A little background on my background in Chinese…

**Note, I’m going to try to update the glossary with each entry, so I may not always define certain words/ideas in the entry itself, check the glossary!**

This is somewhat of a disclaimer to anyone who doesn’t know me.

Yes, I majored in Cultural Area Studies with a focus on Mandarin.

Yes I have been studying Chinese for the past 6 years.

But no, I by no means consider myself to be proficient or fluent.

I have been interested in languages since I was little, and have played with dozens of different language computer programs to sample hundreds of languages (my favorites being German, Korean, Danish and Irish).  When I first visited the College of Wooster, I actually sat in on a Russian class (wherein the only word I recall was for flip flops, which sounded something like “vietnamkah” to me).  I chose Wooster because it had a little bit of everything and I planned on sampling a little bit of everything while pursuing a Music Education major.  I quickly discovered after a single semester of Music Ed. classes that I loved music too much to frustrate myself over it through this particular path of intensive study and retreated from all further music classes except for Basic Repertoire (the most wonderful class ever) and piano and organ lessons.

I digress.

Instead of starting my class sampling with Russian that first semester, I had instead decided to try Chinese first as my dad had gone on several business trips to Singapore and China.

I adored it.  Unfortunately, music is one of those things that comes naturally to me but that I hate studying, whereas language is quite the opposite.  Having toughed out 5 years of Latin, I was well versed in the ability to take hits from a language and continue loving it, and I expected a similar experience with Chinese.  I was not let down.  Chinese was by no means easy, however I did find that the visual of the characters and the lack of conjugations, genders and extensive grammar romance languages tend to possess, actually made it somewhat mercifully easier.  (Case in point, I tried to take a semester of Spanish my senior year of college made it through about a week and a half of conjugations before saying adios…the word that I took from that sampling was, for whatever reason, “puertorriqueñas”)

At any rate, for me, having a visual character as well as a written spelling and visual of the tone via its pinyin for each word helps me retain it immensely.   Of course, it also makes for those frustrating moments where you might be able to look at a string of characters someone hands you and be able to tell them exactly what it means but can’t remember the pinyin to say it out loud.  Or the other extreme, where you see a string of characters or pinyin and can pronounce it out loud perfectly but have no idea what it says.

So how would I describe my level of Chinese? 

I am somewhere between an elementary and intermediate.  When it comes to reading and listening, my biggest problem is that if I get hung-up on one word I don’t know, it makes me confused for the rest of the paragraph that I’m trying to read, or I don’t hear the end of a sentence because I’m still trying to figure that word out.

Chinese is very contextual and native/fluent speakers like to leave out a lot of words because if you know the context, you really only needed those few words.  That’s one of the incredible things about the language, that so much meaning can be packed into just a few words.  But it makes it very difficult when you’re still trying to learn and need all the context and extra support words that you can get!

The other problem that I have in studying language is that I absolutely will not recall something that I learned unless I use and continue to use it right away.  I understand most grammar structures, and when reading or listening can figure them out, but when trying to reproduce them…they just don’t stick.

So my Chinese is not currently great.  But you know what I’m predicting?  I’m predicting that my Chinese will develop like my driving skills did.  I was a horrible horrible driver pretty much up until last year when I got my first vehicle (little blue truck!).  Horrible to the point that I already feared for my future children, worrying that I wouldn’t be able to drive them to all of their extracurriculars because I would still be a horrible driver.  But then I started driving more and more and getting used to more and more circumstances and suddenly I was fine.

I think it’s just a matter of having the confidence to use the skills you already possess, if you hesitate, you could cause an accident.  So I’m hoping that after a year of causing a few minor accidents, I will finally become confidant enough to realize that I possess a whole lot more knowledge than I think and from there, I can really start learning!

My favorite character : 飕  Sōu : the sound of wind, and pretty much most other characters with the wind radical (风 fēng) and/or that pertain to onomatopoeia

My favorite Chinese word to say : 冰淇淋 bīngqílín : Ice Cream

My least favorite words to pronounce : 出去 chūqu : to go out, and 热 rè : hot

My favorite set of similar looking/sounding characters :

  • 辛苦 xīnkǔ – hard, with difficulty
  • 幸福 xìngfú – blessed, happiness

My least favorite characters (I have an entire spreadsheet of them, here are just four sets of examples):

  • 师 shī : teacher
  • 帅 shuài : handsome
  • 市 shì : city
  • 布 bù : cloth
  • 蓝 lán : blue
  • 盐 yán : salt
  • 篮 lán : basket, goal
  • 晚上 wánshang : night
  • 网上 wángshàng : online
  • 知道 zhīdào : to know
  • 直到 zhídào : up until

A few websites that I have found helpful:

www.yellowbridge.com – my favorite online Chinese dictionary, especially because it shows the etymology of each character as well!  Plus it has some invaluable flashcard sets for the HSK/Huayu tests, common radicals and dozens of common Chinese textbooks

www.chinesepod.com – if you’re currently stuck in not China and want to study Chinese, this is the best source ever.  It is full of podcasts chocked full of stories, dialogues and grammar of all levels with vocabulary reviews, forums to discuss each lesson, quizzes and additional sentences for each lesson as well as supplementary audio reviews.  SO worth the money.

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2 responses to “A little background on my background in Chinese…

  1. that is a wonderful intro. the part about the favorite and unfavorite words slays me. can you really tell what the heck those itsy bitsy characters are?

    is everybody reading this?

    i won’t say anything cutsie just in case.

    with best regards from your mother

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