I’ve emerged from my books and (seemingly endless) vocab lists to share with you all again! After this first week I can say I will probably be keeping to a once a week, on the weekend, posting schedule.
Now that I’ve had a week of classes and practice with the language pledge, I’m going to attempt to explain some of the experience. Not going to lie, the language pledge is hard. It works like this, we cannot speak any English to anyone, in the program or not, 24/7 unless there is a medical issue or we are in private calling home to friends or family who don’t speak Chinese. (They also subtly recommend that you don’t do this very often, if possible.) However, we can listen to English music, read English (news, google things, etc), and write in English in our notes. One of the main things we also use is translation apps, my personal favorite is Pleco (I only use the free capabilities), but Google Translate also has a helpful camera translator which can be quite useful for signs or packaging. Quite often conversations will be pause while one person says, “Wait a moment, I don’t know how to say it” and looks up to show the other person what word they want, usually both in English and Chinese. CET Harbin’s language pledge is very strict, if they were to catch you speaking English too many times you could be sent home from the program. One of the fascinating things I’ve discovered is also how the language pledge has revealed how much I do and do not know. In class I usually understand what the teacher is saying, and they quickly explain things I say I don’t understand. Though I know they are intentionally using words and grammar I can understand as a student, I also had been quite nervous that I would miss things in these first few weeks or struggle to make it through the classes. One the other side, I have already been frustrated quite often by my lack of vocabulary and sophisticated grammar while engaging in more casual conversation with my roommate and others.
My roommates name is Li Yue, she’s a second year masters student studying Materials Engineering. Each one of us Americans has a Chinese roommate who attends HIT, which I think benefits all of us immensely. They applied to be part of the program as roommates because they want to know more about the US or have other similar interests, and at the same time, they help us practice our Chinese with people who aren’t also learning the language and help us get a feel for the language as it’s used in a non-educational environment. (They also may be able to check our homework on occasion if we are truly, truly struggling.)
My four classes this semester are: a one on one class where my topic for the first half of the semester is the technological advancement’s influence on China’s transportation and communications, a two on one drill pronunciation class, literature, and speaking class. My one on one class topic is something I helped design as I am interested in science, but have almost no scientific vocabulary in Chinese right now, I’m really excited to learn more about the topic throughout the semester. I have one on one twice a week for about an hour and a half, with a short break in the middle. The two on one drill class is myself and another student with a similar pronunciation level. We spend about 45-50 mins four times a week to use some fairly simple vocabulary to practice speaking and learning better pronunciation (this class especially focuses on tones, though all classes work on proper pronunciation of vocab). Literature class is just myself and one other student and we will read a number of shorter stories from about the last 70ish years (I think) throughout the semester. Speaking class uses dialogues we (three of us, classes are quite small) read to introduce new vocabulary and grammar structures which we then learn to speak about different topics and better express ourselves in conversation. Literature and Speaking/Conversation class each meet three times a week for a little more than an hour and a half with a short break in the middle. All of my classes have their first goal to improve Chinese level, its just all in different ways.
There’s a LOT of vocabulary. Drill class has about 20 words each time we meet. My one on one class has had about 20-30 vocab words each time this week, but this weeks work was also on a more introductory topic note, and will probably progress to more vocab in the near future. Speaking class had about 25-40 vocab per class this week. Unfortunately, literature has had between 80 and 100 vocab words each time we met this week. However, putting it as above is a bit misleading. Most materials have other words I don’t know as I prepare for class, but there are also the vocab lists within the lists of the words that are important and they want us to really know. The whole vocab list is made of words that are needed for the material and they think we should be familiar with, but a subset of those are highlighted or starred as important vocab. So, there’s a lot of vocab, but the number of words we need to be extremely comfortable with is a bit less, and varies a bit more. Though I thought about putting a character count of words I’ve learned up somewhere, I don’t know that I can really do that. Do I put up the number of vocab words that have been on my lists? The number of starred/highlighted words? What about the other words in my materials that I read and didn’t know before? What about words I learn in class during the teacher’s explanation of something? Do words I learn in conversation with my roommate count if I can’t read or write them?
Next week I’ll plan to write a bit more about the type of homework and prep I do for each class. I also have some thoughts on the sound landscape. For now I’ll finish up with a note for those planning to go to China some day.
Please feel free to stop here if this is not your cup of tea, but I thought I’d make a note about bathrooms, as it’s something that differs from America. I thought about whether I should write about this, but I decided I could put it at the end so people can read it or not as they please. (End of content notice.)
Public bathrooms here are pretty much all squat toilets, which I found different from America, but I know is fairly common in different places around the world. What I found more distressing (though that’s not really a good word, perhaps stress producing or thought provoking….) is that public bathrooms (like in my classroom building or the mall) pretty much never have toilet paper available that I’ve seen so far. It’s BYOTP (Bring Your Own Toilet Paper). Beyond that, the sink is not guaranteed to have soap, so if you want to do more than rinse your hands, consider bringing your own soap as well. Hand sanitizer is also not easily/readily available unless you go to a foreign store like Carrefour to look for it specifically. Some options put forth by others in my program are buy a small bar of soap and keep it in a small container (like a tupperware etc) that fits in your purse, or buy a travel shampoo bottle and fill it with hand soap. Though some bathrooms have one or both of these things, it is a very good idea to also have your own for the times when they’re not available.