Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Is it "self-study" if you have a Chinese teacher?

I mentioned in my last post how my Chinese teacher helped me translate the world's funniest joke into Mandarin. Following that, I got a couple of DMs though Twitter and one email, asking me about how I can have a teacher when I also say that I self-study Chinese ... so I thought I would explain what I think the difference is.

In later posts I will explain how I chose my teachers, and exactly what a typical lesson looks like.

I have self-studied Chinese - I'm clear about that

About 99% of what I know is through listening to podcasts (90% was from ChinesePod and 10% was Popup Chinese), studying books & websites, working through flashcards (read my posts on the topic here), reading comics & children's stories, etc.

I have also learned by having conversations with people, asking questions, having language exchange partners, being corrected by strangers that I'm chatting with ... and having a teacher on & off.

I have not attended classes, lectures, or immersion programs. I therefore am happy with the label that "I have self-studied Chinese" - although I do gladly acknowledge all the help I have received from countless people along the way. (I am even grateful to one my one Chinese friend who, when hearing that I am learning Chinese, told me not to bother - as a foreigner I would never make much progress! Thank you thank you thank you for pissing me off enough to study harder :-)

my teachers

While in London, Athena and I would meet somewhere between once a week and once a month - and even though I haven't had a lesson with her in 1.5 years, we still stay in touch - it's wonderful how well you can get to know someone even when you're talking using really short sentences and simple words!

Now in Hong Kong, my teacher for the last couple of months has been Judy - we're meeting about once a week (though my travel schedule makes that a challenge!), and doing a variety of talking, reading, sentence dissection, etc.

your teachers

I am not saying that self-study is the only way, or even the best way. But for me, I wouldn't do it any other way. And of course people use their teachers in their own way.
  • One of my friends (he's in his late 30s) is learning Russian, and he meets a teacher every week. She's strict - and he's a little scared of her. So usually the night before their lesson he stays up late, doing homework, memorising words. Their relationship works because it's the fear of the teacher that gets him to study. I don't know how sustainable this is, but for now he is further than he otherwise would have been. I can't work that way, but it works for him.
  • Another friend (around 30) is learning German, and he also meets a teacher weekly. He doesn't fear her, but he uses her as an excuse. He seems to think that because he has a teacher he doesn't actually have to learn material himself. So he doesn't. He lived in Germany for two years, with weekly lessons, and I've watched him struggle to ask for a menu and a bottle of water in German. I couldn't let myself do this.
If a teacher helps you, then get one. If you can't afford one, then find a language exchange partner. But do what works for you. And remember that it's your life and your language learning. Please don't let a teacher dictate what & how you should do things ... when you stop enjoying you stop learning.

Ultimately you will only know a language when you can speak it, understand it, read it. There's lots to learn, and only you can do that - a teacher cannot do that for you. Successful language learning comes down to a massive chunk of self-study, so spend some time this year finding your self-motivation ...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The world's funniest joke (now available in Chinese :-)

I saw an article on the CNN website, where they announce: "The world's funniest joke has been revealed after a year-long search by scientists."

It's actually a joke I'd heard before, and it goes like this:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy takes out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps: "My friend is dead! What can I do?"  The operator says: "Calm down, I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead."  There is a silence, then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: "OK, now what?"

I memorised a joke in Mandarin about 2-3 years ago, and I've got great mileage from it since then - so I decided to translate this one, and will set about memorising it over the next few days. Because of the subtle wording required to make this joke work, I did this yesterday as an exercise with Judy, my Chinese teacher.

In case you'd also like to learn the joke, here it is joke in Chinese. (For an easy pinyin pronunciation of any of the words, here's a shortcut to MDBG.net's version.)

两个猎人在林子里打猎,其中一个突然昏倒了。看起来他没有呼吸,他的眼睛干瞪着。他的同伴打电话叫救护车。他说,“我的朋友死了,怎么办?” 接线生说,“冷静一点,我来帮你。首先确定他真的死了。”  安静了一下,那边穿来了一下枪声。同伴说,“好了,然后呢?”

So what was the first joke you memorised? You're welcome to copy it into a comment below, or at least provide a link if you have one.