In the last two months, I've experienced a little Chinese language burst. In a short time, I went from stumbling through short phrases to stumbling through short conversations. This makes a huge difference in quality of life in China. When I was traveling with my family, I was surprised at how often I could find some way to ask the question I was thinking of, and sometimes even understand the answer!
By the way, travel is great language practice. It takes you away from your comfortable routines and from the people who normally translate for you. Partly for this reason, I try to travel about once a month (if only to Beijing).
I returned from my recent travels feeling pretty confident with my blossoming Chineze skillz. True, I am still illiterate, can barely write my own name, and do most of my communication with some combination of the words "this," "that," "what," and "OK?" True, I often smile and nod when I have no idea what the person just said. (Example: A woman at the Great Wall asked me if I liked to smoke. I smiled and said yes.) But, nonetheless, I got cocky.
...for about a day. This week, my Chinese doesn't seem to be working for me at all. I bought sunglasses today and didn't catch even one full sentence that the salesgirl said in my 15 minutes in the store. In my Chinese lesson on Friday, my tutor would teach me a word only to have me forget it .3 seconds later. "We just, just studied this!" she kept saying in friendly exasperation.
So, while I'm thankful for my improving communiation skills, I think God may be teaching me a lesson about humility.