Week 2: Listening to Chinese Recordings as well as the Sounds of the City

This week will be about some of the work for my classes and my personal study methods, as well as some of the general soundscape as I’ve noticed it. Also, I would like to make it very clear that what I’m writing comes from my personal experience and observations. China is a vast and multifaceted country and I cannot possibly do all of it justice, so please take my sweeping generalizations and notions with some salt.

With that said, lets begin!

My two on one drill class meets four times a week, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for forty-five minutes. Every week or two our Friday class is done as a whole group with all of the American students doing an activity to practice our Chinese “in the real world” – the first week we went to a street that had a few fruit stalls and vegetable shops and had to ask about prices, as well as buy a few things with 10 yuan they gave us. This past Friday we all had activities to celebrate Mid Autumn Festival, which can be loosely equivalent to Thanksgiving (big family meal is the tradition, but without presents like Christmas or Hanukkah). The following Monday our class is half the time individually to discuss with the teacher, again practicing our Chinese from the real world experience, what we did. This class truly is about our pronunciation, and so has relatively simple vocabulary compared to some of my other classes, and essentially no grammar structures/sentence patterns to learn. Each class has a dialogue to read with about 20-30 vocabulary words. The teacher sends us on WeChat a recording with the next days vocab and dialogue each day, and we are to listen to it at least three times before class. I personally listen to it more than that most days, as I usually look over the vocab and dialogue once to get a feel for everything and look up any other words I may not know, then read it over several times while also listening to the recording, and then I will also listen to the recording on its own several times in between doing other things since this way I can keep hearing what I want my pronunciation to be. Since the vocab is not the focus and is relatively simple, I usually do not use flashcards for this class, instead opting for the repetition of the recording as well as just looking at the list quite a few times.

My literature class each meeting has about two pages from a story to read. To me, two pages of story is absolutely nothing in English, but going through and understanding in Chinese often takes me several hours. I usually have my phone at the ready (as always) to translate words that I don’t know that also aren’t vocab (which happens fairly frequently in literature). I first look and try to read, when I don’t know words I first check the vocab list and if it isn’t there find it on my phone. On my phone I use Pleco, with the Apple keyboard that allows you to write characters in the keyboard space and then choose from a list above. While reading I write the Pinyin underneath words I don’t know (but not their translations, if I go back later I want to know what meanings I still don’t know). Afterwards, I put the starred words from the vocab list into an app called Tinycards on my phone (similar to nay flashcard app, just the one I use). It has options to make decks personal or private, and then has various modes with Learn and Quiz, as well as flashcards that are just squares you can flip over back and forth, like paper flash cards but without the paper waste if you don’t use them afterwards. Each literature class our homework includes several grammar structures/sentence patterns we must practice using with one or two sentences. Each class meeting also has a small quiz on the vocab (starred vocab) from the previous class. The direct translation from Chinese is Listen Write, and that’s what we do. The teacher says the various vocab words we needed to learn (in Chinese of course) and then we write them in our notebooks (like Blue Books).I usually use the Learn and Quiz functions to learn the vocab for each day for our discussion, and use the flashcard setting to study for the quiz (called a tingxie in Chinese).To study for the tingxie I like to flip to the English side of the flashcards and see if I can write them on the back of my hand with my finger (so as not to waste paper/ink with my clumsy learning attempts), and then see if I did it correctly when I turn it over. If I got it right, it stays on the Chinese side, if I got it wrong, I flip it back to English for when I cycle through again.

My speaking class has a dialogue to read using our grammar and vocab each meeting (though really we read part of a dialogue each time ((about one whole one in a week of three meetings)) ). For this I prepare similarly to Literature, except that the focus is on speaking, and so instead of writing out sentences using the grammar, we practice them in class. I still use Tinycards for the vocab. The tingxies are also shorter, usually only 4 or 5 groups of 4 to 6 characters, rather than literature which is 10-25 ish words with 1-4 (usually 2) characters each, so for speaking I often write out the tingxie vocab quite a few times instead of my literature method. The shorter vocab lists is made up for by the presentation once a week, about 5 mins, during which you practice using the vocab and grammar structures to tell everyone about a topic you can choose related to that week’s dialogue. My personal presentation prep style is to try several times on my own without a plan and take those and develop them into talking points (grammar structures and vocab) and then leave some flexibility. If I get too scripted, I forget the whole thing if I get off track.

My one on one class meets just twice a week, and for that I have a reading each class, as well as a vocab list with some that are starred, much like literature. I read the text as above, and then put the vocab into Tinycards (Tinycards and Pleco are some of my most often used apps in China along with WeChat). Once a week I must write a short essay on the weeks readings which I like to type first as changes are easier, before making the necessary hand-written copy. Each class also has a five-minute report on the previous class as well as my thoughts on it, or how America and China differ in respect to what we talked about, etc. For that, I like to look over the last class’s text again and formulate what I want to say, though I can’t have it written out, just a flashcard with a few notes of words that I don’t want to forget, so I prepare that similarly to the speaking presentation.

There’s a lot of flashcards. During meals, even before I get out of bed sometimes, I’ll go through my vocab lists for the classes that day, and sometimes re-look over previous ones to ensure I haven’t forgotten anything. That’s all for today on classwork, possibly I’ll share again when things change or if I completely change my methods during the semester. Now, on to the sound landscape!

Personally, I think that Harbin has interesting differences from what I’m used to in this respect, the aural plane. Part of that is because this is a big school in a city while I usually go to Wellesley in the suburbs with many less students. But part of it is also that I’m in China. There’s often people talking, as well as the sound of people playing basket ball and tennis (there are courts right by the dorm) also, basketball is really big here, in a way I hadn’t been expecting, its been interesting to see how full the courts always are. I think these are fairly normal collegiate sounds, as are the cars. Things I think are more specific to China are the motorized bicycles which whizz by as well as the Chinese music played of loudspeaker in some locations. The sound of construction is also (to me) fairly widespread, whether machinery or people. Here on campus the library is under renovation as well as having several other small projects going on. Just outside of one of the school campus entrances is a massive road project I’ve seen develop over just the time I’ve been here. China’s development demands a lot of construction not only to keep up old buildings and roads, but also to forge ahead with the new. One thing I didn’t notice until someone else mentioned it, but now notice all the time, is the spitting. And no, it’s not the “polite” spiting one might encounter in America occasionally. It’s fairly frequent “hawking a lewgey” spitting. I sometimes wonder if this was a sound in the times of the Wild West with spittoons and such. But that’s for another day. Another thing I’ve noticed about this (here comes the women’s college education lol) is that it seems to be mostly men who produce this sound. Though I don’t look around to find who spat every time I hear it, I have yet to see a woman do so. Though there’s nothing wrong with this, I do wonder what would happen if I were to do it.

That’s all for this edition. I’ll be back next week. I’ve not decided yet what I’ll write on.

Join the Conversation


  1. Wow! Sounds easy enough… 😂
    Amazing and so glad for these insights to your experience, the process, and the soundscape!


  2. I’m astonished to think of all the ways your senses are challenged in your day to day learning. It must feel exhilarating and exhausting! Keep up the awesome writing- we love knowing what you’re up to. Love you and miss you.


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