Tuesday, February 24, 2009

They are just trying to scare us, right?

I miss my old classmates...

So far, Mandarin level 5 has been nothing but scary. I don’t know if that is the teachers intentions during the first, intensive weeks (when you haven’t quite worked up your ‘writing-character-speed' yet), but if it is, they are definitely successful. There’s been a lot of ‘comparison’ of students. A lot of praising. Some verbal caning. Some ‘warnings’ (“My exams are really hard and I suggest that if you don’t understand even 90% of what I am saying, that you stop wasting anyone’s time and jump down to level 4”) as well as some ‘shocking information’ (such as the fact that our grammar teacher won’t “waste any time” on explaining how to use the 79 new words for each chapter. We have to do that ourselves). Also, stupid questions are not acceptable, however, if you have a nut that you seriously cannot crack, and that you notice that a lot of classmates also have a problem with, it is OK to ask.

We also have to keep 3 notebooks. One for writing sentences. One for ting xie (which is a weekly character test). And one for… yeah, to be quite honest with you, I should probably already head down to level 4 because I didn’t quite get what the third book was for. And I didn’t dare to ask. But it’s still early days, so I guess I figure it out with time.

My classmates, then, is another story. As always, a highly ambitious bunch. But this time it is almost over the top. There are two people (one Korean girl and one European guy, I didn’t quite get where he was from –hm, another sign that I need to jump down one level?) who already have degrees in Chinese studies, but who haven’t ‘used their Chinese for some years’ and feel they need some ‘freshen up.’ They are both fluent to that extent that I don’t understand half of what they are saying. The girl speaks really fast and the boy says things like “I am studying Chinese in order to expand my world-view” (I had to look it up in my dictionary), speaks with a heavy dong-bei accent and had previously worked as a Chinese translator (“although it was eight years ago so my Chinese has gone really bad now” –eh… yeah, sure, whatever).

What are they doing in my class?! Them, with their fancy degrees in Chinese studies are going to learn together with me, who have only studied for 1,5 years?! Don’t get me wrong, I am going nowhere, I finished level 4 on a quite high score, although I cannot help but wondering how the gap between two levels can be so wide? I almost wish there was a 4,5 class….

(Even though I keep reminding myself ‘not to compare myself with them’ it is a bit hard not too. Although trust me, I am doing my outmost. Repeating it to myself at least once ever 10 minutes)

Our grammar teacher (an old, old lady) already told us that she’s not going to "baby" us by using vocabulary that we already know when she speaks. Rather, she’s going to be using a lot of new words, to make it harder for us. She also said that all of us probably won’t pass her exams, and pointed towards a tall, western guy seated at the front. Not until later, when the guy introduced himself did we understand what she meant: this guy is taking level 5 for the third time (!) this semester. He apparently has a lot of problems with the characters (hm.. sounds familiar...) and hasn’t yet managed to pass the exams.

Well one thing is for sure, I am going to study my a** off so that it’s not me sitting there again next semester saying that I find ‘writing Chinese characters’ to be my biggest problem. NO way. I am moving on. One semester at time. Regardless of tough teachers and over-ambitious classmates. Here we go.


burningDESIRE said...

They always seem to give really hard material in the beginning in order to "weed" out the students. Stay positive and work hard like you said you are going to. Do you have study groups with the other students in your class?

Jonna Wibelius said...

desire -hm... study group. I have never even considered this. I wonder if there is someone who is willing to study together with me...?! I have a feeling I wouldn't be able to bring as much to the table as they would... ehum.

Little Tiger said...

God, that sounds like a nightmare! For me that kind of atmosphere would take all the fun and enjoyment out of learning Chinese.

When I was in SH, I picked up a book of paper flashcards( you tear them out yourself) in the foreign language book store (on Fuzhou Lu I think?). They are good for memorizing characters.
I also found a good online dictionary that has examples of how to use each word. The URL is www.nciku.com
Hang in there and don't forget to have some fun too! (ie. making funny observations about your classmates :) )

Jonna Wibelius said...

Little tiger -yeah so far it feels kind of 'nightmarish' however, I am sure that it is like burningDESIRE pointed out.. and that they r just trying to 'weed' out the students.. Thanks for the flashcards suggestion, I already have some (bought them at the Xinhua bookstore), they sure are great to practice with. I have even started to make my own for each chapter now because I find them real helpful.

But yeah, I am going to do my outmost not to take it 'too seriously' and have some fun along the way.

Larry said...

Well, that's a lot of reasons to go to study oversea. I think it'd better to think your goal about 'writing Chinese characters' again. What is the purpose?
As I know that, all exam are so harsh in China. That's like to train the students becoming an academic people. That's no doubt that the students would set up their goals for the learning, but not for 'smashing yourself'. No need to be a exam machine.

Apparently, these two sentences are translated for the publishing into two languages as follows. I don't have any technical skill for them. Not a university doc. It's just a go until you understand other ones how to speak and how to think.

Jonna向着 她的梦想 进发。
'Jonna goes for her dream.'

Just Go.

If you can't see the Chinese words, click on the IE browser bar as 'View', then 'Encoding' and point to'Chinese Simplified GB23312' or download at the Mircosoft about language support.

ps: This is my first time blogging on the web ; )

The Taipan said...

Keep your spirits up, I'm sure all your classmates also find some aspects of it hard. If not, lets get some weapons!

Diane said...

Thanks, Jonna. I think the picture is for me to 'read.' How thoughtful you are.

It seems like some of my best classes started out just like your nightmare . . . except that I never studied anything quite as difficult as Chinese. Also, I love all the technology available now to study language. Do you use an ipod? This might be elementary for you, but I used a couple of different programs to put vocabulary on my ipod when I was learning a language just for fun.

Also, BYKI.com offers a free download. I'm not sure if Mandarin is available for the free download but the neat thing is you get computer flashcards that you can adapt for anything. We used them for math for my daughter and Tagalog for me.

Hang in there!

Vittorio said...

i like your determination!
go for it and nothing will stop you!!!

CJ said...

Hey dont worry!That is exactly how i felt when i was in 2nd year of my french class.Initially you find everything just going overhead but you get on you'll it easier.All the best!!

Niel said...

+U +U !!

Leenie said...

I'm still impressed with your mastery of English. Mandarin must be so different from your own language and English and any other languages you have worked on. Best wishes and good luck with those teachers!

Gifts of Nature said...

Good for you and I remember classes like that when I went back to school after 6 years. I was like, "I'm supposed to know what?".

Anonymous said...

Hang on JW. I was the only non-Japanese in my level 4 class. Their writing was awesome, but their tingli was terrible. As well they didn't like studying or talking Mandarin, so over the space of a a few weeks I caught up and then passed them. Then they followed me to level 5!

The only thing I could say in Japanese at the time was "Toyota".

Stick your nose to the grindstone and get a Chinese friend to tutor you. There are no shortcuts to Chinese. Don't try to reason with a character, just cram it between your ears, and move on.

Anonymous said...

That sounds crazy. Reminds me of my Japanese class at Waseda university. I took a test and was put in level 11, but a week later I decided to move to level 10. It was a bit easier, but I never regretted it because the people were really nice and I made nice friends.

In your case though there is no changing levels, eh... Well, I guess it will be hard but you'll come out a whole lot better. Ignore the Chinese study people and work hard.

And whenever you need to, come here and complain, we'll be waiting for you :)

Colleen said...

Good luck! You are amazing to be doing this! I would love to learn a new language, and took 3 years of French, but I don't speak it at all! Moving to where the language is spoken must help a lot! Sounds like a lot of hard work, but I'm sure it will be good for you.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Thanks ya all for your lovely, encouraging comments. I am not going to lie: I felt like screaming out loud (in frustration) today during our listening class. We were listening to a long section about farming cabbage and afterwards the teacher asked some questions (that everyone except for me ad 2 other students managed to answer) and finished it all off by saying: 'well this little story was so simple!' Sure, my listening skills are not great, that comes as no surprise, but holy s*** what an awful feeling it is to sit there and feel that 'I just don't get it!' meanwhile everyone else does!!

Kanmuri -don't encourage me to whine, then that's all I'll do this semester!!

But, I am no stranger to this feeling: it will get easier with time. I know it. And of course I have to study hard. No, harder than hard. Or something like that. Then we'll see.

But really, thanks for all the useful advices and encouragements. I wish I was in your class instead of the one I'm in now :)

Anonymous said...

You know we're all cheering for you, girl! (And since you have, like, one of the most successful blogs in the sinosphere, that amounts to a LOT of people in your corner.)

About the Chinese studies people: don't be too hard on them for taking the class with you even though they have had much more training than you have had. I'm in roughly the same position as they are, and if my circumstances allowed me to do so I'd probably take a class as well, not even thinking about the impact on the other students in the class who have less training behind them. Just don't get into a comparison game, and you should be fine. After all, comparison makes no sense. They're in the class for their reasons and you're in the class for your reasons. It's an apples-and-oranges situation.

In fact, they probably really do feel bad that their Chinese isn't as good as it "should be," given what old hands they are. You are the lucky one. You've only just started, and look how much progress you've made! Perhaps not as quickly or as smoothly as you'd like, but still, you're moving forward all the time. And, because you only started recently, you haven't had time to collect any baggage on the way -- something that is unlikely to be true in the case of the degree-sporting Chinese studies folks.

I think Desire's suggestion about a study group is a great idea. Good luck with that.

Are you planning to take the 高级 HSK this May?

Jonna Wibelius said...

Fyingfish -well, truth to be told I envy them for how well they speak and how they seem to understand every single little thing the teacher says.. I've been the 'underdog' in my class since level 2 so it is getting a bit tiring to be the one who is always struggling meanwhile everyone else find the texts 'so simple'.. but u r right, there is no point to compare myself with them. We are all studying for different reasons.

After today's tingli class I doubt someone would like to be in a study group with me. :/ Oh well. I just have to watch more TV/hang out more with Chinese people. And remember that if there is a will there is a way.

Anonymous said...

1,5 years means 1.5 years?

Jonna Wibelius said...

Anonymous: yeah, what else would it mean?

Anonymous said...

>stupid questions are not acceptable

Very "customer oriented service", uh?

>in order to expand my world-view

Interesting expression. I would say "to broaden my horizons":-)

heyjulia said...

Jonna,don't worry that much.I think you've done a great job already.Chinese teacher are very strict,sometimes,that's true.But they are not really mean to.I didn't realize how nice my vocal teacher was until several years later.At that time,she asked me to learn the say,Bel canto,but I think it's too hard for me,and then I just quit.(it's a pity).Sometimes the hard teacher makes a good student.It's kind of Chinese culture,I might say.Your Chinese teacher is trying to scare you,I think.Just enjoy the moment of learning and if I could do some help(you have lots of Chinese friends in here),feel free to contact me:)

Anonymous said...

dot(.) is used in India, UK and USA for decimal point, little bit confused first time :)

Anonymous said...

I think you can also improve your Tingli by listening to Chinese music and read the lyrics, sometimes it might be easier to memorize a song rather than random texts, there are many good traditional Chinese songs out there. You should definitely check out Wang Fei (Faye Wong) and Deng Li Jun (Teresa Teng), my favourite Chinese singers.


This post reminds me my student times. I rarely ask questions to the teachers. It looks like it’s a universal fact that many Chinese teachers (not all of them) don’t know how to encourage their students and bring the fun of learning to them to provoke their interest after the enquiries. And I always felt grateful that I sat next to the ambitious top 5 classmates (as a mediocre student, comparison is meaningless to me. 人比人, 比死人. Comparison kills people). I would ask them any questions (as well as avoiding the potential risk of gaining the enquiry of how-can-you-not-understand-this-easy-question from the teacher) once I found out that I couldn’t figure it out on my own. And they were willing to answer my enquiries and share their study tactics with me. I asked them why they would like to waste time to help me. They said they could not always memorise stuff that has learn, and they can review and remember them by answering my questions.

Look at the bright side, jonna. I think these ambitious classmates can bring you more help than stress. We Chinese know it’s difficult to learn mandarin. But obviously we don’t know how exactly difficult it is. This European guy surely has faced some similar hardness like yours before. If you enquire him politely and constantly, I think you surely can get some new tactics and a shortcut of studying Chinese from his western perspective answers. He also can review stuff that he has learns by answering you. 温故而知新嘛。Besides, gentlemen always like to help beauties.

In order to cheer you up, here are two funny Chinese websites I recommend you to enjoy:
http://kisshi.com/ 河蟹娱乐
http://lengxiaohua.net/ 我们爱讲冷笑话
They provide jokes and funny videos. Some of the articles are a little bit too long and involved with Chinese slang. But I’m sure you can find something to enjoy. Hopefully, eventually you can understand them all.

Larry said...

Hi Jonna,

As before, i published the comment. And later on i think it's quite a bit strange that it's full of chinese sentences on your blog as not all readers could know the characters all over world. No need to publish it up, all the sentences are just translated for your words literally. I hope there is no offensive to you. I say sorry if it could be.

All in all, it means you could do the same while you are really familiar another language and culture. Cheer up.

Just a friendly question: What do you think you could write down a few sentences everyday and practice to say them regularly? it worked out for me while I needed to speak Tagalog in Manila, Philippines.

Anonymous said...


Its is so awesome that you have advanced to such a high level in learning Chinese that very very few Westerners ever get to. You have alot to be proud of!! Best of luck with the new level.

I love following your blog and am an avid follower. There is a chance my husband and I will be sent to Suzhou for a work project for a couple years. I am scared to death I will not even be able to master even basic Chinese language skills for survival. I don't want to live in an expat bubble and would love to learn to communicate.

Jewels said...

This post reminds me of nightmares in French class! I don't even have my English grammar down, never mind another language! You seem to have the gift for languages though, I'm sure you'll be fine. You'll look back and say, "I can't believe I was so stressed!". Good luck!

Enver Gökmen said...

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Jonna Wibelius said...

Again, thanks for all the comments.. I guess one of the reason why everything seems so 'over the top' is because it's right in the beginning, and I am yet to get to know my smart classmates.. I am sure it will work out well with time. But I really, REALLY have to work on my listening skills. Podcasts and TV will HAVE to become an daily part of my life... (why is it so hard to push new habits into your life? I was doing well there for a while with the Chinese kid's show, but then I forgot all about it and went back to reading books and watching Friends.... )

Jonna Wibelius said...

Jewels -actually, u are spot on. I am always like that. I get so stressed out about things, and then 6 months later I look at back at my behavior and think to myself: 'oh my, what was I stressing about? I am such a drama queen.' I'll keep that in mind today. New mantra. :)

kasey said...

David Sedaris' book, 'Me Talk Pretty One Day' has essays about his learning French while living in France. He has similiar experiences in class and it is hilarious. I highly recommend your read it. It is an easy read and won't interfer with working and schooling-worth every minute.