September 13, 2013

One week into my studies

Learning Chinese


One week into my studies today. I arrived a week and a half ago, registered the second day, had introduction the same week but focused on getting to know the city, getting sorted where I am living, and so forth - and then this week Monday the studies started. And what can I say about them so far.

Confusing. 

There seems to be a club for everything - no lack of activities!
Not the least that I am back on campus, and that I have a fixed schedule. I am not used to that. Going to a Swedish university you don't have a fixed schedule, instead you have a lot more freedom and can chose which lectures you go to, as only a few are mandatory. All will help you gain knowledge so you still go to as many as you can - but there is not a fixed schedule for a whole semester, like here. Being in Taiwan feels a bit like being in a college film from US except it is much warmer (I wonder how long it will take to get used to the heat by the way, or rather the humidity... More about that in a later post).

But Chinese; Well, there is no mercy here, we were thrown straight in the water on the deep side, and now we better learn how to swim! I said I wanted a challenge though, and I got one - I am very happy I came. It is rather odd though: I am an absolute beginner, and in my classes there are plenty of people who studied Chinese before, some that lived in Taiwan for a long time, others grew up with Chinese speaking families - but they are still in the beginner classes. Some needs to improve their pronunciation, some need to work on the writing. Others just - well, I am not sure what the others are doing there. And then there is me, who is completely clueless and doesn't speak any chinese. Yes, there are a lot of Chinese words that I recognise in written, but that is because I have a head for pictures. I know what they mean. How to say them is beyond me though. 

Pinyin, the romanisation of the Chinese language (i.e. writing it with "normal" letters, like we do in at least the west (Greece being an exception) isn't exactly helping either. You still have to know how to pronounce the combination of letters, and it is not straight forward. I have a number of languages that I speak, more or less - and partly because of that I am completely confused; The combination of letters pronounced in one way here are pronounced in a different way in "my" languages. Copying what someone else is saying is one thing. Reading the same word I just managed to say and get someone to understand - well, when I then read it it comes out completely different. EVEN if I said the word correctly three seconds before. 
Tour of campus - an important part of the introduction
I have however managed to start to get the B P M F - Bopomofo - the special writing/pronouncing that the Taiwanese use to spell out Chinese. When I first saw it, this combination of what looks like runes that symbolises sounds I said to myself "no chance" - but it  turns out that BPMF actually makes more sense in my head as there is no preconception of how the signs are supposed to be said. There are a lot of "characters" - runes - to learn, but compared to Chinese characters, there is nothing. Bopomofo is definitely a good thing - which, on the other hand, can only be used in Taiwan - but I am going to do it - and I am going to do it well, because I have decided I will. I just have to have some patience.

What I REALLY want to do is start on the Chinese characters but I do realise I need to get into the tongue twisting first, getting the sounds right, at least in class. No one can say anything about me learning other characters while I am out and about though... 

And until then my confusion will continue - but at least today the penny dropped on one of the texts we have had in my speaking and listening class... Always something. It was as if the world had been foggy, but when I came home, opened the book and read it again it was all there and I could understand it. 

Hooray. 

Let's hope it lasts until Monday when I have my next class... 


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