Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tianying Xueyuan 

Today was my last day at the language school. I have been studying in China since January on a six month student visa. But, in fact, I had been studying at this language school part time during the fall semester. So I have been going to class every day from 8:00 to 9:30 since September. I'm tired.

When I hired my first Mandarin tutor back in the spring of 2002, after my first trip to China, I was two months shy of my 47th birthday. I met with tutors for about an hour or two a week until I moved to Beijing in January of 2004. The first semester I was in China, I was doing some teaching out in Langfang a couple days a week, so I didn't sign up for a regular class; I hired a couple private tutors. But in the fall of 2004, I enrolled at Global Village in Wudaokou. There are lots of private language schools in Wudaokou, and the good thing about Wudaokou is that it is one of the two "Little Korea's" of Beijing. So while some of the language schools are designed for rich kids from America, there are also some that are designed for working people from Korea. You can guess which ones I prefer. They are not as fancy, but they are a LOT cheaper. There is a problem when most of your classmates are Koreans. Korean students have some problems with pronunciation. But they are always light years ahead of me when it comes to reading characters. So after a year at Diqiucun (Global Village), I dropped out and decided to study on my own. The reason was because I could kinda follow what the teacher was saying, but I could not read the exercises in the book, and that really frustrated me.

It was a good decision. I got a dictionary, and used the radical chart to look up the characters one at a time. I took the book I had planned to study at the school, and began to go through it. There were 40 chapters. I decided to focus strictly on the dialogue, and skip the exercises, because if I could mange to read through the dialogue (two or three paragraphs) for every chapter, I would be prepared to study that book in a classroom setting. At Diqiucun, we usually went through a book in two to three months, but that pace was too fast for me. I planned to just go at my own pace. I figured that even if it took me a week to go through each dialogue, I would finish the book in less than a year. "Best laid plans..." as they say. Took me four months to get through the first two chapters. But I didn't give up. I wasn't even mildly discouraged. Chinese is a stubborn language. But I'm not worried, because I am a little bit more stubborn. I kept up that way for a couple years.

In the Fall of 2007, I took a six week course at Sinoland. It was a little more expensive than the Korean school, but I decided to do it anyway, because it was an intensive program--three hours a day with a maximum of four students, and with emphasis on speaking. By that time, I had gotten to the point where I still trouble reading the exercises, but not as much trouble as before, and at Sinoland, they create their own exercises with lots of explanations. Basically, you're paying extra for an accelerated method.

In the spring of 2008, I was going to go back to Sinoland and take another course, but they had changed all their courses to ten weeks, and I had to go to South China to do some teaching in April, so I only had a couple months between Spring Festival and when I had to leave. I opted for a small school patterned after Diqiucun. Dump of a place, but the classes were small, and that's what I like.
Fall, 2008, I went back to Sinoland and hired a tutor. It cost me 80 RMB an hour, which is more than I had ever paid (in China), but she had been my teacher before, and she was really good. In the Spring of 2009, they jacked the prices up, so I quit and hired May to teach me the Three Kingdoms.

Last Fall, I went back to Sinoland to find my old tutor, but she was busy, so I went back to the small school I had gone to back in the spring of 2008. It wasn't there. Small place--I guessed it had gone belly up due to the currency exchange problem. Recently, the Korean Won fell against the dollar, and rich Koreans were no longer able to afford to send their little darlings to Wudaokou to party and sorta study. Anyway, I asked the people there about the language school, and they just nodded when I asked them if it had closed. I walked toward the elevator a bit befuddled. What to do now? I didn't really want to go to Diqiucun, because it is too well known. The classes are too large. When I got to the elevator, I noticed that someone was following me. He said, "McDonald's. Eighth floor." I went to the building that McDonald's is in, and took the elevator to the eighth floor. Sure enough, there it was. I signed up for an early morning class that had just one or two other students. That's the benefit of going to a small school. And getting out of bed in the morning. Early classes have fewer students. Over the past nine months, there have been many days that I was the only student.

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