好久不见！(Translation: Long time no see!)
I’m back blogging for CC, but this time I am not blogging about a grueling 400 level Environmental Science class… This time I’ll be filling you in on a class that is difficult in an entirely different way: Elementary Chinese. And my name is no longer Margo Davis. In this class, we go by Chinese names, so my name is now 岱曼华.
Intro language classes at CC are taught as two block courses, rather than the standard one-block class. This allows us to get more exposed to the language, which is very much necessary for students with no background in the language. After the ‘elementary’ or 100 level class in a specific language, more advanced courses go back to being just one block.
I am quickly realizing how necessary this extra block is, perhaps even more so for Chinese. Of course, there is a learning curve for any foreign language, but Chinese seems to have a particularly steep learning curve. The language is incredibly removed from anything I have any familiarity in. Most noticeable is that there is no alphabet in Chinese. For beginning learners, the sounds of characters can be represented by ‘pinyin,’ which is certainly helpful, but still kind of confusing because the sounds represented by English letters are much different than most English pronunciations. Beyond that, the language is tonal. So slight variations in pronunciation completely alter the meaning. For example, the phrase “Qing wen” can either mean “May I ask you a question?” or “May I kiss you?” depending on the tone used on ‘wen.’ Therefore, in class, many of us unintentionally cross some boundaries because our pronunciation skills simply are not quite there yet.
Luckily, we have lots of tools available to us for help. Our online workbook has many listening exercises to get us used to these new sounds and we have a Chinese tutor that we meet with in small groups once a week to help with our speaking. We also have a very patient professor who kindly corrects us as we get flustered and inevitably butcher the language.
The one thing about the Chinese language that makes it easier to learn is that there never is a need to conjugate. I have to admit that even after two weeks I still get a lost sometimes, but it is amazing how much we have already learned. We can read, write, and speak in complete sentences about our families, hobbies, and plans with friends. And who knows, maybe someday I’ll be confident enough to walk into a room of Chinese speakers and say “May I ask a question?” without the fear of giving people the wrong idea.