You know how simple it is to draw a box? You don’t even think about it. You just kinda do it, and it’s on the page. It’s the same way with the English language. By now, it’s so common to you, letters just kind of spew out. If you had to describe to someone how you make the characters, you’d have to slow down, and you’d probably draw it wrong at least once. Isn’t that strange?

When tackling a lot of other languages, like German, French, Spanish, etc., they’re greatly Latin based, and use the same if not a mostly similar alphabet to ours.

Chinese does not give a fuuuuuuck about your predispositions to drawing characters.

fuuuuck God whyyyyyyyyy

For my homework this week, I had to copy down a set of Chinese characters five times each, and practice their pronunciations with each copy. I learned two things here:

1) Stroke order matters. Not ultimately, no, but if you don’t want to look like a child or a bumbling foreigner, it’s best to get the right order of mystery lines.

2) Keeping a monotone syllable in a word is hard. Seriously, try to say something with no inflections. You practically sing it. Shit is difficult.

If you can make anything out from this image, right around the 4th to 5th character in each line, they start looking a little better. Kind of. Stillllll pretty sketchy.

I already found myself asking about grammatical order of words and how to ask certain questions, though. My teacher was pleased with my curiosity, but I also jumped myself ahead several steps and had to slow her down when she got excited about grammar in Mandarin. Though, I have noticed similarities to the grammatical set up of Chinese with other languages. In French, when describing words, the adjective comes after the subject. The blue car isn’t the blue car, it’s car blue. Chinese is somewhat similar. alex bellink

Photo CC-by Alex Bellink, pertinent ’cause frustration, and also I need to fold my laundry

I learned something about myself as a learner. I, rather than be corrected and shown the correct way to do something, would rather have it explained to me, attempt to emulate it, and then be shown when I fail miserably. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Even to me, that seems kind of silly. Wouldn’t it just be easier to be shown the first time how to do it properly, then repeat?

I also discovered (spoilers: already knew) that I bitch and moan the entire way through a painful process. I’ll see it out to the end every time, I’m not a quitter, but jeezus will I kick and scream the entire way. I’m like the troubled student from a TV show with a heart of gold: angry, scary, stand-offish exterior, but you’re getting through to him somehow.

For now, I’m just doing the necessary woodshed work. Repetition is key. I can try my hand at sentence structure and grammar all I want, but if I can’t write the words, that doesn’t mean a damn thing!


  1. tristyfishy says:

    I enjoy every second of this. I swear. Thank you, Dr. Ellington! 😀

  2. I admire your dogged determination. I want to refine my Spanish. I took two years in college, and even bought a Rosetta stone, but I have little motivation right now. I know it would be good for me to have the ability and knowledge…but what’s “good for me” in learning Spanish is about as strong as knowing I need to lose weight. So…I’m thinking the Rosetta Stone will wait until at least post-semester!

    • jamcfarland says:

      My only bit of advice to you on that, is that you’ve just gotta go for it. Trust me. If you try to wait for the optimal conditions or until you have time, you’ll never go for it. I know because I (and almost every other human being on Earth) am the exact same way. I wish you all the luck in the world!

  3. morgank16 says:

    Props to you for not giving up. Learning a new language is always hard, let alone one that uses symbols rather than letters. Even though you said it sounds silly, it is awesome that you are learning what you are about yourself as a learner because it is important to understand yourself. Keep on keeping on. 🙂 Seems like you’re doing great!

    • jamcfarland says:

      Thanks for your kind words! I’m kind of sheepish about doing my homework at home when teach is around, since part of it entails reading words aloud as I write them. I’m having a hard time getting a hang of certain inflections, but I’m sure I’ll get there.

  4. I have to give you props for learning a new language especially Chinese! I had to learn to write a couple words in Chinese for a class I took when I first started college and I gave up quickly. I found myself just as frustrated like you were. But you have the drive to continue to do it and not give up like I did!

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