In the previous post I talked a bit about how the beginning of September had been quite stressful for me.This is why the mid-Autumn festival (which takes place during the last week of September through the first week of October) was especially relieving. I was given more than a week off of school and this meant I had time to do some touring! In these videos, I go to Beihai Park, the Olympic Stadium, and Happy Valley (a theme park). I also receive a wonderful package from my girlfriend!
A Time to Focus
Prior to taking up this beautifully silly language, I read an article by a man named Mark Rowswell just to try to gauge how hard Mandarin really is. Mark offers some great advice on how to approach what he calls the five-year lesson in humility. As for me, I would say it is important for you to count your wins and losses.
You’re never going to be happy with the ratio of wins and losses. This is because what you consider a win changes with time. Two years ago, I considered it a win when I finally established the difference in my pronunciation between the word Zai (at) and Cai (meal-dish). These days, wins are a bit more complicated. I consider it a win when a fighting couple passes me by on the street and I understand that the girl is upset because the boy is going somewhere with the guys and he didn’t invite her. I consider it a win when I watch a minute or two straight of a Chinese television show and suddenly realize that I haven’t been saying the English translation in my head but instead understood what was being said in real-time. And I consider wins the moments when I’m in the store and the clerk asks me what I’m looking for and the words just come out of my mouth before I even consciously think of how to respond. Most days feel like losses; I’m not going to lie. But when you win, the feeling is so so sweet.
I want more of these feelings. This is why I am putting my foot down and saying NO to English now. During the first three weeks, I admittedly spent a lot of time with Westerners. I’m not saying I regret this; I think it’s pretty normal. When you come to a new country, sometimes you just need to talk about it with people who are going through the same thing. It’s a way to combat culture shock and establish a sort of ground for you to stand on. I wouldn’t have found out how to use the subway, how to pick up packages, and where I could buy simple things like deodorant had I not done this. But now I am starting to feel comfortable with my surroundings and I think at this point it is necessary for me to let go of the West and get down to business. Thus I spent this week actively creating consistent opportunities for me to speak Chinese in the future. Thursday afternoons are now reserved for my language partner and I to spend one on one time together. One day out of the weekend is now reserved for going out with a friend group that predominantly speaks Chinese. And I am now holding myself to a quota of at three episodes of Happy Chinese a week.
You Should Be Watching Happy Chinese
Speaking of Happy Chinese, WOW is this a great show! I highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to learn Mandarin. While it is designed for students, it doesn’t feel like a cheap DVD that was just made to be shipped with books. In fact, I am enjoying this show as much as any other comedy show I have watched in English. It has several seasons and is for free on YouTube (this is where VPNs come in handy).
Personally, I think TV and movies are an excellent way to practice a language. When I ask my European friends how they got so good at English, their first response is always one word – Hollywood. This isn’t a coincidence and it’s why I suggest language learners to pick up at least one show that is in the language they are learning. Try to pick a show of which you can understand about 70% of what is being said. Make sure it has subtitles in that language. If it has them in English too this is even better because in worst-case scenarios when you can’t hear or read what was said correctly, you can refer to the English and back-track. I also suggest pausing frequently and repeating sections that tripped you up. A 20 minute episode should take you at least a half hour to watch.