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May 30, 2004

learning languages

A surprising amount of my time in China is taken up -- quite pleasantly -- with learning languages.

On the one hand, I continue to make slow progress in studying Chinese. I use multiple strategies. First, when something useful comes up in conversation, I ask the speaker to write the character and pinyin transliteration for me, so that I can record the new word or phrase in my spreadsheet. After we interviewed a prospective new employee about ten days ago, for example, one of my colleagues in Nantong recommended him, saying that he is a "laoshi" (honest person), not a "huatou" (smooth talker -- literally, slippery head). Another strategy is studying weekly with our teacher, Mr. Wang, who comes to our apartment each Wednesday evening. Another is reviewing my list of characters (which I forget if I don't constantly review). Another is listening to language CDs. Another is watching movies with Chinese soundtracks; this includes not only Chinese movies but also American movies with dubbed Chinese soundtracks. The latter are a great discovery. Many of my favorite old movies are available here with dual soundtracks. So, I watch them once with the English soundtrack, to re-familiarize myself with the plot (Terry doesn't understand why, as many times as I have seen them already), then a second time with the Chinese soundtrack. Recently, for example, I have had encore screenings of Around the World in 80 Days and Carmen Jones.

Besides studying Chinese, I have become busier and busier teaching English to local learners. As I've mentioned elsewhere in the log, I began with one middle school girl from our apartment complex. She started bring a friend to my Monday evening "beginners" class. Then, two more advanced teenagers (or, rather, their mothers on their behalf) "enrolled" for Sunday morning. (Their attendance is pretty spotty so far, though.) Next, two woman from the local government office that has helped me with business affairs -- Ms. Zhou and Ms. Zhang -- asked whether I could teach them, too. I invited them to come Monday evening, about the time the girls finish. Next, one of our vendors asked whether his granddaughter could study with me. He brought her to the apartment so I could assess her "shuiping" (level), and I decided to put her in the first Monday evening class. Next, Mr. Huang asked whether his grandson could come, too. How could I refuse? Since this class includes a meal and Terry teaches until 6:00, I am on kitchen duty Mondays. Finally, my office staff complained: "You're teaching everyone else. What about us?" As Liu Liu put it, "We're your best friends!" It's true. So, every Tuesday afternoon after work, we stay at the office for an extra hour or so and study. I found some good texts with colloquial American English in the bookstore below our office. (I need to show them to Terry, the real English teacher.) One is for advanced students like my office staff; the other is for people with good reading ability but little speaking ability, like a spouse and boyfriend who come for the last part of the class. (When I told Liu Sheng, the head of our Nanjing Office, the story, he asked -- jokingly, I think -- "What about us?")

I really am enjoying the experience. I think I've reached or at least identified my limit on both kinds of learning, though. As for Chinese language acquistion, I've concluded that I am not likely within the next two years to be able to do academic research, so I've decided to hire interpreters for that, when I need them. As for teaching English, when a second vendor asked about help for his daughter, I told him I'll have to wait and talk with him in August, when I start planning my "fall schedule." That's all for now. Terry just asked me to help with her Chinese vocabulary! -- Norty

Posted by now at May 30, 2004 02:41 AM