Taking the Plunge

Posted: February 2, 2015 in DigiLit, On Life
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Metaphorically speaking, of course. I can’t swim, so taking a plunge would be a bad idea. Today, I cracked open “New Standard Chinese, Elementary Level, Book 1” with little to no background information, annnnnd…

it was a disaster.

mike behnken

Photo CC-by Mike Behnken, a neon-flavored Shanghai for your day

Okay, so maybe disaster is a bit much. I definitely had a humbling with my beginning lesson, in the sense that I expected to be able to crack the book and hit the ground running. I hit the ground and subsequently face-planted.

After being dusted off by my teacher, the internet proved helpful on both the front of the educator and the learner. With the help of one Fiona Tan on YouTube and some basic ground coverage on beginning Chinese tonal inflections in words (as well as how to read them) we were off to the races.

The rest of Lesson 1 consisted of practice with a whiteboard in actually drawing Chinese characters – because that’s what it is to me. It’s not writing. It’s drawing. To me, they’re images. They’re symbols that stand for something else, but then again, isn’t that all language?

Fun fact: Chinese is an ultra-tonal language. The same letter can mean 4 different things given the proper inflection. There’s an entire poem consisting of the phrase “shi” (pronounced shuh) floating around on YouTube. Needless to say, tone is everything, and I’m pretty bad at not making every word I say in English come out like I’m a sarcastic asshole.

Wonder why.

liz west

Photo CC-by Liz West. Get it? 

Once my lovely educator got through my thick skull, I felt as though I was picking up basics pretty quickly. I’m not going to put the cart in front of the horse or anything, but the endeavor doesn’t seem quite as hopeless as it did an hour prior. I already have homework, even! Yeesh. I can already tell though that between the two of us, I’m more cut out to be a learner than a teacher. I feel encouraged by my teacher, and can tell she’s passionate about the topic. She squeals when I get things right and has the utmost patience while I struggle. I wish I could say I was as easy to deal with.

I briefly considered having my independent learning project be “be a better teacher,” but I was unsure how I would really structure that. I don’t have any consistent avenue to teach in, except to torture my own poor teacher with writing / music lessons. I know I’m passionate about the educational system and how people turn out because of it, so maybe I’m passionate enough to teach, but I just have no clue. This’ll be a good opportunity for me to learn how to stay humble and stay patient with myself, as well as with my teacher. I’m the kind of person who likes to just be good at something without the crippling self-doubt and failure in the middle. Despite my advocacy for failure as a learning tool, I am, indeed, still afraid of it, because that’s how society hard wires us.

Regardless, I’m excited to see where this heads. Considering that my teacher lived for a year in China, and is (for some reason) inclined not to bash my brains in when frustrated, I think the only weak link in this whole mess will be me.

Here’s to hopin’ we can fix that.


(Addendum: also, here’s a picture of said teacher’s Chinese book from China, complete with her doodles. She’s gonna be super mad that I put this in here.)

chinese book

  1. tristyfishy says:

    Die in a chemical fire.

  2. tristyfishy says:

    I love you, by the way.

  3. yentledyas says:

    Your post made me giggle several times. I understand the “face plant” as I had that same problem. I thought I would be able to get this easier than I am. It took forever to get started, but with the patience that you’re gaining, you can do this! I think that this experience will help you (and me) be better teachers, as we are gaining a better understanding of learners.

    • jamcfarland says:

      This is so much different from anything I’ve had to learn up to date, so the experience isn’t quite the same as showing up to say, a Biology class, and just being able to wing it. Definitely a multi-faceted learning experience.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your post. I like that you are challenging yourself to be a a better teacher. I hope to better myself with teaching as it comes. You seem to be on the right track. You can do whatever you set your mind to. Good luck with everything!

    • jamcfarland says:

      Fingers crossed! I’ve thought about toying around with substitute teaching before and things like that, so this will be a good opportunity for me to learn from both the perspective of the teacher as well as the learner.

  5. You have definitely chosen a difficult topic. But if you are willing to learn and she is willing to teach, you can definitely do it! I liked your fun fact…Did not know that! That would terrify me.

    • jamcfarland says:

      Yeah, it’s quite the interesting experience. Mispronouncing an inflection in a word makes it a totally different one.. makes for some hilarious failures on my part.

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