Chinese Resources

Friday, September 28, 2012

iTalki classrom session: first impressions

In the desperate attempt to fix my Chinese writing problem as quickly (and cheaply) as possible I hopped on iTalki last night and sent out a couple messages to some certified teachers who had positive largely positive reviews and 30 minute demo sessions. It's one day later and I just finished a 30 minute trial session with one of the teachers.

So, how did things go?

Apart from the teacher commenting on my "Taiwanese" sounding Mandarin, there was zero correction of my spoken Chinese, instead all of our energy was focused on working over a one page article I was working on for class. Unlike Lang-8 or other similar journal sites, the wonderful thing about a chatting live with a teacher was my ability to direct the conversation just the way I wanted it-- all writing, all the time (AWATT?!?)

Right now, I'm not looking toward sounding "more Chinese," or "more academic,"but rather working on addressing areas that are simply unclear, or grammatically unsound. Since the particular article I'm working contains a lot of translation from English academic writing I knew there would be issues, particularly in the areas of research methodology and research design. It took a few minutes to find a rhythm that work, but after a half-hour we sussed out many of problem areas.

It is too soon to say where my issues lie, especially since this type of writing is more focusing on my ability to translate into Chinese, rather than use my own words to convey meaning, but I did notice that I have a tendency to overuse the standard measure word 個 when there are more clear alternatives, and I could stand to focus on short clear sentences, not those long elegant ones I love reading. I'll be sure to keep an eye on the measure words in the future, especially when I'm reading other peoples work.

As for those super-badass long (almost run-on) style sentences I love, they're just going to have to wait. Overall it was a good session, and I look forward to continuing on for a full hour next week. Stay tuned for more updates as the sessions continue.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

My serious problem with academic Chinese writing

Well it finally happend. My teacher called me out in class and told me that I need to work on seriously improving my academic Chinese writing ability. She then proceeded to pick apart sentence after sentence of mistakes and translation errors with a look of disgust (okay the last part only happens in my dreams). I've always guessed this was the case, but now I actually know it, and my classmates do too.

Before entering graduate school I had never actually written a research paper in Chinese. I'd never taken a Chinese literature class. Heck, I've only taken three years of formal Chinese language classes in my life; most of which took place in the US, and was not focused on formal writing at all. I have no problem speaking Chinese, cause that is where the focus was, and has always been.

The sad reality is that most of my graduate studies focus on massive input, not output. The average lecture is three hours long, and (we) as students are lucky if the teacher can put a name to a face by the end of the semester. In my first year in the program I wrote roughly 20 papers, some of which were 10 pages or more, but the majority were 2-3 pages of very colloquial writing.

Aside from the grades posted at the end of the semester, the amount of feedback I received by the end of one year was zilch. No corrections, no comments, not a single "hey 高健 you write like a foreigner! Knock it off!" But now I'm expected to change... and fast, because I have a 100 pape research paper due in just 28 months, and I'll be damned if I let my thesis board call out the way I write.

This isn't me playing the blame game, it is simply the harsh reality of where my Mandarin is, and why it got there.

So, how the heck am I going to fix this?

  • I've signed up for a private tutor on iTalki, with the sole purpose of fixing my academic writing. We start class tomorrow, and I have to email them a paper in a little under two hours.
  • I'll be using Lang-8 to focus more on the translation of English academic articles into Chinese (something I'm going to have to get very good at in the next 24 months). Nothing too long, just key phrases or ideas that I'll need to talk about in my own thesis.
  • I'm going to read more academic journals (in Chinese), about the topics I need to know (got about 30 that I've been putting off cause I never seem to have time).
  • I'm going to write more, and with more focus (more on that later).
I don't know if it will be enough, but it's a start. Cause right now the only thing I wanna to hear my teacher say is "wow, your academic writing is really getting better!"

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

For now or Forever?

Before your next 聽寫 ask yourself, do I want to learn these characters for now or forever?

If you just want to get a good grade on the next day's quiz than by all means copying characters over and over again. It doesn't take much time and you'll probably get an A. 

However, if you want to learn them forever this isn't going to work.  Instead: deconstruct characters, make up mnemonics, don't overload on information, and review old material often. It takes A LOT more time, but you'll remember things for much longer.

Researchers know it. Teachers (generally) ignore it. And students get to make the choice. So, what will it be? 

For now or forever?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Art and idioms

Reading "Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut has inspired a desire to take a bit more time out of life for simply doodling things down. That book, coupled with the works of the Horse Dragon Fish blog, better known as Chinese Superman (中文超人), and the awesome, smart, witty comics of M and MX, is why my new "art and idioms" posts exist today.

The post that started it all: 字如其人
Armed with an iPad, a stylus, and the app Paper I've been trying to spend a few minutes mixing "art" with Chinese idioms; breaking with the traditional mold of tweeting a single Chinese word, or even a new word coupled with a short sample sentence. While those things have their place in second language acquisition, I often find the posts stale and easy to ignore (what is the first thing you really notice about advertisements?).
開卷有益: While I've never actually read 《三字經》I'm certain it would be profitable to do so!
Subconsciously I've been aware for some time of what @kidsdada kindly shared with me yesterday regarding "Strategies for Second Language Learners"--namely what what found under the sub-heading "Alternative Assessments." And I quote:
Developing content knowledge while learning a second language requires accurate and ongoing assessment. While students should become proficient readers and writers in the mainstream language, they should not be limited to these methods when showing what they have learned. Models, dramatic performances, drawings, and similar activities allow second language learners to demonstrate the content they have learned in ways that address their strengths. (bolded for emphasis)
 A "typical" class project for me goes beyond an oral report, or mind-numbing lecture. I want my kids to "show" me what they've learned in their own way, using their own individual strengths. As a final project at a Chinese heritage weekend school, my students scripted, directed, and acted out their own theatrical rendition of the idiom 對牛彈琴. After the traditional story was told they had fun with a modern day example of how the idiom could be used. Through the process my students learned so much more than just how to use the language; they worked together as a group, got creative, and put on a performance worthy of... well let's just say it was entertaining for all parties involved.
畫蛇添足: Can't believe I wrote the 足 wrong initially! 
For me, these images aren't really an appeal to my strengths, but rather an appeal to breaking from the norm. While Chris over at Horse Dragon Fish, and M and MX have some serious talent when it comes to creating art, I wasn't going to let a lack of talent stop me from participating. Heck, isn't that was Draw Something is all about? Sure people like to marvel at the really good drawings that show up online, but not being able to draw a photo-realistic image of Darth Vader certainly isn't going to keep people from having fun.
光陰似箭: Is it "time files like an arrow" or "time flies 'on' an arrow," I always forget.
And that is what these new images are all about for me-- simply having fun. The images sprinkled all over this post are my first week of "Art and idioms." I don't know if they will remain daily once the semester starts, but I sure hope so. Even more, I hope they both entertain and inspire you to find new fun ways to use your Chinese. As always, thanks for reading!
井底之蛙: I won't let my inability to draw frogs (or good a good panda) stop me!
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