Today was my first day of Chinese class. The placement test put me in Intermediate 2, which is essentially the fourth level out of six. There doesn’t appear to be an Advanced 2 class though, so it may be the fourth level out of five. I don’t know. Regardless, it’s very difficult. Today I had three classes, speaking, comprehensive Chinese, and writing. We have the comprehensive course every day, speaking three times per week, listening two times per week, writing and reading each once per week, and a class called “zhong guo gai kuang,” which I think means something along the lines of current events in China. All I know is that I probably won’t have the vocabulary for it so I should probably look up some words before Thursday.
My classes today were quite difficult. The speaking class wasn’t too bad, we all just introduced ourself and said the meaning of our Chinese names, as well as our other names if we didn’t really know about our Chinese names or didn’t spend long enough talking about them. A lot of the people in my class are really funny, and the teacher for that class also has a great sense of humor. I didn’t always understand what was being said and I wasn’t able to converse with the teacher as easily as most of my classmates, but I felt pretty confident that I could survive the semester. My second class was the comprehensive course, which is very vocabulary-oriented, as far as I can tell. Our teacher for that class was much more serious, and talked quite a bit faster, but I could understand at least part of what she was saying. We went over about half of the 47 vocal words for the first lesson. She explained the meaning in Chinese, since that’s really the only common language in our class, which resulted in me kind of knowing the meaning (luckily for me the book is in English), and also kind of knowing a bunch of synonyms for all the vocal words. By the end I had a bunch of messy notes to translate later and a pretty big headache, but I still felt like I could probably survive if I studied a ton and learned at least twice as much vocal as everyone else. My third and final class was a writing class. My teacher was very nice but is clearly from somewhere in the North of China because she has a very definite Northern accent. Basically, she adds and “r” sound to the end of every other word. It’s so hard to understand. She even spoke really slowly, and I still can’t understand. It took me so long to figure out that “berrr” was actually “ben” and I should be buying a notebook to write my essays in. Most of the class, she taught us some vocabulary and grammar (explanations in Chinese again, but this time mostly indecipherable) and talked about something. I honestly had absolutely no idea what was going on. No idea. I just sat there and didn’t answer any questions and wrote down whatever she wrote on the board because that was actually the only thing I could do. I understood a few things, but never enough to actually be able to answer a question. She kept asking questions while staring directly at me, but the guy behind me always had to answer because I simply didn’t understand. I do, however, know that we have to write a short essay before our next writing class so maybe I’ll be able to use that to prove that I do actually belong in this crazy class. In the meantime I’ll work on understanding people with northern accents. I also think that she used a lot more challenging words because she kept saying “HSK 6″ which I think was in reference to the vocabulary she was using. (HSK is a test of Chinese language for foreigners, and 6 is the highest level. The highest level I’ve passed is 3 so hopefully she doesn’t expect us to already be at HSK 6 level. This is an intermediate class, after all). After writing I was kind of panicking on the inside, but my friend (who is in the same class as me and has about the same Chinese level because we studied together in high school. Her vocabulary is way bigger though) and I calmed down and went to a coffee shop and sat there for several hours trying to decipher our notes.
At this point, I’m pretty nervous about the semester, but everyone says that the first month is really terrible and then it gets better, so I guess I’ll hope that they’re right. At least I can kind of understand what’s going on, and my listening skills have already improved a great deal so maybe they’ll improve more. I’ll also really need to work on my vocabulary, and on making friends with other people in my class. I know one person, but I haven’t yet talked to anyone else in our class. Most of them are from South Korea, and then there are a few people from Japan and one girl from Russia. They are all way better at Chinese than I am. I will definitely try to make friends though, because we can practice Chinese together and that will be good.