Thursday, May 24, 2012

Learning Chinese: Trying everything and finding what works

I've really been neglecting my blog this month. I guess I overdid it in April with NaPoWriMo and making multiple posts per day. Instead of writing much poetry this month, I've been studying Chinese for hours every single day, and it's starting to pay off.

I think I mentioned before that I'm using a variety of methods or tools because I don't want to burn out or get bored. I downloaded all 3 phases of Pimsleur's Mandarin Chinese conversational lessons, which I highly recommend for learning how to speak standard Chinese. The entire package includes 3 phases with 30 lessons each, and each lesson is a half hour long. That's about 45 hours of lessons. I'm currently on Phase 2, Unit 4, which means I've completed about 17 hours, woo! I repeated a couple of lessons because I didn't speak everything correctly, so tack on a couple of hours for that.

I'm also reading children's books which is not only fun because I know the stories in English and can grasp the context easily, meaning I can better grasp how words and phrases translate, but it's also helping me understand my students at the kindergarten better since I'm reading at their level :)

I'm also speaking more Mandarin with my Chinese coworkers, and they are very kind to correct my pronunciations and grammar. They also teach me the more casual phrases so I don't sound so formal when making small talk with people.

Speaking of small talk, it's pretty much nonexistent in China from what I'm experiencing and from what the locals tell me. Well, it's not like the small talk a lot of westerners are used to. The most common thing I'm asked, no matter who I meet, bump into at the market, my neighbors, coworkers, anyone really, is… Have you eaten? They ask me this in Chinese (Ni chi le ma?) which sounds like "knee chur luh muh?"

When I receive phone calls from the couple of friends I've made here, I answer the phone "Hello?" and almost before I finish saying "Hello?" they ask me in English "Have you eaten?" And I learned early on that I should always answer "Yes." I used to answer "no" pretty often and people would give me a concerned look and sort of do one of those 'taken aback' inhales, kind of like a 'tsk tsk tsk' thing. Like I'm not taking care of myself well enough because I haven't eaten. I still wonder what timeframe they are really asking about. Maybe anytime within the past 24 hours? Not sure yet. I also wonder if they are really even asking about eating real food, or if it's the equivalent of asking "How are you?" And maybe by answering "no" it means I'm not doing well? Maybe someday I'll figure it out :)

Another thing I've started adding to my study program is listening to Chinese music. I have gone out karaoking with people a few times and it's a lot of fun, and pretty educational. When others sing the Chinese songs, I follow the Chinese characters on the screen. This is helping me learn how people pronounce words, and also helping me learn the characters. It's also helping me learn some of the pop culture-y way of speaking. And the bilingual people I'm with usually explain the songs to me in English so I can grasp what they mean.

I've also found some great websites for learning Chinese songs. I think I'll add another blogroll soon for all of my Chinese learning links. It should help me stay organized. There is so much information out there!

I also contacted Hainan University here to learn more about the Chinese proficiency exam, called HSK. It's the standard exam for people whose first language is not Chinese, and it's used as an entrance requirement for the universities here, and I hear employers sometimes use it as part of a job application. Luckily I have a job for now, but it couldn't hurt to pass this exam someday…something to have in my back pocket. The university sent me a link to the HSK resources website, and there are sample tests and study guides and a ton of downloads to keep me busy and truckin' right along.

Lastly, I've made an acquaintance who wants to study up on his English since his employer is going to be testing him again soon, so he said he would tutor me in Chinese in exchange for English tutoring. So we are meeting frequently to have English and Chinese speaking sessions.

I have been using most or all of these language learning methods on a daily basis, and it's working. I gain a teensie more confidence every single day, which keeps me motivated. And I'm not bored yet, in fact, the more I learn, speak and read, the more interested I become in the language and the culture. Hope I can keep up this momentum!

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