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Learn Chinese Well

Popularity 2Viewed 4120 times 2017-3-16 09:11 |Personal category:education|System category:Life| Chinese, language

Learn Chinese well


As a Chinese, I had never considered how difficult it could be to learn the language of Chinese. I just assume that I should be able to pick my mother tongue up pretty easily. But when I recall the process of learning Chinese, it was indeed a grueling as well as painstaking process to even just try to learn the basics of this language.


I spent all six years in primary school learning the pinyin and the strokes of basic Chinese characters. At that time, it seemed there was endless copying of Chinese characters and dictation. I was asked to recite many Chinese articles as well. In high school, I was required to write diaries, to make reading notes and to do summery of reading. We also started learning ancient Chinese which I then found extremely difficult to understand let alone appreciate. Still, I didn't develop an interest in learning Chinese as a subject. Although I once liked writing Chinese essays, I gave it up altogether since my teacher asked us to write argumentative essays in a pretty mechanical way. Not much creativity was allowed under that sort of condition. So since then, I treated Chinese class as time to solve math problems or reading Chinese magazines. Deep down, I reckoned that my grade in Chinese would be pretty much the same no matter whether I paid attention to it or not.


I didn't realize how " illiterate" I was until I read some Chinese classic literature and met some people who really excelled in this language. It is pretty evident that my Chinese is weak especially when I was writing English essays. As an adult learner of English, I am inclined to translate Chinese into English whenever I am speaking or writing in English. Sometimes, the ideas circling in my mind are presented with many Chinese idioms and cannot be translated literally into English. Many times, I have to figure out first how I can express the Chinese idioms into simpler sayings in Chinese before expressing it in English as sometimes there is no such idioms in English. I am not alone who are confronted with this situation. Many of my students are faced with this when trying to present their thoughts in English in a spoken or written form. Many of them find it unbelievably difficult especially when their ideas involve ancient Chinese sayings. They fail to find the exact saying in the target language and oftentimes end up giving up. When asked to explain their ideas in simpler Chinese clearly, they sometimes fail to do it. This makes their progress in English output painfully slow.


Another obstacle many students are usually faced up with is that they have poor logic. I am not sure whether we should attribute this to their first language or to their poor performance in mastering their mother tongue. I personally tend to favor the later reason as I have taught students who seem to be pretty good at linking or presenting ideas in a logical way. But this can be wrong since Chinese itself is not a language emphasizing logic. Chinese people prefer writing style that exudes elegance as well as poetics. So we tend to use big abstract words and quotes from famous poems or prestigious literates to build up the artistic conception which is widely acknowledged and applauded by multitudes of Chinese. Because of this, many students show very poor performance in cohesion which is of vital importance to English academic writing. As a consequence, it is extremely difficult for them to get their ideas through. More often than not, I find it very difficult to understand the ideas from some of my students expressed in English. When asked to explain their thoughts, they themselves seem to be at a loss in regard to what they are trying to say.


According to the second language learning theories I have learnt, the level of our first language indeed exerts influence on how well we learn our second language. So maybe we should try to improve our mother tongue first before we commit ourselves to the learning of a second or a third language.


Not long ago, I started reading the classic book "Fortress Besieged" under my sister's recommendation. I was in fact a bit stunned by my poor Chinese as I struggled with understanding every time faced with ancient Chinese quotes or not-so-frequently-used Chinese idioms. Neither could I understand the poems written by the characters created in the novel.


Evidently, a few reasons together contribute to the status quo. To many people, Chinese as a subject is neither interesting nor important. Even though it accounts for the same percent as maths or English in the entrance exam of university, the majority of questions involved in the Chinese exam are subjective and therefore not difficult to make up answers for. Quite a few students actually are not given the freedom to choose the Chinese books they like reading to develop their interest in reading Chinese books. They are simply assigned to read certain books. Even worse, the study load in most schools is so heavy that students virtually have to time to enjoy reading books.


Apart from that, the Internet has apparently brought negative influence to Chinese students' literacy. We type or talk directly most of the time while communicating with others. As a result of it, little wonder that we have forgotten how to write some Chinese characters. During online communication, we tend to use or even overuse some internet slangs. Living in this modern society with increasingly fast tempo, we tend to read "fast-food" literature which affords few benefits to the improvement of our Chinese. With the accelerating pace of life, many people find it difficult to find the inner peace to just sit down and read a great book which is usually demanding mentally or emotionally.


It seems to be exceptionally hard to address the aforementioned problems, particularly the one relevant to Internet. But this doesn't mean that there is nothing we can do. I think the recently popular TV shows Chinese Poetry Conference and Readers are doing a great job in raising public awareness of learning Chinese well and then understanding the glamor of Chinese culture.


I sometimes wonder whether the reason why Chinese culture is not as powerful as American culture or Japanese culture is that there are many people in China like me who haven't mastered the Chinese language and thus haven't been able to truly appreciate Chinese culture deeply imbedded in its corresponding language.


Of course, I want to learn Chinese well not because I want to improve my English writing but because I want to be able to truly appreciate the beauty of this language which records one of the most extensive and profound cultures worldwide. The language of Chinese is also an essential part of my personal identity. Not being able to learn it well seems to make my self-identity to some extent incomplete as I clearly know I am missing out opportunities to understand the splendid culture and history of my motherland. I really hope in the near future I will be able to use this language to present my ideas as accurately as possible and then more importantly to convey the charm of China I will come to realize through this language to more international friends.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Reply Report shehemego 2017-3-18 21:59
The status quo of Chinese looks not quite well in the language of Chinese. This is a good toptic, though. And it is quite thought-provoking. But self-interest is the best teacher. Back to the era of my secondary high school, my female classmate loved reading books. She loved reading martial-art novels written by Jin Yong. I presumed she must have read them all. And she loved reading historic books as well. Yuan Tengfeng may have been her favorite historic-book writer during her secondary school age. She ranked the first in my school according to her study performances; Yet she basically didn't pay attention to teachers in class. While in class, I always saw her reading books on her laps. She was good at writting both Chinese and English essays. Compared to me, I paid attention to teachers most of time in class but however, I had to keep running to catch up with her. I am convined that her interst in reading books must lead her to success.

When I had lessons for my optional course named Appreciating Modern Chinese Novels, I learned that there was a time when people were admiring Poets and Novelists as their idols, and poems and novels seemed much more important as mental food than rice and steamed buns, the material food.
But now, we regard singers or dancers or actors and actresses or other art performers as Stars - as idols.

What are the primary factors influencing us to a new era? Is it technology? Is it higher life quality? Is it much more time and money at our disposals? Is it the culure of Internet or Wifi?

There was time we were in pusuit of traditonal culture - put it exactly we were obsessed with mental food when we were not wealthy or even when we had to make a living so badly but when we needed mental food so badly, too.

I hope this time will be once again. I know it will occur in the not so far future. And I know this era is emerging on me because as you do I start placing importance on the beauty and the cultures underlying Chinese characters, reading novels or poems written by Chinese excellent writers.

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  • Why don't We Stand Out and Fight? 2018-4-4 14:14

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