Archive for July, 2009


Saturday, July 25th, 2009

It has been a long while since doing a solid blog post on this space. While my readership probably isn’t the largest out there, considering the might of bavatuesdays and confessions of a community college dean, I still feel this very bizarre obligation to continue to write to an audience I can’t quite see. Over the next few weeks I’d like to share a little bit of my own ICLP experience, perhaps also write a post-ICLP talk. Many of us have not done an intensive language program and so don’t have a very firm grasp on the benefits and pro’s that a language program can bring to the table, not too mention how one goes about selecting the appropriate program. At another time, it would be awesome to write up a broader piece dealing with the whys and how to’s of language study, but for now I will settle with a look at my time at ICLP.

I have three classes at ICLP that stretch from 10AM until 2PM with a break at noon for lunch. My classes, I think I have mentioned this before, contain no more than three people, including myself. My first two classes work out of different books and are the group classes with two other students and me. In the group classes we work our way through grammar points by setting up scenarios and looking at the dialogs of a given lesson. I’ve noticed that of the two classes one really focuses hard core on the grammar, very nitty gritty, while the other one takes a much lighter approach by teaching you how to work with certain scenarios. From there you get a basic understanding of the grammar tools that will allow you to handle transactions, ask questions etc. Now, I have to admit I am coming to ICLP with way less language experience than most people normally come to ICLP with. The best way to put it, ICLP trains scholars in the field of China studies on how to use language towards their field. So The normal langauge student doesn’t necessarily come to ICLP as his first training area. However, ICLP has recently made a point in creating classes and hiring teachers to work with students that are at or near my level. I noticed some students that are using level one books, normally these students have some experience with say reading or have massive vocabularies but require some correcting in basic grammars and pronunciation. It’s actually funny how most students tend to come here with great reading comprehension but less than quality speaking skills. Although, admittedly, most of those students are by now very proficient at speaking since we are in week…five or perhaps four I have now lost track unfortunately! My days at ICLP have felt a bit strange, I have the same classes everyday so it is a bit like being back in high school and a weird twilight zone. Everyday, I walk into the same bakery and got some delicious bread and juice, quickly jog (慢跑)to the school. I hear the bells (not actual bells but speakers under the clocks) that go off with the traditional da da dada da da dada, however you decide to represent sound via text, but you are familiar with the tune that goes off to announce classes. Classes happen, I catch my break for lunch. I’ve been using my lunch breaks for drum practice using a small practice pad, metronome, and my sheet music. The ICLP teachers (laoshi=老師)will sometimes come out and watch me play on their way to pick up lunch. It’s kind of weird being a little attraction, especially since let’s be honest my drum skills are less than quality, but it makes for good conversation! Afterwards, I jaunt over to the computer lab and check email as well as take a quick refresher glance at my new vocabulary.

This refresher glance is usually very helpful. Lately I have been getting a hold of so many words that it is hard to keep a hold of the words. The issue, which should be more fully addressed in a separate post, comes from the fact that different words can have the same sound. But this isn’t like the homonyms like bee and be, two too and to. It’s usually like “shi” with a fourth tone (a sharp drop) can be a whole host of sounds. This is really why having the characters is super important. Without the symbols you would have all these different sounds that would be awfully hard to figure out their meaning. Although I imagine context would clarify things, but we’ll find out in the future. My last class of the day is the real challenge. It’s a single person class called a 單班課 (dan ban ke). The instructor never ceases to amaze me on how he manages to work with me, especially when my brain just won’t work at all. If you can imagine you are in this class alone so you have no one else to rely on. If you don’t know the information you have to ask and then work your way around the definition of the word using words you already know. Maybe, it isn’t that complicated for other people, but my class tends to leave me really exhausted. The vocabulary isn’t usually what bothers me, it’s the correction of tones. I almost always need my tones corrected. Tones have become the bane of my learning experience. What’s sad is, you often don’t hear yourself properly. When you think you are making third tone, you are actually doing fourth. So 老師 corrects you and you still won’t get it right away.

So my constant rinse and repeat at ICLP leaves me pretty tuckered out by the weekend, making traveling around Taiwan tough, since your brain is just worn down. However the classes are really well thought out. I’ve been impressed with how the school puts together the courses to work with each student’s needs. One individual has nothing but one on one classes and each class dove tails into the next. I guess it’s easier to do that with all language classes. My week surprisingly moves very quickly. The days blend into each other almost seamlessly, making it difficult to recall what day it is, unless it is Friday. Friday, all filled with tasty tea and delicious snacks and wandering around, is my fun day, period. : D

Wiping off Dust

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I have to admit, it’s been a while since I’ve touched this space. I can’t say I’m proud to have left her in such a bad condition, but my circumstances, my circumstances! Either way, ICLP has been a crazed ride this entire summer, but it is high time to kick both Panda Musings and Panda’s Workbook back into high gear. Does this mean I will be able to update all the time? Heck no. But the fact is that at any given point a person can become busy. This does not mean the person has to stop working on the projects that interested him/her. In fact it’s during that busy period that maybe you can pick up some kickin’ scheduling skills. Either way, it’s time to turn the lights back on in this old musty warehouse filled with cobwebs and maybe some strangely mutated creations that would love to give me a piece of their mind. Tomorrow is midterm day here at ICLP so probably little writing will be happening for tonight, but let’s work out a schedule, light a fire to roast some veggies and have a talk. You bring the soda, I’ll bring the talking. Good times will be had by everyone! Sorry, I ahve been feeling my english slipping in bad ways as Chinese wording tries to weasel its way into my English sentence structure.

This Panda just donned battle armor.

Jus’ Talkin’ bout da Bava

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

I have been really busy with classes at ICLP, but I came across a blog by Jim Groom that just really needs some talking about. The question being dealt with here is how open should umwblogs be. Since my attending UMW’s faculty academy, I have been thinking about this issue of opening of online spaces to further connect and encourage students to knowledge creation. As a student, I want to touch on my own perspective and side of the argument. While at the Inter Chinese Language Program in Taipei, I have been keeping blogs to talk about Chinese language learning and my classes. It got me thinking that it would be awesome to have other students that are here participate in my own work as co-authors, but the problem is I can’t do that on umwblogs. It’s unfortunate, but this space isn’t open up to outsiders who could potentially be brought into the conversation beyond just comments, any one can do that. I want to be able to talk about Chinese language with a multitude of other students and be writing a blog that informs other people. Here’s the thing, at Mary Washington there are very few people who are as interested in studying China or the language as I am, how awesome would it be to get other scholars from different institutions writing on the same space? It would be sweet and could connect schools in totally different ways. I would love to have the capability of adding authors to my blog who are in similar veins of study. If we are all about having a “conversation” which was the buzz word at faculty academy, shouldn’t we be talking to more people than ourselves? If that answer to that question is yes, then what do we do?

Jim Groom makes a very strong statement in his post: “What is UMW Blogs if not simply a step towards something else? Why are we so jealous about protecting it, let’s burn it down and build it anew.” I feel that what we are seeing is a return to a very old problem concerning how academic works, it is madly sheltered away from the eyes of the public. It’s also something that should be vigorously controlled and locked down to just people at the institution, but really come on, is that how learning works for those of us interested in umwblogs? No, because it comes with the assumption that you can only learn from your institution and nowhere else. I have wondered if this idea about umwblogs and its bringing up of a network of problems also points to how academics have to publish through peer-review journals and have little control of their own work. Who really holds the reins in terms of umwblogs? The students aren’t the ones calling the shots, its the university. I remember at the end of the spring semester this year Jim Groom posted about a “umwblogs escape plan” for those students who were graduating and wanted to continue on the work they began at UMW. This sounds great, it sounds like a flexible system, but if you have an escape plan, you are getting out of situation that is stuck, trapped. In my own opinion that isn’t what umwblogs is supposed to be, but if you go to the mainpage it says “a publishing platform for the UMW community”. It doesn’t say “a publishing platform for the academic community” or even “…for the learning community.” It’s ultimately limited by a simple tagline to the university. I agree with Groom’s answer of saying bah to it, start over and open the sucker up, but that isn’t going to happen, just because as long as it is attached to the University, they are going to want to keep a handle on it. It’s how a school works, it needs to protect and secure its own intellectual property for its own prestige (which brings to question who owns the blog posts : P).

The eventual compromise looks towards a way of doing a plug-in to allow people from here to grab people in. I can settle for that. Groom said it right, ” This is a plugin/feature that we should develop, for we need to start thinking of this as network that both relfects UMW, but also all the various individuals and their networks and relationships that move beyond it.” Where does the UMW community end, really? If it is actually about the individuals then let’s allow the individuals a little more control, but how do we simultaneously call this the University’s space but say it moves beyond it as well? I think here at Mary Wash we do have a body of students that are very rigorous in their learning and want to try it out by letting the world see it. Frankly, it’s great practice. It doesn’t come with the fears of receiving bad grades, but allows you to still be susceptible to mistakes and grow from the process. I’m down for a new approach to the umwblogs and really am super stoked to see where it goes from here. We have seen this platform do exceedingly well, but just because this is having success doesn’t mean we should stop here and call it a day. Does it?

Week 3

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Has this become the blair witch project? You catch these snippets of me running around with short breath and snot dripping out of my nose? It’s quite possible, but that is just fine. This weekend went absolutely awesome in terms of training. A few of my new Taiwanese friends sat me down and forced me to make sounds and read outloud as they corrected me. I can finally ask questions of how you would say a specific word, which the word in question is the only time I am allowed to speak English with them. After last week’s successive defeats the weekends minor victories in communication have been glorious! I keep thinking about what it will take to break into a level of somewhat fluency. Chinese doesn’t have the same learning curve of European languages that we pick up in college. The problem with Chinese basics is that there is a lot of reprogramming that needs to take place in an English speaker’s brain before you can even hope to get anywhere. I don’t even sit at the point of being reprogrammed and ready to speak Chinese, which is exactly why I stumble. Dr. Campbell gave me some interesting book recommendations concerning second language acquisition and neural patterns that should be good reads when I get back home. I have basically nixed full hard core reading of books until I get home. I tend to read for hours at a time, and unfortunately I don’t have those stretches of hours…although with two independent studies next semester, will I even have the time then? Anyway! Today’s assignment is to go to a restaurant, order in Chinese and write about the experience. Superstoked since pictures also count as part of the assignment. Ooof I’d kill to have someone teach me photography, get me a nice camera, and (due to heavy bookbags) give me a shoulder massage : D! Don’t mind me I’ve just gone a little bonkers. As a side note, fourth of July when abroad is pretty lame, especially if you are the only American around. I got up and did a little dance for America, since I’m not exactly sure if people can set off fireworks in Taipei without some sort of authorization. The last thing I need is to be thrown into jail while abroad. Alright let’s get this week rolling. 3….2….1 BING!

Weekend’s Work

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

So the site has fallen into slight disrepair, the classes at ICLP can keep you so busy that your head spins right off. Regardless, you have to attack things with a plan. Random moves and work won’t get you anywhere. The workload is simply too large to not have a plan. So with that in mind! It’s the weekend which means it’s prime time for review. I’ll be doing a review of all the grammar patterns and vocabulary acquired thus far in these past two weeks…if I really have gotten a handle on it then the review should be a very fast process. The next thing is writing in my Chinese Journal (sometimes a very long process) and then crashing into the current lessons that I’m working on. Sounds pretty jam packed, but I took last night off from working on anything and am seeing another film for Taipei’s film festival. I can’t complain too badly : D

Lots of Vocab

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I have been meaning to update but been a bit busy watching my brains splatter on the computer lab’s screens as I work at ICLP. I will be sure to throw everything up here asap. The big theme recently has been restaurants…which has actually come in handy as well as some words like “borrow” which I’ve been managing to get a lot of mileage out of. Today was a backwards day for me as I took a few steps back and lost some ground in my training. I’ve cooled off now and am working to build a medium between ultra confident and knowing I don’t know a bit of the language. It’s going to take some thought, but will do me a lot of benefit down the road, I’m sure of it.

The “Why Am I Here” Talk

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

This week has been crazy rough for Chinese studies. The vocabulary isn’t sticking in my head, and much worse there are moments where every single word and sentence pattern I should know slips from my mind at the worst conceivable times. Normally, I don’t like letting on that I have issues when it comes to studying and retaining, but this is a blog about musings and should also therefore be something that points to growth on the behalf of the writer. My method of study is really weak, I tend to just aggressively attack whatever material I have for absolutely way too long stretches of time. I do sprints, not marathons. It’s not a good way to go about it because it lacks any sense of pace. I’ve also managed to kill the fun out of studying and developing a new language. What standards am I working against? I am at ICLP to learn and develop the skills to learn and speak Chinese, yet I feel as if I have broken, shattered my brain into a thousand pieces and in the process am left wondering why I decided on Chinese. It seems like a stupid question now, I do it because I find joy in it, yet like I said before I put a hold on the fun bus and have no idea how to turn off the parking brake and get myself back down the road. As I walked home from school I just felt all this frustration well up inside me. If you can picture it, you have all these thoughts and desires to share with the world around you, but imagine not being able to communicate even a basic thought, an idea. That’s where I’m at. It’s a shame because I am in the perfect place to train. The only thing that is keeping me from flourishing in Chinese is myself.

Have you ever wanted to loosen up on your own standards but found that the process of trying to loosen only caused you to clamp up even worse? It’s a matter I’ve been struggling with big time. It seems like it would be easy to say, okay I am going to speak Chinese, yet it has not come to me as easily as I assumed it would. Tones have been ridiculously hard and my one-on-one class has become a battlefield where I am constantly misfiring and speaking language in sputters. I normally don’t touch on religious matters on this space because it has a much more focused slant, but I felt and still feel called to study Chinese. If my Christian slant has ruffled feathers, oh well, I’m not going to deny my own right to believe. Bah focus on topic!! My mind’s just flooded with all this new material without a good way of accessing it. It comes down to, okay yes this is an intensive environment, but what can I do to file and access all of the newly gained information? Speaking has been difficult since now I am constantly aware that 9 times out of 10 I have the wrong tone, which is a huge, huge deal in speaking Chinese. When trying to speak I have a tendency to speak it as if it were English and add emphasis on certain words, thus taking its proper tone away. What can I do to internalize tones? It’s a difficult puzzle that I have yet to even begin to crack. Any thoughts?

As to my sudden why am I here crisis, I am not particularly worried about that. I believe it happens to anyone who hits a brick wall in their studies. You look back, having thought you made great progress, and are forced to ask concerning what you achieved. The fact is, I want to speak Chinese, learn more about and research the historical events within China, and of course make new friends in my travels. It’s what I have to work with right now. I intend on holding on to that. So what can I do to lighten up on myself and break down the mental barriers? Thoughts?

While writing this, I can hear people in an apartment right across from mine fighting. It’s weird I can actually understand what the man is yelling about. Wow…maybe there is hope for me after all.