Written September 3, 2011
Keats Language School, Kunming, China
Language learning can feel like a horribly slow process even in an immersion environment with four hours of class a day and a whole world outside the classroom to practice in. Sadly, it is slow. Except for the very gifted few, most students, especially older students, need time to process what they are learning. Signs that you are making progress come as small accomplishments, understanding the waiter in restaurant or asking for something without getting a funny look or a “ting bu dong”, I hear but don’t understand.
This week MW and I practiced the same routines we studied last week – ordering from a menu, street directions and buying produce, and started on how to buy bus and train tickets and getting a hotel room. Half of understanding what someone says to you in a given situation is knowing what to expect. Buying the bus ticket last weekend was made that much more difficult because I didn’t know that they generally don’t sell return tickets or even tickets in advance for that matter. You buy your ticket and get on the bus. A much simpler speech act to negotiate than having to deal with times and return tickets.
There are differences in transactions at hotels as well. In China you generally pay when you check in, paying the room price plus a key deposit to be returned when you check out. The lesson included making hotel reservations by phone, but since I can barely understand what people say to me in person I don’t think I’ll be making a phone reservation in Chinese anytime soon.
In one of our lessons we visited a local hotel for more authentic practice. If this guy was speaking Chinese I wouldn’t have known it. I could barely make out the odd word. MW repeated some of his phrases, but he kept speaking faster and faster even when I asked him to repeat some things. Let’s hope things go better this weekend in Jian Shui.
On the way back to the school we stopped and read some more restaurant menu boards. I’m now getting into all the various animal parts. Some of which you want to know just so you don’t accidently order them. I know three different words that refer to feet – one general, one for birds and one for bigger animals. I’ve covered most of the internal organs, plus blood and the general words for innards. My list of vegetables is expanding, especially with more types of mushroom, most of which I’m sure I’ve never seen on an English menu. I find it all quite fascinating, but my time here is too short to really taste and learn all that I want to.