Night and Day


I am obviously thrilled about being officially allowed to skip five quarters or 15 months of Chinese learning and being allowed to start studying in third year third quarter, but the result of the placement test also made me think of why. I believe there is an enormous deal of difference in the Chinese I could speak and hear in June and that of now. Nowadays, when I communicate in Chinese – spoken or written – I feel at home. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before. 这个地方
I stumbled upon this excellently programmed podcast back in Spring and I am ever so glad that I did, because I think it is one of the major reasons for my improved listening ability. One of the things I believe Stanford’s program doesn’t get right is the listening speed. We learnt grammar properly, vocabulary was good and we spoke about as fast as beginners at our level ought to, but we sucked at listening. This is because the teacher always spoke at a slower-than-normal speed which we could easily understand. In fact, when she sped up just a little bit, most of the class stopped understanding what she was saying. Also, when we heard our teacher talking with other native speakers, it felt so uncomfortably fast that it sounded like a whole other language. Basically, the course did not place enough emphasis on listening exercises. This is where CLO excels because the best and most useful feature of the podcasts, I believe, is the 正常语速的对话 (dialogue at normal speed). The average podcast goes like this: conversation at normal speed (basically, fast), conversation at slowed down speed, conversation explained at slowed down speed. In the average podcast, I tend to grasp all the general meaning and 80-90% of the exact meaning during the 正常语速 section, and by the end of the 慢语速 (slow speed) section, I’ve usually grasped 100% of the exact meaning. Occasionally, I stop listening to the podcast at this point because the explanations are unnecessary. However, this proficiency is something that I have developed since June with CLO’s help. One of the key aspects of the dialogues in the podcasts is that each of them introduces only about three or four new words every lesson and this actually makes it possible for students to understand most of the content. Another is that all the explanation is done, as much as possible, using Chinese, and this has gradually increased as the course has progressed. For one, this makes the student feel better (or, cooler) and just immerses the student in a complete Chinese environment for a few minutes.

彭先生 (Mr. Péng)
Over the summer, I also got to do this same kind of learning (fast speech, explanation in Chinese) in one other way, i.e., when I went to the gym in the evenings. There was a Chinese gentleman who came to the gym at the same as I did and he and I always conversed while we were there. The really cool thing was that he loved using Chinese even with me. What I’ve noticed with a lot of Chinese people is that they are not comfortable using Chinese with foreigners like me because it feels awkward to them. However, not only did this gentleman speak with me in Chinese, answer questions about words, etc., he also did all the explanations in Chinese when I asked him and used English only when it was absolutely necessary. In fact, I liked talking in Chinese with him so much (I love talking in Chinese) that this was a great incentive for me to regularly visit the gym. Odd, but true. Also, unlike the podcast, I could also practice speaking with him and that was good because I got to know how to say words in ways that they were easier to understand.

哈利波特 (Harry Potter)
Speaking and listening is all well and good but Chinese has characters as well. And here, I think, two things have been of great help. First of all, is of course, my general curiosity to find out the character for any Chinese word I hear or say. The second is the fact that I bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Chinese (哈利波特与魔法石) and I have learnt over five hundred new words (and about as many new characters) in under eight pages of reading. Sure, I don’t know how to write most of them, but I can at least recognize them, which is all that’s required for reading, and I’m picking up on how to write the ones that appear frequently or ones that just look wicked cool. Reading Harry Potter has never been this educational.

And now, back at college, I’m actually really happy because I’m more confident than ever in speaking Chinese and love conversing with friends using it. In fact, some of my friends who were not so comfortable talking with me in Chinese before the summer (probably because I would have to ask for explanations all the time), now speak to me in rapid fire colloquial and I can freaking understand what they’re saying! If that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.


One Response to “Night and Day”

  1. 1 James

    oh wow, congrats on skipping 5 quarters. geez. the only question now is: what are you going to take in place of all that free time?

    hmm, we should watch chinese movies together, without subtitles.


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