Posts Tagged ‘mandarin’

Well, it’s that time of year again. I want to pull my hair out and mash my face into a wall until it resembles little more than poorly-prepared hamburger.

Yes, folks, it’s the week before finals week, or what we here at CSC have dubbed HELLWEEK.

Andreas Levers Photo CC-by Andreas Levers, cue AC/DC track here

Blood from a Stone

I’ve learned a lot of things about myself during the duration of my independent learning project this year: namely, I’m shitty at self-motivation. Terrible. Awful. Etcetera, etcetera. I had an open field to walk through, my own path to choose, I could choose literally anything that I wanted, and I still couldn’t motivate my damn self to get the job done. I’m not proud of myself, especially with Ms. Fish absolutely schooling every challenge I’ve thrown her way and making leaps and bounds in her own project.

Why was this so difficult for me? I suppose I could have chosen “wrong.” I can only wonder how it would have went differently depending on what else I had chosen. Some have hypothesized that the reasoning for my terrible time-management and procrastination issues has been that, at the end of the day, regardless of the freedom been given to me, the independent project was still a project. Still an assignment. Desperately as I’ve tried to stave off “senioritis” and continue waking up each day with gusto and a “go-get-’em” attitude, I haven’t. I have what I deem the “fuckits” really bad. Every assignment coming my way right now isn’t, to me, a learning opportunity. It’s a hoop to jump through. I’ve done this continuously for nearly 16 years. I know the in’s and out’s, and I’m fed up. Suggestions for grad schools are pouring in like water from every angle, and my answer (at least for the time being) is a resounding go to hell.

Peter P Photo CC by Peter P


You’d think that with the aforementioned “senioritis” I’d be excited for the next chapter in my life. I’m not. I’m as bitter and cynical as ever. I’m about to graduate after 4 years of hard work, get a piece of paper legitimizing said hard work, and… what? Then what? I work the same minimum wage job I would have without that piece of paper? I have some fancy titles to put on a resume for an entry-level position in a job where I’ll be expected to eat shit consistently for years until I progress into something even remotely worth my time and effort? I pay back the federal government for helping me pay for an education that largely consisted of re-hashed high school courses? Some people get nervous pre-graduation. I’ve become lethargic. Dangerously so. My band isn’t playing, stories aren’t selling, and I’m in a pretty bad state of mind if you couldn’t tell from the bulk of this post.

The best, and worst parts of my independent learning project have come from my lovely teacher, Ms. Fish. I say best because I get to see the exuberance and passion she feels for the subject. I get to hear tails of shenanigans in China, dreams of going back, and the interesting change in perspective another culture provides. I say worst, because I have by no means made it worth her time. I haven’t dedicated the energy, shared the passion, or made the improvements I should have with such a capable teacher. She wouldn’t ever say so, she probably wouldn’t even think so, but I’ve let her down. Here I sit with a broken understanding of a language, due 100% to my own shortcomings. For these things, I’m sorry.

The longer I wallow in this pool of doubt and cynicism, the more I realize that these are things under my control. I can choose how to react to poor book sales and gigs un-booked. I can choose how to respond to impeding deadlines and being a first-gen graduate in my family. I’ve chosen poorly.

How do I make up for these things? How do I pull myself up out of this? This isn’t how I usually am. That much I know is certain. I suppose this is the proper time for an abstract image with some inspirational text on top.


Much better.



As a general rule of them, I don’t hop onto Facebook app bandwagons, or many Internet ones for that matter. As much as I hate to admit it, I think I’m a hipster at heart. I will not accept your CandyCrush or Clash of Clans invite, I’m not gonna play online poker with you, and I’m sure as hell not going to make BitStrips of myself doing my Independent Learning Project.



1. The master and the student at work.
2. Tones aren’t Jeff’s strong suit.
3. Jeff studies.
4. and isn’t ready to graduate. 

Okay, so I’ve been wrong before. As part of this week’s Digital Literacy class, we were asked to take a look at several possible online tools for visual art making (comic strips, infographs, etc.) and after some digging, I found the most user-friendly and one of the most customizable to be *heavy sigh* BitStrips. I’m sure you’ve seen them on people’s Facebook walls. Usually I’m pretty annoyed with them. The art style is a bit too cartoony for my taste, and often they’re just nonsensical statuses about lunch or what was on American Horror Story last night with little point.

Though, as I’ve said before, technology = tool, tool = up to the user, and after a few classmates made blog posts illustrating their Independent Learning journeys via BitStrips, I thought I would give it a whirl. Ashamedly I admit, I actually had some fun tinkering with this tool. The settings / props / facial expressions are all customizable, limbs are movable, it’s actually really intuitive. What I suspected would be just a selection of pre-constructed images actually has a lot of different options. Characters have actually a lot of options as far as customization goes, with the exception of outfits (I don’t think I even own a blue shirt).

So now the question is, does this have applications outside of mindless meandering / time killing online?

Creative Control

The answer is, yes! Students are going to dick around on FB and the like. This is a proven fact of life in 2015. The fact is that comic generators, infograph makers, etc. flex students’ creative muscles while requiring them to think somewhat situationally. Someone making an infograph needs to have research and statistics done to put anything down in a coherent manner. Comics require (albeit very little) semblance of plot as well as dialogue; essentially, storytelling skills. Tools like this could be used as a fun alternative for traditional research projects or narrative exercises.

On top of the creative building going on, tools like this also teach general tech skills. Unsure how to use a tool properly? A Google or YouTube search can easily yield tutorials. These tools require a general knowledge of how to use either smartphone or computer technology, something that not entirely everyone has. If students can bolster creative thinking on top of learning how to use technology that will be most likely required in higher education as well as a workplace, I count that as a win-win.


I’m not talking about sex. Let’s throw that pun away out of the gate.

I’m talking about applying new knowledge to the real world. Rick Drumm, former CEO of D’addario Inc. (major music industry company) told me once that he had been the president of a company before ever pursuing higher education, and his real-world experience allowed him to better filter and apply the things he was learning. Along the same vein, the “use it or lose it” principal is very real with certain skills, like, new languages for instance.

And boy, am I losing it.

Len Matthews Photo CC-by Len Matthews. Relevant? Not really, no.

So, I’m lulling hardcore in my independent learning project. My book-studies are in a state of stasis that would embarrass any self-proclaimed scholar. Homework is nowhere to be seen. I mutter vocab words under my breath while I walk or drive, Ms. Fish (my esteemed teacher and better half) quizzes me on them periodically, but god knows I’m so far from any practical use or knowledge I couldn’t find it with the freakin’ Hubble telescope.

But. There are several moments, almost daily, where I get to witness something that might be more valuable than Nose-to-the-grindstone book learnin’. I have a teacher who, though she has lost some of it considering that this isn’t a predominantly Mandarin-speaking country, speaks conversational Mandarin on a daily basis.

We’ll go out to get food somewhere, (Chinese buffet, duh), and I find both her and myself listening, scoping out to see if the staff are actually speaking Mandarin or if it’s some other language – and I can recognize Mandarin. In tourist traps like Albuquerque or Mt. Rushmore, I can actively pick out when Chinese is being spoken. That’s definitely a new skill for me.

When the excited banter begins between my teacher and the waiter / waitress, I can pick out certain words or phrases. Only a few, and just barely, but I can pick them out. When said teacher has conversations with international students (or answers the phone in Mandarin because it’s hilarious), I can usually recognize commonly used conversational phrases.

It’s not a whole hell of a lot – but it is something!

Steven S Photo CC-by Steven S. entitled, “a caricature of things I”m not doing right now”

Seeing as how this is a class focused almost entirely on new / different ways to learn, we’re going to try a different approach. I’m going to start watching movies / listening to music in Chinese. Strange approach to some – but I’ve picked up a few phrases from a film we’ve already watched, entitled “Painted Skin” in English. I throw (poor) little quips in Mandarin at my teacher on occasion. Progress is slow. Like molasses in the middle of winter slow.

Buuuut, some would argue progress is progress. Right?


No excuses, no bullshit, no way out:

I’ve been slacking in my Independent Learning Project.

Joe Athialy Photo CC-by Joe Athialy, and how I feel right now

Why is that? I feel like a fool for admitting this at all. Why is it so difficult for me to commit time to something I wanted to do? I’ve not just been slacking in my ILP, but even in my own writing. I don’t think I have senioritis, it’s way too early for that.

I think I need to ask one T.Hust to be more stern with me about my assignments / due dates or something. I can make excuses all day, but I just haven’t put the effort in that others have been. That’s not fair to her, and that’s not fair to everybody else. I chose this – so I should be stoked and rearin’ to go every day, right?

The fact is, when I get through with my classes, my (immediate) homework for those classes, practicing for my guitar lessons, straightening up the house, and just general random responsibilities, the first thing I think isn’t “I wanna do my Chinese homework!” It’s usually something more along the lines of “Hey, darlin’, let’s sit and play video games for 3 hours.” Or “hey everybody, let’s stay up until 2 playing D&D and have tomorrow morning really suck!”

It just isn’t super high on what my brain has dictated is my list of priorities. I vastly enjoy sitting and doing nothing (see: vidjea games and reading). It’s how I cool down. I’m up and about a great majority of the time, and when the dust settles, I also intend to settle.

Did I just not choose the right project? Am I the only one feeling this way? Have others in the class before me had the same experiences? Maybe I do have senioritis. Mid-term is here. What follows is the last 8 weeks of my college / schooling career in the foreseeable future. Maybe there are things pressing heavier on my mind than the terrible way I pronounce tones 2 and 4 when trying to read pinyin.

The thing is, I’m not trying to complain, I’m not looking for pity, and I’m not completely trying to justify my absence of results. I’m mostly speculating. Why is this so difficult for me?

To my teacher (one T.Hust): I apologize. I’ve been a terrible student, and you have shown infinitely more prowess as a disciple than I could hope to at this moment.

To myself: quit your bitching and get in gear. Limping to the finish line guarantees weak-ass results.


By reading this short sentence, you are recognizing a series of pictures, attaching meaning to each of them, and then combining them to mean something totally different than what they mean individually.

Crazy, huh?

Alja Photo CC-by Alja, and also RELEVANT

This week, Ms. Fish and I decided to take a lighter version of a lesson considering that the week was jam-packed with responsibilities, including unplanned ones like a work shift to be covered and a trip up a mountain and subsequently back down again on two pieces of wood (skiing, we went skiing, okay?! and jeez, guys, I’m so bad at it. I hurt.)

With a fogged-over car window as an improvised whiteboard, we’re off!

I’m beginning to be able to recognize and say certain characters. With that, I’m also discovering that certain characters can have multiple meanings. The word for “both,” dou, is also the word for “all.” Simultaneously. Not contextually, nor tonally, but simultaneously. Both, and all. This is a concept that’s kinda funky for me to wrap my brain around. Apparently, as the teach tells me, the idea that we have two different words for these would be strange to Chinese students.

I’m not fantastic, but I am at a point where I can recognize some super-basic sentences. I can also recognize Tristen’s name in Chinese, but only because she writes nice things about me with it. I presume. I guess she could theoretically be writing naughty things, but I’ll choose the optimistic outlook. 😛

Stefan Photo CC-by Stefan, a language long ago in a galaxy far, far away

Same Page, Different Book

In a similar vein to the “both / all” fiasco, there are also different ways to say something with the same meaning. I’m not talking about synonyms, I mean contextually. The word for “very” in Chinese is dependent on if an adverb or an adjective is being described by said “very”.

Wait, it gets better. The Chinese have only (relatively) recently incorporated a question mark at the end of sentences to signify a question. Traditionally, there’s a word specifically to denotate that a question has been asked.. and it goes at the end of a sentence. Roughly, if I were to translate asking how someone was in Chinese, the English would be something along the lines of “You good question.” What. The hell.

The foreshadowing of the lessons to come sparks a fire in my curious brain and brutally strangles the part of my brain that expects everything to fit in my little, comfort-zone based box. Hm? What’s that? Oh.. wait, are you serious?

I am now being told that there are different words for things depending on pluralities, as well as differences in words written vs. words spoken orally, such as for the form of currency. The word “tiao” is apparently a measurement form for things like pairs of pants… or fish. “Long-ish things,” the teach tells me is how she remembers it. That’s planned for the future.

My head hurts.


Disclaimer: I’m aware it’s “tone deaf.” It’s a pun, okay? 

Confession time:

I’ve spent two weeks on the same 17 vocab words. When I’m looking at them, I get all scatterbrained. Do I learn pronunciation first? Translation? How to draw the characters? Where do I start? I’m trying to learn another language like I study for a test, and while that’s functional for learning what the words mean in English, it does me little good in pronunciation or application of them. And what about grammar, for that matter?


jonathan kos-read Photo CC-by Jonathan Kos-Read, also, I have no idea what this says

Focus is Key

My biggest problem with this learning project so far is that I’ve been trying to spread myself too thin, bouncing around between things I need to learn. I don’t remember learning English, it’s just something that comes naturally. My teacher has done some lessons in this language before, but it’s been while. I find myself asking more questions than I can answer at once – I’m already constructing basic sentences out of words I’ve picked up and my very (very very) loose grasp on the grammar, but I’m trying to do long division before I even know how to add.

That, and I’m busy, man. Seriously. I know this project is something we chose, I know it’s something I want to dedicate time to, but when my options are “do my Chinese homework” and “start this take-home test due Tuesday, then practice for my lesson on Thursday so it’s not a total shitshow” my priorities re-arrange themselves a bit.

I guess that’s something else I’m learning besides Chinese: how to juggle responsibilities. I’m a bit jealous, really – I give my student a writing prompt and the first draft is finished that same day. I highlight it, give my criticisms, and the edited “final” version is done that same day. And I’ve yet to memorize my first 17 vocab words. Damn.

Theen Moy Photo CC-by Theen Moy, and I can’t read this either.

At the end of the day, I don’t have excuses. I need to carve out time for this. When I sit down to do it, I’m always fascinated. I’m never bored. There’s an immense hurdle for me to jump, and I don’t back from a challenge. The trouble is, there are too many directions for me to go. Because I’m an egotist and a bit of an attention whore, it does my heart good to see my pupil excited about writing and eager to continue learning new things.

I wonder if she’ll let me borrow some of her enthusiasm. This is my last semester for my Bachelor’s Degree, and it’s beginning to feel like it.


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!