Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Knowing just enough to be dangerous

I am sitting in front of my computer this fine cool morning enjoying a nice hot cup of coffee. I love contrast. The light chill gives me just enough of a reason to wear a hoodie, and makes the coffee that much more appreciated. It is now wednesday... part way through my week “off” between semesters. This last semester wound down nicely, and fortunately I can now say that I have a successful semester of teaching English under my belt. BOOM. This next semester starts up on monday... yay. HOWEVER! lets not be too dismal, because this new load of classes plus my abundant whole semester of teaching should combine to make a much better state of affairs.

I will be teaching monday to friday foundations (level 0) reading and level 2 listening speaking, both of which I’m really looking forward to, and Im also teaching level 3 writing and a connections class for the foundations level that meets twice a week. Finally, I will be full time on one program. HUZZAH! I will be busy... to be sure, but I will also have a more regular schedule it looks like.

So there are a few new vistas you might say - some pleasant horizons. I’ll get to hone my skills at teaching (oh and the next thing out of the goodie bag for this one - these are classes that have been taught before and fairly well established it seems... so the work load should be somewhat lesser on preparation MUAHAHA), continue to practice my Chinese and find new adventures... oh yah and read more books.

The testing week of class, I polished off a light 200 page snack called Chinese Cinderella in 1.5 days (yes its in English). I was furious the whole time... so naturally I couldn’t put it down. Anyhow - it got me back into reading, and I am trying to get myself to a more balanced life where I have varied activities for myself.

Status report time. Im in book 2 of a rather demanding Chinese textbook series. Most of the text is in Chinese characters (汉字) with tone marks above the characters... so I attack those texts with pinyin (the latin based written system of Chinese - so words like “ 汉字 ” would look instead like “hànzi”), looking up and referencing the words I dont know as I go through it. Then the book explains grammar points and you move on to the next unit. Its kind of exhausting, but fortunately I’m at a level where I can understand enough that it is not totally exasperating, and it is instead serving as an incredible language learning tool.

What I’m excited about is the near future. I want to continue attacking this book and hopefully finish it in early June. (OOO book 3!!) Then I would like to start working on Children’s books and do the same thing I’ve been doing to my text.... transcribe it into pinyin.

Im basically making the world my practical test HAH. Every time I come across new words - they get turned into pinyin so that I can PROVE! that I know what they mean and how to say them (tee hee). It’s my gleeful nerdy niche.

Proximal vista! As my Chinese improves... and as my co-worker friend becomes more and more abundantly pregnant... she is going to have to take maternity leave. When she does... oh darn... Im gonna have to go visit more often. Fortunately, she and her family like me and her husband is American... so its a wonderful schmorgespord of culture and food. Her dad and I get along right fine... and he’s even offered to teach me how to cook (chinese food of course...). YAY! So we have a sort of communicative bond... especially when alcohol is involved... and im really looking forward to learning how get into Chinese food.

Honestly.... to you westerners who have yet to be fortunate to come to China... Chinese food is nothing like you thought it was.

Ok so next missing whole in the road... is my Chinese really that good? mmm... yes...ish.

So right now it is difficult for me to say something in coherent sentences, but I am very good at eaves dropping, and also at using the words I do know in a functional way.

Mandarin Chinese is basically devoid of what most people would call “grammar”. Granted... many of the people reading this blog are my crazed linguistics friends. Before I get reamed out by them -- the Chinese language survives by almost exclusive use of syntactic constructions. This means that Chinese does not use verb tenses and -ed/ ing endings on words. They just use a completely different word. They also put it those words in a special spot in the sentence... which is kind of difficult to learn. However - its not the end of the world.

My approach to Chinese has been this: gobble up every word you can get your mouth around... and make your mouth bigger so that you can gobble more. My philosophy is that once I have gobbled up enough words - they will start to play nice together (especially as my textbooks particularly point out the grammatical constructs... almost exactly like the linguistic examples that we have done in our LDPs (language data projects) for the past 2 years of university) HAH! Thank God for useful degrees... unlike... art or something :D.

As I am here reveling in all of my new knowledge, pouring over my pages of Chinese characters and translating them into pinyin - I have my friends at work... who are also more or less in awe of my ravenous language appetite. It makes me feel good - to put that as juvenilely as I can. I actually had one friend - who is Chinese... but with an incredible British accent from her 8 years in England (in addition to linguistic talent herself), who after speaking in Chinese with a few other colleagues - turns to me and said with her normal pleasant smile:

“ You know were proud of you Peter.”

Well what a breath of fresh air that was.

I love validation. I know it goes without saying, but there is definitely an art to effective validation - and that was it for me: someone recognizing you for hard work and talent combined.

Its enough to spur you on to greater heights. Thats when it really clicked what it means to “learn a language.” I’ve heard it said before, but this is where it really fit into my paradigm. -- When you learn a language, you look to become a part of a social/ cultural group-- And while I will never “be Chinese” ethnically I will be more capable of advocating for them in other spheres of life because I will understand their context better than most. Without breaking into song or anything now - I want to be a part of their world. Depending on the way this world goes, maybe they will be a part of mine too.

Well - to minimally quote Walt Disney, “keep moving forward.”

For those of you interested, I would appreciate it if you would keep me in mind as I go to teaching this next semester. While I will appreciate the opportunity to schedule myself more consistently - I get stir crazy with too much routine. If you would be praying that I keep looking for new opportunities to keep my teaching fresh and stretching - I’d appreciate it.

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