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Chinese proficiency report 1

I thought that it would be a good idea to write about my progress with the Chinese language now and then. It must be difficult for you to know how good (or bad) my knowledge of the language is and thus of course even harder to understand what kind of challenges I am up against. So, therefore, let me begin this report by trying to explain how well I know Chinese.

At the end of last semester, I knew more than 1500 Chinese characters. As I have mentioned previously, these are simplified characters, which are different from the traditional characters used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and overseas. The simplified characters are only used in mainland China and are, as the name implies, simplifications of traditional characters. Of course, not all characters have been simplified, but it still means that I have to spend many, many hours to convert my reading and writing skills to traditional mode. This is how I spend my days now. I have heard that once you know the language well, it is not a problem to read the other set of characters (although writing will still be hard). Here are three examples with simplified characters on the left and traditional on the right. They mean “machine”, “listen” and “doctor; medicine; cure” respectively.

The spoken language in Taiwan is very similar to what I have been taught in Sweden. There are differences, but not many. However, this does not mean that I understand what people say. I understand occasional words and phrases, and sometimes I can even piece together whole sentences. If I am lucky, I can understand how much things cost or what people ask me. However, it does mean that people can understand what I say.

There are two main problems with listening: habit and speed. Firstly, I am not used to hearing Chinese, so even if I know perfectly well what a word means, I am not used to hearing it in context. This is extremely annoying: “Say that again please?” “Okay.” “What does it mean?” “It means this.” “Ah, of course. How stupid of me.” Secondly, people here talk very fast, which makes it impossible to understand. Some people can speak slowly and clearly when asked to, and then I stand a fairly good chance to understand what is said. True, I do not understand all the words, but I usually get the general idea of what they want to say .

So, what is my brilliant plan to become a Chinese language ninja? I see three paths opening up ahead. First, I will try to find people to talk to. Today, I met Lu Pei-ying, a very nice girl I found by posting an ad about language exchange. I hope to be able to establish a couple of exchanges like this one. I do enjoy teaching English after all, and having someone to talk to with the explicit goal to practice conversation is excellent. One problem is that I have classes in the evening, so it might be difficult to find people who are free during the day.

Second, I will study like a maniac at home. Primarily, I will focus on revising what I already know (or what I ought to know if I had revised properly during the summer). This involves writing and reading traditional characters for hours on end. Still, I enjoy it. It is a kind of monomania, I suppose. The traditional characters feel much nicer than the simplified, even though they are extremely challenging at the moment. Also, I have some difficulties discerning their various components, which might be a problem. Generally, once you know what a character looks like, it is easy to recognise even if you cannot see the individual lines it consists of. Before learning to do this, a magnifying glass is sometimes required.

Third, my classes start on Monday. Each weekday I will be busy from six to nine in the evening, and probably some extra hours for preparation and homework. Why classes in the evening? The idea is that exchange students studying other subjects shall have the chance of taking Chinese classes as well. This probably means that the course will not be extremely demanding (I highly doubt that I will have problems if this is the only course I am taking and others are supposed to take other parallel courses). I have no idea what the level will be like, but I will definitely tell you more about that later. Having some sort of text book to work with would be very good, however, as soon as I have revised everything I knew last semester.

Language ability can be said to consist of four areas (at least for the purpose of my reports) and I will try to assess my proficiency for each of these areas. Since a scale would be meaningless, I will try to explain where I stand at the moment. Hopefully, I will be able to browse through these reports and see how I progress over time.

Speaking: People seem to be able to understand most of what I say, and though my vocabulary is poorer than it once was, I can convey basic concepts, ask questions and so forth. Speaking does not feel like a problem compared to the other areas.

Listening: I can hear an occasional word or phrase, or understand how much things cost, but most of the time when natives talk to me, I am completely clueless. Listening is the problem at the moment.Practice, practice, practice and perhaps in time I will get it.

Writing: Traditional characters are really difficult, but I have come some way towards learing to write the characters I knew before. I have revised 15 out of 60 chapters so that I can write some of the characters and recognise most.

Reading: Again, because of the traditional characters, I understand parts of signs or headlines, but seldom entire sentences. It is said that you need around 2500 characters, but right now, it feels like there are several hundreds of thousands widely used.

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  1. Rygar/David’s avatar

    Tja Sniglot,
    Tänkte mest säga att jag är mäkta avundsjuk på dig, halvåret i Kina var fantastiskt och jag tror inte ditt år i Taiwan kommer göra dig besviken. Pratandet kommer du komma över ganska fort tror jag, att lära sig höra vad folk säger och slippa behöva tänka efter och översätta kommer med tid och övning, och du är ju rätt bra på sånt. I övrigt har vi redan fått höra om dig av våra lärare, du verkar ha gjort intryck ^^.


  2. Olle Linge’s avatar

    Hej! Kul att höra ifrån dig. Året här har ju börjat bra i alla fall och jag tror att jag kommer att trivas. Just nu jagar jag språkutbyten så att jag kan lära mig kinesiska på dagarna också, det borde hjälpa lyssna och tala i alla fall. Jag har hittat en som verkar mycket bra och har några till på gång, vi får se.

    Kul att man gjort bra intryck i alla fall. Jag tyckte överlag att basåret var bra och hoppas att du får det bra. När jag kommer hem måste vi givetvis träffas. :)


  3. Slippery Jim’s avatar

    You rock.