I know how to say certain words and phrases, but I think the difference between having a real live professional tutor and learning informally is great enough that I stumble over the simplest things. Now I'm not learning "phrasebook Chinese", I'm learning the language from the bare roots. Some of the initials and finals still throw me a bit. I know what I'm saying, but now I have to pay much closer attention to HOW I say it, and how it should sound. Even my tones are not as clear as they should be. I have to put a little more force into the sounds. This is why Asian tonal language speakers are loud: they HAVE to be loud, in order to pronounce everything clearly. That's just the way the languages developed.
What embarrassed and frustrated me, though, were those "sss" and "sh" sounds: the initials j, q, x, z, c, s, zh, ch, and sh are pronounced differently in Chinese. Here is part of the problem: when I was little, I had a terrible speech impediment, and the letter s was difficult for me to pronounce clearly, even with speech therapy for a few years. I finally got to the point where I could speak without too much of a lisp...and then I had a front tooth knocked out. I've had to deal with composites and a crown and finally a partial bridge ( and I'm wearing an acrylic temporary, not the porcelain and metal permanent, which is an expense I haven't been able to handle, even with insurance ), and my speech pattern has shifted accordingly. Now I'm learning this language that completely throws off everything. I chose a tutor because I wanted reinforcement. I wanted professional instruction. I wanted to learn the CORRECT way to speak. Not that I speak Chinese so badly, but that lisp--coupled with a tongue that is a little thicker than normal ( in fact, it's been called a "Mongolian tongue" ) impedes my progress just a little bit now, mostly because it's being called to my attention.
And when part of the exercise includes tone drills like "4 is 4, 10 is 10, 14 is 14, 40 is 40"--"10" and "is" are pronounced almost identically, except for the tone, and "4" is not too different from them--well, you can see what I have to contend with. "Si shi si, shi shi shi, shisi shi shisi, sishi shi sishi."
Yeah, just YOU try it.
So my tutor has assigned me to do the tone drills, which I think are pretty standard for all Chinese language instruction. But those tongue twisters...*sigh*. Damn, I wish I could meet with native Mandarin speakers every day. Not Malaysian, not from Singapore, not Cantonese or Taiwanese or Sichuanese or Shanghaiese who picked up Mandarin because it is the official language of mainland China. I mean hard core, fluent communicators of putonghua, born and bred in the "chicken neck" of China. Why do I keep running into Vietnamese and Koreans and Filipinos? It's not helping me with my Chinese...