Sunday, December 31

十二月 Last Class

Yesterday was the first class I've been to in a few weeks. Nearly everyone was out so it was myself and two others, almost like a private class.

Since this is my first post about a class I will start off by saying the structure is very fluid and open. We are free to stop our instructor at anytime to ask questions about what we are learning. We spend a few minutes discussing 中国 "Zhongguo". Sometimes longer because we are fascinated by the stories.

There is typically a handout or a free form assignment with the intent of getting us to actually speak in class. This is the hardest part for various reasons. Primarily embarrassment because I don't know the words to say, don't know the grammar, afraid I will say something incorrectly, and general shyness. It reminds me of John Pasden's post about teaching 英文 “yingwin" in China and how students are afraid to open up. The craziest part is our instructor is incredibly gracious and would never make me or any other student feel stupid no matter how terribly we mangle 中文 "zhongwen".

We spend the remainder of the class in our text, "Integrated Chinese-Level 1 Part 1" (Simplified Character Edition)"

We're in 第八课 "Di ba ke" at the moment.

Since there were so few in class yesterday I took the liberty of asking more questions than I typically would.
For instance:
The difference between 大家 "dajia" and 人人 "renren". 大家 refers to eveyone in a group, like when Jenny Zhu says 大家好 on ChinesePod she's talking to those listening to the podcast, to her students. However, if she were addressing everyone in the world, regardless of whether they were her students or not, she would say 人人.

同 "tong" = same
同学 "tongxue" = classmate
同事 "co-worker" = co-worker
同人 "tongren" = business partner
同乡 "tongxiang" = people from the same hometown

We were discussing a passage from a 日记 “riji" when we came across 上午 "shangwu". This led the parts of the day, which we've been over so many times and I can never get them right.
I remember 早上 "zaoshang" no problem. It's all the other parts of the day I can't remember.
So I wrote them down again, swearing I would remember them this time.

Somehow we ended up on the topic of tenses. There was a sentence with the word 找到 "zhaodao". Kai (that's our instructor) explained that there were many instances of having a verb + compliment and went on to describe how 找 "zhao" meant to search for, look for, or find something where as 找到 "zhaodao" meant that the item searched for was found. Essentially 找 reached it's conclusion.

He followed this up with another example. To 看 “kan" is to look at something. Whether or not you saw it is not known simply by saying 看. However, if you say 看到 "kandao" means you looked and you saw. The action (看) was completed. These examples helped me so much. Something just clicked. We've been over this before, I've read it in the text, read it online, etc. but the light bulb never went off. Yesterday it did. I can now study it with the anticipation of understanding.

We concluded the class by reviewing the tenses we've learned so far.
Verb + 了 "le" - perfect tense
Verb + 过 "guo" - past tense
Verb + 着 “zhe" - status

The last one I'm not clear on.
在 "zai"
正在 "zhengzai" was used as the example and all my notes say are "Continuous Tense" (i'm not a very good note taker).
Is it Verb + 在?

We then went through a few sentences using each of the tenses. We requested that Kai spend time in our next class session going over these in more detail. I'm looking forward to the next class.

Enough for now.

Wednesday, December 27

Browsing at Borders

Out on the town with friends last week. We ended up at Borders. He had to return an item so I wondered up to the Foreign Language section. Ahh, the Chinese books, dictionaries, and flash cards.

We had a coupon for 30% off and I let my wife pick. She chose this:

The front shows the character and a few phrases or words containing the character, the back has the pinyin for the character and the phrases listed on the front. I wouldn't say they were anything extraordinary but they have inspired me. I've been taking them out and reviewing and enjoying it. Today while working I had them on my desk and went through a few between calls. I was copying the characters over and over on my legal pad.
Here are the few for the day:
字 “zi"
什么 "shenme"
你 "ni"
名 "ming"
I've purposely been avoiding characters but this has been invigorating. Let's see what I can accomplish tomorrow.

In the meantime I've been contemplating this book: Reading & Writing Chinese-Simplified Edition. I've read mixed reviews but having reviewed it in the store I was impressed. I'll be the first to admit I don't know enough about characters to know a "good" book from a "bad" one but I liked what I saw.

I also wanted to say thanks to everyone who commented recently. I was very encouraged by the comments. I was wondering how so many people had found the blog so quickly. Tonight I was reading Ken Carroll's blog and found out why. Ken, if you see this, thanks for everything you do.

To Karen at acmepost

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Please send me your email address.

Friday, December 22

Talk Mandarin Today

For some reason the ALI settled on this book, "Talk Mandarin Today".

If your goal is to learn Mandarin for business, this is the book for you. Maybe business students are the ones they usually have sign up for the class. It is Atlanta after all, lots of business. Thankfully the instructor did not require the book for the first month. He instead took his time making sure we knew our 拼音 “pinyin”. To keep things interesting he also brought photocopied sheets from other books.

The fateful day came and we started lesson one:

(To see the rest of the lesson text, click here and search inside the book)

In retrospect I suppose it could be worse. But then I got out the CD for lesson one and listened to the dialogue. I've wondered who has used this book and found success with it. I sure didn't. The dialogue is read at a quick clip, the way you and I speak in our mother tongues. This is for beginners? I had to rip the tracks to my computer and use some software to slow it down. This effectively made the dialogue comprehensible and masculine. She was now a he on drugs.

After seven lessons and many complaints (which our instructor was gracious enough to listen to) we have switched to a new text.

I'm glad I've got the book. I did learn a few things from it. There are still words I remember from our lessons in this book. I wouldn't recommend it as starting text though. Unless you're all business.

Anyone else out there used this book?

Thursday, December 21

Time Off

No work and no Chinese class this week.

No study either. I've been so busy working on the house lately.

However, I did watch "The Promise", Chen Kaige's latest film. I had heard so many terrible things about the movie the only reason I watched it was for the language. It didn't turn out too bad though.

A quick note on the movie itself: The CGI is substandard compared to what we're used to from Hollywood blockbusters. The story is not as difficult to follow as the reviews I'd read. It was actually straightforward. It was a good sick movie, or one you watch on a Saturday afternoon when you have nothing else to do. Not a classic though, not a "Farewell, My Concubine", "Emperor and the Assassin", or "Temptress Moon".

It was great to pick up the Mandarin though. I've never heard 是 "shi" so many times. Also 我知道 "wo zhi dao" and 我不知道 "wo bu zhi dao" were said frequently. A few words here and there were obvious, but still mostly a blur. I don't expect to understand a lot of a feature length movie in Mandarin for some time, but it is very encouraging to pick out a word here and there.

Tonight or tomorrow night I have "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress". Thank God for IMDB, I can get the Chinese titles also. Apparently the English title is much longer. The Chinese is 小裁缝 "Xiao Caifeng", or Small Seamstress.


Monday, December 18


I woke up this morning thinking about my progress so far. I was very discouraged. I've never been much for studying in the traditional manner. It may be sign of laziness. So when I sit down to learn a little more Mandarin I find myself distracted. I want to check the email, I'm thinking of all the things in the house to do, etc.

I know I've learned a lot in the last few months but I don't know how much? I am constantly wondering if I could have learned more if only (fill in the blank). I'll never know for sure.

Since I do not attend a University there is no grade attached to my performance. Everything is done out of a personal desire to learn the language. Sometimes that desire is stronger than others. Sometimes I wish I had the structure of a class to keep me on track, even at times of frustration.

So back to my original statement. Progress. If there are no tests, not grades, no one to talk to, how do you know how you're coming along with something? So far all I know is my pronunciation is better, I recognize more words than before, and I can listen to many of the ChinesePod Newbie lessons and recognize most of what's said. I know that's progress. I can distinctly remember a time when recognizing words in the Newbie lessons was a challenge. Now that honor is reserved for the Elementary lessons.

I always try to keep in mind what Instructor Kai told us the first day of class.
"If you stop, you will never make it. If you keep going, no matter how slow, you will one day arrive."

Saturday, December 16


On the first day of class, my instructor Zhao Kai told us to keep a diary. I wasn't sure what to write so I didn't write anything. Since then I've been scattering notes about Chinese grammar on yellow legal pads at work and Hanzi on opened envelopes at home. I have quick links to some great resources on my laptop, desktop, and work computer. I have notebooks, 3 ring binders, and text books everywhere. I have podcasts on my MP3 player. I have Chinese films flooding in from Netflix and Blockbuster. I'm surrounded. This is my first attempt to bring some kind of order to all of it.

I'll start with why I'm here. Why Mandarin? After all, my heritage is Spanish. I took two semesters of it in college. Why not go with something easier, something more practical? My grandfather, my dad, and what seems like every Jose, Manuel, and Rodriguez speak Spanish in my neck of the woods. Why Chinese?

It all began in High School.

We were reading Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth". I remember getting through the book begrudgingly until the last page. And then it hit me. I loved the book. Later I read Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club" and "The 100 Secret Senses". Suddenly I wanted to learn the language. I didn't know there was a difference between Mandarin and Cantonese, or how I would learn a language that wasn't offered in school (nor college) in my tiny town of Pensacola, FL. With no avenue to pursue the language it was pushed to the back of my mind.

Years later I learned about the plight of so many Chinese children who needed homes, the majority of them females. Before my wife, Jennifer, and I got married we discussed children. We agreed we wanted to adopt. She had not given much thought about where she would want to adopt from but I had my heart set on China. As the years went by and numerous discussions followed she agreed. We would one day have a daughter from halfway around the world.

In 2005 we moved to Atlanta, GA. I was getting close to the minimum required age for Chinese adoption (30!) and was thinking of learning Chinese again. Jenn and I both want our child to remain connected to her heritage and language is a vital part of it. Surfing the web for Chinese language resources in Atlanta brought me to the Atlanta Language Institute. I discovered that they offered Chinese with 10 week classes or private lessons. I discussed it with Jenn and she encouraged me to do it. I signed up for class and waited patiently for the start date.

The week before the class I received a call that we would not be having class. The instructor had to go to China for family business. I had waited 10 years, what was another 2 weeks?

The first Saturday (星期六) rolled around. The class was small. Beside the teacher I was the only man in the class. I wasn't sure what to expect as we started. We began with the basics, pinyin (拼音) and common phrases like 你好 Ni Hao "hello" and 谢谢 Xiexie "thanks". It was exhilarating, to finally be acting upon a desire I had had for so many years!

That's how I got where I am now. I'm looking forward to posting notes from my journey.