Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's getting LOUD in here

Don't say it. Scream it.

When learning Chinese at a Chinese university, reading out loud is a popular method used by most teachers that I know. One thing I have noticed, however, is that the higher the level I get to, the louder the teachers want us to read. On the first, hesitative levels (1, 2, maybe even 3) it was totally OK to read a bit quietly, but now, oh no… now we are supposed to scream out the words so that the teacher can address any pronunciation problems easier. I have a bit of a problem with this since I am not the ‘loud’ kind of person. Also, quite often we are asked to read together (the whole class) and the sound of 15 + students SCREAMING out the text is more than enough to give you a headache. Also, just like I am more of a ‘quiet’ person there are also a few ‘loud’ ones in class, so those are the ones that take over during the screaming sessions.

I often take the opportunity to go to the bathroom during the screa… sorry, reading session, because you know what? Even though the bathroom is located quite far from our classroom, I can walk there, lock myself into a little booth, and still hear EVERYTHING that is going on in my classroom! That’s how loud it is! One day I actually thought about parking myself at the bench outside the classroom and listen (more comfortable sound level), but I figured others might find that a bit weird so I didn’t.

It’s not only me who thinks it is loud. Just the other day our teacher (and old, old lady) told us that she feels so exhausted after our lessons that she sometimes have to take a nap! A nap! Because she’s been talking so loudly! I laughed so much when I heard this.

One might wonder why she continues to exhaust herself during our lessons by being so loud, but according to her, it’s the way things should be done in China.

Chinese students have to read out very loud when they are in class. You guys are no exception!” she has told us.

Maybe the reading out loud in school is the reason why so many people are quite loud in China in general. Take our neighbors for instance. I know everything that goes on in their flat. What the children are eating, when they need to go to the bathroom, when they have done something bad, or something good… their ayi has the loudest, most piercing voice I have come across here in China. And she’s not afraid to use it.

In restauarnats you also sometimes have to fight to make yourself heard. Especially if the place is 热闹 ‘re nao’ (=”bustling with life and excitement, a lively place.” Re nao is a veeeery popular word here in China!). I like that there is some life and noise at restaurants (quite an opposite to restaurants in Sweden!) but sometimes it is almost laughable that it’s so loud and noisy that you cannot even talk to your friend sitting across the table.

I once tried to explain this in class. We were asked if we preferred bustling or quiet restaurants when eating out. I said that I prefer to go out and be surrounded by a lot of people, but that sometimes, I preferred a quiet, calm restaurant where I can hear my own thoughts. My message didn’t get across however. Instead, the teacher called me ‘anti-social.’

So, if you want to stay on top of your game over here, clear your throat and don’t hesitate to make yourself heard!

23 comments:

David said...

Ah, another weird Mao-era law that hasn't been repealed yet. One night, after a few too many Mongolian beers, Chairman Mao came to the conclusion that everyone in school should shout as loud as they can, in order to prove their revolutionary credentials. People without loud booming voices were to be denounced as Counter-Revolutionary Running-Dogs of Decadent Capitalistic Imperialism and sent away to re-education camps to strengthen their voices. (Not really of course; I just made all that up.)

kanmuri said...

I used to live with my ex and his family (they're Chinese) and sometimes In the morning I would be woken up by my ex and his mother talking super loud. When he would come back to the bedroom, I would ask him what they had been fighting about. Each time, he would tell me that they just had been chatting...

Ramesh said...

OH YES ! CAN YOU SPEAK SOFTER ON THE PHONE PLEASE. I CAN'T UNDERSTAND CHINESE AS YET BUT I DON'T WANT MY EARDRUMS BLASTED IN THE BUS AND IN THE METRO. XIE XIE

Suzhouren said...

When you live in China long enough you will become a loud person too...
Every time we returned our home country for a vacation I had to remind my kids at the airport to reset the loud China volume and turn on the silent Finland volume... And you can imagine it was difficult!

Steph said...

Haha. I often tell the classes I teach that it's like being at the zoo! They're soooooooo noisy. Still, it's a speaking class and I should be grateful that they're speaking, I suppose. The problem is that 50 students all shouting at once is really quite loud. I feel like a need a whistle or something to bring them to order when I need to speak!!
Steph

lideting482 said...

I like your lovely picture.

I think the upside of reading out loud is that it can help you build up your confidence.

J said...

Ah, the love of reading out loud. When I first started teaching, the school demanded that I spend at least ten minutes of each class reading. I've ended up sneakily dropping as it made me want to shoot myself in the head - espcially if I'd overindulged the night before!

Carl said...

Hi Jonna. That use to drive me crazy in bars when everyone (and usually the music too) is so loud that one cannot hear someone's words unless they are screaming in your ear. And to have it be that loud in a restaurant that one cannot hear the person across the table, that's interesting to say the least. LOL. I'm not a big fan of talking loudly unless I'm teaching a class. In some places it is considered rude to talk loudly if it isn't necessary. Interesting to see the differences in cultures.

alex said...

i think it is a easy way to learn chinese ,and , i don't like the noise in the restaurant either,but ,if you are a student ,and ,in your class ,you'better to seasoned with it .

Emil said...

Pffft, it is way worse in north parts of China :P

mantse said...

this is interrelated case... others say loud, so if you want someone listen to you, then you need to say louder... and so and so...

i always feel iPod is my best friend when i got on the transportation in China.....

ccna said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!
ccent

Jonna Wibelius said...

David -you almost had me... ehhh... :)

Kanmuri -hahhaha, that is so true! When I first moved to China I also thought everyone was fighting everywhere... I was also highly disturbed by the fact that people seemed to be so rude to each other (yelling!) but then the next second they were laughing together... took me a while to get used to that!

So you dated a Chinese man before you married your husband.. but U have never lived in China right? Living with his family must have been quite an experience!

Ramesh -NOT POSSIBLE: NEED TO BE HEARD EVERYWHERE!

Suzhouren -oh yeah I can imagine. Although I personally don't think I can turn into a loud person... I mean, it took me about 1 year before I had worked up the nerves to yell 'fu wu yuan!' in restaurants over here? Although, who knows.. With kids it must be even harder though.. and also, going from China to Finland is QUITE a big step... gosh. Good luck!!

steph -hehe, yeah maybe a whistle is a good idea. 50 kids in the class sounds insane... do u know all of their names?! Can you tell the difference? I am very impressed.

lideting -thanks, it's my lovely sis in the lion pic! :) You are probably right about the 'speaking loud' is part of confidence building.. I guess it works for some... while others (me!) will find it uncomfortable.

Carl -yeah it is interesting... I recognize the whole 'oh the music is so loud here we can't even talk!' -feeling you described... I see it as a sign of me getting older.. haha! Although I really don't see the point anymore of going to places where u cannot even have a conversation.

alex -慢慢习惯吧。。。。 :)

Emil -ohhh, he's alive?!I thought u'd gone missing, seeing that this blog has seen very little of your comments during the last few months...

mantse -I'm also very fond of my ipod when riding the metro in Shanghai.... :)

ccna -thaaaanks!!! :)

Pete In Syracuse said...

jonna,
I first witessed that type of talking when a freind of mine new how to speak Chinese ran into a Chinese couple at our church. He greeted them & ZING they were off and so was the control on the volume. We all roared with laughter because both parties were kind of quiet people for the most part of our knowing of them. I didn't know that was encouraged in school, I mean talking so loud ....lol

Anonymous said...

热闹 - Yes, this is definitely a Chinese thing. Chinese all over the world still make a big fuss out of this 热闹 concept. I am so over it now after having lived and raised my American-born kids who are very integrated in the mainstream American society (my kids hate it, which has made me think). My wife, being raised in Taiwan, still wants 热闹 parties during holidays. Of course, only Chinese friends are invited at those 热闹 parties. Kids are running amock inside the house. Guests greet each other with shouting. Most Americans think Asian women talk softly. But not at these 热闹 parties when they feel comfortable. I have also noticed that Mainland Chinese are a lot louder than Taiwan or other overseas Chinese. Among Mainland Chinese, northerners are usually louder than southerners in general. Trust my experience on that. Observe all the loud Chinese friends at a party in a college next time. Chances are the louder ones are from the north. Then again, Italians, Greeks and Jews are all very loud at their own parties, too. I can't stand most bars in the U.S. They are so loud with music or talking.

Anonymous said...

You know something funny? I sometimes find that speaking Chinese loudly seemed to reduce my accent a little bit.

Adrian

Butler and Bagman said...

No wonder I never learned anything in school.

I mean: "NO WONDER I NEVER LEARNED ANYTHING IN SCHOOL!!!"

J said...

Oh I need to show this entry to my mother. She absolutely does not believe me when I tell her that her talking voice is far louder than any normal person's should be. Get a group of her and her friends together...and what do they do? Get kicked out of a restaurant for being too loud and rowdy. I'm talking about a group of Chinese women about 55-60 years old...

Actually, my roommate freshman year didn't believe it either when she was told she talked too loud.

Dangerous Des said...

That is so interesting! When teaching children, I encourage them to yell, because they like yelling and are not embarrassed to make mistakes, but when working with adults, I find that a soft-spoken person usually needs to be dealt with quite delicately before they can build up their confidence; i would be afraid to scare them away by forcing them to yell. Have you noticed any students feeling uncomfortable with being asked to scream?

My hometown has a large and diverse Asian population, and while many people have been conditioned to either speak softly in public or just speak English, when you get to their homes, it is all about screaming. I've lived next door to several Asian families (Vietnamese, Cambodian) who do indeed scream everything once they are home to the point where if you understood their language you could make out entire conversations quite clearly through the walls. Vietnamese also love karaoke-ing at home and boah, is that a racket I could live without!

still, they were the friendliest and most generous neighbors I have ever had, and they expressed their affection in my favorite way--by inviting us to eat with them or bringing us food! Gotta love that :)

Hippo said...

I'm 1/2 chinese an yes, whenever me and my mom start talkin, every friends will ask why are we fighting? It's so embarrasing but we learn to tune down since then. But if we are at home, we will turn up the volme again, why you may ask? Bacause it's fun and you don't need to be near to the person if they are in the far corner, just Scream! Ha ha! ;P

opps sorry, did I just irritate you?

Hippo said...

And you can't deny it too, some foreigners are just as noisy as us asian? Agree?

Jonna Wibelius said...

Pete -yeah, different kind of volumes between Chinese people for sure :)

anonymous: wow, so at 热闹 parties no Americans can come? I know that Chinese are not the loudest people on earth, there are many loud kinds, but I still find the 热闹 concept quite interesting.

Adrian -really?! Wow, that's not how it works for me. The louder I speak the more obvious my mistakes become...

J -hahhaha... well I hope she's not offended. I don't mean there's anything wrong with being loud. It's just different to where I am from. But u are right. Old women are the loudest ones...

Des -yeah, it's funny, because the whole 'screaming and being loud' thing makes you think that they would have a bad/somehow annoying personality (for some reason...) but that's def not the case. Instead, they are all friendly and helpful and generous. Funny.

As for noticing students feeling uncomfortable when asked to scream?! Yes -ME!!! Haha. Well, also, the Japanese and Korean students in my class don't really seem to enjoy it.

Hippo -of course there are maaaany foreigners that are just as noisy, or even more noisy that Chinese people. I was just saying that generally speaking, China is a quite 'loud' place...

Apple said...

I love this blog! Your writing about China is so refreshing.

In China, students are always asked to read out load in class. Teachers seem to believe in such practice, some even made fortune out of this. For example, YiYang,a former English teacher became a millionaire by selling his concept of "Crazy English". His idea is that one cannot have good pronunciation and accent unless they speak English as loud as possible. The guy published CDs, books, magazines and gave seminars to promote his theory across the country and became a household name finally. Although his approach is quite controversial, he has many student fans. In the campus, you may see students practicing their spoken English by screaming out loudly by the lake, in the wood, etc, as if nobody else were present.

The scenarios in your blog are quite real, but with the influence of western culture, Chinese now realize that speaking loud in public is not preferable or even weird to the rest of the world. In an effort to improve China’s international image, Chinese government now educate Chinese tourists to maintain good manner in foreign countries, including speaking in a softer voice. Before my parents started their European journey last year, they need to attend a class to learn which behaviors are suitable which are not. I won’t be surprised that Chinese will become much quieter in the future, just like Japanese.