We’ve done a bunch of interviews here on MandMx.com (Slow Chinese, Chinese with Mike, China Daily Cartoonist, Learn Chinese Everyday) but I think this non Chinese person has the most experience living and working in China that I’ve ever seen. I met Joanne Pittman years ago when I first began teaching English in China. She taught all of us teachers a bit about China and the Chinese language and I’ll never forget some of her stories. She urged us as we live in China to study the language because nothing is more fun than chatting up a taxi driver in Beijing about politics! That became my goal in life. So I was surprised when I saw that she put a book together from all her lessons to help those who are just starting Chinese. Her classes those many years ago were memorable and I’m sure these lessons will give you a great foundation in Mandarin Chinese.
Joanne Pittman: That depends on how you count. I taught English in Zhengzhou, Henan from 1984 to 1986. Then, from 1990 to present, I have worked here most of the time, with a few periods of time out of the country for further education or family. So from start to present, it’s 27 years!
MandMx: Where did you learn Chinese?
Joanne Pittman: I studied Chinese full time for a year (90-91) at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, Jilin Province. After that I worked with a tutor ten hours per week for 4-5 years while directing a program for North Americans studying Chinese.
MandMx: Do you know Characters as well?
Joanne Pittman: My character reading is OK, but unfortunately my character writing is very 差 (lacking).
MandMx: Why did you write your book? What were your goals?
Joanne Pittman:I originally put the material together back in the 1990’s for a summer language program that I directed for English Language Institute/China (ELIC). It has since been used by ELIC’s incoming teachers. The response internally has been very positive, so last fall I decided to publish the material. I know that survival-type Chinese language books are a dime-a-dozen, but my ‘beef’ with them is that they often try to teach too much at the ‘super-beginning’ level. The result is that learners often get discouraged and give up. My goal with this book was to produce something that would keep learners going by teaching small, bite-sized chunks in each chapter, with very simple explanations. And because I believe that listening is the foundation to second lounge learning, the book includes an audio (mp3) CD that includes the Pinyin Sound Chart, and vocabulary and dialogs from each of the chapters.
MandMx: How has the response been to the book? What are people saying?
Joanne Pittman: Better than I expected, to be honest. It has sold really well among folks travelling to China as tourists and those going to China on sort-term volunteer projects. It’s also been well-received among newly arrived expats in China, who want something simple to help them get started.
MandMx: What do you think about more Westerners studying Chinese today?
Joanne Pittman: The more the better. Given China’s emergence onto the world stage, I think it’s important that there be more westerners who are proficient in not only the Chinese language, but also Chinese culture.
MandMx: If you didn’t come to China, what do you think you would’ve done all your life?
Joanne Pittman: I probably would have gone to grad school and ended up teaching a a college somewhere.
MandMx: What is your favorite China website? China Newsite?
Joanne Pittman: Well, I enjoy YOUR website! For China news and analysis, I like China Digital Times (www.chinadigitaltimes.net), BBC, and The China Beat (www.thechinabeat.org). As for general information/blogs, I like World of Chinese (www.worldofchinese.com), Danwei (www.danwei.com), and China Media Project (www.cmp.hku.hk).
MandMx: What is your favorite Chinese movie?
Joanne Pittman: Shower. It’s ten years old now, but it’s a great about generational relationships in a changing Beijing.
MandMx: What is your favorite China book? or book about China?
MandMx: What’s your favorite motivational saying in Chinese?
Joanne Pittman: I’m not sure how motivational this saying is, but it’s one of the most useful ones in helping us foreigners make our way in Chinese society: jihua meiyou bianhua kuai. Plans can’t keep up with changes. 计划没有变化快。
MandMx: In only three words each please tell us what comes to your mind when I say:
(Example: I say Baseball: you say “Boston Red Sox.” OR “Boring but fun.” see only 3 words.)
MandMx: Bejing Joanne Pittman: my adopted hometown
MandMx: Shanghai Joanne Pittman: Different from 1984
MandMx: Chopsticks Joanne Pittman: What’s so difficult?
MandMx: Chinese food Joanne Pittman: rice and peanuts
MandMx: Chinese literature Joanne Pittman: Over my head
MandMx: Sina Weibo Joanne Pittman: an alternate universe
MandMx: Twitter Joanne Pittman: bursts of communication
MandMx: Sand storms Joanne Pittman: Spring is here!
MandMx: Summer Joanne Pittman: Drip, drip, drip
MandMx: Great Wall Joanne Pittman: What’s the point?
MandMx: winter Joanne Pittman: Where’s the humidity?
Also we did a comic of one of her tweets last year which was fun!