Week 1: That’s what you sound like?

While you’re reading this, keep in mind that I have only been speaking Chinese for the last week… (sorry in advance for broken English)

As a general disclaimer, this blog is probably going to have a new post weekly, rather than daily. This program requires a very… strategic work ethic that doesn’t leave room for much else.

Since my last post wasn’t that informative — or upbeat, for that matter — I’ll start from the beginning of the program.

The placement test. (Dramatic NCIS-like noise)

So our group of 27 was split into 2 groups. Group 1 (mine) took the written test and then the oral test, while group 2 took the tests in reversed order.

The written test was basically just a physical manifestation of what I can only think would be equivalent to a hell for language students. It was divided into 3 sections: vocabulary, grammar, and reading comprehension. Every section had lettered sections A-H with each letter containing 3 or 4 questions (I have no idea why it was set up this way).

I could *maybe* answer A-D (skipping a few questions as I went), and sometimes I got as far as F. Most of it was just intelligent guessing… or at least I’m going to call it that. There would be grammar structures that I knew, but then right before the blank (that we had to fill in with a multiple choice answer) would be a character that I 100% did not know.

I got out of the exam and realized that all of the other students had also pretty much lost the will to live just during the last 90 minutes.

So that was fun.

Then, the oral test. (NCIS music doesn’t really fit for this one… I’m thinking more along the lines of circus music…)

We were called out of a waiting room one by one, and of course, I was one of the last ones to be called. So, up until this point, students were just disappearing behind a mysterious door. Once I was finally called into the room, I opened the door to discover 4 teachers sitting at one side of the room behind one long table, and one single desk on the other side of the room, facing the teachers dead on.

They invited me to sit across from them (in Chinese, of course), so I did.

Then the drilling started. One of the teachers asked most of the questions (middle left) and sometimes another would pipe in (middle right). The far left teacher seemed not much older than me and seemed nice enough, but the far right teacher was the oldest and her job was definitely just to stare into my soul and frown the entire time.

They asked me about where I’m from, what I like to do, what school I go to, my majors, and then threw a question at me about whether or not I like to make friends online. So I said the equivalent of “sure, I used to talk to people all over the world on a site called Goodreads.” Naturally, they had me explain the purpose of goodreads.

“Oh, you can write down all the books you’ve read and suggest books to other people.”

“What’s your favorite book?”

“Catcher in the Rye.”

“Please explain Catcher in the Rye.”

Now, this is a question that English Literature professors are still dissecting… and I have a very limited vocabulary.

“Um… Catcher in the Rye is about a young man who doesn’t know what he wants to do for a living. He lives in New York city and he spends the book going around talking to a lot of people.” (It’s not technically wrong).

They chuckled and moved on.

The two teachers in the middle suddenly had a quick exchange and were flipping through a small pile of cards on their table. They bowed their heads towards each other and took turns pointing at one of the cards while making quiet comments that the other teachers apparently found quite funny. They decided on one of the cards, handed it to the young teacher on the left, and she scrambled around the desk and across the room to set it in front of me.

“We will now start a role play. You borrowed your friends car yesterday and you just got into an accident. Call your friend and explain the damage.” (Written in English).

UMMMMM…. THE ONLY VOCABULARY I HAVE RELATED TO THIS IS THE WORD FOR CAR.

As soon as I looked up from the card, one of the teachers started the role play: “hi 安琪, why did you call me?”

“Oh… um… I have a problem.”

“What problem?”

“You know how you gave me your car yesterday? I have a problem.”

“What happened? Are you okay?”

“I am good. But I have a problem. I think I was driving too fast. Your car was broken by me.” (I decided to throw in the passive structure just to show that I have, in fact, studied Chinese and know how to use passive structure if asked to do so).

“What do you mean you broke my car? What’s broken? Did you hit something? How fast were you going.”

And then a glorious thing happened.

You see, the day before, one of the students asked me if I remembered the word for police, and I said I had never learned it. I looked it up for her and she said “oh okay”. Not even 10 minutes later, she asked me if I was sure that was the right word for police. And I repeated the word, said “yes, I just looked it up in the dictionary,” and thought we had moved on. Then an hour later she came back and asked me again what the word was. I repeated the word again, but she thought I was wrong, so I looked it up on my phone again and showed her that it was, in fact, the right word. 20 minutes later she asked me again if I was sure, and I said “yes! The dictionary is right!”

So, after repeating this same word for an entire day for no real reason other than to convince my friend (who’s actually great, by the way) that my Chinese dictionary was actually right, I had a moment of clarity during my oral interview (and I got a little excited).

“OH! I’M GOING TO CALL THE POLICE! Yes, I’m going to call the police and ask for their help.”

“Okay, but I need my car tonight.”

“Oh… I’ll find a car and give it to you. I’m going to call the police. The police will know what to do. They will help me. I will call you after I talk to the police.”

The teachers smiled, seeming satisfied with my answer. They told me the interview was over, and that I could go back to the classroom.

I was placed in the 300 level (the one I wanted), so all worked out!

 

It’s weird how languages affect you. I’ve only been under the strict jurisdiction of the language pledge for one week, but it feels inherently wrong to speak English. My mouth knows how to make the sounds, but it feels more like a weird vocal exercise than a language at this point. We all freak out whenever one of us substitutes in an English word. During the weekly RD meeting, when we could speak English, we just kept asking each other to talk so that we could hear each other’s real voices. Chinese is a tonal language with a different set of sounds, so it inherently changes your voice.

I am already dreaming in Chinese. I remember past English conversations I had with family and friends, but I remember them in Chinese. My internal dialogue has set up shop in Taiwan.

There’s nothing like discussing Beijing smog and Foxconn’s investment plans in Wisconsin to completely flip your language switch (our classes are pretty intense).

 

I already have some great memories, but I won’t write about them now because I need to prepare for this week of classes. But here are some quick highlights…

Eating everything (including Pig’s butt) and being blissfully overwhelmed in the Tainan night market.

Watching Toy Story 4 in theaters and realizing that the Chinese subtitles refer to the toys’ “kids” as “small managers”.

Reading The Giving Tree in Chinese.

Running up and down the sky walk at the Ten Drum sugar refinery.

Discussing the influence of nuclear power plants on Taiwan’s environmental protection policies with my language partner (it was a short conversation).

Taking a boat ride through a tunnel of (apparently) poisonous trees.

Asking the Gods for advice in Sicao Dazhong Temple (you have to throw these big, wooden, cashew-looking things on the ground first to ask for permission).

 

These stories will come. My posts are probably going to be more on the brief side, since I have so little time. Also, it’s a little disruptive to pull myself out of the Chinese mindset. But no need to fear, the fun stories will come.

All is well.

安琪

 

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