About learning Japanese in China

So pretty much my next favorite country besides China, Belgium and France is Japan (probably should keep a spot for a Scandinavian country too since the chance of me finding a partner there is very high). Because I have been slacking with my Japanese studies since about 2013, mainly keeping it up through watching anime and reading manga at about one page per 15 minutes, I found a buddy to start doing Japanese again with. In China.

If I could say anything about the Chinese education system without really participating in it, I would sum it up as being: rigid, not very interactive and faithful to the textbook. This would actually turn out to be true more or less once I started. I could start a separate career as diviner!

For a Dutch person, this is of course quite the opposite of what we like to have. We tend to focus more on interaction (even if it is students saying a lot ‘I do not know the answer’), flexibility (ooh the ‘Leids Kwartiertje‘) and being creative with content (‘Yes teacher, I feel watching a movie would be very helpful in the learning process.’). So how does it feel to experience a wholly different system?

Rigid: Well this is mainly manifested in the way that each class is pretty much the same structure. 20 minutes discussing the new words, 10 minutes of reading the standard text, 1 hour of grammar and 30 minutes exercise. The fact that I know this structure already after only 2 lessons is in itself kind of amazing.

Not very interactive: Yup, this matches. I just described that we had only 10 minutes of reading and 30 minutes of practice. This is still divided by about 5-7 people. Furthermore, it is very easy to just not participate. The fact that we have teenagers (yes, 15-year olds. Nostalgic.) means that they are readily using this. One of two has clearly been sent here by his parents as extracurricular activity and is consequently one of the least motivated persons I have ever experienced studying a language. The girl obviously has watched (quite) some anime since she insterts a ‘Nani?’ (Japanese for what) between everything and is just in general sassy in a way that is not really constructive (‘Congrats teacher on writing the wrong character.’).

Faithful to the textbook: We have a bingo! Incidentally, even the short test (which is really not worthy of being called a test) uses the exact same sentences as the textbook examples. Like, word for word. And then the teacher advises us that we should really not look in our books. It is quite cute, if it was not about something as relatively serious as teaching a language.

So I might sound quite negative here. The fact that we are cramped in a small rectangular room which is about 15 square meters (does remind you of Japan in a certain sense I guess) and an atmosphere that is lethargic does not help either. However, there are also bright spots:

  1. I follow the class with a Dutch-Turkish friend, so we are the foreign stars of the class.
  2. My level is easily the highest in the class (which does not say a lot, this is the second-to-lowest level we are following) so I can act smug and be a know-it-all legitimately.
  3. It is effective to at least be actively engaged with this language for 4 hours a week. Those are 4 more hours than before!

So that also consitutes a bingo. Guess it is a tie for now.

 

 

What words mean

The brain is a strange thing. Once you do not know something, you cannot imagine how it is when you understand or know it. Once you do know it, you automatically forget how it is when you did not understand or know it.

Last weekend, I had a niece visiting who was in China for the first time. It made me remember how everything was when I visited China for the first time, or even when I did not know the language as well as my face would assume. With all the characters and different pronunciation(s), you adapt to a wholly new way of conveying things and processing information.

Of course, a cultural component also plays an important role with the establishment of these differences. In many Asian cultures, it is less common to be very upfront about feelings, ideas or opinions. China also has this until a certain degree. The Netherlands and other northern European countries are at the other side of the spectrum, voicing thoughts openly.

Since I grew up in the Netherlands with Dutch parents, I am quite direct, but not the most extreme. Even within the Netherlands, differences exist, mostly between the northern and southern parts. Then again, China is even larger so I cannot even pretend to be speaking for China in general. However, the Chinese expression, 口是心非, the mouth says yes but the heart says no, can be applied widely. But in more surprising ways then you might imagine.

Being positive but meaning negative

  1. ‘I will see.’ / ‘If I have the time I will come!’ There are the standard instances when you ask someone to do something, go somewhere with you, participate in something and the other’s response can vary. Furthermore, these kind of propositions and answers can be held in forehand, or a few hours before the event itself. See my Dutch post on time for more background.
  2. ‘Let us meet (soon)!’ Is this ever meant though? The digital equivalent in China is adding someone on WeChat and instantly forgetting about her/him. Like, only receiving the standard ‘I added you, we can now start chatting!’ and not even moving beyond that.
  3. ‘Please do everything in your own tempo.’ Whether it is study or sport or anything you are trying to master, your tempo had better match the class’s or teacher’s. For sports, feel free to reach as far as you think is anatomically possible. We will push, pull and lie on you to get you further. Read my Dutch article on sports in China for more enlightenment.

Being negative but meaning positive

  1. ‘You do not need to bring anything.’ Actually, I have never been in the situation where I really did not bring anything. The advantage is that you do not need to bring a highly personalized gift. Food or drinks are usually appreciated. Often accompanied by a ‘You should really not have done that.’ while handily storing it in the cupboard.
  2. ‘Your English seems to have become worse.’ A friend of mine was told this by a Chinese friend of hers. Mind you, jokingly. The Chinese are often full of these contradictions, seemingly to inform you: ‘I know you well and have high expectations of you / know you can do better, which I express in this way.’
  3. ‘It will not be long.’ If it is anything related to food and drinking, this is a blatant lie. If it has anything to do with a bank, hospital or police station, this is also a blatant lie. If it has to do with meeting again, this can be a blatant lie. Or they start stalking you.