Other than “Where are you from?”, this is the question I’ve been asked most frequently in Taiwan. I’ve met dozens of people in both Taichung and Taipei this summer, and invariably within a few minutes of meeting me, they either say, “Oh, wow, you speak Chinese really well,” or “How come you speak Chinese so fluently?” Here is the long version.
I was born in Beijing, and grew up speaking and reading Mandarin Chinese as my first language. My parents, both academics, had many books around the house, and I was a voracious reader from the start. A very memorable photo shows me at age five poring over a dictionary of Greek mythology while holding a dripping chocolate ice cream cone. I went to kindergarten in Beijing, and afterwards, took the exam to go to elementary school. And yes, there was an exam for elementary school, and I remember clearly that one portion was to add together two-digit numbers mentally (for example, 18 and 35) and tell the proctor the answer. Continue reading “Why do you speak Chinese so well?”