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Editorial Reviews

Editors Select, January 2013 - As someone who frequently daydreams of moving to the other side of the world and learning a foreign language (and most likely never will!), I'm finding this book utterly fascinating. The author touches on the subtleties of language - how one word can have several meanings just by the speakers' tone - and how this impacts her interactions while living in Shanghai and Beijing. There are a lot of observations about language in this book, and I'm eager to hear how the narrator captures the journey of learning both the Mandarin Chinese language and culture. —Jessica, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

Deborah Fallows has spent a lot 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 learning the language of her adopted home provided small clues to deciphering behavior and habits of its people, and its culture's conundrums. As her skill with Mandarin increased, bits of the language - a word, a phrase, an oddity of grammar - became windows into understanding romance, humor, protocol, relationships, and the overflowing humanity of modern China.

Fallows learned, for example, that the abrupt, blunt way of speaking which Chinese people sometimes use isn't rudeness, but is, in fact a way to acknowledge and honor the closeness between two friends. She learned that English speakers' trouble with hearing or saying tones - the variations in inflection that can change a word's meaning - is matched by Chinese speakers' inability not to hear tones, or to even take a guess at understanding what might have been meant when foreigners misuse them.

Dreaming in Chinese is the story of what Deborah Fallows discovered about the Chinese language, and how that helped her make sense of what had at first seemed like the chaos and contradiction of everyday life in China.

©2010 Deborah Fallows (P)2012 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"You don't have to know Mandarin to be captivated by Deborah Fallows's Dreaming in Chinese.... Forget Berlitz - that just teaches words. Deborah Fallows shows us that the cultural implications of those words teach us about each other." (Sara Nelson, O: The Oprah Magazine)
"Fallows has a good ear for aspect, the way of stressing certain words and syllables to change or add layers of meaning to a simple word or phrase. She veers to the gentle, seeing the generosity behind brusque gestures, the intimacy and friendship behind rudeness and the priorities that language reveals. Playfulness, respect, affection and the virtues of solidarity with the common people - a different traveler might miss all these but not Fallows." (Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times)
“Narrator Catherine Byers deftly communicates the intricacies and particularities of the language. The accuracy of her Chinese pronunciation and her demonstrations of tones seem authentic, a factor that is important given what Fallows tells us about the difficulty of Chinese pronunciation and the travails she experienced as a result of her missteps in this regard.” (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Interesting examination of Chinese culture

I enjoyed the perspective on Chinese culture from someone who lived there and studied the language. It is probably more interesting for someone who has studied the language, even briefly as I did, than for someone who hasn't studied foreign languages, and particularly Mandarin.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating book

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would absolutely recommend the book to anyone who has any interest in China or the Chinese language. It is a deeply insightful book, examining a complex and easily misunderstood culture.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

It was extremely helpful to know that others have struggled as much as I have with Mandarin. And after reading so many China-bashing travelogues, it was lovely to read something from someone who seems to have a genuine affection for the people, the culture and the language. The chapter about the earthquake was genuinely moving, allowing Ms. Fallows' neighbors to emerge as truly, independently human.

Any additional comments?

I have only one real complaint. The narrator is perfectly competent -- the enunciates very clearly, and emotes very subtly, which works well for non-fiction. However, given the nature of the book, it is jarring that the narrator makes no effort to pronounce the Chinese phrases correctly. Or perhaps she has made a little effort,but doesn't recognize that even pronunciation in this language requires *great* effort. I'm not being nitpicky or snobbish -- it's not that her Chinese is heavily accented, but that it would be almost incomprehensible to a native speaker. I recognize that it would be difficult to find a reader who has studied any Mandarin. However, she reads the Chinese words as if they were English, which tends to nullify the point of getting this on audiobook rather than in print.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Okay story, terrible listen.

What would have made Dreaming in Chinese better?

The narrative was mildly interesting, in the sense that some of the author's stories of living in China resonated with my own experiences, but given the title, I was expecting more in-depth language analysis, which it entirely lacks. Plus, there's a fair bit that the author doesn't go on to explain and I imagine would confuse me if I didn't already know more about it. For instance, when she is talking about word play, and the "grass mud horse" she notes that is is a homonym for something else, but doesn't say what. I'll give you that it's really hard to indicate what it's a homonym for in polite language, but she didn't even try.<br/><br/>

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The real thing that made this book unlistenable (I admit to giving up about an hour and a half in) is that the narrator is a great English reader but clearly doesn't speak a word of Chinese, and no one gave her even a ten minute summary in pinyin phonetics. If I had been smart enough to read the reviews beforehand, I would have seen that. If you have any level of Chinese understanding, you will probably find this audiobook frustrating and grating. Otherwise, either give it a miss or try the print edition.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Interesting, but reflections not deep

I enjoyed Deborah Fallows' thoughts but didn't agree with her conclusions, which seemed to me to be generalizations or viewing what was said through a Western lens. I was also disappointed that the narrator struggled to pronounce the Mandarin words. I've studied Chinese part time for four years, and her unclear tones and pronunciation made it hard to picture the words as she said them. I do appreciate her respect for her host culture and the complexity of the language.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Nia
  • LAFAYETTE, LA, US
  • 02-13-17

The audiobook borders on being unlistenable due to poor narration.

Given the subject matter, it's difficult to understand why someone who is entirely incapable of Chinese pronunciation was chosen to narrate this book.

Aside from the pronunciation of Chinese words, this book has had me laughing and relating to the author. I'll likely read the book, but can not recommend this audiobook, and am unsure whether I will be able to tolerate listening to it to completion :(

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great insights for Chinese learners and expats

As a native English speaker and long-time resident of Shanghai who has spent alot of time trying to get to a point of being able to carry on a simple conversation in Mandarin, this book really hit home, articulting many of my experiences and provided insights l had not encountered before. Only criticism is her Chinese pronunciation was not very accomplished; but then realized it was not the author`s voice.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Well-written book soiled by poorly pronounced Chinese

I really like this book about the author's firsthand account of living in China and her struggle in learning Chinese language. The book is informative and highly entertaining. The biggest and saddest issue with this audiobook is, as other reviewers have pointed out, toneless (or fourth tone only) Chinese pronunciation of the performer.

Author talks quite a lot about how tones change meaning of words in Chinese and tells funny incidents of miscommunication she had stemming from getting the tones wrong. But the performer's pronunciation can't convey any of that.

I'm just flummoxed as to why the performer who seems to know very little or nothing about Chinese language pronunciation was chosen to read a book full of Chinese language topics. If you are someone familiar with Chinese language or a Chinese learner seeking some linguistically rooted stimulation, I have to warn you that you are probably in for a disappointment.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Narrator Doesn't know any Chinese!

Where does Dreaming in Chinese rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

It is a great book with a terrible narration. Thus, as an audiobook I would have to rank it quite low.

What did you like best about this story?

The author is eloquent, wise, and thoroughly entertaining. She tells stories of personal experiences in China with a fascinating eye toward the cultural and social implications of the mandarine language. I recommend this book to mandarine speakers or learners as well as anyone with any interest in China at all. I am sure that anyone who has lived in China and read this book would do the same.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator has no clue how to properly pronounce and intonate the Chinese words throughout the book. This is unusually destructive and frustrating since the book is an exploration of the cultural characteristics of the mandarine language! Regardless of your mandarine skills, listening to this book will become unnecessarily confusing, thus diminishing its value and interest. The producers of the audiobook MUST get someone else to read the Chinese words. I would do it myself if it meant the quality of this book was restored for listeners.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Wrong choice of narrator

What did you like best about Dreaming in Chinese? What did you like least?

I cannot understand why the narration was performed by someone who has no chinese language experience. Although I enjoyed the story, the nuances of the different tones in the Chinese language were completely trampled by the narrators inability to verbalize the tones.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Right On!

I thought this was a terrific book written in an enjoyable, upbeat and sometimes humorous manner by the author, Deborah Fallows.

As one who lives in China for most of the year, I can see firsthand what she shares with us, especially in regards to name selection, mate selection, social orders of the day, and so much more.

The author also does a great job in helping us to understand and even learn a few Chinese words along the way.

I highly recommend this book whether you’re planning on going to China or just want to learn a few more things about China.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful