Put Down The Chalk & Pick Up The Language

My road through the Chinese language has been a bumpy one full of roundabouts and dead-ends. In the more than two years I’ve been here I’ve not had any formal Chinese education, and I’ve really no excuse for it.

I’m often praised and then quickly chastised by Chinese co-workers on my level of Chinese. When they first meet me they lather it on, but once they know I have a Chinese wife, their faces screw up and they try desperately to understand why I can’t speak better.

The truth is, nothing has hurt my Chinese more than having a Chinese girlfriend/wife. This isn’t a slight against her in anyway, as she does her best to push me in the right direction – correcting my tones, telling me for the thousandth time how to say random vocabulary, etc.

The problem is, nothing is a keener motivator than the day to day struggle of having to deal with the Chinese-speaking masses just outside my door – and with Maggie by my side, even simple conversations that I could navigate through, are handled by her.

Well, enough is enough. I’ve watched friend after friend make huge strides with Chinese while I sat dumbly by mumbling “ting bu dong”. I’ve made the decision that come the end of this term I’ll be turning from teacher to student and exchanging my ESL lesson plans for Chinese homework.

I’ve settled on a program at Soochow University (aka Suda) – don’t ask me why they still use the silly Wade-Giles spelling. The term runs from September to January and costs about 8,200 RMB (about $1,200 CAD). This breaks down as:

Tuition 7,500 RMB
Application Fee 250 RMB
Registration Fee 250 RMB
Books 200 RMB

The price structure seems similar to various other Mandarin courses I’ve seen in other Chinese cities. Though not “cheap”, considering what a foreign student pays a term when they attended Canadian schools, it’s a steal. It’s four hours each morning (8~11:30), Monday to Friday. The program also offers some interesting electives – Chinese History, Chinese Calligraphy, Traditional Chinese Painting, Tai Chi and Chinese martial arts – in the afternoon, so I may enroll in a few of them as well.

I’m quite hyped about being a student again. It’s been on the back burner for quite a while now, as the wedding basically stole the show (and emptied my bank account) over the past year. Now with married life settled into, I can start focusing on the rather massive collection of other things populating my “todo” list.

I’ll be registering in the summer (as my Z visa expires, and I’ll need to transfer it to the appropriate student visa), and as such will be taking a placement test. I’m a bit nervous about this. My language abilities are all over the place – I know some rather complicated vocabulary reasonably well, but am completely lost with other, relatively simple, things. I can say more than I can read, read more than I can write, and write more than a beginner, but not by much.

As such, I’m going to try and hit the books before hand and get some sort of consistency in my Mandarin knowledge. With having a relatively passive interest in learning Chinese since I first arrived, I’ve a huge collection of links, books, software and such to help me – but am open to any suggestions that have worked for you readers.

I’m planning to put into practice Mark’s good advice (Learn a Language by Taking Advantage of ‘Hidden Moments’) and also some tips gleaned from a Pick The Brain article.

These ideas, coupled with my use of ChinesePod‘s free MP3s, Active Chinese‘s cool lessons and a couple of text books I’ll have to dust off, will hopefully cause me to, at the very least, not get put in the “NEEE HOW” newbies class.

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