Sunday, 28 September 2014

Today I saw a big pig sleeping at the side of the road

Moving on...

Whenever I thought of Chinese students I always pictured them working their arses off.

And usually not by their own doing.

I always imagined their teachers (or masters) to be super strict, standing at the front of the class with a bamboo cane, punishing below average students by making them do the horse-stance over an incense stick for an hour; with cups of hot tea resting on their head, shoulders, knees and toes.

Or maybe it was all the martial arts films I had watched having a bigger influence on me than I thought.

As my Taiwanese girlfriend bluntly said, 'It's not like that... and what's a horse-stance?'

So now I find myself being a student in Taiwan and I can say from experience that my teacher doesn't have a bamboo cane (at least, I don't think she does...) and so far I've been obedient enough not to have an incense stick blowing smoke up where the sun doesn't shine. But having said that, I can honestly say that the expectations the teachers have of their students are far greater than in the west.

For instance, I've just finished my fourth week at Uni. In total, my class have been given over 100 Chinese traditional characters to learn (that includes reading and writing them). We also have to learn the pinyin and the tones to go with the pinyin (whilst knowing which letters the tones go above).

I don't know, maybe it's just me being a weak westerner, but to my mind that's a lot of stuff to remember!

I got talking to a local the other day whilst waiting for the bin collection. As the sound of the bin truck got louder and louder (it sounds like an ice-cream man's rendition of a Beethoven's piece) the old man said something to me in Chinese, to which I replied (in Chinese) 'I'm sorry, I don't understand.'

He smiled and said, 'Oh, sorry, are you enjoying Taiwan?'

Now, this hardly ever happens! I was so shocked that I laughed.

'You speak really good English,' I said.

He smiled and said that he had studied in Edinburgh many years ago.

We got talking about this and that when I added that I was studying at Shida.

'Ah yes, a great university,' said my new friend. 'Chinese is hard to write, don't you think?'

Damn right! The fact that it was a local saying this comforted me somewhat because, let me tell you, Chinese characters are beautiful, yes, but incredibly intricate. And there's an order to the strokes too, something that you have to stick to because Taiwanese people know when you've done it the wrong way (or at least my girlfriend does...).

The other night it took me 2.5 hours to complete a set of questions on a single side of A4. And this wasn't just me... a few of my classmates said the same.

So let's get back to the workload:

- Daily class
- Up to 20 hours a month of additional study
- Homework
- Revision for 3 tests a week.

It's like having a full-time job that you take home with you.

Having grumbled all of that, I want to say that the eastern approach might be tough, but I think it could be having the desired affect.     

Yesterday, my girlfriend introduced me to a new cafe for us to study in. As we approached the cafe she pointed to the sign and asked me to read it. I felt daunted at the simple task until she said, 'You've gone through these words in class'. When I looked closer at the sign, I realised that I had indeed studied the characters, it's just that they were in a funky font. 

I felt a wave of pride come up through my chest as I read out loud 喝個咖啡吧!

And she, like a proud parent, nodded and smiled.

Bearing in mind that I was on the verge of carrying out a self-fulfilling prophecy, that I was indeed useless at languages, I have now been given a bit of faith, not only in myself but in the human race and our ability to learn.

If I can begin to read, write and speak Chinese in several weeks (very little, I might add, but little is still some) then this tells me that our ability to learn is virtually unlimited. All that's needed is an incentive to learn; that then provides the motivation and that then provides the results (mix in there time and patience and you're golden).

It could be boiled down to this: If you want to learn, you will.

If you want your mind to absorb new information, it will.

A tea drinking, bamboo wielding master isn't necessary.

Right, back to my studying... test tomorrow.


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