I spent this morning’s class time looking up words in my electronic dictionary. My favorite way is to find a reasonably useful character (for instance, 微) and then browse through the list of words that begin with that character. Thus, I learned the prefix micro-, microwaves, microwave oven, microeconomics, and microphone.
Katrine was interested in what I was doing, so I explained to her how I was learning these really useful words. And then I realized that, out of the vocabulary I consider really ‘useful’, I don’t think I’ve used any of them in conversation since coming to Xiamen.
I was hoping to sit in on a low-level math or engineering course, but all the freshman and sophomore level classes are taught at another campus. In another example of how perhaps XiaDa isn’t the ideal learning environment for me, this makes it impossible for me to listen to any class at a level that I would have a shot at understanding.
Thinking even farther ahead, I figure that if I return to China it will be as an engineer – thus I want to accumulate an engineer’s vocabulary. But as long as we’re speaking practically here, I’m realizing that right now I’m not here as an engineer. It’s not easy for me to study this vocabulary and there are basically no situations in which to use it.
I got a little spoiled that summer I lived on the farm in China. I learned so many ridiculously practical words for my everyday life – tractor, cement, manure, wind turbine – and I imagined that learning Chinese would always continue to be that way.
But it’s not like that. We learn the names of temples, we learn fruits, we learn multiple verbs for the same thing. And you know what else? As much as I hate to admit it, I use those words after I learn them. Since I left the farm, I have used the word 水泥 (concrete) exactly once. Language is a function of life.
I’m glad I’m coming to this realization now, halfway through the year instead of at the end. I think it will be hard, but I’m trying to adopt the attitude that no knowledge should be scorned. The nature of Chinese characters is sometimes beneficial; each character you learn helps you learn the next one.
So I’m going to bide my time here, and study the material around me (in class and in life) to the best of my ability. When I go home, my life and learning environment will change. I’m really hoping that there will be opportunities for me to continue my studies, perhaps with individual Chinese students – most of whom happen to be engineers . . . See where I’m going here?
I think it’ll work out just fine.