Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Counter-Intuitive Chinese Language Environment

It's generally considered that it's best to study Chinese in-country. I see the logic, but I've come to realise there are some other considerations, and that there may be another proposition which is better. It depends to some extent on the level you have going in, and where you want to get.

My trip to Hong Kong recently motivated me to learn more Chinese than all of my time in Beijing. This goes against the grain.

There are two reasons that I can discern.

Firstly it was the information environment. I could walk into a bookstore and find volumes critical of Mao, find various violent or erotic novels, find cutting-edge science books, I could find all manner of books I have difficulty finding in Beijing.

And, what the language students learns at a certain point (or what I feel, anyway), is that advanced language profiency doesn't come through lots of speaking. It comes through lots of reading.

When I speak, I have my tones corrected, my grammar corrected, and occasionally learn a new word or two. That's good and useful, but when you stop making grammar mistakes and stop making tone errors, you're only left with learning a new word or two.

Much better to spend an hour reading a book and come away with a list of 20 or 30 or however many words you've learned.

I'm reading two books in Chinese at the moment:
Brothers, by Yu Hua, and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

I did in fact buy these books in Beijing, but I saw many more books I'd rather be reading in Hong Kong.

Brothers was recommended to me by a good Chinese friend, and The Tipping Point is a book I should have read ages ago but have never gotten around to it. Of course I will want to test the usage of the words I learn from these books in a conversation. But to accumulate them in the first place, I'd say it'd be much faster to see them on a page rather than wait until the pop up in conversation.

Secondly, as we've established that you should converse to communicate, then if I wanted to communicate with my Hong Kong friends in Chinese, I'd better have a very good vocabulary to not come off like a moron. So in this counter-intuitive way it can be better being around people who speak good English- it should encourage you to get that good in Chinese.

If you only hang around mono-lingual friends, then I think the over-praise will get to your head, and you'll slow down.

The idea here is not to get good enough to have Chinese people praise you on your Chinese. The idea is to get good enough not to have them praise you.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Finding a New Blogspace?

I've been spending some of the university holidays here in Hong Kong, and it has been brilliant to get away from Beijing. The air quality here is so much better than Beijing- that's how bad the Beijing air is.

It's been a frustrating couple of months since I've been writing heaps but had no where to post it all. I might consider a new blog. We'll see.

But in any event, I've definitely come across lots of stuff which I hope to share at some stage in the near future.