Thursday, January 29, 2009

Coming up: Mandarin level 5


While the CNY holiday coming to an end here in China we are about to enter February, a month that will come with new challenges and undertakings. For me, it means continuing my studies of Mandarin by taking on level 5 (there's a total of 8 levels) as well as a HSK course. Or, well, at least that is my ambitious plan, but let's see how I get on with it -and especially with that HSK course. (It's way easier to sound ambitious than to actually be it, but it's worth a try, right?!)

I've already bought the course books for level 5 and scared myself by opening them: We are talking academic texts, as well chapters where all the new words are explained in Chinese only (before it was the texts and the grammar, now it is the grammar, the texts AND the new words...Thank lord I have my little dictionary is all I can say).

I have no idea how many people I will be studying with this semester, but I am guessing that the majority of my classmates will be Japanese or Korean. Even though it sort of sucks being "the black sheep" of my class (I have been that since level 2 when I started ending up in classes where all my fellow classmates were from Asia and could read and write way better than me) it is also sort of inspiring. Being surrounded by classmates that are all smart and bright sort of pushes me to try a bit harder so that I don't make a total fool of myself (although that has happened too, at various times).

I was talking to a friend from Europe the other day who is about to take on Mandarin Level 2. Even though she has been taking private lessons for some months she is still all modest about skills and told me she doesn't feel comfortable to call for the waiter at restaurants yet (In China, you simply call 'Fu wu yuan!' in a loud voice when you want to order something. You don't have to YELL it although a lot of people do) and it was so funny to listen to her, as it was a deja-vu experience of how I was about 1.5 years ago.

I guess a lot of people go through the same things when learning Chinese. In the very beginning, you are like a mushroom, absorbing everything you learn as it will make your life in China so much easier when you can speak a a bit of Chinese. Also, the more you learn the more excited you get about what you know and you want to try and speak to everybody all the time. Then, you suddenly get all modest about your skills (as you realize, when you speak to Chinese people, that you actually don't know or understand that much), and frustrated as you feel as if you are getting nowhere even though you're studying and studying... But then, slooooowly, you improvements are starting to show and you start to feel more comfortable using your language skills. And then, you hit a point where you start having 'good days' and 'bad days' where you go from being close to fluent when discussing certain topics (on good days) to not being able to pronounce the most simple things (on bad days) or not even being able to ask for directions (on REALLY bad days!). I think that's where I am now (even though I haven't had a REALLY bad day for a while), and I desperately hope for my skills to continue to improve, so that I can stop feeling frustrated, and simply enjoy speaking the language.

Still, I wonder how long it is going to take for me until I hit that point. I know there is a total of 8 levels of Mandarin that you can study (one level = one semester, although I don't know how keen I am to spend another 2 years at the university -is it necessary? What's your opinion, fluent Chinese speakers?) and it is different from person to person how long you have to study at a university and how much you can continue learning by working in China.

I guess there is no other way to find out but to keep trying. In all sorts of ways.

45 comments:

Michelle said...

CONGRATS on being the 'BLOG OF NOTE' I really am impressed by your blog!! Enjoy your fame, it's well deserved!!

xl said...

Hi there! Found my way here through "Blogs of Note". Really enjoyed reading your posts. I'm probably a little like you, a bit of a wanderlust, lived in England for 5 years and although now back in my home country, Singapore, I believe i will move again when the time comes!
Enjoy your time in China, and good luck with learning Chinese!

Smith said...

Nice blog.

Niel said...

try ur best! =)

Recipes for theLife said...

congrats on being the blog of note!!ur blog is really good

kanmuri said...

When I started learning Japanese it was exactly like you said. At one point though, studying wasn't what helped me get better, it was talking to people and working in Japan. When you have to get things done, you find ways to be understood and slowly but surely, you learn new words. I've been in Japan for two years and a half now and though I'm not native level yet, I'm fluent and can express myself on most topics. The trick is to go out there, talk to be people... and watch a huge amount of television: you have no idea how it helps.

Volare said...

Hi~
I'm a Senior High Student In China.
Nice To Visit Your Blog~
Enjoy Your Life In China!
P.s 新年快乐~!

ruben said...

Nice Blog!!

The villager: said...

Fascinating insight into China. Well done.

weenie said...

Good luck with this - I speak Chinese fluently (though not Mandarin) and I know how hard it is for Europeans to learn and master it. That said, your English is perfect so you obviously have a thing for mastering languages!

Like the other people on here, I say congratulations on being a Blog Of Note!

JOSEPH GELB said...

congratulations on being a google noted blog. you really deserve it.

Lateral Drawer said...

I'm trying a bit of French, which should take me about 17 years to master :) ... maybe after that some Mandarin! See you then ;)

Jonna Wibelius said...

Michelle -thanks! :)

Xi -yeah it's too good to move around isn't it? Hard to stop....

Kanmuri -You are right. You've been to Japan for the same amount of time as I've been to China.. I should speak better Mandarin by now. I always think to myself that I should watch more Chinese TV but for some reason I never do... Speaking to locals is obviously a key but it is sometimes frustrating in big cities like Shanghai and Suzhou because the locals are really keen to speak Englishpractice their English with me. Although next time it happens I have decided to tell them that I can't speak English.... (bad of me, I know... but, well...). Anyways, I am impressed that u already know Japanese so well, so keep up the good work and I will try and try and TRY to get myself to watch some Chinese TV! :)

Weenie -so you speak Cantonese I assume? Well Mandarin isn't impossible to master but it sure takes some time, at least for me...

Josiane said...

Hello there! So nice stumbling accross your blog on Blogger.com. I am Brazilian and lived in England for 4 years; like you, I love learning new languages!! Now I am a proudly mom of a two-month old boy so I cannot travel that much right now, although I plan to do it in the future. You are in my list of blogs, I will come back to follow your adventure in China! xx

Lilly's Life said...

Congrats on being a blog of note. I am from Australia.

Poojan said...

Nice Blog and great insight into China. Congrats on being "BLOG OF NOTE"

Daisy said...

A true adventurer! Will enjoy following your experiences x

David Enoch said...

Hello, I think you did something worthy of note. I want to do something of similar likeness.
I would like to share some idea with you.

silentsouless said...

Excellent blog. Major congrats on blog of note! Feel free to check out mine!

Simon said...

Well done! It is the same way in Japan, since I got to level 2 most of the other students are Chinese or Koreans.

Rachel Cotterill said...

I'm impressed - I started learning Chinese a few months ago but I didn't really get very far, only enough to say the most basic phrases when I was in Beijing. I've always loved languages but fluency evades me.... I think I'm just not dedicated enough to push past the 'pain barrier' at the point you describe.

ANKA said...

What an interesting life you have! yeah chinese is very difficult language, but all thing to be allright cuz you really ambition person.by the way i'm fond of languages too. Now i study english and french.(sorry for my english)/GOOD LUCK!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jonna,
You have nice blog ! I love to read it because your experiences are a lot like mine, though I am a mom (from Finland) of three kids (two of them already adults). We lived in a very small town in China where I started to study Chinese at the University together with a bunch of Korean kids. My eldest daughter joined me later because she thought that she was learning too slowly at a Chinese school. She learned a lot quicker than me and skipped a level few times. And she could speak almost fluently already, if she wanted to...
I studied there from levels 1 to 6, I could express myself almost always, but could not speak nothing complicated. Then we moved to Beijing, I went to Qinghua to continue studies, I had to take HSK test which I did level 6. So I could move on to level 7, which I did twice as well as level 8. After that I took the test again and did level 8. But...the problem is that in good days I could remember a lot of sentences from the books by hart. I could for example tell stories about vanishing wild animals in China or about a Russian kosmonauts or how domestic telephones came to China but that was all. What I have learned had nothing to do with the real life outside universities.
I finally managed to update my Chinese with the help of modern Chinese movies, magazines, books and especially meeting together once a week with a group of ladies from Japan and Korea. We had a private teacher who taught us Chinese History, we studied a little bit of history but more important, we spoke about our daily lives like women everywhere do. And our teacher corrected us if we said something wrong. That finally helped me to speak modern, everyday Chinese.
I wrote to encourage you, don´t give up ! You are at a very difficult point at the moment, you think you should have some results already after all this work. And you will, studying Chinese are small steps forward compared to other languages, sometimes it might be even few steps backward. If you have time and possibility keep on, the levels 7 and 8 are very difficult compared to other levels, do them twice if needed, I´m sure you won´t regret. It will certainly benefit you in the future.
Best regards

Jason: Husband, and Father of Two! said...

Congratulations on your blog of note! You definitely seem to have many interesting things to write about. Keep up the good work!

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fairuz said...

Hey there, congrats on being a 'blog of not'. Have a nice time while learning Chinese! If u are learning Chinese then I am currently still learning English as I am Malaysian who obviously speaks in Malay. You know what, I think I can improve my English by not just reading english story books but also by reading your blog perhaps. Anyway, good luck to u and have a good day for everyday. =)

alvie said...

nice blog

Alex said...

Happy 牛 Year!

walid boggio said...

i dont speak chinese but i did live in japan for four years now im liveing in america. japanease was my first language. i know how it feels to try to learn a new language its frustraiting at first but you one you get the heng of it its a good acomplishment.

Little Tiger said...

My goal in learning Chinese is to be able to express everything I want to express rather than having a goal of being fluent. I think perfection is an impossible goal which is bound to end in failure.
My philosophy is 'Aim for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.'
My favourite part of Chinese is the writing rather than speaking (unlike you I hope the HSK stays as it is!)
Actually, if Chinese used pinyin (ugly) instead of characters (beeeeautiful), I don't think I'd have half the interest I have in studying it as it is now.

Julz said...

Taking on a new language is hard but you will improve I'm sure. The key is practice and you are in the right place to do it.

Rick Kappra said...

Hey Jonna,
I'm glad your blog was "of note" - found it yesterday when looking for a blog for my ESL class in San Francisco. Yours was just perfect, and we read "different worlds" today in class. The students got the humor and I just loved it. I think they will also be able to connect with your struggles with Chinese. As many of them are Chinese trying to learn English, I think it will be good to hear someone struggling in the other direction.

Good luck with your adventure and keep blogging!

Jonna Wibelius said...

David Enoch -I am all ears. Share your thoughts.

Rachel Cotterill -Yeah, it is a bit of a struggle. Funny that a lot of people told me that learning Chinese was a 'piece of cake' when I told them I was thinking about learning... I still wonder if we were talking about the same language. Or if I am just a bit.. ehum... slow?!

Anonymous -Oh lord, is level 7 and 8 that hard?! I don't think I have time to even do those levels.. well, let's see how it goes. I have been thinking about getting myself a private tutor rather than taking a course at the uni after this semester. Let's see what I decide on. But I know that the only way to improve is to go out there and talk.

Little Tiger -U like the written language more than the spoken?! WOW! May I ask what your plan is...? U going to be a book translator?! Or write your own books, in Chinese?! (wow, that would be cool).

Rick Kappra -haha, that's so funny u used that post for your students?! I am glad if u find it useful I just hope my English is good enough!

Justin G.P. Li said...

Hahh,,so it is. People just call "Fu wu yuan" loudly in restruarts, and also it is the Chinese restruart culture or "the bar culture",more exactly, in acient time. People just call "Dian xiao er!" in the bar in acient time, you can even see that in any TV story about acient time.

sharada said...

Had good time visiting your blog,
Enjoy Your Life In China!

Celluloid 'Pixie' Darling said...

Good luck with your continuing education! For me, nothing is harder than learning a new language!

Little Tiger said...

My plan is to get into aid/development work in developing countries, specifically in Asia. My father did similar which is why I was born in raised in Africa, but for me Asian culture is more appealing.
My aim for learning Chinese (apart from the pleasure I get from it) is to do a masters in China, so I'll need to sit the HSK for that! But that's a few years down the line....I'm graduating from Engineering in a few months so then I'll start saving up for my studies in China, can't wait!
In Chinese, I enjoy the writing more because I find calligraphy an extremely relaxing hobby and reading in Chinese is different to reading languages which use the Latin alphabet. I can't really explain it, but reading in Chinese to me is like reading in 'pictures' and my mind works differently than say reading in English. Much more pleasurable IMO!.
If I look at a character it is fascinating to think that it originated as a picture representation thousands of years ago.(then again what would I know about history!) Anyway, I look forward to the further simplifications in characters that will be made in the future. If they simplify to pinyin though, you'll be sure to find me outside the nearest Chinese embassy protesting!!
I find speaking Chinese can be frustrating at times whereas I never forget characters (thanks to my photographic memory :) )
Like you mentioned some days you can have 'good' days where you can impress even yourself by speaking about off-wall-topics at length. And on the 'bad' days you may need a simple question repeated a few times and still not get it :)...or struggling to make a simple comment about the weather one day when you were talking about the global economic crisis the day before. lol *such is life* I suppose.we'll get there...one day. 慢慢来吧 ! ^_^

Jonna Wibelius said...

Little Tiger -you've lived a very interesting life for sure, and still so much to come... but when were u living in China and for how long? To me, it seems that your Chinese is already close to perfect. I admire your ambitiousness when it comes to Chinese characters... it's kind of inspiring to hear someone not only consider them to be a 'pain' but actually enjoying studying them. I wish I had the same mindset (and a photographic memory too, please!), that would make things easier for sure!

chery said...

Congratulations to you! Hope you had a good time in china!

Little Tiger said...

I lived in China (Harbin) in 2007 for 8 months. I took a year out from college to study and work.
Harbin really is a special place and perfect for studying Mandarin. People really speak clear and standard Mandarin (apart from the taxi drivers...but then again maybe they speak standard 'taxi driver hua'? )hehe
Thinking back to the interesting 'written vs spoken Chinese' debate a few months back, I think written came out the winner as the most important in some situations. But I think for any language it is WAY more important to be able to speak. So I envy you as you seem to enjoy speaking Chinese...I'm more of a listener and a man of few words.
IMO, reading and writing are secondary but still important nonetheless. I have a friend who spent a few years learning Chinese while neglecting the characters and concentrating on speaking. He consequently decided to be a translator so then had to learn the characters from scratch. What a headache!

karen87 said...

Hi, I happened to stumble in from blogs of note list. I'm living in malaysia, half chinese. Main language is cantonese and went to english speaking school(we have chinese, tamil, national and religious school here). So my mandarin conversation skill was virtually zero to begin with. Watching mandarin drama helped me to grasp the language better and faster. Listening to mandarin song helped too. But of course the tv station here provided subtitles for every drama they air. But the hard part of learning chinese for me is the writing. As for any language, the importance is to be able to express yourself freely. I'm addicted to learning new language,I'm learning spanish now.
Keep up the good work, the fun of learning for me is the struggle and the little steps to the way of improvement.

Alston said...

Hi, reading you post, I must admit I'm rather ashamed at myself for not being able to read and write Mandarin. You see, I'm a chinese, can speak Mandarin and Cantonese rather fluently (its required for my job) but I'm actually english educated. Hence, I'm what is locally known as "banana", yellow on the outside, white in the inside. LOL...

Well, I'll try to make an effort to learn to read n write, a bit kudos to you for making so much progress.. and all the best!

Frankie said...

I admire your determination in learning Mandarin Chinese.
You could try a new way of learning with
http://chinesepod.com/

A G A V E ! said...

nice to visit your blog..

Good luck with your learning chinese :) :)

Tauqir said...

You are lucky, its ideal be in natinves for learning any language,

kid911 a.k.a chuối bay said...

I like the way you telling stories and I've read your blog a lot since I found it through "Blog of note" yesterday. :D
I've studied Chinese in Nan Ning 南宁(广西) for one and a half year.And as I know, you can study financial in the university when you get HSK level 3, and study law and medicine at level 6. Some friends of mine are French, German, American and they got HSK level 6 after two year studying Chinese.so belive me, Chinese is not difficult as you think :)
加油吧!!