Mid-Semester Check-In

Hi all! I figured a mid-semester (mostly academic) check in was in order. I’ve had my midterms and gotten into the second half of the semester, and have some thoughts on my classes, my progress and my program.

A picture sent to me by a friend in the program that I think illustrates some of the difficulties with learning chinese with English (a non-tonal language) as a first language.

I am enjoying all of my classes, though the pace ever so slowly is steadily increasing so we don’t become too complacent with the workload. Particularly after the midterms I have realized just how much I’ve been learning. Though in the average semester I learn a lot, because my classes are in different departments, they all feel like they are building different knowledge bases, but since all of my classes here are firstly about improving our chinese, I find my self bringing vocabulary or grammar from one class to another. The program is of course designed to promote this in some ways. The vocabulary that are starred or bolder in our books for each lesson are often those which can be used more broadly across topics other than the specifics of the text. Particularly my literature and speaking class often will have words with similar meanings or grammar that is helpful in many situations. The teachers also support this, often commenting positively if a student uses a word that is (or likely is) a vocabulary word from another class.

My literature teacher has high standards and expectations for what we do for our homework examples of grammar and how much reading we prepare for class (we are up to almost three pages per class now, currently in a story written using slightly older and more formal language than is used now). Though the pace is fairly quick in some ways, the professor also takes time to work through any questions we may have and is extremely patient. I must say of the two students in the class my chinese is the worse, but that has also allowed me to grow a lot. I’ve gotten noticeably faster at working though our passages, and I’ve gotten better at recognizing vocabulary after only one or two uses in the text rather than having to look them up again each time they appear. My major critique of my literature class is the same as that of my high school English classes, which is that pretty much every story is quite depressing. When I mentioned this, my professor laughed and said other students had also made that observation in the past. Though not on purpose, it happened that way in the stories chosen for us to read. I personally think that this is a global phenomenon, much of literature happens to be tragic in nature. Though I may not always like it when reading about people getting broken ankles or passing away from hunger or being martyred (all things that have happened in the stories we’ve read), I respect the works and appreciate them for their educational value. I even plan to reread them when I get back (though more for my chinese than a want to relive them).

My one on one class has moved from the effect of the tech advancement on transportation to energy, focusing on new sources of energy including solar, hydro, biomass, etc. This class has also picked up with longer texts on the material and higher expectations for my weekly papers summarizing and responding to our readings, but my interest has also increased. I knew essentially nothing about the state of energy production in China before starting though I’m greatly interested in ways we can use these forms of energy, so each class I’m trying to learn as much as I can. I’ll plan to translate my midterm and final essays into English after the semester is over for for a post for those who are interested.

One on two drill is still just as helpful as before. My pronunciation and fluency when speaking are steadily increasing (or so I like to think). I’ve had my roommate and several other of the chinese roommates comment that I’ve gotten faster when chatting and I’ve gotten a bit more natural sounding with my phrasing. I still do not sound like a native speaker, I have several specific vowels which I say in the same way I would say an similar American vowel, but which isn’t particularly correct in chinese. But in addition to what we were doing before, we increasingly discuss the text or text topic, not just read the text prepared. However, the homework for this class is still often just a little less than the others, which I appreciate.

I absolutely adore my speaking class. Though it has slow days, as every class does, the format truly encourages us to discuss things we find interesting. Each week every person gives a short 5-10 minute presentation, the major requirement is to use vocabulary and grammar from the lesson. However, if the lesson (perhaps on hobbies of people of different ages) does not suit your taste, you can instead discuss your opinions on the best ways to encourage children to pursue new interests and develop them, or talk about your personal hobbies and why you enjoy them. Besides the flexibility of these presentations, we often engage in fairly casual conversation, steered lightly by the professor, discussing our lives, perhaps what differences we see in China and America. my classmates are all very different from each other in personality (there’s five of us in total) which livens the atmosphere and often allows for humor.

I have to say one of the things I was most worried about coming to China was the language pledge changing my personality, not because I truly changed, but because I wouldn’t be able to express myself in the same way. However, I have increasingly found that even if you can’t say every word you might want perfectly, you can still get a point across, and though super complex topics may take some time searching vocabulary or thinking about how to say what I want, most things are possible. Though sometimes it requires using more simple words to describe something rather than one or two word I would use in English, I’ve enjoyed getting to the point in my friendships (and language skills/comfortability) here to discuss things like how people view (and would/would not) change the college testing and application system here, views on Taiwan, and thoughts on relationships and other things I discuss with my American friends at Wellesley. The language pledge is part of what’s also helped me to progress. When you can only speak Chinese, you implement new vocabulary from class pretty frequently to communicate better, it’s only natural. But beyond that, not being able to just say the few English words you really want to use to make things easier but instead searching up their translation (which is sometimes hard to find) or finding another way to explain it makes you think much more about what you say and how. I also respect our roommates for taking the time to describe things to us quite patiently much of the time. There are a lot of times I stop a conversation to get a word or two explained or to ask the difference between to words I thought were roughly the same from their translation but are actually fairly different in implementation.

Overall, though it’s still hard, I’m enjoying my time and my classes and I cannot believe how quickly the semester is going!

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