Thursday, October 23, 2014

Class Time

Here, finally, is what you've all been waiting for: the big reveal of what I do in school.

[awed gasps]

I have 20 hours of class a week, meaning four class hours per day. Each class consists of two 45-minute periods, with a ten-minute break in between. Two days a week, I have two different classes on one day; the other three days are each spent with a massive four-hour stretch of the same class. For extra in-depth learning, and extra exhaustion by the end! The perfect deal.

I'm in 中等一级, or Intermediate Level 1. At this level, Chinese learning is divided into five different classes that each focus on their own aspect of the language.

Intensive Reading(精读)
This is the most straightforward class. Our textbook is split into lessons, each consisting of a text, a list of new words, and grammar exercises. We learn all the new words and read the text until we understand it completely, then do the exercises. The following week, we have a dictation where the teacher reads out a selection of the new words (and, if we're ~lucky~, sentences) that we have to write in Chinese characters. This is the most structured and familiar class. It's relatively easy to study for, and I feel like I really learn a lot each week.

Extensive Reading(阅读)
One of the more challenging classes, all the material for Extensive Reading is way too freaking hard. However, this is all deliberate, since we're not supposed to understand every single word and sentence - or in some cases, not understand anything at all. Extensive Reading teaches you how to read a text, and focuses on structure and different ways of finding relevant information. There's also some work on character radicals, morphemes, and other more linguistic aspects of Chinese, which not only gets me very excited but also proves beyond a doubt that I am a humongous dork.

My least favorite class, for a variety of reasons. Since I'm largely self-taught, I did very little listening practice and feel a bit behind in that department. But then there's also the combination of a poorly designed textbook and a lack in the teaching department: aka, a perfect recipe for disaster. One of my main beefs with the way the class is laid out is that we just listen to extremely fast texts and are then expected to answer extremely specific questions, usually hinging on one or two completely new words. This doesn't mirror what listening comprehension is like in real life, where it's more context-based and intimately involved with speaking and discussion. Oh well. I just hope I pass the exam :(

Writing class really makes me aware that we are at the intermediate level. It focuses less on what you write and more on how you write it: you get extra points for making the text varied and interesting to read. That's why I find it kind of enigmatic that the topics are still so pedestrian (daily routines, where you are from, coming to China etc). I wish we'd actively learn more sentence structures, grammar patterns, and stylistic devices. That would help a lot more than the teacher reading through five people's texts, in a row, in front of everyone, as time moves slower and slower and attention spans grow shorter and shorter.

This class is one of, if not the, most immediately useful and practical classes. Most other classes consist of listening to the teacher, taking notes, and reading in the textbook, so there's very little active participation on the part of the students. Speaking class is the complete opposite: we're there to talk. Even if it can feel awkward, it's so important just to get the ball rolling. After all, if you say something wrong, you can always correct or explain yourself. If you say nothing at all, well, no one will ever know what you're thinking. For a chatterbox like me, the choice is simple.

All the classes are taught entirely in Chinese. (I never cease to be amazed how I can understand and follow 95% of what the teachers are saying, but be completely baffled as soon as I have an encounter with an actual, out-of-classroom Chinese. Or, well, the listening class CD.) This has both good and bad sides. The main con is that the teachers will often ask questions that I know the answer to, but my Chinese just isn't good enough to express it yet. Becoming actively involved in class can be difficult when you're simply missing communicative ability. But, of course, the positive aspect of being totally immersed in Mandarin greatly outweighs this nuisance. It also gives you a goal to work towards. So on we soldier. 加油!


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