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Published: October 22nd 2010
This is a post about the real reason I am in China: to learn Chinese.
Of course I have my classes. Five days a week, an hour and a half of general Chinese. I only wish that I could pay better attention. I try really hard. I take my watch off so that I don't look at it every five minutes. I sit in the front, take notes, respond to the teacher. But my mind wanders. We look at grammar, listen to examples, practice saying the vocab, read the dialogues, take quizzes after every lesson... Class is over at 10:30 am, and most of the time my culture classes aren't until the late afternoon, so there is lots of time in the middle of the day to explore Chengdu, or study on my own, or watch television.
Every other Monday, it turns out there is an afternoon class that I did not know about. It is a class devoted to watching television and videos in Chinese in order to improve listening skills. I will definitely be going to that.
I have been working on my listening skills recently by watching episodes of 喜羊羊. That is, Happy Sheep. It is a children's show about a bunch of sheep and a couple of wolves that try to catch and eat them. I love it. And I can kind of understand it. It has subtitles in Chinese, which is actually really helpful. I am better at reading than I am at listening.
Another class that is held only once every other week is Writing. This is my favorite class. The teacher gives us a topic, and we write about it for the rest of the period. Time seems to pass so much more quickly when I am focusing on doing something rather than listening to the teacher. I have always done better studying on my own.
Besides watching kids' shows and doing my homework, I also make a lot of flashcards and practice writing characters. The teacher would like us to study two to three hours a day outside of class. I try to do that, although it is more difficult on days that I have a lot of my culture classes. Even then, I flip through my flashcards in class.
My worst area is speaking. A lot of the students in the International Students School are better at speaking than anything else. They lived in China for a while before they took an actual class, or they had a lot of Chinese friends back at their schools in their home countries.
I can understand their conversations with each other, generally. I can understand other students' conversations with teachers... I can't always understand Chinese people talking together. But I don't know what it is about speaking... I get nervous, or mess up the grammar or the tones.
I use the excuse that the students here don't want to practice our Chinese with us. They only want to speak English. But I have not been very active in seeking out people to practice with. I feel weird approaching people and asking them to practice Chinese with me. I get irritated when Chinese people just come up to me and ask if they can practice their English. And they are better at English than I am with Chinese. So I can't imagine how annoyed they get with my bad grammar, tones, accent...
Clare, Audrey, Maria and I tried to speak Chinese to each other every Tuesday. That didn't work out very well.
Next semester I will be taking a conversation class. But I am in China! I should be speaking more Chinese than is necessary to order food at a restaurant, or buy clothing, or take a taxi. I need to find a solution to this. I'll let you know when I think of one.
Anyway, I think my Chinese is getting better. I do need to study more. A lot more. For everything I learn, I realize that there are ten more things that I haven't learned. Actually, more like a thousand. Chinese has so many words, and idioms, and puns, and rules of grammar, and slang terms... Now I know how people learning English feel.
But I learn more every day. I have good days when everyone I speak to understands me. I have bad days when I have to resort to hand signals and grunting. I have found people who are interested in teaching me words in Chinese, or who can't speak very much English, like the hair stylists in the salon out South gate. But I should and probably could do better.
We'll see. I will let you know.
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