As a self-language-learner, I knew heading into university would be a completely different experience.
At the start of March (Australian university terms run from March to November), I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts, Majoring in Japanese. What does that mean to people who have never done a degree? Basically, I can study whatever I want (within reason) but I must study all the required subjects in a Japanese Major.
So with that in mind, I enrolled in a course in Linguistics 101 and Chinese 101 as my ‘other subjects’ for this semester – and….. well…. it is everything I expected it to be.
How different is it from self-studying?
Tests, assignments – while I can’t say I’m overjoyed at the prospect of these, they do help hone your focus, if you have a personality like mine: continually indecisive and unfocused. But what I can say is so incredibly stupid is the fact that these tests only test me on knowledge and NOT if I am communicative.
Its interesting, having lived with a Chinese teacher, I would occasionally run into a student she would tutor. The student could communicate in Chinese, ask questions, reply, basic conversations, read menus, write nearly everything she could say – enough that if you dropped in her China and said ‘sink of swim!’ she would swim enough to get herself by. What I found frustrating, is that despite all this, this girl didn’t blitz her exam (she did well – a bit of stretch from getting 100%), because according to the education department, she didn’t tick all the boxes in the curriculum.
That’s just crap.
And so I am finding in Chinese, I am learning things that are just pointless. I admit, getting used to tones is a bit of task, and some time should be spent on them initially, but you don’t learn a language by learning sounds just on their own. You learn through sentences, words in context. Its like me going to a non-English person. “Say “a” “b” “c” when in reality, “apple,” “banana” and “China” all have different sounds based on how they are used in a word or sentence! It is not helpful to learn sounds on their own, but starting with simple words and sentences – that’s how you learn a language.
Oh my word. What is it with academics and their definition of ‘fun?’ Speaking generally, I have never understood why they choose textbooks that are 1. Textbooks (makes you cringe just at the sight of it) and 2. are so dry and sanitised that in real life, you wouldn’t hear it?!
Learning characters without any memory tools/methods.
I nearly slapped my computer when I found out that my teacher felt that wrote memorisation (aka writing things over and over again) was the way to remember characters. Yes, this can lead to the memorisation but NO this is not the only way. Learning radicals meanings, mnemonics and stories all can help and yet there are NONE given from the teacher.
No opportunity to stray from the curriculum and use it in my assignments/works.
At the end of the day, I’m tested on course content. Not anything else. So I can wow my teacher with the fact that I know know the word for raspberry (木每) and soil (土地）but at the end of the day – its not part of my vocab list for the semester, so no points!
If you hate it so much, why are you doing university then?
At the end of the day, I know that university will not make me fluent, however, by sticking to a curriculum – I will be able to learn the basics of the language and tick off another unit to go towards my degree. I think, it would be very erroneous for anyone to think that a language degree will mean you will be sprouting sentences like a native – IT WON’T. The only way that will happen is your motivation and the decision to do more than is required in the course.
So my tips?
Find natives and got through your mind-numbingly boring content with them – This will make it like ripping off a bandaid, quick and painless (ok, maybe a bit of a pain). Get the crap stuff over with and move onto more fun stuff.
Speak often – While a native is suggested to practice with, finding a fellow classmate to ‘play’ with the language and laugh with you is great. Half the battle is getting over the psychological battle of ‘what-if-I-make-a-mistake?’ mentality. Learn to laugh a lot. It breaks the ice
Use apps – especially if you hate drills – for writing characters – I can’t emphasise this enough. At the moment, my Chinese writer app is getting me through moments of ‘its all to hard to find my books/pens/pencils’ when I just grab my phone/tablet and off I go. 5 minutes later, I’ve learned another character or memorised a stroke order again on a pesky character.
Speak with your teacher
Its all well and good to say how sucky the class is, but at the end of the day – your teacher should be able to help you and a good teacher will listen to feedback. After approaching my teacher on the lack of video recordings of lectures, I nearly fell over when I found she’d been investigating options to see how she could incorporate them into her lessons a week later. Kudos to you teacher! I can at least admire your attitude and desire help even if I’m not a fan of the content.