Wednesday, September 9, 2009

First on the Steiny Road to China

The Steiny Road Poet has rarely taken the easy path. For years, the Poet has been meaning to learn Chinese. Well, at least learn enough vocabulary to get by as a traveler. Over the years, she bought flashcards, cassettes, workbooks, and CDs. Today she is officially on the books at a local college for Chinese 101. The first class was Tuesday evening.

The Poet walked in the class late because she was caught up in a line trying to register for the class. Wow, the majority of the 20 or so students were Asians. The laoshi (that’s Mandarin pinyin – phoenetic spelling—for teacher) greeted the Poet with “Ni hao!” Lucky for for the Poet, she knew this is how you say hi and so she returned the “Ni hao!” By the way, the pinyin she is using here is missing all the accent marks. Sorry but she doesn’t have that character set.

First up is to learn the four tones—the flat tone into infinity that is Ma as in mother (open your mouth wide), the rising tone (like a question) of Ma that means flax, the rollercoaster tone of Ma that goes down and then up and means horse, and the descending tone Ma that means scold or criticize.

And tones are not the only sounds that need to be heard and internalized. There are also the sounds that require different positioning of the tongue. The idea is to spend hours in language lab to nail down the sounds and tones. So the Poet went to check out the lab and got totally confused. The confusion stems from the fact that different versions of the text book and workbooks are being sold and used. So for example, the Poet had the 2nd edition of the text book, while her laoshi had a 3rd edition. Laoshi Zhang said it didn’t matter. Oh but it does, the Poet is now muttering to herself. Guessing where her laoshi is reading from wastes time. When the Poet was in the lab she tried to follow the CD lessons in the workbook but that didn’t work. Wrong version? The Poet had a 3rd edition workshop but the CD said 2nd edition. Now she thinks the CD plays to the text book and not the workbook. To quote her Yiddish bubbeh, Oy vey!

So for now the Poet will concentrate on learning her numbers. This is something she started to teach herself from YouTube tutorials before she decided to go to a formal person-to-teacher class. What she didn’t realize is that the numbers say a lot about learning the tones and the characters are pretty simple to grasp.

Learning Chinese is like learning to identify instruments in an orchestra. The Poet likes the musical aspect of learning this language. By the way, the Poet thinks in another life she was Chinese.

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