"Why are we learning Chinese?" is a question my husband often asks me after a long night of studying.
It's hard to answer that question sometimes. Learning Chinese can often be very discouraging, and the amount of time needed to do it well is exhausting. It's a daunting task, and the fruits of your labor aren't always so easy to see. Most people say it takes 8 years of intense study to achieve true fluency, three times longer than most European languages.
So why did we think we would become fluent in three years?
Signing up for the Chinese classes was one of the first things we did upon our arrival in Taiwan. The semester began two weeks later. We could not speak one word of Chinese going into the class, we didn't even have Chinese names. On the first day we already felt behind. Most of our classmates had been living in Taiwan for some time, and had decided to take a class in basic Mandarin. They knew a few phrases, and had names. We didn't even know how to write pinyin.
There was little English used in the class, although our text book had English translations. Some days we left class with hardly any idea of what had been going on for the past two hours, only some indecipherable attempt at writing pinyin in our notebooks. But Jonathan and I made it a point to study every night after he got home from work, which mainly consisted of memorizing characters, and writing them over and over and over again in a workbook until we knew it.
By the end of the semester we could see that our hard work had been paying off. Well, within our class anyway. We certainly passed the level of most of our (Western) classmates were achieving, and could compete with the three Japanese member of the class (they can already basically read and write all of the characters).
But on the street, well that's a different story...