Studying Chinese, a Love-Hate Relationship
I enjoy doing my Chinese homework alongside 50 other people in a cramped compartment. Chinese is dull and uninteresting when it is just me repeating the same poorly pronounced tones over and over again. But, when I go to the Beijing Zoo station and hop onto line 4, suddenly studying Chinese becomes a lot more interesting. I practice pronouncing my new vocabulary as I stand among throngs of people. My attempts are laughable at best, and inevitably lead to an interesting conversation with someone. I not only get a chance to correct my pronunciation, but I suddenly have the opportunity to see China in a more intimate way.
As a kind stranger lets me in on the real way to pronounce “relatives” in Chinese, I get insight on Chinese values as he explains the parts of the word to me. Soon our conversation wanders to where I’m from and then to what music he listens too. But every day, talking to people and meeting friendly souls in a completely different culture encourages me to continue learning. Connecting personally with others is an activity I passionately pursue.
Chinese is a challenging language to learn. There are those study-thrill seekers, like myself, who took the challenge of learning Chinese head on to fulfill those inner passions to master foreign tongues. Studying Chinese autodidactic fashion, or in a class room in the United States, is a completely different experience than studying Chinese in China. Study habits that I found very efficient in the U.S were completely ineffective here in Beijing.
I have certainly had my ups and downs in my newly fashioned, intimate relationship with Chinese. We have courted for nearly two years, and every day I surprise myself with how little I actually know after this amount of time. Just walking to McDonalds to buy a familiar Big Mac can humble the avid Chinese learner when only pictures are found to be familiar.
It can be disheartening, especially when you have days like these where the buildings across the horizon are hazy:
But, with that crushing realization that most days you can’t express yourself in a fraction as freely as you can in English, you also stumble upon the most joyous moments of legitimate speaking abilities. Like, when you learn a grammar pattern that perfectly encapsulates that one sentence you wish you could say to your Chinese roommate that you couldn’t say the day before. Or, when you realize that Chinese does have as many words to describe the world around us as English does and there actually is an equivalent word for “mitten” in Chinese. Now you can say the real word instead of loosely putting together other words you could comfortably say before like “thing to make hand warm.” Suddenly speaking in Chinese is a lot more enjoyable when you do not have to speak in riddles and hand gestures.
Despite the days where I find myself disappointed in my language accruement, I find myself completely amazed that I’m actually reading signs on the road now and knowing what they mean.
When I’m buying a snack on the road and can understand the loud conversation next to me is exciting. All of a sudden, when the weird combination of sounds comes together to an understandable meaning, you can only stand astonished at your progress in the language. That is, until you have no idea what your teacher is talking about in class the next day.