Yesterday I went to study Chinese straight after work. Although it was hard to get there (basically not that easy to motivate myself to hit the classroom after 8 hours of work) once I did, it was actually a lot of fun! I had forgotten how fun it can be to study, and especially to study Chinese (to read textbooks with characters –and by the way, how easy are those text books now when you are faced with not-so-study-friendly-texts in your everyday life?!). What I find funny, though, are Chinese teachers. They never fail to astonish me with their comments and their unwillingness to believe that a foreigner can actually read, write and speak Chinese!
-My name is Cindy, said my teacher when she walked in.
-What’s your Chinese name, I replied in Chinese.
-Oh, it’s a bit hard, she said and wrote it on the board. I read it our loud.
-Oh, you can read some characters?! She said.
-Yes, I have studied before, I replied.
On we went. She asked me my name, where I was from, where I had studied before, what I had studied before, what work I was doing now, and so on. I told her accordingly.
After 10 min of conversation (all in Chinese of course, however, I noticed that Cindy would throw in Eng words every now and then) I stopped her:
-Do not, no matter what, speak English to me. Regardless if I don’t understand you. Don’t use Eng to explain the words. Use Chinese!
He face lit up.
-Of course! That's an excellent attitude!
2 min later:
-So you are totally OK with pinyin?
-Pinyin? I don't use pinyin, I have studied Chinese characters.
-Oh, you want to learn characters, wait!
She went and got a book: “Writing characters for beginners.”
-I often use this book with foreigners that can speak Chinese well but who cannot write at all.
-But I can write! I write every day at work! I have studied Chinese characters. I have even taken writing classes and written essays in Chinese!
-Yes, really. Just like I told you, I studied for 2 years at a Chinese university, mainly with Japanese and Korean students. Trust me. I know characters.
-OK…. (I could tell she still didn’t believe me).
-Well… if you say you know characters I have to test you. Turn to page 60 in this book that is our hardest book and that I have chosen for you (“Business Chinese for Managers”).
I turned to page 60.
-Read the text.
Now, reading a text can be hard when looking at it for the first time. Also, it’s been a while since I read out loud.
But once I started it went by itself. I read the whole thing, stumbled on 2 characters that I didn’t remember, and that was it.
Cindy just stared at me.
-You know everything?!
-Well this text wasn't that hard...
(Yes but what? Foreigners normally lie about their Chinese level? Why would someone do that?)
-…well, anyway… there were, ehum, 2 characters that you didn’t really know, let’s study those…
And then we spent the next 20 min studying 2 Chinese characters.
Anyway, point that I’m trying to make: unless they see it for themselves, simply telling Chinese people that you can read Chinese characters doesn’t cut it. Show, don’t tell, is the golden rule over here.