Oy, sorry little neglected blog. Between teaching (and prepping class) learning chinese and dealing with all the demands on my time, my blog has been slightly lonely. That’s what happens when you fall asleep at 9pm. (Yes, that happened to me twice this week. I didn’t even mean to! I just couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.) One of the biggest things that is eating my time this semester is Chinese class. Like I said before I am FINALLY in the advanced level. If I was a normal student it would take me 2 and a half years. But I’m me, and not very smart, so it took me 4. And I’ve always dreamed of the advanced class, but now I finally made it! The Olympus of Chinese class! The pinnacle of everything I’ve worked for! And how is it?! Well……..it’s hard. It’s actually just like every other level. We have a textbook and we learn new words and we read a passage and we do exercises. We make mistakes, we stumble through words and there is a lot of “laoshi, shenme yisi?” Teacher, what’s the meaning? There are some differences though. For the first time the textbook has NO English. Usually the new words are defined in English and the grammar section explains things in both chinese and English. But no longer. So what do I do? I look up all the new words in my dictionary and write the english definition. What can I say, I just can learn the words better if I know the english word. But one frustrating this about the advanced class? Some of the new words aren’t in my dictionary! So in those cases I listen to my teacher explain the meaning in class. If I’m still unclear I ask a chinese friend.
We are also learning a lot of idioms which I like. In English we use idioms all the time, “Break a leg,” ” I woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” and so on. In Chinese its the same. But the cool thing about Chinese is the idioms are all 4 characters long. And each idiom has a story behind it. For instance there is an idiom: 自相矛盾 zi xiang mao dun. The meaning is to contradict oneself, but it literally means self-spear shield. That’s because the story behind it is as follows: In ancient China a traveling salesman wandered into a village full of soldiers. “Soldiers,” he said, “I have the most amazing spear you will ever see! It can cut through any material, any metal and will cut through the strongest armor of any soldier. There isn’t a metal in the world that can reflect this spear.” Then the salesman showed the soldiers a shield. “And this is the strongest shield ever created. It is able to resist all spears. It is so strong, made out of such strong metal, that there isn’t a spear in the world that can cut it.” One of the soldiers listening interrupted him. “So if your sword can cut any metal, and your shield can resist any sword, what happens if I use your sword and shield against each other?” The salesman of course had no answer for that and ran off. But see? He contradicted himself while trying to sell his spear and shield and now in Chinese when you put together the charcaters for spear and shield it means “contradiction.” Cool, huh? We learn a LOT of idioms in every class, there are hundreds in Chinese and are a common part of the language. And just like English, some make sense, and some don’t. Actually it’s fun. The teacher will write an idiom on the board and then have us guess the meaning. Sometimes we can, but mostly we can’t. But it’s a kinda nerdy-fun game. Trying to use our knowledge of Chinese characters to come up with a meaning.
But the best part, the total best part, is that I can understand the majority of class! I might have downplayed my stupidity in the past, but the truth is that I’m dumb. D-U-M-B. If I understood 1/5 of what the class did I was happy. One time, in level 2, I gave a little prepared speech. Afterwards the teacher praised me. I knew she was praising me but I had to wait till after class to ask one of the Japanese students what she said because I didn’t understand any of it. But now I understand so much. Not everything, not by a long shot, but my teacher speaks really clearly, and he explains a lot of words so that I at least understand the gist. I’d say I’m up to understanding 3/4 of the class which is a HUGE accomplishment for me. And it’s a good thing because there is a lot of class participation and as the only American I am asked several times per class “And what do Americans think about…” Also, my classmates are funny. In the lower levels the students just weren’t good enough to make jokes, go off on tangents or talk a lot. But now we can. I have 7 classmates this semester (the biggest class ever) and most are Ukranian girls. In lower levels they would make jokes and talk in Ukranian, which I found really annoying, but now they do it all in Chinese and I’m actually starting to like them. For instance the other day we were talking about a word that meant something like turn-on. Our teacher asked us what turned us on. We were supposed to answer things like romance, or attention but one girl muttered under her breath, “Asses.” The teacher heard her and went with it and we talked and joked about asses. What can I say, it’s not quite mature but it makes the class more fun. So I’m really proud of myself for reaching this level. I know I have a LOOOONG way to go (my vocabulary stinks and my tones could use a lot of work) but I did it. I got to the advanced class and I feel like I belong. That’s something I never would have expected.
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