It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about learning Chinese, but this semester I feel like I have taken some real leaps. Thanks to a pretty light teaching schedule I was able to attend Chinese class everyday. I finally advanced to level 3 and felt very comfortable in the class and not at all behind the others.
But it wasn’t just class. It was like there was some change in my aura, and Chinese people began noticing me. Well, noticing me might not be the right thing to say. As a blond foreigner in a small town I get a lot of attention, much too much. But it’s always the same annoying “haaaalllooooo!” or stares.
But this semester people began to come up to me and start speaking chinese. One time a guy rode by on his motorcycle and instead of the degrading “haaaaaaaallloo?” he actually looked at me and said, “ni hao.” I wanted to run after him and kiss him I was so happy.
And it isn’t just guys talking to me (though there has been a lot of that) but old ladies on buses, aunties on the street and people in stores. In the past, sometimes, occasionally, a person would talk to me and I’d shrug my shoulders and say ting bu dong. (I don’t understand.) But suddenly it is happening all the time, like they know I can understand them, and I’m also able to keep up with them.
This one time, while I was standing at a bus stop, this middle aged women came over to me and she was acting like she was my long lost aunt or nail shop confidant. She was stroking my hair, touching my skin, and asking me a billion questions. (“How old are you? Do you want to go eat something with me over there? Why don’t you have a husband? I can introduce you to some nice boys. Your skin is so beautiful. Are you sure you don’t want something to eat?”)
I actually do better when I’m thrown off guard. If someone asks me a question, and looks at me straight in the eyes I get all flustered and confused. But if they approach me at a strange time and shoot off a million questions, I actually converse with ease. It’s like my mind doesn’t have time to get all nervous.
I also have, for the first time ever, Chinese friends that only speak Chinese. Last semester I was finally able to make friends with the non-english speaking foreign students, but there is kind of an ease when talking to the foreign students. After all, we learn from the same books so we all have the same vocabulary. Also, my Japanese and Korean friends don’t use tones in their languages like Chinese does, so if I mess it up, they still understand it.
But being friends with Chinese people (who don’t speak english) is a totally different ball game. They speak in a normal conversational speed, use slang, and say things in totally non-conventional ways. It can be tricky sometimes (and my iPod dictionary comes quite in handy) but we deal with it and still manage to be friends. And honestly, that is really exciting for me.
I feel like foreigners who come to China eventually chose one of two paths. They either decide to basically ignore Chinese and learn only enough to get by (Ryan was like that, as was many foreigners I met in Shanghai) or, they decide to dedicate themselves to learning Chinese. I thought I could just pick up chinese because I lived here, but that is basically impossible. You must find some more formal path of learning, whether it is class or self study to really improve.
But learning chinese while teaching english is really tough. You don’t have enough time for it to “settle in” as right after class you usually have to speak english again. There is also not so much time for studying or other things. At this point I feel like I’ve gotten to a conversational level, but a low one. I still have a lot of trouble with grammar and listening.
So, this July, instead of going traveling like I normally do, I’m headed to the city of Kunming for one month to study chinese. That’s right, everyday, 4 hours of class one-on-one with a teacher. I think my brain might explode after 2 hours, but I’m going to suffer, and totally dedicate myself to the process. I figure I need a real kick in the pants to get myself to the next level.
I chose a school called Keats Kunming. It came well recommended on review websites, and Kunming is an amazing city with ideal weather (they call it the spring city as the temperature is always around the 80′s.) I’ve been there before and loved it.
This will be my first holiday staying put in one city. Of course I love traveling and I’m a little upset at ‘losing’ the holiday, but I hope the new opportunities this opens makes up for the lost fun time. (Errr, not that studying can’t be fun.)
I know I sound like a broken record, but seriously, as I have said in the past, I am a total language idiot. I’m still gobsmacked that when I speak Chinese, Chinese people can understand me. Seriously people! Gobsmacked!