Monday, November 18, 2013

Studying Chinese

Beginning in the first week of October I started taking Chinese lessons from a small company called Huawen. As best I can tell Huawen is two girls who each teach Chinese. One of the two girls speaks French and teaches Chinese only to French speaking people. The other speaks English and teaches only English speaking people. They do not appear to have any other employees. The school is run out of an apartment building relatively near the Huquan metro station about two stops from Guang Gu.

Huawen’s proximity to Guang Gu was their main selling point to me. They were close enough that I could get there in about an hour. I would have preferred something a bit closer but haven’t been able to find it.

At Huawen I've been working out of a textbook designed for the HSK level One. The HSK is China’s standardized Chinese proficiency test. It is broken up into six levels. Level 1 is based on the 150 most commonly used words and the 178 most common Characters. Each new level doubles the number of words until you reach 5000 words at level Six (which is only 2633 characters).

I've no intention of ever taking the HSK. But there are several experts out there who claim that word frequency lists are the best places to start when learning a new language and through the HSK China seems to have kind of agree with these people.

For about 3000 RMB I got a package of 40 classes. Would have been cheaper if I was able to take the classes with another person but the planets didn't align properly as none of her other students had the same schedule and I didn't know anyone else who wanted to take classes. Each class is two hours.

The classes started out covering stuff that I mostly already knew from Pimsluer and other courses that I've used. At the same time I've been learning the characters along with the words. It seems good but at the same time it doesn't. Some days I feel like I've learned a lot but most days I feel like I haven’t learned anything.

It doesn't help at all if you tell someone that you’re learning Chinese. If they don’t know that you’re taking classes they assume that you know nothing and they’ll tell you that you should learn Chinese. If you tell them that you are studying they’ll assume that you should know a lot more than you do and will rattle off a lot of Chinese that you can’t possibly understand. If you tell them then that you don’t understand they become confused because you said that you were learning. It’s very annoying. I no longer admit to studying. It’s much easier just to let them think I don’t know anything.

It hasn't been a complete waste of time though. I recognize more characters than I did before. A few days ago I Was sitting on the bus and a girl across from me was talking about clothes. I didn't understand most of what she was saying but I knew that it was about clothes. I understood when she mention two days of the week and then she said something about having a class. It’s all bits and pieces.

There are listening activities in the English textbooks in which a word is missing from each sentence in a passage. The students have to listen to an audio recording or to me reading if the equipment is broken and then they have to fill in the blanks according to what they hear. Imagine if it were the exercise was inverted; if for each sentence there was only one or two words there and the rest of the line was blank. That is what things are like for me here. I hear people speaking and I know a word in each sentence and the rest is unintelligible. I see words in a book or on a menu or a sign and there are many words there that I know but the whole meaning is obscured.