Wednesday, March 05, 2008

How to Really Learn Chinese, Part 2

For some reason I feel more compelled to practice my Chinese when other Chinese speakers are around me. Not with me...around me. I never noticed this until last Saturday when Steve brought it to my attention.

We were at Thomas Sweet's in Georgetown getting some bīngqílín (ice cream) as a part of Z's birthday celebration. We were engaged in a regular English conversation when I suddenly realized there was a group of Chinese women sitting behind me. I didn't have to see them to know they were Chinese because I actually recognized a few words. When I heard a " yě," which means "me, too," I raised my eyebrows and looked at Steve who smiled when he knew what was up. He had heard them minutes before and was just waiting for me to catch on.

All of a sudden my speech patterns changed as I began using as many Chinese words as I could muster. Why? I have no idea. In fact I didn't even overtly realize this until Steve said "now I know how to get you to practice...just sit next to a group of Zhōngguórén and you're good to go."

Perhaps that bodes well for August...I guess that's what immersion is all about.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

How to Really Learn Chinese, Part 1

This past weekend I really got fed up with the slow pace with which I'm learning Chinese. I go to my weekly lessons, listen to hours of Pimsleur and ChinesePod each week (much more than I used to given we're actually moving there in a few months...and since I've entered the iPod age), yet I just don't seem to get it. A-yah.

Well, I refuse to give up so I'm pulling out all the stops. On the aside, I guess it's a good thing to be frustrated with learning once in a while so that I don't forget what it feels like to be on the "other side of the desk." As a result, I'm appealing to my visual learning modality. I'm labeling everything in the house. Stand still long enough and I'll label you, too. One by one, note cards are going up in simplified Chinese characters as well as Pinyin. It's kind of like Kindergarten all over again.

Sounds silly...but it's working!


Monday, March 03, 2008

Wudge and Nudge

It's hard to give a wudge attention when you have a nudge in the house. What does a wudge do? Well, it begs. And what does a nudge do? Well, it interferes with what the wudge is doing.

Who is the nudge in the house? BLUE! How does she nudge Cameron? In every way, shape, and form!

She literally treats him as if he were popular. Anything he does, she is right behind him doing the same thing. Let's use the beach as an example. Mom and I went out for a stroll with the dogs to the beach. Cameron trots over to the side of the street to investigate something. Not far behind is Bluebage, copying him. First, she cuts him off. Then, she sniffs the item. (Cameron walks away.) Next, she loses interest. After that, she walks over to Cameron and bumps him. Finally, she tries to start playing.

Another example is when Cameron is getting petted. She comes over and pushes him out of the way, gets petted, and then tries to start playing.

She is so mean to him sometimes, but she is really not so bad. She is just a nudge.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Newbie No More?

Almost a year ago, I took this listening test that ChinesePod offers on their home page. The test is a series of ten phrases that you listen to and indicate whether or not you understand. The phrases get easier or harder depending on how well or poorly you are doing.

Now, on that first try, and on every try since, I was classified as a "newbie," ChinesePod's entry level designation. This kept on happening, even though my vocabulary, grammar patterns, and listening comprehension were undeniably getting better and better.

Now, I don't want to make too big a deal out of this, as I am aware that the test is just a rough gauge, not a pinpoint measurement. But it was starting to get "in my head." Why am I still being called a newbie when I don't feel like one?

Then, last night, I decided to have another go at it, as it had been a while since I tried. Right off the bat, things were different. I got over the hump and fully understood the first couple of sentences. Rather than getting easier and easier, the questions were getting harder and harder.

Then here's where things took an unexpected turn. At the end of the sequence, ChinesePod told me I was a low level intermediate. What? This can't be possible! Intermediate, I have to stress, is the third level, and for sure over my head. I guess I just happened to get a series of phrases that I know particularly well.

Ever the empiricist, I decided to try again. This time, a way, way different story. The first couple of phrases were ones I didn't completely know. And my lack of knowledge was rewarded with a simple set of follow up sentences, and ultimately a return to the dreaded newbie classification. I guess my time an an intermediate learner was short lived!

Satisfied with neither outcome, I went ahead and took the test for a third time. And wouldn't you know it, I received a third different rating, this time scoring as an elementary, the second in ChinesePod's levels, the level sandwiched between newbie and intermediate. This one, based on my learning and experiences, felt "right."

After a fourth pass through produced an identical score, I decided to go ahead and update my ChinesePod profile, announcing to the world (yeah, right!) that I am no longer a newbie, but an elementary! The real good news in all of this? I can stop obsessing about how I am classified and get back to some actual learning...