When I was a Chinese language student, I sat in an old classroom where the "ping....ting" noises from the rickety radiator made listening class vexing because I couldn’t tell the machine's emissions from the teacher’s. It is an admittedly extreme example of the obstacles that – equally truly -- most Westerners face with Chinese. Among them is Deborah Fallows, a Harvard-trained linguist who speaks five languages . She lived in China between 2006-2009 with her husband, namely James Fallows, national correspondent for the US magazine The Atlantic.

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