Thursday, July 3, 2008


I figure if I'm studying Chinese all day, and this blog is supposed to describe how my life is (although how much of an "adventure" studying is, I admit I'm not sure), then I figure writing the title of this post in Chinese is also appropriate.

The words come from the lesson text which we've all memorized and mean "His demands are really intense." In our lesson, it relates to how Chinese fathers place a ton of pressure on their kid, because they want them to make something of themselves and have only one kid to do it. But in our class, our teacher's demands are pretty high, too. Our teacher explains that if we just paraphrase the text then it doesn't help us very much. Our working vocabulary will only increase if we can actually use the words and grammar patterns in context.

So without saying "memorize these two pages of really tough Chinese sentences," he's said "memorize these two pages of really tough Chinese sentences." Yesterday I spent all night from dinner until about eleven o'clock memorizing the passages so when he called on me this morning I would be able to live up to his standards. I think I actually wasn't too far off from that.

This week so far, though, I've spent so much time on that lesson that I've ignored my listening and reading classes. It's not a lack of effort--it's a lack of time. I'm getting more accustomed now to being in Chinese mode for four hours every morning, but it still tires me out so that I can't think about Chinese until several hours after lunch. And by the time I look up words for several hours (no exaggeration), I don't have any more time to go over the words we're supposed to be learning for our other class.

Almost everyone in my class grew up speaking Chinese, so for them memorizing in Chinese comes very naturally. Not so for me. Our teacher is really intimidating, too. The only example I can think of is one that no one but my brother and sister will understand, but I'll give it anyway. When we were little we took swimming lessons in the summer, and the way Mrs. Graves talked is the same way my teacher does, except he's not fat and he talks in Chinese.

But things are getting better. I broke down and bought an electronic dictionary yesterday, like everyone else in my class. I must be a serious Chinese student now. It cost about $125, and is amazing. I'll show it to you when I get back to the States. The definitions are really good, the stylus works well for writing characters, the interface isn't too bad. It's almost a pleasure to use, which is good since I'm going to be spending so much time with it.

If I haven't already explained the traditional way you look up a character yet, let me do so. Let's take the first word of the title of this post as an example.

First, you have to find what's called the "radical." I wrote a whole post about radicals a while ago, so I won't cover them again, but sometimes it's hard to say which part is the radical. In our example, is it the top half with two vertical lines coming from one horizontal line into a box? Or is it the bottom half, with three strokes that make a triangle in the middle? In this case, the radical is the top half.

Then you count the number of strokes the radical has. Here, to make the top half it takes six strokes.

Then you open your dictionary and find the number that corresponds to your radical. There are over 200 radicals, so that's why the radicals are arranged by number of strokes.

Then you count how many strokes are left. Here, the bottom has three strokes left.

Then you turn in your dictionary to all of the words that have your radical and your number of remaining ("remnant") strokes. So here we'd be looking at a list of words with this certain 6-stroke radical and three more strokes.

Then you find the word and turn to the page number where the definition is given.

It's only at that point, after six steps, that you discover that the word is pronounced "yao" with first tone (although, you will read, it's usually pronounced with fourth tone).

Now, with my sweet electronic dictionary, I just pop it open, write the character, and despite my sloppy, non-native handwriting, the dictionary will recognize what word I've written and display it. Click on the entry I want and I'm there.

Here's a picture of me in my Chinese house playing with it:

The reason I don't have a shirt on is because it's really hot and when my Mom said, "Why don't you take your shirt off? You're inside; you don't have to be so formal." I couldn't resist.

Have to get back to my homework. Looking forward to the weekend.


katiepenguins said...

I recognize that dictionary! They worked fairly well for Chinese-to-English for our kids.

Sheri said...

My curiosity was killing me- and I admit I did not use any fancy equipment for this translation- just typed the title of this post into google and came up with...
Very Strict Requirements
Whether that is exactly right, I don't know, but it does seem to fit this piece, don't you think?

kelly said...

I was catchin up on reading your blog and just had to post a comment after reading this one. Let me tell you that certain girls of the Savage household (specifically Hannah and Grace)knew exactly what you meant when you said that your teacher talks like Mrs. Graves! (We can thank your mom for that! :)) So, you can be happy knowing that some people other than your sister and brother appreciated your description of your teacher. It's been fun reading about your "adventure".

-Kelly Savage