Too much show in 'show and tell'

Honestly, I was trying to learn Mandarin.

But the situation I was in - huddled in a quiet corner of the bedroom with earphones on and looking at half-naked women on the computer screen - didn't convince my wife one bit.

Instinctively, I said to her: "Ni hao ma?" (Mandarin for "How are you?").

Thankfully, I remembered an introductory teaser which contained a conversation in Mandarin between Wendy and Demi, who were greeting each other.

Yes, I was paying attention. I even took notes in the beginning.

A few days ago, I was given the task of watching 10 short video clips from SexyMandarin. The intention? To see, if at the end of it all, I'll be able to better understand, or even converse in, Mandarin.

The makers of the series boast that their programme is an "innovative way to learn this exotic language".

I have no doubts about that. And I suspect, most male viewers would agree.

It's helpful that the SexyMandarin clips include real-life situations, though not presented realistically.

I'm guessing that those who want to learn Mandarin can better relate to such instances like being stopped by a traffic policeman (that's Lesson 7 - April Fool's Day with Tiffany), a visit to the clinic (Lesson 6 - Valentine's Day) or asking for the time (Lesson 1).

These three clips have collectively garnered more than 1.4 million views on YouTube.

I have always believed that the show-and-tell technique is one of the best learning tools.

After watching 10 SexyMandarin clips, I'm not so sure.

There's just too much "show".

Looking at my video clip selections, I must admit I'm guilty of "selective" learning.

I realised that I subconsciously clicked on video clips where the "teachers" wear almost the same amount of clothes as newbies at a nudist colony.

Ask me to string a simple sentence in Mandarin, and I'll be stuttering in desperation.

Ask me what I can recall from the video clips and I'll gladly tell you - lacy bras, a stethoscope, a traffic cop in a black midriff-baring uniform, ruby red lips, Tiffany (Lesson 6 and 7), skin-tight panties and two women in bed.

All very cute, but it's not surprising that the images distract from the text.

But hope is not lost.

I'm proud to say I remember some words like "jing cha" (police in Mandarin), "qiao ke li" (chocolate), "ting che" (stop the car) and "ji dian" (what time).

"Bu chuo mah?"(not bad?) for a Mandarin newbie, if I do say so myself.

I'm confident that I'll soon be able to converse in Mandarin.

Just give me more time and a quiet corner.

zaihan@sph.com.sg

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