Posts Tagged ‘language’

Student Teaching

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

While studying at ICLP I have been confronted with a great deal of questions concerning how to approach Chinese upon returning to my home institution. Thus far, everyone’s answer has been, “Language Partner”. This is just fine considering that the surrounding Fredericksburg area does in fact have a, albeit small, Chinese population who speak Mandarin (dialectal issues can come up given that most Chinatown residents happen to speak Cantonese). Language growth on my part isn’t what I am necessarily worried about, I am certain that with a history professor who speaks Chinese and the Chinese language professor being a resident of the Mary Washington campus, I can continue to work on conversation everyday as well as do private work on vocabulary and grammar. Additionally many of the ICLP teachers have opened up their email inbox to any and all questions I could have while studying. The icing on the cake of course is my study abroad to China coming up next year in February.

What I am concerned about is, where other students sit on studying Chinese. Having now been studying in an intensive environment where language classes is the only type of class you take, I realize that at universities across the board you are merely treading water, at best. I have found students who although have been studying Chinese for several years have major issues with pronunciation. To be fair, I still royally suck at tones, however this is the downfall of almost every single non-native speaker of Chinese. The problem lies in there not being enough time for people to practice their Chinese outloud and have someone over them helping to correct their pronunciation. At ICLP we have a class called a “Dan Ban Ke” which is literally a single person class. The process is excruciating as you no longer can hide your voice in the crowd. Just you and the professor, no where to run or hide. The reality of the normal university’s situation is that first and foremost they do not have the manpower in terms of language instructors to do this for every student enrolled in a Chinese course, which mind you can sometimes go upwards to 25 people in smaller institutions. This is problematic as students learning a new language require individual attention to address their needs. I recall many days in 101 and 102 being able to not have to speak at all for the entire class unless I wanted to. No one is at fault for this situation, it is merely how it has to be given the fact we have only one instructor who already teaches four classes. Another force at work here is the student’s schedule. Unless they are majoring in Chinese, currently not possible at UMW, they will not be using or even studying for Chinese everyday. We only have class every MWF so there are two down days per week plus the weekend where many students won’t practice their Chinese. As the program at Mary Washington is still very young many students cannot yet hold fluid conversations for a long period, and we don’t have upper level students that can help guide and tutor lower levels. That’s a little bit of a lie since we did in fact have tutoring services available from some of the upper crust students of the 200 level classes. However, maybe it doesn’t matter whether students need tutoring or not, but that they require more opportunities to speak out.

Chinese, as an English speaker, feels horrifically awkward to speak at first, and I personally felt very embarrassed to be making these weird sounds in my dorm room or in any public space. Where do you practice? Where do you go to work on tones and the subtle differences between sounds? My question to you, readers, is what do you do to help overcome the above situation? I have come up with some of my own answers to address this, but feel that they are limited. For instance, 100 level students do not really have the ability to speak but you could potentially hold pronunciation clinics to get them to understand how to make some of the more awkward sounds. Many students still pronounce “xue” as “shui” because the x u e combination produces an umlaut that non-native speakers do not produce clearly. So although I am only an intermediate student, can I actually effectively run a say once a week pronunciation clinic? Would students even show up? Ultimately I would like to see 200 level students meeting up with 100 level and working through the beginner’s book, do practices and drills together. This I feel would benefit both learners as going through the old material can refresh your mind on grammar structures and potentially forgotten vocabulary.  I started checking into a book series that is big in mainland china called “Crazy English” where an instructor will take students outside and just have all of them shout english phrases out collectively so no one feels nervous.  I could definitely imagine a rack of Mary Wash students outside on Ball Circle yelling “Nihao!”


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.


Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

I checked one of my homework assignments only to find that it has marking all over it. I often strive to make my sentences more complex so the markings are always welcomed. I want to find out what I did wrong and how to fix it, improve it. Lucky me they don’t mark in red…just green. Eh, green the life giving color. It reminds me of how I felt when I got a writing assignment in one of my history classes back. It literally had more ink on it then I originally handed it in with. I felt bad and a little miserable, but then realized each mistake was a great learning experience. If you take it that way you can loosen up a bit and dissect it. If you sit and only see markings and failure, you’ll never be able to make any progress or look at your own work with the proper form of critical analysis.

六月 三十號

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Picked up a quick meal at Vegetarian Paradise and am now ready to roll for another night of work. I have two sets of vocabulary to prepare for as well as some grammar aspects. I’ll be posting up the lists of both later on tonight. The big thing is a new assignment consisting of crafting well thoughtout journal entries in Chinese…funny how laoshi pegged me as the type to journal. It’s a fairly hand tailored assignment, and I am digging a challenge. Just for my own sanity writing out my schedule: 1)FEEC Dialog/Vocab(listen/write)/Grammar 2)PAVC Same set up, create flashcards. Speaking of flashcards, I still need to get more use out of that Anki program, that’s probably best done another day though. Alright Let’s do this!

A quick post

Monday, June 29th, 2009

I need to find a way to really beef up my training. The classes are intense, but as of yet I am not rising to the occasion for these classes and need to find another tool or method to get myself up to that next level. Maybe a quick talk with my Laoshi will handle it. I just need to find other ways to improve my training methods, because right now I just sort of do “whatever” until I feel like my brain is going to explode. The problem with this is that it is an unguided workout. That’s not a good way to train. Imagine if you went to the gym and did some different exercise every single day. Yeah sure you are exercising, but what are you really accomplishing? It takes a good regiment of exercises that are strategically planned and then thorougly executed nigh daily to have solid and more importantly lasting improvement. I’ll be thinking about these training methods and let you know what I come up with!

Week 2

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Today marks week 2 of ICLP classes. Everything went by real smooth like, which is awesome, but it tells me something. I am not pushing myself hard enough in terms of what I expect out of the course. If my expectations are too low, my work ethic will also take a fairly severe nose dive. The large goal, overarching is a better phrase, should be to internalize grammatical structures as well as develop a mouth for tones. This should be on top of all other homework assignments.

Tonight’s homework is pretty light given that I am a little ahead of the curve with my vocabulary. Lin Laoshi gave the students a roleplaying assignment where we create a dialog based on a situation given to us, via random selection, at the end of this morning’s class. My assignment “Ask the staff for the postage and time-spent of a postbard, a regular letter, and a registered letter. ” It sounds really straightforward, but it took me a little while to put together. The problem isn’t that I don’t recognize vocabulary, only that my familiarity is more than a little weak. It simply isn’t flexible enough to create a new situation other than a mirror of what is given in the book Far East Everyday Chinese. This is the same exact problem I experienced with Integrated. Part of my problem with integrated was just straight up the book doesn’t encourage you to think outside the dialog. Here, I am dealing with the effects of that mindset. (While I am writing this I am working on another assignment which is to listen to myself from my one on one class. I sound retarded…) : P Maybe a post about the records could be helpful.

So, now that the main piece of homework is out of the way, I have a mission: type out the different grammar pieces, blow them up on a piece of paper and print those suckers out. Also, I have been having serious issues with the sound represented in pinyin as “c” which is said like “ts” of students. I either make it sound like a z or too aspirated and therefore a “t” I need to hang out with a linguistics person focusing on how sounds are made. It would probably be helpful. Alright, let’s put up those grammar sheets! And then silly sounds ahoy : D

Weekend Work–A Preview

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

I have never made a very good weekend worker. There is some sort of time device that makes Saturday speed by so quickly that it is essentially impossible to accomplish whatever it is that you set out to do. This phenomena is a crime against productive humanity! That aside, I tried to work my way through some of the homework assignments I got from my classes on Friday. The language homework is always tricky because I often don’t know how to properly phrase something. If I view it as a practice and not as a test or mortal kombat, I tend to loosen up and take more risks on potential misusing a sentence structure. I figure the comments and markings from the teachers will be more helpful if I stretch myself beyond my means a little bit.

Right now I am on the third lesson for Practical Audio Visual Chinese (Book 2!)–all of this can be shortened to PAVC. The lesson works through a restaurant situation to teach its grammar and vocabulary points. Trying to get what you want to eat when you don’t have the right vocabulary or making word salad can be next to impossible. The vocab list I have been slaving away at!

  • 給 gei for this chapter means for (the benefit), to
  • 介紹 jie shao is a verb for introduce or suggest
  • 魚 yu is a fish, I don’t believe it is necessary to add word for meat to make it the food.
  • 非常 feichang, an adverb ,meaning very or extremely
  • 對 dui in this instance is a coverb meaning to, toward, for
  • 牛肉- Beef, the first character by itself means cow or bull
  • 青菜 The second character is incorrect but I couldn’t find the actual one in my list : ( means vegetables, green ones!
  • 雞 ji is Chicken if you want it to mean like the meat throw the character “肉” at the tail end of it.
  • 湯 tang means soup and will often be the last word of a phrase describing what kind of soup it is!
  • 封 measure word for below word
  • 信 Letter, we’ve had this one in other books
  • 謝 when doubled it means thank you but by itself is a Chinese surname
  • 替 ti is a handy coverb meannig for, in place of, a substitute for.
  • 錢 qian–money but also a Chinese surname
  • 問...好 “wen….hao” is an idiomatic expression use to wish someone well or send your regards
  • 方 fang for this lesson is a Chinese surname
  • 自己 zi ji oneself or by oneself to make yourself for instance simply take on that character to ni and make “你 自己”
  • 碗 wan is the measure word for servings of food but can also straight up mean bowl.
  • 大家 da jia means everyone or everybody. If addressing an audience a speaker can say “大 家 好”
  • 慢用 man yong is an idiomatic expression meaning to enjoy your food literally translates as “Slowly use”
  • 水果 shui guo is the word for fruit, for specific types of fruit take off the “shui” and put the appropriate word infront of “果”
  • 刀叉 dao cha is a knife and fork set as opposed to the traditional chopsticks “筷子”
  • 湯匙–tang chi a soup spoon
  • 句 “Ju” measure word for sentences and phrases. This word is also seen in: 句子 meaning a sentence
  • 鉋 “Bao” character meaning full, typically dealing with eating so “to be full after eating”
  • 毛筆 The second character “bi” deals with writing utensils and the 1st character (字) let’s us know it is a brush

Pretty heft vocabulary list, but all necessary words. Often times it seems like I pick up a useless character but actually turns out to fit with a whole bunch of characters, thereby becoming handy to know. For the grammar it looks as if it will be straight forward, awesome. The first piece is a redux of a previous lessons work on using question words as indefinites. Now we can figure out how to give the idea of inclusiveness or exclusiveness. They show two patterns: (S)–Question Word–(S)都–V We can use this structure to say things like “He knows everything” or conversely another pattern, (S)–QW(S)–都/也–Neg-V “He doesn’t know anything. It’s a really handy technique to have in my little bag of tricks now. The idea of course is that we don’t literally mean he doesn’t know anything, rather that what he knows is so pointless or not meaningful that it is like nothing. The book gives tons of examples to go with it, most of which I had to sort out a little it in my head before I got it. I keep having to remind myself that the grammars don’t match each other! Exclusiveness intensified give the idea of not even a little bit. So we can throw this structure into our sentence, which I know is written 句子, “(S) 一 MW–N 都/也 Neg-(AV) V. This gives us something like “I can’t sing any song at all.”Alright sweet but what if I don’t want to use a measure word in it at all. Instead of using a measure word we can drop 一 點 兒 into the mix which will still give us the same general “at all” feel.

We are now talking about how to use less and more as adverbs instead of what is termed as a stative verb (if you just raised your eyebrow at that we can touch on it later). The structure here is: 多/少 (more/less) V (Number-MW) (Obj) It gives you the ability to say “East a little more, Drink a little less…etc.” While that may not seem like much it can go a long way. Oh I bought less paper than I need…things like that. Even though we could maybe find simpler ways of phrasing things, we have to move away from a childish language to more dignified, complex ones. The final piece that we will be looking at for the first half of the week is using certain words as coverbs and setting up indirect objects, although I think the setup can do more, details as I get them. We have five words that the book gives for right now (跟,給,替,用,對) These words can help give more clarity about what we use to eat, where something is directed to, substituting for someone, all sorts of goodies tonight! The tricky thing will be internalizing these aspects and making use of them in everyday speech.

Onwards to finishing up a forgotten piece of homework!