October 5, 2008

A Class Update, I’m An Arrogant Foreigner, and Lost In Translation….

So our last week of class (this week we had it off, due to a Chinese holiday) was really tough. I’m now going into my 5th week and things are getting more and more difficult. Our vocab is getting a lot fuller and we are starting to learn more about grammar/sentence structure. There are differences in grammar between Chinese and English for example, in Chinese the time always comes after the subject, this is different than English, and below are two sentences to show you what I mean;

In English you would construct the following sentence in this way;
“I also want to go tomorrow.”
In Chinese it would be grammatically incorrect to say that instead you would say;
“I tomorrow also want to go.”
Even to say “He’s going tomorrow”,
you would have to say “He tomorrow is going”.

So as you can imagine when my whole life I’ve learned to say something one way, saying it in a new language with new grammar rules only makes it more difficult. But with practice and lots of frustration this will be something we will conquer. In other class news, we’ve begun learning to read and write Chinese characters. To this point I’ve only used Pinyin to read and write Chinese, but now we are learning the official method of the written Chinese language. To read a newspaper you need to have 2,000 – 3,000 characters memorized. So this is a large task to overcome as well. As of right now I have 8 memorized…. With each new lesson (after lesson 5) we now will have 8 characters introduced, and then they will ALWAYS appear as a character with no Pinyin (or English) help. I wanted to give you a few examples of some common sentences we are translating in our class right now, below are a few examples:

Teacher Yang is coming to my home for a meal tomorrow evening.
The fruit and vegetable market isn’t very convenient.
I’m thinking of eating at 9 o’clock.
When is Teacher Wu free? Because he said that he has no time now.

For the record I can say all of that, but it’s not easy.

So I found out something interesting this week. I found out that I’ve been completely arrogant (unintentionally) by how I respond to compliments here. I’ve been using the word “xiexie”, which means “thanks” when people tell me that my kids are beautiful or my Chinese is good. What our teacher told us is that Chinese people don’t respond to compliments by saying thank you, instead they will say “nali, nali”, which means “not at all”, because if you say “thanks” you’re being prideful. How many people have I insulted without even knowing it???

Lastly, I went into a photo shop tonight to have them develop some pictures of the girls and family/friends for me. And the guy who has helped me in the past has never really been too kind to me, not mean, but by no means good customer service. Anyways, he’s looking at the pictures of the girls and he says “(something I don’t understand) dou da?”, and generally when someone says that it’s, because they are asking how old my daughters are. So I start to beam with Fatherly pride and since it seemed like he was reaching out, I dove in head first, “well she is 2 months (I then realized I said it wrong so I recovered) she’s 6 months, and she is 2 years…”, as I’m saying this he’s getting up and grabs a photo and again says “(something I don’t understand) dou da?”. And I realized my blunder; he was in fact, not asking how old my daughters were, but how big I wanted my printed pictures to be. Not the last time I will make a fool of myself like that, and of that, I’m sure.

With joy,
The petersons