I had two simple but effective interactions this afternoon. When I popped over to the school to get some printing done around noon, I saw some of the maintenance workers outside of the school fixing the fountain, one of whom I still owed ¥10 for the ice cube tray he brought me last week. Since I didn't have exact change, I decided to break some money at the pharmacy (to where I was heading next). My change was ¥26.50, so I said to the cashier, "ni hao, wo yao liang ge shi kuai" (which I intended to mean, "Hello, I want two ten kuai (notes).") She didn't understand, so I pointed to the total and said (completely forgetting the word ling qian (change), "er shi liu," (26) then made a gesture as if I was handing her money, saying, "yige shi kuai he liang ge shi kuai" (intending, "One ten kuai (note) and two ten kuai (notes).") She smiled at my attempts and gave me two tens as requested. Success!
When I returned from the shop, I went to find the worker but he was no longer at the fountain. So, I asked the others, "zai nar yige da ren?" (which I meant to mean, "Where is the one big person?", as he is exceptionally tall). One of the workers called him on his phone and he arrived shortly, I gave him the money and thanked him, "xie xie ni." I knew that there was a lot grammatically and linguistically wrong with my question; for example, zai nar (where) should have been at the end of the question and da means big, not tall. Nonetheless, I was understood and was pleased with the interaction.
Although my Chinese is still so limited, simple interactions provide me with more motivation to continue with my learning. I'm looking forward to my classes this week.
Now that I've been back to work for over a week, I've realized how difficult it will be to still monitor my progress. Internally, I know that I'm working towards my proximal goals, but, I still want to maintain my blog regardless if the PME 800 course is over.
When I signed up for my Mandarin lessons, I set a goal to attend two lessons a week. Unfortunately, this week and next, I'll only be able to attend one lesson as I have had to schedule specialist appointments Thursday afternoons. So, I combatted this with providing myself more opportunities to use Chinese in my daily life. I helped organized a three day Professional Development workshop for the Middle/High school this week, and although I relied a lot on bilingual support staff to assist with arrangements, I had to speak with the concierge at the workshop leader's bin guan (hotel) and arrange shifu (drivers) to take him to kan changcheng (see the Great Wall) and back to the feijichang (airport). Time was the most recurring category of vocabulary that I used, so I'm happy that I went over that in my last lesson. Some examples include:
6:00 - liu dian (six o'clock)
6:05 - liu dian ling wu (literally, six o'clock five)
6:15 - liu dian shi wu/liu dian yike (literally, six o'clock 15/six o'clock quarter hour (I think!))
6:30 - liu dian san shi/liu dian ban (literally, six o'clock 30/six o'clock half)
I went out for Mexican last night and brunch this morning, both with Canadians who are ethnically Chinese but don't speak Mandarin (one is at about the same level as me, the other is a complete beginner). It was interesting that the wait staff spoke exclusively to them, but they were unable to respond. On the bus ride to brunch, a bus worker asked my friend what I understood to mean, "What stop are you getting off?" When I responded with, "SanJieFang," he continued to look at her, almost like he was waiting for her to translate. When she couldn't and I repeated, "SanJieFang," he repeated what I said for confirmation then moved away. We both found it funny, yet frustrating at the same time. Not many people are used to seeing people who are ethnically Chinese who can't speak the language and non-Chinese speaking it. It's fascinating to see their faces change when they realize what is taking place.
I attended my third Mandarin class jintian (today) since restarting last week. My lesson was entitled, Today, which built upon the last two classes of weather and dates. After my review of numbers yesterday, I was able to say the date (independently) and write it (while referring to notes). We moved quickly to some new vocabulary that I think will be useful at work - zhexie (these) and naxie (those). We practised using the words in context, then laoshi (teacher) Lui introduced words that contain parts of words I already knew, such as:
shuiwujiao (nap) = shuijiao (sleep) + wu (I recognized this from xiawu (afternoon))
dianying (movie) = dian (electric - I recognized this from dianti (elevator, or literally electric
step)) + ying (shadow)
xilanhua (broccoli) = xi (west) + lan + hua (flower - I recognized this from huacha (flower
My learning curve has increased so much over the past few weeks, that laoshi Lui has suggested that I take the HSK 1 test by September 19 rather than just a practice exam. I have only eight classes left before completing all the material for the level and will also have time to write a practice test beforehand. I've decided to still keep my goal of passing HSK Level 2 by December 14, and have amended or added proximal goals to make my learning process more defined.
In a natural context, I struck up a conversation with some ayis in the elevator. I mentioned, jintian feichang re (today it's very hot). The ladies responded with huge smiles and responded quickly trying to engage me in more dialogue. I have found that often, locals are excited when foreigners try to speak Mandarin, but have had little interaction with them in the past. Their speech can become too fast and too complicated to follow, and we end up resorting to gestures. This no longer leaves me frustrated; I find it an enjoyable part of the learning process. Next class, I will ask how to say, "Can you repeat that slowly, please?" to make native-Mandarin speakers know that I need more time.
As PME-800 is coming to a close, I decided to post my update 'Monitoring Process' table now so others can see my progress.
Liu. “Today.” Unit 5 - Lesson 2. 1-on-1 Part-Time Mandarin Course, 14 Aug. 2018,
Beijing, That's Mandarin.
This morning I reviewed my directions and numbers before using the Mandarin Cafe app. My notes from April were really helpful, and I decided to take photos of them in case I needed to refer to them in the afternoon when I picked up our professional development workshop leader from the airport (a day late!). When I originally learned shang, xia, zuo, you, qian, and hou (on, under, left, right, before, and after), we played Simon Says. They were difficult then, and reviewing them was once again a struggle. Left and right, zuo and you look similar when written in pinyin, but left has the uo sound and right ou. To keep them separate in my mind, I had to come up with mneumonics that probably only make sense to me. For instance, Zuo rhymes with Luo, one of my students. Luo and left both start with L, so zuo is left. You sounds a lot like English's "yo," so I imagine someone greeting someone, yo, yo, yo, while shaking their right hand.
Secondly, I reviewed my numbers, which I'm getting a lot faster at recalling. I watched Chinese Song for Kids: Kids Love Learning to Count 1-10 this Way!, a YouTube video so I can recall the numbers in a song format, a strategy that has been beneficial to me in the past while learning other languages. I also made sure that I was confident using Chinese hand signals for numbers, since 6-10 differ than what we are used to:
Image retrieved from: https://mr-sign.com/chinese-number-hand-signs/chinese-number-hand-signs-chinese-numbers/
I practiced reciting my phone number and my apartment number (ba ling san - ling means zero); eventually I'd like for them to roll off my tongue.
Both the Mandarin Cafe website and app continue to change, so I was unable to access all the material I had covered before the summer. Instead, I reviewed the dialogues from the last lesson and took one of their prepared tests. The sentence building sections I found difficult; I am more confident with free writes than properly sequencing someone else's sentence.
I tried to speak as much as possible with the driver who took me to the airport today. I asked his name, and found out how many people we were meant to pick up in addition to the workshop leader. I was so pleased that I reviewed my directions and numbers this morning, because they came in handy! I also didn't refer to the pictures I took once! I'm noticing that I'm now understanding the context of about 70% of my interactions, but a lot of meaning is still lost. My listening has become my strongest skill. I hope to use that in order to build up my speaking skills.
My directions "cheat sheets" (pictures)
“Chinese Number Hand Signs Chinese Numbers.” Mr. Sign, 2018, mr-sign.com/chinese-
“Chinese Song for Kids | Kids Love Learning to Count 1-10 This Way!” YouTube, Chinese
Buddy, 12 Oct. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejOXzbvsYK8.
Chu. “Public Transport; Asking for Directions.” Unit 3 - Lesson 3. Part-Time Group Class
Mandarin Course, 25 Apr. 2018, Beijing, That's Mandarin.
That’s Mandarin Co. Ltd. “Mandarin Café.” Learn Smarter Chinese, 1.63.0, That’s Mandarin
Co. Ltd., https://new.mandarincafe.com/app/#!/home.
Yesterday I had a completely unexpected interaction that left me feeling so positive about my progress. A week and a half ago, I wrote about some workers who came to do some work in my apartment and that I had a good opportunity to speak with them (on a limited basis). Using pictures and some help from Google translate, I asked about an egg tray for my refrigerator. Last year, there was one that came with the refrigerator so I assumed that I would have received one again. With more help from Google translate, I understood that I would have to buy one from a local shop.
So I was surprised when the same worker stopped me outside the residence, and showed me a picture he found on his phone. Without a translator, I understood that he had found an ice cube tray that cost 5RMB and could buy it for me. He showed me a lot of options and asked how many I wanted. (It seems that he confused the dan (egg) tray for a bing (ice) cube tray.) I asked for one, and he said that he could bring it to me, not tomorrow, but...and then I didn't understand. A colleague of mine who spoke a lot more Mandarin than I came and gave me the missing piece of the puzzle...xing qi yi (Monday). I just learned the days of the week in my class on Thursday, so was annoyed that I didn't catch that part of the conversation, but I was told that he was from outside of Beijing, so I may not have understood the accent. Although I wasn't able to say much back to the worker (aside from yige - one and bu mingtian ma? - not tomorrow) I understood the message during our exchange. Our conversation reaffirmed my desire to learn Mandarin, and realized how some of my most authentic interactions are going to occur in unexpected places and without my bank of vocabulary. My original plan was to carve out situations or experiences where I could use my Chinese, but am realizing now how much they are coming to me! Language really does open doors...
Yesterday I didn't anticipate having much time to review my Chinese, but I actually had a lot of opportunity to use it in context. After work in the morning, I took a ten minute bus ride an international yiyuan (hospital) down the street. Although all the services were in English, I was determined to practice a phrase that keeps escaping me: ninhou, wen yixia, xishoujian zai nar? (where is the bathroom, literally, hello, ask a little, bathroom where is it?). So, after finalizing the bill, I asked the receptionist this question. I got directions and found it easily. (Confession: I understood only because of her gestures, I didn't recognize any of her words. I realize that after numbers, my next major review will have to be my directions.)
From there, I met a friend for coffee. I feel comfortable in kafeidian (coffee shops) since it was incorporated into my lesson, At a Western-Style Restaurant, back in March. I placed my order, yige dabei meishi kafei jia niunai (one large Americano with milk, literally, one big cup American-style coffee add milk) but was disappointed when the cashier confirmed my order in English. Before leaving, I decided to practice asking for the bathroom again. I was easily understood, but like before, found my way by following gestures and signs.
In the evening, I went a microbrewery with a group of new staff from work. As the menu that we were given was in English and I had no way of knowing the Chinese names of the cai (dishes), I pointed to what I wanted and asked for yige (one).
I realized yesterday that setting my goal to improve my Mandarin has opened more doors than just a language and culture. I've opened myself up to more social opportunities and am receiving positive feedback from non-Chinese speakers about how much I can communicate already. It's nice to hear, because it was only 11 months ago that I only knew ni hao (hello) and xie xie (thank you). Even if I still do feel limited, when other people are impressed, I allow myself to stop for a moment and be impressed too.
Zuotian (yesterday) was tough. I was presented with many roadblocks and felt stalled each step of the way. I was five minutes late to my Mandarin class and thought that I wouldn't absorb much. In addition, the format to the platform, Mandarin Cafe, where I review all my notes was completely changed and the app is temporarily not working. I wasn't able to review as much as I wanted, felt unprepared, and was worried that I'd disappoint my teacher. To my surprise, it was one of my most productive classes since beginning lessons in March.
Today, I learned dates; in Mandarin, the date starts big and gets smaller. That is to say, when you say the day, you start with the year, followed by the month, date, and finish with the day of the week. I quickly connected this to how the Chinese share addresses; they start with country followed by city, neighbourhood, and finally street address. My title today, 今天是二零一八年八月十号星期五, is actually the date (literally, today is 2018 year, 8 month (August), 10 day, Friday). I recognized elements of the character, 天 (tian); it contains 大 (da; big) and was told that the addition of the line at the top meant 'sky', since the sky is so big. The same character, 天, can also mean sky. I knew this since it is the first part of one of my students' name: Tian Xiong. I was really excited to make the connection to my professional life, and something that seemed to be out-of-context.
My teacher, laoshi Liu, and I discussed birthdays and Chinese horoscopes. I was born in the year of the horse (马, ma), so I could tell others, wo shu ma (I belong to horse).
Before class ended, I wanted to share with laoshi Liu a sentence that I'd prepared from the vocabulary that I'd learned last week: zuótiān xià le fēicháng dà de yǔ (yesterday it rained a lot; literally yesterday it very big rained). What made the phase special for me was that it incorporated what I learned from the previous class, but also that it was true and an authentic use of the language.
I fully appreciated that yesterday I was able to practice the four language domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, but that I incorporated characters, not just pinyin, in my learning.
Liu. “Yesterday.” Unit 5 - Lesson 1. 1-on-1 Part-Time Mandarin Course, 9 Aug. 2018,
Beijing, That's Mandarin.
That’s Mandarin Co. Ltd. “Mandarin Café.” Learn Smarter Chinese, 1.63.0, That’s Mandarin
Co. Ltd., https://new.mandarincafe.com/app/#!/home.
Yesterday I was given the tasked with organizing the logistics of a professional development workshop for my school next week. It's quite an onerous task; airline tickets, hotel reservations and visa arrangements still need to be made (in addition to all the in-school logistics). I decided to focus my review today in regards to transportation since I'll be traveling to the airport on Sunday to meet our trainer.
Tomorrow, I'll arrange for a shifu (driver) to take me to the feijichang (airport) Sunday afternoon. A very simple request could be: "wo xiang xing qi er dian qu feijichang" (I would like to go to the airport Sunday at 2:00, literally 'I would like Sunday 2:00 to go airport'). It is possible to also take the ditie (subway), chuzuche (taxi), or didi (Didi is China's version of Uber), but it will be most convenient to take a che (car) from the xuexiao (school) so the facilitator feels more at ease - especially if it's his first time in zhongguo (China).
Words that I may need to give directions include:
bei (north) zuo (left) qian (before)
dong (east) you (right) hou (after)
nan (south) zhi (straight) fujin (nearby)
xi (west) pangbian (beside)
And my personal favourite:
hongludeng (traffic lights, literally red-green-light).
I recalled today that to get in a car, you use shangche (literally 'on car') and to exit, you use xiache (literally 'off car'). To remember this, I think about an older means of transportation - ma (horses), on which you would have to climb on or off. I'm not sure if that's how the language developed, but sometimes I need to make strange connections to remember new vocabulary or grammatical rules.
If all goes according to plan, on Sunday, I'll be able to say, "wo xian qu feijichang zhao John ran hao women hui wode jia" (First, I will go to the airport to meet John, then we will come back to my house).
Zhège wanshang (this evening), I had my first lesson back at That's Mandarin Xuéxiào (school). It was good to start a new routine and to see familiar faces. I was pleased that I could greet the receptionists and teachers and exchange a few pleasantries without needing to refer to any notes. What makes the setting so comfortable is that all the teachers know the material taught at all the levels, so they can adjust their vocabulary and grammar to make sure we can have simple, yet meaningful conversations.
Today's lesson was mostly a review since it had been over two months since my last lesson. We reviewed vocabulary for the market and simple grammatical structures. I love using cohesive devices when communicating (I tend to include too much detail), and had forgotten some of my favourites: yinwei...suoyi (because...therefore/so), danshi (but), xian...ran hou (first...and then). So, when I tried to open the conversation a bit more, I felt limited. I was able to refer back to my notes and come up with some good phrases. The ones that I was most proud of were, "zuotian wanshang wo qu jiuba. Wo chi pisa le, wo he qingdao le" (Yesterday evening I went to the bar. I ate pizza and I drank Tsingdao).
This conversation branched into eating out or cooking at home, so I learned the verb zuofan (to cook, literally "do food"), and how that can be adapted to be more specific. For example, zuo zaofan means to cook breakfast, zuo wufan means to cook lunch, zuo pisa means to cook pizza. Since I do a lot of my own cooking, I could say, "wo zai wode jia zuofan" (At home, I cook, literally "I at my house cook").
Finished the class talking about phone calls using very simple phrases like, "mama gei yisheng dadianhua" (the mom called the doctor, or literally, mom gave doctor a telephone call), and how to give someone your phone number.
Two things I need to review before my next lesson are numbers (my pronunciation is terrible) and listening. To do this, I plan on using the school's instructive platform, Mandarin Cafe to listen to dialogues without subtitles and try to write the dialogue myself in pinyin.
Liu. “Yesterday.” Unit 5 - Lesson 1. 1-on-1 Part-Time Mandarin Course, 7 Aug. 2018,
Beijing, That's Mandarin.
I finally had the chance to go on a tour of the Maliandao Tea Market in central Beijing today to take part in traditional tea ceremonies and learn some of the intricate details of the tea making process. This market is one of the most popular wholesale tea markets in China where the vendors are happy to let you sample their varieties of tea.
My group visited two separate tea shops, each specializing in different chá (tea). The first shop served primarily lü chá (green tea) which was poured into glass cups to ensure that the water cooled off quickly enough that it wouldn't burn the loose leaves and buds. Lü chá is a young tea; leaves are picked off the tree in March (san yuè) or April (sì yuè) and apparently very guì (expensive) to buy at that time. I learned that the best brews of lü chá are the second or third brews, so the first pot of water is poured into a separate bowl and discarded. It's hên dàn (too weak) and the guests can only receive the best!
The second shop served us hei chá (black tea) and wu lóng chá (oolong tea). Chinese black tea is different than western black tea (which, interestingly enough the Chinese call hóng chá, or red tea). Our "black tea" was never really consumed in China, and was almost exclusively exported to foreign royalty. The teas were brewed in a porcelain pot, and we drank out of clay cups. These teas require hotter water to release the flavours. Serious tea drinkers use separate pots for each tea type, clay being the preferred medium for hei chá and wu lóng chá because it will actually absorb some of the flavour. There was one wu lóng chá that I didn't like, and to stop the server from refilling my cup, I learned that I had to tap the table twice - much more polite than my comment, "wo bù xihuan zhège" (I don't like this).
The tea was sold in grams, and I was surprised to learn that there is a specific term for 500g - jin, and 250g is bàn jin (half of jin). 50g was rounded to yi liang (one ounce).
We had a late lunch in a local restaurant where we enjoyed dishes like gong bao, jiaozi (dumplings), and cōngyóubǐng (pancakes). I got to use practice some Mandarin here, though not a lot as our guide did most of the ordering. Embarrassingly, I had to ask for a chazi (fork) because using kuàizi (chopsticks) is really hard right now as I have a fractured finger.
Photos from the Maliandao Tea Market
In case you're wondering...hei chá, specifically roasted pu'er, was my favourite.
Sherry. "Maliandao Tea Tour." 5 Aug. 2018, Beijing.