So I've been studying Mandarin Chinese for a few weeks now so I thought I'd write an update. I'm still loving it - studying for 1-2 hours a day, mainly utilising my long commute. Progress is slow but steady, I'm up to around 250 words and about 200 characters. You need at least 1000 characters to give you some kind of fluency in reading. My pronunciation and verbal fluency is of course leagues behind, but I'm hoping that once I've got a decent grasp of it I might be able to find a private tutor to help me with the verbal aspects - or bribe my colleagues with cake.
It isn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. It's hard, learning any language is hard, but I don't think Mandarin is as bad as it is made out to be. You do have an extra step as you need to memorise the connection between the English-Pinyin-Character trio but using the wonderful Anki that seems to be happening. I'm pretty good at recognising characters and I'm starting to remember the most frequent ones enough to write them from memory when I see the English phrase. I think truly memorising them enough to reproduce them easily will take some time.
I do love the simplicity of the the language. A far simpler grammatical system - no verb conjugation, past tense and questions indicated by the addition of a syllable at the end of the sentence or after the verb, very little us of 'is', 'of' and 'and'. Simple sentences just run pronoun-noun-verb-question participle i.e. You today go out? which translates into normal english as Would you like to go out today?
I've bought a couple of books to help me understand the context of the language, particularly the written characters. A small percentage of characters do have their origins in pictographs (although not as many as you might believe) and understanding how these evovled is useful to me in understanding the structure of the language. So the two characters for morning relate to 'sun rise' and represent the sun above the earth and up.
On the other matter.... I have only found one other colleague who feels the same way as I do. Most just didn't see the problem. I did quite a lot of research and soul searching after writing that last post, just to confirm that women really are in a pretty poor situation in SA. I've decided I don't agree with academic boycotts because I don't think in 99% of cases they are justified - economic and political boycotts are a different matter. But I don't think we should enter into a partnership with any University in a country where we are forced to compromise the way we work and our own obligations under UK equality legislation i.e. how would we handle an admissions process where women are automatically excluded? If I can be convinced that working with a SA University does not force us to do this, then I might be able to reconcile myself with it, but otherwise I'll take a personal stand.