Happy to be a nerd

Beijing, 30th of March

Chris with classI have started the new spring semester and I'm really enjoying it. The level is much harder and I finally find myself in a class where I'm the only English speaking man. It seems that at the higher levels, Western students generally give up and go back home (hui2 guo2). Most of my class now consists of Korean and Japanese students - so when we communicate it has to be in Chinese. I'm really happy about this as it means that I will have no choice but to practise my Mandarin. The downside is that my classmates are really good at writing characters, so I stand out as being pretty bad, though this is a trade-off I'm willing to accept. Most days after class I go home and go through the next day's lesson or prepare (zhun3 bei4) for the upcoming dictation (ting1 xie3).

Chris in classMy life now bears little resemblance to a few months ago when I was a less than a model student enjoying the colourful Wu Dao Kou nightlife. In fact now I'm quite the nerd. In class I sit next to a Korean dude with glasses and we talk in Chinese about the previous night's homework! I've noticed that many Korean students here enrol at more than one college or university. When one class is over they get ready to take another class somewhere else. This is all in preparation for the Chinese HSK (han4 yu3 shui3 ping2 kao3 shi) exam. The HSK is the Chinese language proficiency test equivalent to the TOEFL. I'm told that it carries some weight in Korea and Japan, but the study-load seems torturous! I might take it in the future but for now I don't quite feel ready and I'm not sure if it is recognised in the UK yet.

Language learning Chinese style

Classes are very much taught in the 'Chinese style' which means that most of the time we focus on memorising texts (ke4 wen2). We usually read through a text, quickly answer some comprehension questions and then are given a few minutes to memorise the text in its entirety. The teacher will then go around the class and make us recite it word for word. Generally, I'm the worst performer at these excercises mainly because I'm just not used to this kind of learning. In spite of, or possibly even because of this, my Chinese is indeed improving (you3 jin4 bu4) and I'm feeling more confident than ever before.

Having taken a CELTA course (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) a couple of years ago I've come to realise that the Chinese teachers in China do exactly what we were told not to do when teaching a language. In class we mostly listen to the teachers go throught the text 'lecture style' meaning that during lessons 'student talk time' is pretty limited. This means it is vitally important to seek out language partners (yu3 ban4) outside of class time. Language partners provide the necessary spoken Chinese practise lacking from actual lessons. Learning partners are easy to find as many Chinese students at the university are really keen to learn English. At the moment I have two and they are both delightful people and really helpful. It is also really popular for students here to hire private tutors (fu3 dao3 lao3 shi1). These tutors are usually Chinese students training to be teachers. The price is usually 20-30yuan an hour and it is a popular supplement to classroom learning.

Hot pot!

Hot potI recently spent my 31st birthday (sheng1 ri4) in China and celebrated by eating my favourite kind of Chinese food - hot pot (huo3 guo1). In Beijing, hot pot is popular during the autumn and winter months. It's basically a large pot with boiling soup with dishes of thinly sliced meat and vegetables. The meat is then added to the soup and because is so thinly sliced it cooks within minutes. The cooked meat and veg can then be eaten and dipped in the delicious sesame sauce (ma2 jiang4). It's a really social kind of eating experience and encourgages conversation as you wait for the food to cook. Cooking the meat and stiring the soup while sitting around a huge boiling pot is also strangely therapeutic ...

Editor's note: Chris is writing Chinese words in 'Pinyin', Latin script, using numbers that indicate the tone of the word. Find out more with our course Real Chinese.

Sent by: Chris


Mireille, Sweden 2010-04-09

Fun to read your blogg Chris. I am an oldie/74)just starting to learn Chinese - characters and speech . It is VERY difficult but the characters are so attractive!

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Sunny 2006-04-10

Chris, I taught in Jiangsu province for a year and can certainly relate to a lot of your stories. Now I'm back here I've settled into a routine city lifestyle and miss my life in China. Did you just drop everything and return to China or do you intend on settling back in London?

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David 2006-04-09

I found the same situation for myself in an advanced class in Shanghai's Foreign Trade School. Sticking with it is the best way to go!

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Sushen Belbase 2006-04-18

After reading your latest entry, all I can say is that you've got to take the good with the bad. Once again, your anecdotes were very interesting. I plan to study Mandarin too. Your description of everything related to China, the people, culture and language has given me an idea of what to expect.

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Peter 2006-04-24

Dear Chris, well done. I have read most of your diary and can relate to some of your experiences of Chinese culture and daily life. I have travelled myself in China and fell in love with the people and the country. I hope that by 2008 I can return again to learn Chinese and try my hand at teaching English. Your diary inspires me.

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Wendy 2006-04-05

You are very brave to do such a thing! It is my dream to go and learn Mandarin in Beijing too!

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Regina 2006-04-08

It was refreshing to read your blog. I studied at BLCU on two occasions ('99 and '03). Like you, I was the only Westerner in an all-Asian class. The only thing was that I was also ethnically Asian so many were confused. Conveniently, I had studied Japanese before so I was able to communicate with my Japanese classmates in Japanese when I didn't understand. It was nice to read your blog and remember my time there.

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May 2006-04-03

Hey, Chris, this is the first time I'm leaving a comment here. Your diary is very long, and some words I dont understand. But it is very interesting. From your diary, I can imagine what China looks like from a foreigners's point of view. Nice to meet you in Beijing. I hope my help is good for you, and I also use your diary to help me with my English. Looking forward to reading your next entry.

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Brettany Tucker 2006-04-07

Hello, Chris, I just wanted to say that I think it's wonderful what you're doing. I'm fascinated by Mandarin. I'd like to live in China and learn the language in order to become a translator. Good luck!

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