Maria Holland

Language-Learning Victories

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2010 at 11:54 pm

The day started off on a relative low because of the package my parents sent me.  Just to clarify, the package itself was great; just the obstacle course I had to go through to get it was a little ridiculous.  Picking up a package here involves three signatures at three different locations, done in a specific order.  I tried to skip the middle step because it seemed worthless last time I picked up a package, but that just got me sent back to the XiaDa Post Office, without passing Go or collecting $200. 

As I retraced my step to dot my i’s and cross my t’s, I fantasized about a China with conceal and carry laws.  I think the post office staff would be much more understanding and forgiving – possibly even downright lenient – if I were packing.  At least after the first time!  I don’t think customers should fear the post office; post offices should fear their customers. 

I wonder if there’s a correlation between gun possession and red tape?  But enough, I only entertained violent thoughts for a few minutes and I don’t want to freak out my readers.  It was only a matter of time before I had the package in my hands – physically weighed down but emotionally lifted!

I basically have the best parents in the world.  This birthday/Easter package included Girl Scout cookies, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, Cadbury eggs, Hershey’s kisses, lemonade powder, Jello mix, and another bag of marshmallows!!!!  The only unawesome thing they sent was the tax paperwork I needed, which means there are no more excuses (and not much time) left. 

Today was the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which means Mass!  In Mandarin!  AND THE GLORIA, which we usually don’t sing during Lent, because it’s a solemnity!!!! I love following along with familiar readings in Chinese.  Maybe it’s part the excitement of figuring out what reading it is, and part hearing the words that must be as familiar to Chinese Catholics as the words “I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done unto me according to thy word” are to me. 

The timing of the Annunciation is cool.  (Catholic Fun Fact of the Day: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of St. Ann; the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announced God’s plan to Mary and she said “yes”, is celebrated – 9 months before Christmas – as the day Jesus was conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.)  It’s like the real beginning of Jesus’ life on earth, and takes place in the liturgical calendar pretty close to the end, as Holy Week is fast approaching.  I say the prayer that Pope John Paul wrote for the Church in China at the end of every Mass (when the rest of the congregation prays together in Minnanhua), and found it especially fitting today:

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother,
venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title "Help of Christians,"
the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.
We come before you today to implore your protection.
Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them
along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be
a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens.

When you obediently said "yes" in the house of Nazareth,
you allowed God’s eternal Son to take flesh in your virginal womb
and thus to begin in history the work of our redemption.
You willingly and generously co-operated in that work,
allowing the sword of pain to pierce your soul,
until the supreme hour of the Cross, when you kept watch on Calvary,
standing beside your Son, Who died that we might live.
From that moment, you became, in a new way,
the Mother of all those who receive your Son Jesus in faith
and choose to follow in His footsteps by taking up His Cross.

Mother of hope, in the darkness of Holy Saturday you journeyed
with unfailing trust towards the dawn of Easter.
Grant that your children may discern at all times,
even those that are darkest, the signs of God’s loving presence.

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China,
who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.
May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world,
and of the world to Jesus.

In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high,
offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.
Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love,
ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.
Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and forever. Amen!

After Mass, I went to dinner with JunCheng, my new Mass buddy.  We heard in Listening class this morning that today, March 25th, is 国际中餐节 or International Chinese Food Day.  In celebration, we dined . . . at the 24th floor Pizza Hut overlooking Gulangyu.  The pizza was great but the seats by the windows were all taken :(

Oh!  Today at Mass I helped Mrs. Zhang find the right page in the hymnal and pointed out where we were in the song.  She gave me a huge thumbs up.  You know what we call that?  A language learning victory.  I read a blog post about this just today, listing some major victories along the language-learning path; here’s my list, slightly edited and arranged in order of milestones reached:

  1. You make a phone call in your target language for a specific purpose and accomplish it. (I did this back in my time on the farm.  Unfortunately, like most of the communication that took place that summer, I attribute it more to Xiao Zhang’s super-human comprehension than to my language skills.  But now it’s a regular occurrence!)

  2. You hear someone talking about you in the target language and understand it.  (Incredibly easy, as in China this always consists of 老外 [foreigner],美国人 [American],俄罗斯人 [Russian],or some form of “They speak Chinese!”)

  3. You can’t remember what language a conversation was in.  (This also happened really early on.  I think it’s partially because sometimes I can’t believe that I was able to say/understand that much!)

  4. You no longer remember what the target language sounded like to you when you couldn’t understand it.  (This happened before I came to Xiamen, but I noticed it most when my parents came and I only vaguely remembered a time when I couldn’t duplicate the four tones and things like that.) 

  5. You send an email, SMS, or IM in your target language and are understood.  (I think my email skills are only okay, but apparently I text exactly like a Chinese college student.  Awesome?  I don’t even know how to text like an American college student!)

  6. You understand why certain words just don’t translate from the target language into English.  (From my very first week in Xiamen, when I was repeatedly asked to “play” with middle-aged men.  玩 does not translate exactly to ‘play’, okay?!?)

  7. You make a joke in the target language, and it gets a laugh.  (I don’t tell one-liners of knock-knock jokes or anything, but I make people laugh – sometimes even with me!)

  8. You befriend someone entirely in the target language.  (I’ve really never spoken English with 胡婧, and use English almost entirely with Pun and Eunjeong as well.)

  9. You remind a native speaker how to write a Chinese character that they have forgotten.  (Some guy forgot to write the ‘茄’‘ in eggplant!  You better believe I set him straight . . . It has happened more than once, but that was the most ridiculous.)

  10. You start using the body language of the target language culture unconsciously.  (When I walk with Chinese friends, we close enough that we’re basically leaning on each other.  I am also more touchy with my female friends, and bow with my hands folded in front of me during the Sign of Peace instead of attempting handshakes or hugs.)

  11. When you realize how terrible most translations are for movies, signs, etc.  (Some Chinglish is obvious, but sometimes I catch stuff that is technically good English, but just doesn’t mean what they wanted it to mean.) 

  12. When you somehow knew the meaning of a word without ever actually having learned it.  (See my post on the character 锈 for rust!)

  13. You talk to yourself in the target language, and it doesn’t feel weird.  (I mainly use words and phrases instead of whole sentences, but 那个 is definitely my new go-to pause word.)

  14. You correctly identify an accent or dialect.  (This was my addition.  I think it’s a big step because when you begin learning a second language, you can barely tell words apart, much less accents.  This skill requires you to be well-traveled and well-conversed.  It was really awesome when I heard someone say 蛮 and I pegged them as from the Shanghai area!)

  15. You watch a movie in your target language without subtitles and you have no real problems.  (I watched Mulan with no major problems, just incidental vocabulary.  But, with a familiar story and visual cues galore, how hard can it be?)

  16. You make a phone call in your target language and the person on the other end doesn’t realize you’re not a native speaker.  (Does a guy in a dark train not realizing I was a foreigner count?  Anyways, I really only make phone calls to people I know . . . )

  17. You verbally express anger in your target language.  (This was my addition.  I think it’s an important step because sometimes it’s hard to use a second language in times of high stress or pressure, and because expressing anger isn’t something we really learn how to do.) 

  18. You use a web service in your target language.  (This feels like cheating, because I’m guessing most people could use tudou, youku,, or qunar without any Chinese skills, just because they are nearly identical to similar English sites.  But still, I’ve done it.)
  19. You dream in the target language.  (Not that I can remember, but my mom did say I spoke Chinese in my sleep once so maybe!)

  20. You read a book in your target language.  (Not yet . . . )

  1. goodness! I sure admire your Chinese language skills! I don’t have those in any other language and feel intimidated with the mere thought………………… Way to go Maria!!

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