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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Learning Chinese

After a while looking a job I decided to spend the majority of what money I had on learning Chinese.  This was for two reasons.  If I could not find a new job then I would be able to hopefully change my ARC to a student visa, I didn't know if this was possible or not inside the country but it was worth the risk.  The other reason, was the main reason.  It was I really wanted to learn Chinese a lot to be able to speak to people and not rely on others to get by in my daily life.


Me and Jen looked at a lot of courses and the schools that provided them.  We decided to go for the Cultural University at Technology Building MRT.  A lot of people recommended it to be really good and practical.  It was also one of the cheapest which I needed seeing as I was spending most of my money on it and didn't have a job currently.  So I called to esquire about the course and it was fully booked, I was really disappointed about this.  I didn't know however that Jen put my name down on waiting list in case anyone dropped out.


Then the next day I got a call from Jen telling me that there was a place and I had to go there with the readies right away and pay to secure my place.  This I done straight away it took a bit of time to find the school but that was because of my map reading ability than anything else.


So that was it.  I had paid and I was due to start the course the next day.  I was really excited about and Jen was really happy too.  I got there nice and early so I could find the room I was supposed to be in.  I was having difficulty as the rooms were signed well.  I asked some guy if that was the room in front of us.  He told me yeah it is.  He seemed nice and friendly, we stood and chatted for a bit.  (I didn't know at that point that we would have a lot of things in common and become good friends.)  


The first day on the course seemed like it was going to be fun.  We started by trying to learn bo po mo fo in only a couple of days which was never going to be enough really.  The teacher seemed to be trying to make it fun for us at the beginning maybe this was just until the class got to know each other more.  


Which brings me onto the class.  There was such a different mix of people and nationalities in the class.  There was an Aussie, Swede, 2 American ABC's, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Mexican and my good self.  The only people from the same country were the 2 Americans.


Chinese Class with our Teacher
It seemed everyone in the class had a big personality.  I thought it would be interesting to see how all the different cultural backgrounds would mix together in the class, and how everyone would adapt with each other in the class.


So at the beginning it was really fun and everyone seemed nice and interesting.  Once we got through the first couple of days of bo, po, mo, fo we then started trying to learn the characters.  This is where the problems began to begin for me.  I had such a nightmare trying to learn them.  I would sit up for hours trying to write them (over and over again like I had been told to) but I still did not manage to remember them no matter how much I wrote them.  This was frustrating because other people could manage them, and then they looked at me like I was holding them back.  No one else in the class worked though and some even didn't have bills to pay I don't think, but I am not 100 per cent certain about that.


Trying to write Chinese!
Some other people in the class especially the Italian woman would say all you have to do is write Chinese more and you will learn it.  Writing Chinese characters is so boring and time consuming, totally tedious work.  I would try all night then go to university and barely remember them.  Then the Italian woman would start with all her patter and bullshit about me having to study harder and all that.  I stayed calm for ages and didn't get angry with her then eventually I just shouted at her "I am trying to fucking shut up!!!"  Then she never bothered me anymore.



Writing Practice
Another major talking point about my Chinese class was when my teacher started crying in the class.  I wasn't there to see it but the Italian woman called me when I was out for my birthday gift from Jen.  She told me that Hong Lao Shi (teacher Hong, in Chinese) ran off crying.  She was insinuating that it was my fault.  She was saying that I ask too many questions and she could not answer them.  She also said I ask my questions too directly.  She started blabbering on to me that I am not such a good student, I need to try harder, and I shouldn't ask so many questions.  


Well I'm afraid if your going to be a teacher you should expect your students to ask questions and want to understand, otherwise it's blindly following everything you have been told and accepting it, where as I would rather understand it.


I understood it was an intensive course and you were expected to do a lot at home.  I decided compared to the others I only had limited time so wanted to concentrate on my weakest areas which I thought to be writing and reading.  If you couldn't read or write in the class you were looked at like you were an idiot and made to look completely stupid by the teacher.


Halfway through the course the teacher even asked why I wanted to learn Chinese.  Which I thought was a stupid question and the answer was fairly obvious considering where I am now living.  The reason I was there was clearly because I want to know Chinese.  Why else would I pay and go to the class?  The teacher also said that our writing ability was not what she expected.  I told her it is a beginners class.  I took the remarks about the writing quite personally seeing as I was pretty much the worst at it.


I also felt like we were being treat like children.  For example the teacher would write our name on the white board if we were late and would make a big song and dance about it.  Then say we had extra homework for being late.  If I was struggling managing my time doing regular amount of work and homework there was no way I had time to do extra.  Another thing is were all adults so if we are late we are losing out for ourself.  It is only effecting me in the long run not the rest of the class.  


As well as all this the teacher always mentioned her French student to.  She went on and on about how good he was so much that it sounded like she wanted him to bum her.  (Although she would bum him seeing as he is French.)  


I wouldn't mind so much if it was someone linked to my situation, but my situation couldn't be compared to some bloody French guy who only came here to study Chinese and nothing else.  It is not an inspirational story.  French guy goes abroad, spends all day learning Chinese, nothing else, wow funnily enough he is good!  Shock bloody horror!


Fuck France!
If I was shown someone who had a full time job, kids, marriage, and a house to look after I would have been more inspired. 


Most of the time I was only late anyway because I was staying up all night to do the homework and practice the writing.


There were other moments too when you could clearly see the class did not like other members.  One occasion was when the Italian woman started to tell everyone if they were not happy at the class tomorrow they should not come back the next day.


What exactly gave her the right to say this, she was not in charge of the class and it brought a quality comment from Anders.  He grumbled angrily "DO I HAVE TO SING KUM BYE AH BEFORE I AM ACCEPTED INTO THE CLASS OR SOMETHING?"  This made me laugh loads, I laughed about it all the way to work.  I just had a picture of him rocking up to the class bible in hand singing kum bye ah and saying happily, "is that happy enough fuckers?"


Another time she went crazy with the big American guy in class.  The class clearly bored him and he couldn't be arsed anyway he turns up late again for class and the Italian woman starts going mental with him, telling him he is affecting her learning!  Telling him he could be great and getting all rowdy with him, he starts  telling her to fuck off and to stop touching him and what have you.  The teacher just stood there and let them argue.  The fact she just let them argue didn't help the class dynamics, in the end the Spanish girl ended up stepping in and calming down the situation.


I then became very sick towards the end of the course, I think this was due to staying up late every night and the stress and pressure of being made to look and feel completely stupid and useless in class.  Was making me try harder and longer every night, but made me sleep in, get extra homework and the vicious cycle was continued.  In the end I thought the extra homework can go where the sun doesn't shine!


Ill in bed, trying to recover!
This made me fall really far behind and made me feel more stupid.  Which made me stop wanting to go to the class anymore.  Plus the atmosphere in the class by this point between the people in the class was a heap of shit, the only thing that kept me going back was the encouragement Jen kept giving me and I didn't want to let my parents down.


The daily routine of the class was so boring too.  There are a lot more teaching methods that could of been used instead of the ones we were using.


We would have a test every day which I thought was pointless, why test students everyday it is pointless because the same students will always come out on top, and the students who need more help will be obvious.  Sometimes there can be an anomaly but at the end of the day some people are more suited to everyday traditional tests and teaching methods than others, and you should try and mix them up instead of sticking to the same routine. 


I always wonder why more practical methods were not being used.  We are in an environment to use natural learning methods and the daily routine in the class was the same every single day.


First we would go through yesterdays words, then next we would do some writing practice, and answer some questions from the teacher (we would never have to ask the question!)  Then we would take a test, then we would go todays test answers (another pointless time wasting exercise because it would of been much more beneficial to go through yesterdays test answers, on the test paper that the teacher just gave us back) whats the point in going through the test you just done when you can't fix the mistakes because you have just gave it to the teacher.  Then we would read read the new words for today and read the conversations from the book and that would be it.


Fun day learning, should of been more things like this.
Why not teach practical stuff that will be needed in daily life situations like directions, how to take the bus, does this bus go to destination x or y, how to call people, how to make a reservation for a restaurant, how to tell the doctor what hurts, order food etc etc.  We could of role played this together in class, which would of helped us practice conversation and not just writing and reading, and we could of also went out of class to do this.  We could of recorded it, we could of wrote down what happened in Chinese there are loads of ideas that could of been done.


I had to ask a lot of the time for words I needed in my daily life, like MRT (how practical is it to know that here in Taipei) and work.  Don't even get me started on the use of duo! (can mean both, not both, or some both!!!) I still don't understand how to use duo to this day, and even now when I try to use it I always get it completely wrong.


When we had a test coming up I was still ill.  I went in totally ill to try and do the test but I couldn't think and didn't prepare at all due to spending all my time in bed trying to recover.  I failed with a shitty score of 48!


After that I just felt totally frustrated with it and the course totally killed my enthusiasm for trying to learn Chinese.  Jen told me a lot of the schools have the same shitty method of teaching too.  It's not a practical way of learning at all, and it is a way that education is moving from in the UK because they know there are better ways, and they also know that way does not suit everyone.


Now I have just been starting to try and re gain my enthusiasm again but, I need to save more money to try classes.  If I end up with the same shitty routine of;
answer questions (never ask them) read words we learned yesterday, have a test, go through the answers, read the new words, read the conversation, then go home.  I will go mental!  This same shitty routine will be ingrained into my head until the day I die.


Anders had the right idea when he just stopped going sooner than I did.  So all in all I learned some things but, I feel it was a missed opportunity to learn so much more.  To blindly follow 1 book that is clearly outdated is such a bad idea.  It is not 'one size fits all' you have to realise that this attitude does not work.  It works for Taiwanese people but westerners all come in different shapes, and sizes, and from different culture and educational backgrounds.


Why don't they do what they do in England and pick the best parts from different books and teach it instead of regurgitate from 1 book and stick to it rigidly?   If they took the approach of using different books, picking what is most relevant to students right now in society here and make a course relevant to that I firmly believe people would get more from learning Chinese here.


I'll tell you why it is easier for them to just follow one book, it is because they will still earn the same money that they are now even if it only clearly suits a tiny percentage of the class which was clearly visible in the classes.


At the end of the day my teacher tried her best and deep down she was really nice, and I hope this does not offend her, or anyone else who went to the class we all have our own struggles in life, and our own struggles here and learning Chinese.  Deep down I can tell she intended well, but maybe she has not had so much experience with this kind of class.  In the end I think she tried her best, but needs to gain more experience because I know myself class room management is not an easy thing to learn, and neither is time keeping in class.


She also needs to calm her emotions down too, and stop trying to become friends with the class and realise she is only there to teach us.  It is not important for the teacher to be my friend I only want to learn from them, and at the end if we become friends then that is fine, but I would rather have respect for my teacher because there good at there job, other than liking them because there nice.  In fact most teachers who I have thought of as cunts, I have often had the most respect for!  She also needs to stop clearly having favourites in her class, or stop making it quite obvious she has favourites.


I hope my next experience of trying to learn Chinese in a classroom setting will be a much more positive experience but I am not holding out much hope, as people in education here seem quite close minded.


Chinese class (I didn't go much after this picture) Disclaimer underneath please read!!!!!
(This is a disclaimer)


These are only my feelings, thoughts and opinions about the university, the teacher, and the classmates.  Deep down I do know all the people are genuinely nice people, and my intention is not to complain, piss people off, make them angry or upset.  The reason for this blog is to let my family and friends know about my struggle learning Chinese.  So if you get offended, angry or upset tough shit!  Stop being soft and don't let such small things effect you.  Toughen up!  


Keep on keeping on people!