Sunday, September 25, 2011

Qi Ban (The Wives Class)

By Ruth
In case you were wondering, yes – I'm studying too! All of my posts have been about the baby, the apartment, and you know, the baby. But in between feeding baby's insatiable appetite and trying to pick up all the little pieces of food, fuzz, and hazardous material (where does it all come from??) from the floor before they end up in a certain someone's curious mouth, I am also learning Chinese!

While Kevin is in the main department classes, I am in a special afternoon class. Our teachers sometimes half-jokingly call it “qi ban” - the wives class, or “mei guo ban,” the American class. My classmates are the two other American wives/mothers on our team. In the morning we are looking after our assorted children (and in one case, homeschooling as well!) while our husbands are in class. In the afternoon, the husbands watch the children (and in one case, finish homeschooling!) while we attend class.

Our classes cover the same information, more slowly because we have one class a day rather than two, and more quickly because we only have 3 students instead of 19. Our classes are taught by post-graduate students, some of whom know more about teaching than others. We just got switched to a new reading teacher, though, and she's awesome! She doesn't just talk through the lesson; she actually teaches and explains it! I am really glad the school is willing to provide this special class for us because it is great to have classroom time and fun to have classmates.

In addition to our regular daily classes, Kevin and I have two classes other classes each week we both attend. One is a writing class – very helpful since our other (beginner) classes already expect us to write, even though Chinese writing is complex, to say the least. Each character is made up of 1 to fifty billion strokes, and each stroke must be written in the right direction in the right order at the right place or the character is incorrect. I am really enjoying the writing class though, because our teacher explains things really well, even using almost all Chinese, and writing appeals to my artistic side.

Our second class is a practicum class, one that just our team does. It involves sharing some of the new, personally useful words we learned in the past week and doing practical-application activities. During those two class times our ai yi comes to watch Juliana. Fortunately Juliana has already come to love her and gets excited whenever she comes!

We also meet with tutors each week. I meet with a tutor four hours a week, and since Kevin has tutoring at the same time, ai yi also watches Juliana then. Tutor time has been helpful to reinforce the things we are learning in classes and to work on our problem areas, like say, pronouncing the second tone correctly. I have really been enjoying my tutor this month. She is fun and we tend to laugh a lot, even though most of the time it is at all the mistakes I make.

Our language team situation is unique because we are three families. It certainly makes things like meeting together tricky, but it is a really good situation. It's great to be with other families! Before class or during the break we commiserate about children who aren't sleeping and the difficulty of finding study time. We are all struggling to balance doing homework, learning new words, meeting with tutors, spending time with children who start feeling neglected, being woken up multiple times at night, occasionally talking to our spouses, and sometimes even doing things like cooking and cleaning and going to the store (or say, homeschooling two kids every day!). Both husband and wife feel the pressure of classes and the importance of learning Chinese, but we have to negotiate not just class times, but study, homework, and tutor times. Sometimes even sleep times! It's definitely tricky, but it's encouraging to be around others who are also figuring out how to make things work.

Despite the difficulties, I find I am enjoying language learning a lot more than I thought I might. Remembering my past language experiences (middle school Latin and high-school French), I felt extremely doubtful about my language learning ability. I still feel doubtful about my ability, but one thing has changed a lot; Chinese is actually incredibly useful for me, so I feel very motivated to learn. After five years of living in China, it's exciting to finally feel like I am making progress. Things I have been hearing over and over start to make sense. Already it is easier to have (simple) conversations with taxi drivers and vegetable ladies because I can understand their full questions instead of just a few words. I can actually read (very simple, introductory) passages in characters. I can finally write my (rather difficult, 30 stroke) name!

I'm excited to be learning Chinese! I am happy to be able to attend class. Which in no way dampens my excitement for the week long National Holiday coming up October 1st! Thank goodness for holidays - we need all the breaks we can get!

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