After 8 weeks of class, I’m not really sure where my Chinese stands. It’s difficult to judge my progress because I chose to stick with an intermediate class a bit above my level for the program.
While I often feel embarrassed around my classmates, I realize almost all of them have objectively studied Chinese longer than I have. With language, vocabulary plays such a key role that this time difference is worth noting. However, even today during a skit a group performed in oral class to practice our new grammar, I noticed my fluency (in terms of how I sound when speaking and flow of my words) is alright within my class — “alright” being a positive term in this setting.
I aim to take the HSK 3 online in October, the Chinese test after one year of study. I do feel much better about my reading comprehension after this class. Because this class challenged my level, I was forced to remember and use vocabulary I hadn’t fully absorbed in previous classes to even meet the basic standards of the class. I definitely was not used to reading full pages of characters before this summer, and I no longer feel incredibly intimidated by characters.
I realized pausing to repeat a word in conversation or just diving right into text can help me push past the mental blockade that prevents so many language learners from using their new skills. I definitely felt that way in Spanish, but an immersive environment and higher level class prevents any shyness. When talking with native speakers or listening to the radio, I try to latch onto the words I don’t know and realize I do in fact understand the sentence once I pause, or I look up the word on Pleco. While at first I thought looking up so many new words wouldn’t really help if I don’t use the new word soon after, I realized this is more an exercise in recognizing vocabulary and inferring meaning while listening than an exercise in acquiring vocabulary.
Most days, my Chinese gets me down — I live with native speakers and even my friends here converse on a high level. However, I take pride in the moments where I can tell a taxi driver I understand him talking about driving a foreigner (lao wai) around and joke with him, the moments where I led my roommate from the U.S. around, or when I helped out friends just beginning Chinese on our Shanghai trip. It feels nice to hear people compliment my Chinese, but it’s hard to believe when they don’t speak Chinese at all. However, I do realize that I act like I live here, not like a study abroad student. I go new places, undaunted my potential language obstacles, and I make it through. This has to count for something.
In the next two weeks, I will dedicate my free time to reviewing key grammar and vocabulary from this summer to catch up when class went by too fast. Then, I hope to feel a bit more proud.