stories was “The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den.” T
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Znic
Author is a PhD in linguistics who has lived in Beijing and Shanghai for extended periods of time, and studied Mandarin. Each of the short chapters is framed around a Chinese phrase or concept, from Wǒ ài nǐ ("I love you") to Nǐ de Zhōngwěn hěn hǎo ("your Chinese is really good" - I am copying from the text here and apologise if I've stuffed up the tone markers. I spent a year trying to learn Mandarin and am still not convinced I ever got a tone right intentionally). There are some nice moments ...more
Nikki
I've been studying Cantonese a little, and I hoped that, despite being about Mandarin, this book would provide some good insights into the relationship between Chinese language and culture. Unfortunately, it doesn't go deep enough into any topic to achieve what I would think of as an insight into anything.

The author is a linguist, so presumably she is better at this than I am, but I could have told you after 10 hours of studying Cantonese why Chinese people mix up the words "he" and "she" in En
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Alan
"I did inch away from being overwhelmed at such a massive, intense, overwhelming country or touching a few people one by one and getting a little closer to their lives however small the increments this reward gave me at least the illusion that I belong, if just for a little bit, in this extraordinary country at this moment in history." Don't be mislead by this seemingly short book. It is about so much more than the challenge of mastering the Chinese language. I was struck by my continuing disagr ...more
Holly Morrow
Fun little book for anyone whos ever done battle with the Chinese language, or tried to navigate the absurdities of living in China as a foreigner. Deborah Fallows is the wife of Atlantic columnist James Fallows, and a linguist in her own right. She recounts her attempts to learn Chinese before and while living in China on a 3-year assignment of her husbands. Americans learning Chinese and living in China generally have some variant of the same experience - laugh at the same things, are bewilder ...more
Azzageddi
Thankfully I picked this book up and wasn't scared off by a few of the bad reviews here on Goodreads. Fallows is a linguistics PhD who has written a very accessible book about a language she finds decidedly inaccessible: Mandarin. Each chapter focuses on specific words or features of the language which she believes find apt parallels in Chinese society. This is not a linguistics textbook; it's a book for laymen. In that sense, she doesn't bog the reader down with much technical lingo. She sticks ...more
Maria
Jan 12, 2013 Maria rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Travelers
Recommended to Maria by: Politics & Prose Travel Book Club
Washington, D.C.’s, Politics & Prose bookstore’s Travel book club discussed this book for their January 2013 book group.

This was the first time I read a book about a different culture that approached it from a linguistic perspective. Because of this approach little was written about the author or her family, the food, the architecture of their home, or other routinely discussed elements in travel books. It inspired me to picture a different country from a novel perspective.

I appreciated the
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Carol
I enjoyed thoroughly "Dreaming in Chinese" by Deborah Fallows. I was excited about reading it because she is linguist. She had already mastered several languages and is working on Chinese. Personally, I have taken and year and half of Chinese in community college, another year in a class for Chinese American children and also tried learning the stroke sequence of many characters on my own.

My purpose in reading this book was to see how a professional linguist experiences with learning Mandarin c
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Graham Mulligan
Dreaming in Chinese, Mandarin lessons in life, love and language.
Deborah Fallows, 2010

Reviewed by Graham Mulligan

Deborah Fallows is a linguist married to a journalist, James Fallows. They have lived in Shanghai and Beijing and struggled to learn some Mandarin. This is her collection of fourteen useful, commonly-heard words or phrases and some cultural tales that they inspired her to relate.

Wo ai ni – I love you! (the grammar of romance)
Bu yao – Don’t want, don’t need! (When rude is polite)
Shi, S
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Jack Cheng
After finishing this book, I immediately thought: "This will now be the first book I recommend to someone travelling to China." And then last night, someone called and it WAS the first book I recommended.

In this slim volume, Fallows presents language oddities through a memory or anecdote, and then considers some of the implications. You don't need to know Chinese to enjoy it; at the same time, when I discussed this with my mother, she was delighted by some of the observations Fallows made that a
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Yoonmee
I'm torn on this one. Sometimes Fallows overgeneralizes about the Chinese so much that it really annoyed me and other times I found myself nodding my head at her descriptions of her attempts to learn a new and difficult language, of living in a foreign country, of being utterly confused by different customs. (Note: I was an expat in Seoul, Korea for three years.) I'm giving this one 3 stars because I'm in a good mood, but it's probably somewhere between 2 and 3 stars. I just wish Fallows hadn't ...more
Cheri
Dec 18, 2014 Cheri rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cheri by: Denise Taylor
Shelves: asia, language, memoir
Dreaming in Chinese showed me how not saying 'thank you' could be viewed as polite; why virtually all Chinese TV has Chinese subtitles; that south can be at the top of a map (or not); why a shop called Bee Fnoodles seems correct to English-speaking Chinese; and how time and space may be related in ways that had never occurred to me. Deborah Fallows lived in China for 3 years and turned to her linguistics training to guide her through a culture that was much more foreign than she had expected. He ...more
Marilyn Belsham
When I first received a copy of Dreaming in Chinese, I was disappointed to see that it is such a slim volume (just over 200 pages). I did not expect such a small memoir to reveal much. I was pleasantly surprised to find that although the memoir is thin, each chapter revealed interesting tidbits about Chinese life. Revealing the inner workings of a culture by analyzing the language was surprisingly fascinating. Indeed, I never knew that I could be as interested in China as I am before I read this ...more
nina
The concept, an American's experience learning Mandarin in mainland China, sounded good, however I was ultimately put off by the author's English-centric viewpoint. She describes Chinese language as strange, confusing and unpredictable, qualified only rarely by comments that it makes sense to the billion-plus population that speaks Chinese and maybe the problem is her way of thinking...

I'm also not sure how much research went into the origin of words, slang and grammar. It seems as though the a
...more
Amy
I liked this book alot, It was again a fairly typical expat - here is what is different, here is what is the same book. But I really liked how it was linked into the language and how the differences can be seen perceived through the lens of language.

I read these books about people trying so hard to learn Chinese and I try not to be discouraged. This is a linguist who has been studying for two years, and she hears something in Spanish and understands more than in Chinese (and she has NEVER studie
...more
B
The author, with a PhD in Linguistics, discusses the Chinese language as she is learning it while living there several years, first in Shanghai and then in Beijing. One might think this would be dull but it's absolutely not because everything she brings across is done through stories about the people she meets,and things she observes.

So one cool thing about Chinese that all languages should adopt: no tenses! When they want to indicate something that happened a day ago, they just say "Yesterday,
...more
Jaylia3
Deborah Fallows is a linguist, but still she struggled to learn Chinese when she and her husband spent three years living and traveling in Shanghai and Beijing. Using insights she gained from her language studies, this short fun book explores Chinese culture through the idiosyncrasies of Mandarin, China’s most common language. Each of the 14 chapters covers a different linguistic and cultural quirk, including why the Chinese aren’t good with pronouns, why they don’t often say, “I love you” and w ...more
Daniel Reid
If you're completely unfamiliar with China or the Chinese language, this book may be moderately interesting. However, there are far better books on China out there, and she herself admits to not being an expert. Essays of this quality can be found all over the internet.

I started reading it with high hopes. The very first chapter talks about the Chinese concept of love, something I've long been confused with. She states her own confusion, and then wonders aloud what it all could possibly mean. I
...more
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Coralville Librar...: Dreaming in Chinese 1 3 Jan 11, 2012 12:18PM  
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Deborah Fallows has lived in Shanghai and Beijing and traveled throughout China for three years with her husband, writer James Fallows. She is a Harvard graduate and has a PhD in Linguistics. She most recently worked in research and polling for the Pew Internet Project and in data architecture for Oxygen Media. When in the U.S., she and her husband live in Washington, DC. They have two sons and tw ...more
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“One day, in a grocery store, I swept clean a shelf of microbrew beer for my husband and three giant jars of mustard, leaving none for future shoppers. It was victory tinged with guilt. What would the next expat shopper think, when looking for beer or mustard? I couldn't afford to think about them. Every man for himself, in modern China!” 2 likes
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