Maria Holland

The Quick Way To Learn A Language

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2010 at 4:00 am

After a weekend that wasn’t and three weekdays that weren’t, we finally had kind of a ‘normal’ day (quite hard to come by in China).  Today actually resembled a Thursday, with afternoon class and everything. 

But of course, a ‘normal’ day in China is still crazy.  Our Listening teacher told us that our final will be on the 8th of July, which is both an entire week before the finals week as indicated on the schedule we got at the beginning of the year, and right in the middle of my trip to Hangzhou.  She moved it up because a bunch of students are leaving early.  Um, so??  You’re free to leave school early in America, too – but you have to accept the consequences, including missing the final and not receiving a score.  But if there’s one thing our teachers here excel at, it’s pandering to the foreigners. 

I think this is so ridiculous – and totally ineffective, too, as students have been leaving in increasing amounts for several weeks already.  It’s part of the reason why our scholarships, which might have been an intelligent investment on the part of the Chinese government, are actually just a way for them to throw away money.  We’re completely free to miss weeks of class at a time, including finals, with absolutely no repercussions.  Part of this is because many of us aren’t degree-seeking students, but considering we draw a $250 monthly stipend, I could think of some financial carrots and sticks that they could be employing.

But it’s really not a big deal.  I should have no problem taking the finals when I want either. 


Today also wasn’t quite normal because, as of today, I have been studying Chinese for one year.  That’s kind of crazy, right?  A year ago, I knew about 100 characters that I learned from a “Your First 250 Chinese Characters” book.  My grammar was nonexistent and my vocabulary was one-third basic essentials, one-third construction or farm-related, and one-third plain wrong.  I knew the four tones theoretically but couldn’t produce them consistently or even recognizably.  I thought I could read pinyin but still didn’t understand why ‘qu’ and ‘chu’ don’t rhyme, and why ‘yi’, ‘si’, ‘chi’ & ‘hui’ all sound completely different.  I could “get by” with extremely patient Chinese but only if they used my very specific set of vocabulary (specific and very randomly selective; for instance I had trouble believing that 也 was an actual word that people use). 

Yes, it was one year ago that I began studying Chinese.  I took an intensive summer course at the University of Minnesota, in which my 20 classmates and I covered a year’s worth of material in 10 weeks.  I had a weekend of ‘summer’ once school ended, and then came to Xiamen where the learning process hasn’t been confined to four hours per day.  It kind of seems like a year isn’t that long, but with a year as intense as this one has been, it feels about right.

But if you’re daunted by such a year, don’t worry.  Apparently there was a much easier way to go about this language-learning thing, which a friend of mine was kind enough to point out to me:

Michelle: Hey congratulations on your scholarship. That’s fantastic.
me: hey! thanks
Michelle: You should know though . . . I got a Google Targeted ad from your email that their is a program where you can learn foreign languages in just one week, so you are wasting your time.  $19.95 plus shipping – I can give you a scholarship for that.
me: oh man, I feel silly now
Michelle: yeah
me: where were you a few months ago . . .
Michelle: You should do a little research next time.
me: well, I’ve learned my lesson now
Michelle: good


While our language courses will continue for nearly a month (if we feel like hanging around for them), the other programs have already been finished a few weeks.  This means the frequency of going-away parties is really picking up; tonight it was time to say goodbye to Jeremie and Justine, two of Aleid’s French roommates.  There was a party at their apartment, so we headed over after dinner.  Another French guy, Benjamin, was the DJ, playing a mix of 90’s hits and music from all over the world.  I must say, that was my first time singing Dragostea Din Tei with Romanians!  There were also requests for some classic dance songs, and we somehow found the floor space to do a rousing Cotton-Eyed Joe and Macarena.  It was amazing.

I’m usually one of the first to leave parties but tonight I wasn’t tired so I stayed around.  We danced, we talked, we sang, and apparently we got a little loud because they turned the electricity off.  This, of course, called for French drinking songs bellowed in the lighter-illuminated room, but somehow they successfully begged the guard to turn the electricity back on.  It wasn’t until they turned it off again that we left.

The French were playing Mexico in an hour or so, so we decided to go to Paradise to watch the game.  We hung out on the side of the road, about 30 foreigners waiting for taxis to take us, four-at-a-time, to the bar.  The number slowly decreased until there were about two or three taxis worth of people still waiting, when we discovered an alternative better to taxis!

A bus – Xiamen public transit sort of bus – drove by, slowed down to stare at us, and someone asked if it would take us to Minzu Road.  The guy thought about it for a second, but once we offered him 20 kuai ($3), he agreed.  We have no idea what a bus was doing driving along that road at 2 a.m., but I’m glad it was!  We rode in style, with tons of room, for the same amount of money we would have paid for one taxi.  I’m kind of jealous that Jeremie and Justine got to do that on their last night in country . . .

I didn’t stay too long at Paradise, but I did watch half of the French/Mexican game.  It was even more boring than the previous boring first halves I’ve watched, so maybe I’ll start watching only second halves?

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