Getting Ready Part 2

In Part 1 I detailed all of the hectic events that will surely accompany my senior theses, but I have left out another crucial change for this semester. I have left DTLT to take on more responsibilities tutoring students studying Chinese. Last semester I spent about six hours a week working with them, but now thanks to Professor Koos I have ten hours I can devote to 102 and 202 students. In order to be of even more help I want to…need to improve my own language skills. A teacher who isn’t learning is a weaker teacher. Regardless of whatever level you teach, you have to work with new material and advance your understanding of what you already know. Not only does such a method keep you apprised of what new developments are happening, but it also shows your students you are willing to put in the effort.

For this sort of model I am considering everything that would make me a better student of Chinese language. I have to admit that I take my inspiration from Jim Groom’s Digital Storytelling class. Jim did every single assignment with his students. Whatever struggles they went through, Jim did the same. It created an atmosphere of collaboration where students knew that the instructor was also grappling with the material. Although I didn’t take the class myself, I could see that students really enjoyed having that type of support. The success of this model for learning and teaching hinges on the notion that a teacher doesn’t ask the student to do something he wouldn’t do himself. Not a huge revelation, but I want to run a Chinese study group like Jim leads his digital storytelling. End of story.

How does one study Chinese Mandarin? No one method could safely stand as the correct way, but having realized that studying language in its respective country is far easier than in the United States, I now know that I need more creative methods to make progress happen. While inside of the US, it seems as if the best one can do is tread water, maintaining her skills but perhaps losing a little each day. I earnestly want more than that. The opportunities I have to go over to China are growing smaller and smaller. Whether there is lack of free time or a need to make cash, the long stretches of Chinese studies could become a thing of the past if grad school doesn’t work out.

What tools, methods and ideas have I come up with? Frankly not a whole lot, but allow me to stumble through my thought process on the matter. The big considerations are

  1. goals
  2. tools
  3. time

But after having spent today introducing students to any number of tools, I felt I had this whole language thing worked out. At the end of the day teacher (老师)mentioned a couple of items for me to work on more specifically. I just added those to the ever growing list of goals. At this moment my main goals include developing and maintaining vocabulary, increased proficiency talking with Chinese people on a wide range of topics, and now developing a better eye for writing characters (汉字 hanzi). I have to laugh because 老师noticed how poor my characters were. I also need to get a better sense of Chinese culture through reading more stories and using the language. Since the beginning of my studies, I have merely passed myself off as a funny American who just so happens to know quite a bit about Chinese history. In all actuality my knowledge of Chinese culture is pretty bare.

Tools often help to further shape one’s goals. What you have or do not have can limit your progress. It’s hard to study without materials. So I have any number of websites and radio programs at my disposal. Over the past two years I amassed a healthy collection of books but no easy reading stories. The majority of my collection is textbooks. While textbooks are helpful, they can be a little cumbersome or, if nothing else, less than fun. For all my advocating for having fun while studying Chinese, I take a very serious, drill like, attitude to the process. I need to use games, books, media and other tools to enjoy the process. Why am I not talking to Chinese people on MSN, Skype or QQ on a daily basis? Why should studying Chinese always be a matter of “hitting the books” that a university vets? Frankly, I still have a lot to work out, but the progress is most certainly there. I do at least need to get a hold of another collection of books as well as some special materials for practicing writing. 老师recommended I pick up a few books by 金庸(Jin Yong). Who is 金庸?You’ve got me there, but this individual has apparently written a mass of novels that are great for advanced learners to pick up vocabulary and knowledge on culture. As to my penmanship, I don’t know why I didn’t consider picking up some writing materials while I was abroad!

The final factor I have to worry about is time. I am not a 100% how to best schedule time to work on all of this language stuff. I used to be much more industrious, but some days I seem to lack energy for actively studying the language. I float along the doldrums. Even writing blog posts or just getting lists together for what needs to be accomplished in a day takes more time than it should. I am certain that most of the problem settles on a mental block. In order to succeed at something, you must see yourself successfully completing the task. So as I am putting together my Chinese study schedule I need to be willing to put in the time. Nothing comes without effort, no matter what I might think. I hope to plug in a lot of hours working on Chinese. With any luck studying alongside the other students will be a big motivator. The more I study, the better I can help them. Even if my future with Mandarin is wholly uncertain, the others could do very well with the language. So how many hours? I would like to do three hours a day. Maybe if I plan it out well, even when I am busy I can work on it.

Suggestions for language study under a busy schedule?

The moral of the story with studying Chinese is that you can think big, but what can you honestly do? I always talk about making great progress despite the fact that nothing ever comes out of such talk. Whether it is semester hustle and bustle or just my own laziness, I get stuck in my tracks. Just a confession, you know?

Now that we have gotten talking about Chinese out of the way, I hope to touch on some of the problems and hey maybe even effective strategies for dealing with them. For those playing at home, feel free to step in with advice and opinions; I always could use it!

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