Friday, September 19, 2008

No more bully teachers

You need to be no Sherlock Homes in order to figure our that I am struggling with the Chinese characters. Not so much with reading them, but with writing them, by hand.

It is a well-established and well known fact at Chinese universities that 'OuMei ren' (meaning: people from Europe and America) have difficulties with handwriting characters. Since everyone knows this, both my Chinese teachers and my Asian classmates have up been more lenient and forgiving with my ugly (and similar to a three-year-old) handwriting. Main thing is that I CAN write something and that people can understand it, rather than how it looks, right?

Well, that was the norm, up until yesterday.

As I've mentioned before I've been getting some bad vibes from my new teachers, and especially from one of them. She's been doing this sort of 'fake smile' thing, meaning: she walks around looking happy and cheerful, until u ask her about something she gets all troubled and annoyed and asks you to use your dictionary.

Yesterday she was really on my back. I got to answer several questions and then I was asked to go and write a sentence on the blackboard (together with 3 Korean students).

I know that my handwriting is terrible, so I had a laugh about it while I wrote. And so did my teacher. She was honestly standing next to me, giggling, while I wrote. (Fair enough, I am happy to entertain) When I afterwards sat down the teacher started going through our sentences. She started with me (note that this was a grammar exercise, not a hanzi exercise).

-Does anyone think this sentence is OK? She asked.
-Yes, everyone said.
-You don't see any mistake???
-Well I can tell there is a BIG mistake! Jonna here hasn't done a FULL STOP at the end of the sentence. Jonna -you have to make a full stop at the end of the sentence, otherwise we don't know that it has finished.
Me: -eh.... ok.
She: -And I have noticed that when you do your full stop in your exercise books you do it as a 'dot'. In China, a full stop should be a round circle!! You HAVE to learn this! (while she said this she drew one dot and one fuller circle on the board). Then... there is eh... haha... well... Jonna your handwriting is very interesting, don't you all think?! VEEEERY interesting! Do you know you write the wrong way?
-Eh... yes, well, I just....
-You don't write according to the rules. This is something very basic.. you should write like... bla bla bla bla..
(stats going through writing rules that I know about but don't follow -due to one simple reason: I simply can't memorize them all and I think it is better I learn how the character look and know how to write it, than learning it specifically according to the rules. Main thing is that people can read it, right?)

Oh my oh my... She went on and on, telling everyone about how I did it (BAD) and how it should be done... I was just sitting there, starring. So was the rest of the class. If I were them I would have been quite annoyed with the fact that the teacher spent so much time commenting on some one's handwriting when we were doing a grammar exercise.

Finally the class was over and I caught myself feeling quite tense.

Then suddenly the teacher said:
-Oh, if someone wants to change class it is okay because we are too many students in this class, meanwhile the other level 4 class have less students.

Do I need to mention that I was the first student who signed up to change?!

I now have a male teacher most of the time (that I've had before -and I know he is great!) and I am sooooo happy! Constructive criticism, sure, but there's a limit right? No more bully teachers from now on!

Oh... and after school that day I met one of my former classmates. We talked for a bit before she said: "You know what. I could clearly see what you wrote on the blackboard."



Anonymous said...

Congrats on the class change :). I myself attend UH. I've been taking chinese for 4 years in highschool and 3 years at the university already and i've noticed a lot about teachers. I'd say 75% of my teachers tended to give me annoyed or fake smiles but the rest were really sincere. I think its because i look mad all the time, so they don't know how to react.

Anyways, most chinese teachers are like that, they'll critique you on everything even if its unrelated to the exercise at hand.

I'm currently taking Chinese301 and it's killer. All the new characters that i've never seen before is just overwhelming, so I know what you're going through, especially with all the native speakers or talented students in the class. It can make you feel junk T_T. I really enjoy reading your posts, so keep writing. Good Luck ^^

m--e said...

You are brave - I think I would have burst out in tears. My friend Sam also went to college here and the teaching methods were "shame and embarrassment." (Direct quote.)

That's just horrible. Good for you to keep at it!!

afritzse said...

I guess that was a good decision.

Following the stroke order with writing characters just needs some getting used to. I have found it makes remembering characters easier rather than harder, because following stroke order you won't forget certain dots or lines you might otherwise miss.

In addition, it allows you to remember characters in your head, while waiting in traffic, in the subway and so on, when you have nothing else to do. Without stroke order, that would be impossible.

The more characters you know, the more natural stroke order will be. For at least 95% of the characters, I didn't have to learn anything because they follow general rules.

Mark's Blog said...

The best response to a bully teacher is to fight back by your excellence. In fact, that's the Chinese logical for it.

Teacher humiliates student

Student feels angery

Anger becomes a stimuli

Student works harder

At last, student beats the teacher with his or her performance

Then, student and teacher become life long friends

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear about your bad experience with this Chinese teacher. Honestly your teacher reminds me of my Chinese wife when my wife teaches our kids Chinese characters. Chinese folks don't get it. Trust me. You have my sympathy. Glad you are going to switch class. I hope the new male teacher is more understanding, which he should be. Our kids (American-born Chinese) go to a Chinese language school on Saturdays. My daughter's teacher is probably as bad as yours. She expects too much out of an American kid who learns Chinese as a second language. Oh, well. I don't see how China can become the world leader even their people don't get it. A culture that demands its spoken language (i.e. characters) to be written in one and only one way of sequential strokes cannot comprehend the concept of efficiency.

Anonymous said...

God your teacher sounds like a nightmare!

RE the writing of characters. In my opinion the only way to learn is to learn like Chinese kids learn; to write them over and over again. It's obviously time consuming to sit down and write them over and over so I usually just doodle a few characters on a newspaper etc.

I also think it would help to learn what the different parts of the characters are called in Chinese so you can say them in your head as you are writing them. For example 'san dianr shui' - the three dots for water, and all the radicals to the side (pang) ie 'ren zi pang' , 'mu zi pang' , 'li zi pang'
I hope you know what I'm getting at! But don't really worry about it, one day it will 'click'. Also in the real world the only characters you need to write are names, surnames and addresses

Anonymous said...


Seems that you kind of struggle with the same that I did. Like one test were I scored 50 instead of 90 because I started every sentence with a capital letter(and pinyin should not start with a capital letter according to Li laoshi), so even though every sentence was right (except the capital letter) I failed the test.

The problem for you will be that you maybe wont be able to write fast enough if you cant remeber the right stroke order, because you got to be more aware of how the characters looks like since most chinese people find it really hard to read a character when it is not written in the right stroke order and therefore you might fail some test because of misunderstandings with the teacher.

I found some comfort in the fact that I have never been in a situation outside school were I regret not learning the right stroke order :)

Anonymous said...

Have you tried Chinese calligraphy? It will help you to improve your hand-writing.

Anonymous said...

Like anonymous said, I would recommend taking a calligraphy class (gang bi(pen) not mao bi(brush) unless you're really serious about it)
I used to go to one in the north. It was great, all my classmates were 7/8 years old and I practiced a lot of chinese with them!. After about 5 classes you'll see a huge difference in the way you write

Jonna Wibelius said...

Hey thanks everyone for your comments, encouragements and advices! I still feel that the handwriting of characters is something I put up with in order to memorize the characters.. I doubt that I later in life will write characters by hand, I mean, even my Chinese friends tell me that they have forgotten how to write some characters by hand because they always use the computer nowadays.. so... that makes me think, how important is it to master the handwriting? As long as I remember the characters (so that I can write them with a computer) that should be enough, right?

afritzse said...

One situation I can think of in which you need to know stroke order is when you need to enter something in text-entry systems using handwriting recognition. As of recently, this seems to be becoming fashionable in vending machines and portable devices.

jonsaint said...

It is interesting to know different struggled in dealing with teachers.

Anonymous said...

I once attended a course at BCLU that involved 4 hours of listening to various professors talk and about zero conversational practice. Put simply, there's an amazing lack of understanding about how to teach language in China. People approach it as if classroom time alone is enough.

My question from reading your post is why you were writing on the board in class anyway. Vertical writing isn't natural for anyone who hasn't taught for a year or two. And is that sort of activity honestly a good use of face-time with the teacher?

I say congrats on blaming your teacher instead of blaming yourself. One of the most liberating experiences you can have as a student is to stop putting faith in other people teaching you, and committing to teach yourself regardless.

Jonna Wibelius said...

trevelyan -I think I would have been insane to blame myself for her laughing at my handwriting.. I mean, c'on. They already know how hard it is for us (as hard it is for them to learn Eng!) so why make fun of someone who is trying? Nah, I prefer male teachers to be honest!