Sunday, April 22, 2012


There are a lot of times in the midst of studying Chinese when it's hard to feel like we're making a lot of progress. Lately it seems like lots of our classes have been filled with confusing grammar rules and the fifth word that means almost exactly the same thing as the other four, except for one small contextual nuance that can't fully be explained. And the measure words – oh man, does Chinese have some measure words.

For about every fourth new vocabulary word, we learn a new measure words. English has different measure words too: a pair of pants, a cup of coffee, a slice of bread. But it's amazing how many times we can just say “a” or “the” or don't even have to use a measure word at all. Thank you, English. A few examples of Chinese measure words:

pian – for things that are flat, thin pieces (a pill, a large grassy area)
zhang – a measure word for flat objects (a table, a bed, a piece of paper)
zhi – for long, thin, inflexible objects (a pen); for troops; for songs; for wattage; and for the size or quality of yarn.
gen – for long, thin objects (a banana, a match, a piece of string)

There are different measure words for a pair of eyes and a pair of glasses, a letter, a book, a newspaper, a present, a tv, a road, a mountain, a piece of clothing, a class get the idea. Usually to introduce how these myriad measure words are used, our book says something useful like, "a measure word."

As always, we feel the difficulty of both of Kevin and I trying to learn Chinese while also being parents. It's hard not to compare to someone who is able to spend 20 hours a week in class, meet with a tutor every day, and (novel thought) study every day too! I'm only in class 10 hours a week, meeting with a tutor 4-5 hours a week, and my study time is more often than not 2-5 snatches in between Juliana's suddenly urgent need for attention. She's just like a cat – as soon as she can sense I'm trying to focus, she does her best to put herself directly between me and my book. Sometimes I wonder if I'm really learning that much at all.

So it's helpful to look back every so often and be able to see progress! I sometimes forget how very, very little we knew starting off, even after 5 years living in China. I used to be able to answer a few, very basic questions before starting to flounder. Now I can carry on conversations for half an hour or an hour. Maybe not deep, eloquent conversations, but communicative ones all the same. Last week I called my Chinese friend from Yangzhou, and she was thrilled that we could talk in Chinese and I could understand her. Last weekend we spent the morning at the home of a random family Kevin and Juliana had met outside and only used a few words of English.
Juliana and her new little Chinese friend find words, Chinese or English, rather unnecessary.

I looked back at the first lesson in our reading book where we were reading this:
Reading Text: Lesson 1

Compared to last week when we read this:
Reading Text: Lesson 21

I could not write any Chinese before this year, and my writing is still not great. I don't practice it too much except in class and writing homework because it's probably the area I'll use least in the future. Even so, I can write (and even remember how to write) a whole lot more characters than before!
Notes from class

It's exciting to remember we are making progress.  Yay for us!


Mallary said...

I feel the same way. I know we are making progress, even if we aren't yet where we want to be with our Chinese.

And your characters are lovely!

Nate and Molly said...

Yes, yay you! :) I love the language learning updates from you and Mallary. I find them so fascinating!

Anna said...

I'm incredibly impressed as my language-learning skills have never been the best. I can't imagine all of those measure words, etc, though...