Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book smart VS street smart


I was having lunch with my classmate Willing the other day and I couldn’t help but whine for a bit about how hard our classes are. Willing responded just the way I didn’t want her to:

-You think it is hard? I think our lessons are OK! I understand everything in the classroom…

(Yeah, just rub it in, will ya….!) But then she added:

-Although as soon as I leave the classroom I feel all stupid! No one understands me, and I don’t understand them! I feel so stupid using Chinese outside the classroom.

A large smile found its way to my face.

-I am the complete opposite. I have no problem talking with or understanding locals but I find the classes extremely hard.

Funny how things are.

Then we spent the rest of the lunch eavesdropping as the table next to us was full of Chinese people. And believe it or not, I, who absolutely suck at ‘listening classes’ in school, understood pretty much everything meanwhile Willing, who’s a total star in class, barely got the general idea of what they were talking about.

Although once we got back to school and went into a class together I completely forgot about all of this and went back to feeling ‘dumb/stupid/slow’ as I was the only one being complete dumbstruck by the teachers writing, meanwhile everyone else was nodding along.

Maybe I should just accept matters. I will never become class-smart. But street-smart maybe isn’t that bad after all?

17 comments:

The Casual Observer said...

The functional ability with the language is a bit more helpful in the real world than the classroom knowledge ... so if you have to have one but not the other, you have the right one :)

kanmuri said...

Languages are tools and are meant to be used. No matter how book-smart or class-smart you are, if you can't use the language, then your failing its purpose. This is something to be really happy about!!! Street smart is great! Go you! :)

The Acolyte Tao said...

Hm, I seem to be cursed and/or blessed with a mix of both. I've always noticed this and has gotten me along okay in the world so far. However I don't completely understand everything that deals with 'street smarts' nor 'book smarts' so I don't exactly fit into either category when talking to people, but yet I can communicate and carry out working with both types of people. Blessing and a curse...

Jonna Wibelius said...

Casual Observer -yup, that's what I was thinking too. Just have to remind myself of that during class time... ehum.

Kanmuri -:) Although I wouldn't mind being a little bit more class-smart... ;)

Acolyte tao -I'd say it's a blessing! :)

Emil said...

It is quite obivious that she is not really street smart when her is name Willing :)

mantse said...

That's ok if you are not going to be a writer or a researcher in Chinese Literature.

So i think can used is more important than classroom learning

Jonna Wibelius said...

Emil -I would say it's her parents who lacked some street-smartness when they chose her name (which is still a mystery to me... coz she speaks quite good English... gah!)

mantse -Chinese writer or researcher? I guess not!

Chen1 said...

Education in China is generally exam-oriented because of the tremendous competition caused by the huge population. It's widely criticized but, unfortunately, changed little in the last decade. I know this because I'm Chinese and was a student myself.

And I find that, for some reason, the people of far-east are generally very good at studying for exams. Some people would go as far as memorizing a whole text book in order to have a greater chance of encountering learned materials in the exams. For many students, it's as if the purpose of their study is just to pass the exam instead of actually putting their knowledge in practice.

Ask yourself what your goal is. Is it that to use the language in life or to get a piece of paper saying that you've got A for the course? In fact, I believe it's no other but you who's on the right track. It's not to say that you could neglect your study in class but that you don't need to feel bad. Hang in there. 加油! You are doing great.

Emil said...

So you are saying her actual name is Willing? Not some English name she chose herself?

Jonna Wibelius said...

Chen1 -yeah I know that the edu system is different here in China and I have been fighting against it since I came here... although I still cannot shake that bad feeling off me that I get when I realize that I don't know every single little character in our textbook and our teacher gets completely repelled by my 'stupidity'... oh well.

Emil -yup. That's her real name. I asked her if it is a common name in Indonesia and she said no. She doesn't know why her parents picked it for her.

Jono said...

When learning chinese, I can't help but feeling I am learning many different languages at once. First off, you learn classroom Chinese at your university or school. When you arrive here in China, you start to pick up 'Street Chinese' and in doing so realise that nobody actually talks like they do in the textbooks! Next there is 'Net Chinese' i.e. the language that is spoken on online forums and in web cafes which again has its own style and specific vocabulary - like a dialect of Chinese. You'll later realise that there is also 'Media Chinese' - as in language specific to newspapers, magazines and television reports. This last one caught me out the most I think. I rate my 'Street Chinese' quite highly and can have a decent conversation with friends and people I bump into from day to day. However, watching the CCTV evening news one day I soon realised that I couldn't keep up with half of what was going on and that again there was different vocab being used... maybe Willing would understand?! Still, I think that I'd rather be able to understand what is going on around me during everyday life here, even if that means I can't understand all the CCTV news propaganda each evening!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Jono -that's so true.. although I never learned any Chinese before I came here, so I never had to experience the fact that textbook Chinese isn't widely used... :) (makes me curious about the quality of learning Chinese overseas -what sort of books do u use then?) The newspaper Chinese is tricky in my opinion, because I find it hard to remember 书面词 simply because I never use them... (even when writing my homework essays I often forget about them, and go for the 口语 word instead, which makes my teachers frown).

As for watching the news, I think it is hard for most laowais, although I think Willing would do 64762 times better than me! :)

Chen1 said...

Ha! When I was in Canada, once I failed my essay test because I used mainly short sentences. Although the teacher had to agree the content was absolutely fine. And don't get me started on academic writings. The rules were crazy that I never mastered it.

See. Same thing in English. Well, almost.

Anonymous said...

Wow, another great example of Asian educational system vs. the West. I don't want to overgeneralize, but its generally true that most Asian countries over emphasize book knowledge and neglect its practical use. When I first came to the U.S. 2 decades ago, many fellow Chinese realized that we were about 10 less intelligent with everyday, practical decisions that we had to make because of our education. We were not sure what we should do for some common sense questions when we didn't have reference book to go by.

konichiwa, bitches. said...

that is AWESOME that you can communicate so well with the locals. Def more important than getting good grades on your tests. For many of us, building up the confidence to go throw our poor use of the local language at the locals takes time... I had no choice really--i was forced to start using my german right away--but although my German is much much better than it was when I was getting great marks in class, I still get tongue tied in stressful situations and cannot speak it at all.

Stranded In China said...

I stumbled across your blog when I was searching for tips about gift-giving etiquette in China. I can relate so well to your post. I can memorize a lot of Chinese characters easily but when it comes to talk with other people in Chinese, I can't understand them. My closest friend here is the complete opposite of me. She can have a conversation with others in Chinese, she can read Chinese characters, but she is really weak in memorizing and writing hanzi. Funny, your friend is Indonesian. I am an Indonesian myself.

What a nice blog you have here :)

Anonymous said...

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