Friday, March 09, 2007

Impressions from China - Mandarin

Had my first Chinese lesson today. (note: last time I had a Chinese lesson was in 198_!) I admit was a bit nervous waiting for the teacher to come. Maybe it was my subconscious dragging up the horrible time I had trying to "scrape through" my Chinese exams in JC...I barely made it by the skin of my grade worse & I wouldn't have made it into University/Med school. I never learned to love the language in school, thanks (or no thanks) to the teachers I had. It was just a matter of trying to make the grade in order to progress up the academic ladder.

So today, I didn't know what to expect. The teacher is a very pleasant lady, used to teaching "wai guo ren" (foreigners). She first assessed what level of Mandarin I'm at. I am glad to say that as far as sentence structure & "grammar" are concerned (I put grammar in parentheses because there really isn't grammar in the true sense of the word in Mandarin; more like knowing how the verbs & the nouns & the adjectives & adverbs etc are used in a sentence, & in what sequence), she thinks that I am OK. My main problem area is vocabulary (or the lack thereof). And I totally agree with her. That's why I can't understand responses when waiters & salespeople answer my questions & also why I literally am lost for words while in the middle of giving instructions to the driver or the ayi.

The rest of the lesson was spent with her trying to encourage me to dig up whatever Chinese vocab I had by my describing (in Mandarin) pictures she showed me, translating English text into Chinese (with her help of course!) & with her asking me questions about Singapore to which I had to reply in Mandarin (very much like how it would be in a real life situation speaking to a local). Along the way, she would prompt me, & write down words which I didn't know into a note book, so as to help me build up my vocabulary.

The rest of my lessons are going to comprise of similar situational "conversations" with my teacher. Eg. at the market, or shopping for furniture, or instruction the ayi etc. Things which will be helpful in everyday life.

My kids (who both have very rudimentary knowledge of Mandarin) also had their first lesson today. I didn't sit in on their lesson, as I wanted to teacher to have free rein in assessing their standard. But I could hear them actually making the attempt at speaking to her in Mandarin (albeit with a very American accent!), learning the names of fruits (there happened to be a bowl of fruit on the table), figuring out how to verbalise different amounts of money (using real currency). They were laughing along with the teacher possibly over mistakes they made...whatever it was, they were laughing! They had NEVER associated Chinese lessons with anything remotely humorous before in Singapore...NEVER!!!

What a difference the teaching methods make. If only they could have taught us this way in the Singapore schools...maybe we would have developed a love & interest for the language.

P.S. My teacher used the word "han yu" (汉语) to describe Mandarin, not "hua yu" (华语) which is what is used in Singapore.

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