Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stupid Rich Man

At the end of my adult class last night, my students quizzed me on my Chinese. Some of them are very coy about speaking in class, so I like to show that I'm not afraid to test my Chinese on them. They started calling out words in English for me to translate:









They burst out laughing and wagged their fingers at me.

"No! Kaizi is stupid rich man!"

Really, I knew that car was, 'che' or 'chezi.' However, you 'kai' (drive) a car, and I think that's where I got mixed up.

Chinese is funny: Last week a student complained to me that her friend called her "ben dan." Stupid egg. I knew what she meant before she translated it. 'Stupid egg' was too silly-sounding for me to take seriously. Although, it can be used as a serious insult (like calling someone an idiot).

Last weekend, for the first time, I was able to chat a bit with James' grandma. We talked about how much James eats. And I asked her about when she was married (in 1951, after moving to Taiwan). I asked if she wore four dresses (the local tradition). She said no. Times were very hard back then.

And yesterday I was standing outside my school when a parent walked up. In Chinese, I told her I lived across the street, and that I was waiting to go to Taoyuan to teach my night class.

It's so gratifying to learn a language in a place where everyone is a potential teacher - little kids, teenagers, people in the elevator, my boss, James' grandma, the bus driver, even the curmudgeonly tea man who lets me know he has no idea what "moo lee hua cha" is. Oops.

I really like learning Chinese. And now that I've been teaching a foreign language for six months, I have a much better idea about how to be a good student.

While learning Spanish, I somehow convinced myself it wasn't necessary to talk in class - I figured it was enough I understood the other people talking. This, I now realize, is a terrible way to learn a foreign language. You must must must talk to do it right.

The flip side to this Chinese immersion environment is I catch myself speaking pidgin English for the sake of expediency. It's unconscious. But I feel bad when I catch myself doing it with students. I only hope upon my return to the English-speaking realm I wont feel inclined to say things like, "This afternoon we go to other school. Have give students a test."

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