Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Well, this is a surprise
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I seem to have learned some Chinese while I was away.

I didn't really I'd learned all that much, to be honest. I've been bemoaning my relative lack of progress, and wishing that I'd studied much, much harder - wishing I'd buckled down and taken a class, actually.

But in the past few days, I've done a few surprising things:

  • I signed up for a Ren Ren account. (That's the Chinese equivalent to Facebook.) I had to get a little help with the code verification - I could see the characters in the box, but I didn't know the pinyin. It would have taken me fifteen minutes - so I got my friend Michael to help me with that part. But (and this is the impressive part), I filled out the form all by myself - between knowing half the words and looking up some of the others, I understood the whole thing.

  • I text-chatted in characters with my friend Wencui.

  • I wrote an email to the head of the International Affairs Office at HIT, and I began the email with a few sentences of Chinese. He wrote back and told me that no American professor had ever written to him in Chinese before. (I am really proud of that.)

It's begun to hit me. When I left for China, I knew a little Chinese (about enough to sound like a Russian tourist, as I may have pointed out already). By the time I left, I had begun to communicate in Chinese: to think in Chinese, to understand much of the Chinese that was spoken to me, and to speak back in a more-than-rudimentary way. I think that perhaps my communicative competence in Chinese right now is greater than my French or German ever was (even though I knew more vocabulary in those languages) - simply because I've been using Chinese to communicate for the past seven months.

And I've learned enough about the characters that I will be able to learn more. (That's why I was signing up for a Ren Ren account - I want to have a venue for practicing my writing.)

To push myself further, I'm walking around the house imagining conversations in Chinese.

I'm at a really good stage for learning - I can write short emails or texts to my Chinese friends and they can write equally short replies. No work at all for them; maximum learning benefit for me. Win-win.

I'm astonished and really, really pleased that I've reached this point. I love my subconscious Language Engine; I didn't follow a curriculum but I seem to have picked up exactly what I needed so I could pick up some more . . .

Off to study some more. :)

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