Monday, June 30, 2008

Chinese Chinese Chinese

Nope, I'm not trying to spam Google into thinking my blog is awesome for anything that has to do with Chinese. The title only reflects how my life seems to consist of only Chinese right now.

The classes at the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU for short) are strange for two reasons. First, we have separate classes--speaking class, listening class, reading class--but we have the same classmates for each of them; it's the teachers that change. That's a weird way to do things because a lot of the people here are ethnically Chinese, so they speak fluent Chinese, but are just illiterate. And a few people are Japanese, so characters don't give them a problem, it's the pronunciation and grammar they need to work on. And I'm American and don't know anything. So this seems like the perfect place to let the really good speakers take a really low-level reading class, and so on. But they don't, which means I know some Chinese who are in the lowest level and some who are near the top, even though they know the same amount.

The other weird thing is that they rank classes from A (you don't know ni from hao) to E (where you watch the news and discuss it the next day). So I'm working my way up to failing. I was originally placed in C level, but I already covered most of the curriculum and my main teacher wasn't very good, so I decided to bump up today.

And now I'm in D. This is the most intense class I've ever been in. Even in C, the teachers didn't speak any English, but now that I'm in D they expect that anything they say that they think isn't complicated we should understand. My class is almost all Korean and Chinese, and everyone in there is amazing. The only other white guy is an American who now lives in Italy teaching English and Chinese, but is here because he thought that his speaking wasn't quite up to par.

And the craziest part--and I say this having been in Chinese classes for two years now, and four years of language classes in high school--is that we actually speak in Chinese during the break. In C, we would've felt like a chump for doing that, but now in D I feel pressure to have international friends in Chinese. Even my break isn't a break.

So here's why I want to stay in the class. (I say this, by the way, only being about 1/8 of the way through my homework for tomorrow, and if I don't finish then I'll obviously switch down and regret writing this paragraph.) The teachers are awesome and the workload is heavy. My speaking teacher was really pushing us. There's only one D class, and today it had too many people, so he kept saying, "If you think this is too hard, get out." We'd be reading things that were a little over my head, and he'd say, "I know you guys all think this reading is easy. It is. this first paragraph is A-level. But knowing how to read is nothing! Tomorrow we're going to be discussing it with the book closed. If you can't handle that, switch to a lower level."

I'm going to have to bring my A-game (or D-game, as it were) every day. After three hours of class today (I missed the first hour changing my schedule) I was exhausted.

I think, though, that if I can survive, I'll learn a lot. Maybe by the end of the eight weeks I won't even be the worst in the class, although I don't really care if I am or not. I just need to know all the words that everyone is using and if I can start accomplishing that, I think it'll be a huge accomplishment.

That's my self pep-talk, because my elation at being rigorously challenged didn't even last the 3 days I thought it would. I started on my homework and already discouragement crept into my mind as the vocab definitions did. I'm a little stressed because I don't know how to eat to Mom's satisfaction. If I had three stomachs, I think I would, but now I just feel like I'm wasting things that I didn't sign up to eat anyway. And I realized that the long discussion I had with her where we were talking about American and Chinese trends with love and dating... every time I thought I was explaining my views by using the word "Christian," as in "I'm a Christian so I don't want to have sex before I'm married," I was actually saying "civilized." Play that back and I feel so embarrassed at what she must have thought I was saying.


Sheri said...

At this rate with all the studying you're gonna need to do, you might want to go back to Kyrgyzstan, eh? hahaha.
Wow, you certainly reach for high goals. I'm impressed with your discipline and drive. Gotta say though, the situation in some of those classes sounds pretty overwhelming to me!

katiepenguins said...

I hope you do well in those classes! I think you'll be fine, though; your teachers may make threats--and may carry them out--but you know enough about the way they teach not to let them completely get to you.