Daily Class Routine – Language Learner’s Daily Mistakes and Evaluation
Being in Chinese class 4 out of 9 after only studying Chinese for a little less than a year is definitely a challenge, but I feel that it is really going to help accelerate my Chinese language skills.
Every day at the start of my spoken Chinese class, we have a 听写(ting xie- translating to “listen write”), which is a small quiz on the latest (or new) lesson’s characters. We have to write the character after the teacher says it aloud, hence the translation. This is probably the most difficult aspect of class for me because I have to devote a good deal of time to writing characters, the area of the language that I feel I need the most improvement at this point.
For an English-speaker, writing characters for evaluation and constantly learning new ones can be very difficult. However, this daily evaluation forces me to keep on top of the class material. It also helps me to not be so caught up in perfecting my work. The teachers check every single stroke we write for the ting xie, and even if one stroke within a written character is out of place or missing, we lose a half-point. Scoring 9 points out of ten makes me feel very accomplished when normally I’d be ticked that I missed a point.
As a language learner, you make mistakes all the time. It’s something that you have to accept in your daily routine when you work with the language, whether in class or out in the real world. When talking to other Chinese speakers, I am sometimes misunderstood. When this happens, I try to not become frustrated. I keep trying to practice, even though my tongue and ears are often quite tired from listening and articulating at the day’s end.
The actual exams in class are not as terrifying as I thought they would be. In comprehensive Chinese, the exams are written ones. They are fair because they are based on the material that the teacher specifies. In spoken Chinese, we have to do a presentation every Friday using words found in the recent lessons. They also allow us to use creativity with the language, and this often makes preparing for the presentation fun! For our first exam, we had to introduce a new friend we made at PKU to the class, and for our second exam, we had to show and describe our favorite personal photographs.
These assignments are also giving me ideas for student evaluation when I start teaching English at Shandong University of Technology. This whole experience has not only allowed me to practice and hone my Chinese, but it also has really given me a lot to think about when it comes to teaching foreign language. Even though during some days it feels like I have such a long way to go and there is still so much work to be done, I have a good feeling that everything I am learning at PKU will pay off in the near future.
Kongfu Show - “When you feel you are at your strongest, you may be at your weakest”
This past week, we went to see a Kongfu show at the Hong Theater. I swear there were more foreigners at Beijing than there were at the university at the theater.
The show basically covered a young boy’s coming of age story, which is a very common theme in Western literature and entertainment. He had to become a warrior monk and learn life lessons based on not giving into earthly desires, being in touch with nature, and overcoming the ego (my psychoanalytical side went nuts over this one). “When you feel you are at your strongest, you may be at your weakest” was one of the main themes. I would even argue that this was the main theme of the performance.
I thought that the show would have been spoken in all Chinese, but it was all pretty much performed in English. The only Chinese language in the play was in the main song the boy sang and shown in subtitles on a small screen at the top of the stage. I especially enjoyed the Chinese song sung in the Eastern key.
The Kongfu warriors’ acrobatic performance was quite impressive. The performers were all Chinese men except for one woman who was a featured ballet dancer. There even were a few ballet scenes indicating romance between the main character and a woman who appeared in his dreams. The men all had shaved heads and were very lean in stature. It was astounding that despite their small statures, they broke thick cinder blocks on stage using the art of Kongfu.
After the show, we were allowed to take pictures of the performers since we weren’t allowed to during the performance. I managed to get a picture from the distance because it was very crowded toward the stage.
In the show, the boy was scared at the beginning because he had been thrown into a new place away from his parents and all that he knew in youth. After the master monk told the boy his own story of becoming a warrior monk, the boy eventually realized that he was no longer afraid.
When I watched the performance, I found that I could relate to the story. During my experience here at PKU and my upcoming work, I’m on a quest. I am to use my knowledge of the English language and my fairly new Chinese language skills to help others and to help spread a peaceful understanding and exchange of language and culture between two different ones.
After arriving here, sometimes I have moments where I’m worried that my efforts won’t be good enough, and other days where I feel so strong that I think I’m ready for just about anything. One mindset is too hindering, and the other is too hasty. Watching the show allowed me to put things into perspective and to always remember to be humble.
Fast Train from Beijing South to Tai’an: More Chinese Conversation and Anticipating Riding “Solo”
To get to Tai’an, the city that holds the vast Mount Tai, we had to take the fast train at Beijing South Station. The train travels up to an impressive 300km/hr!
The train station is similar to that of an airport. There are several gates with trains passing through during the main hours of daytime/evening travel. And like any other public place in Beijing, there are so many people.
The train ride to Tai’an took about two hours, and this amount of time flew by for me because I sat next to a girl from the Shandong province who is going to study Finance at the University of Arkansas. She was very easy to talk to and surprisingly understood my Chinese well. She also studied English for six months, so I talked to her in English as well. I even talked to her mother briefly, and she said in Chinese that I talk to her daughter in English, and her daughter will talk to me in Chinese. Everyone I’ve talked to so far from Shandong province have been so friendly!
I also thought that the train ride to Tai’an was interesting because I will soon be taking the fast train on my own from Beijing South Station to Zibo City where I will begin my English teaching at Shandong University of Technology. I think the upcoming train ride to Zibo will be more difficult because I will be bringing more luggage, and I will most likely be traveling by myself. However, the train had plenty of space on the way to Tai’an, so there should be plenty of luggage space.
Other than air travel, the fast train is definitely a convenient option to consider when traveling in mainland China. The train travel routine doesn’t stop for much else than the passengers; people quickly get on and off the train, so passengers must always stay alert, but what else would you expect from the “fast train?”
Mount Tai: 2nd Round
Mount Tai is a huge tourist spot in the Shandong province. Nonetheless, it is a gorgeous and authentic one.
Climbing this mountain for the second time allowed me to see everything from a new perspective and notice new things. Last year, I was able to take some excellent pictures because the weather excellent; not one cloud in the sky. The weather this year was decent, especially the cooler mountain temperature (a nice break from the Beijing humidity), but it was slightly more overcast this time around.
The climb was a little tiresome, but reaching the top is exhilarating. We also ate lunch at a restaurant at a hotel soon after we reached the top, and the food was more rewarding than usual.
At the end of the day, my legs were quite fatigued from climbing up and down the portion of the mountain we climbed — about 4,000 steps. As always, we had to be careful climbing because the stairs were very steep in some spots, and there were simultaneously several other people going up and down the mountain.
As for the other people climbing the mountain, several of them wanted to speak and take pictures with us. One woman was so excited to see foreigners that she rushed over to us while we were taking a break, and asked her husband to shoot a picture of her with me, Lauren, Janine, and Diane.
During the ascent, I also asked a little girl if she thought climbing the mountain was difficult. She said that it was easy, and that she and her family already climbed parts of the Great Wall twice! The Great Wall is also no easy climb. I admire very much how active the Chinese society is.
The major difference I noticed while climbing Mount Tai for the second time was that I was able to interact with the other tourists more because I can now speak to them in Chinese. Last summer, I barely knew any Chinese at all! In comparison to my previous visit to Mount Tai, it’s amazing what only a year of Chinese language study did for me.
The Confucius Site: Another Stop in the Shandong Province
The day after we climbed Mount Tai, we went to visit Confucius’ temple and tomb in the city of Qufu. These are more examples of history and ancient Chinese culture found in the Shandong province.
It was my second time visiting this site as well since we went to Qufu last year as well. I remembered the entire layout of the cemetery and temples. Walking through them allowed me to recall last year’s trip. When we went to Qufu last year, I didn’t feel like I knew barely anything about China. Now everything did not seem so foreign to me.
Since last summer’s trip, I now know a good bit about Confucianism and how it influences Chinese culture. The many tests modern Chinese students must pass are a part of the Confucius background because if someone wanted to work their way up to work for the government in ancient times, they had to pass a test. A uniform test was a way to not limit high-ranking jobs to only those who had money and power.
The large white-tomb is Confucius’ tomb and the other large grey is his son’s. Leading up to Confucius’ tomb is a path surrounded by somewhat lavish forest scenery with numerous smaller tombs on either side of the walking path. Even in the sunny summer weather, it was still a bit haunting.
Our tour guide, Bruce (his English name, named after Bruce Lee), knew very much about all of the ancient historical aspects. He specifically told us the whereabouts of where/when all of the dynasties lived and reigned in the temple.
I was happy to have been able to revisit Qufu and the ancient history located in the Shandong province. When the bus left to take us to the train station, it was interesting to look out the window into the streets of Qufu and compare them to the bustling streets of Beijing. The smaller city feel is so different, but each has its own charm.
— Sarah Halter, English graduate