So you’ve started Mandarin Chinese lessons where you meet with your teacher once or twice a week for a 2-hour class. Your teacher shows you 30 new characters for you to learn, teaching you the stroke order and the pronunciation. Then, your teacher teaches you how to put these characters into a coherent sentence. You spend the rest of your class repeating the words until they are ingrained into your memory. You create sentences of your own, rattling your brain to switch over from English to Chinese. The two hours fly by and the next thing you know, time is up.
Now you are left to your own devices. You go home, glance at your assigned homework and decide to put it off until the following day. You don’t want to forget what you had just learned but you don’t feel like opening your textbook and memorizing the new words, or writing them down over and over. You are at a loss for what to do.
Well, in order to benefit the most from taking Chinese lessons you must immerse yourself as much as possible in Chinese culture.
Like all languages, Mandarin is not only made up of words and sentence patterns, rather it is a rich culture endowed with a very long and old history. The history is full of temples, philosophers, emperors, and cuisine. Learning about the history brings you one step closer to learning the language.
Watch or read movies concerning the history and present social climate of China to pique your interest in all things Chinese. The Blood of Yingzhou District is an Oscar winning documentary chronicling the daunting realities of rural China. Paul Mason wrote a novel, Rare Earth, about the relationship between the West and China. Go and hang out in China Town or Flushing for a day and grab a bite to eat at a “hole in the wall” where they have a Chinese and English menu and compare the two. Talk to the waiters that work there and pick their brains.
Buy a Chinese-English dictionary and make the effort to look up everyday words.
If you don’t want to do it old school, there is an app for that: Pleco. This app is not only a live dictionary, you can even snap a picture of the Chinese character and the app will generate the meaning of it. Save your fortune from your fortune cookies that have a Mandarin phrase or word on the back. Soon enough your vocabulary will grow from the meager “ni haos” and “xie xies” to understanding full sentences just by being able to pick out words.
Whatever you decide on doing outside of your Chinese lessons will only help and advance the language learning process. Remember, knowledge is power and knowledge comes in all different shapes and sizes.
By Shuhan Hu, Private Tutor