Student Voices: Chán Yì Mǎ (Eema)

This week’s journal prompt challenged the students to make a self-assessment of their language learning after nearly three months in China. Here’s what Eema has to say about the specific skills and confidence she’s built since arriving.

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“My host father, mother, and sister all have an interest in studying English, and having an American student living with them for four months is a great learning opportunity for them. Except, of course, when the student is just as interested in improving their Chinese which is pitiful compared to their host family’s English. I’ve noticed that, not only within my host family but also when speaking to Gao Xin students, even if I speak in Chinese, the person will respond in English. These half Chinese, half English conversations feel a little awkward, especially since my Chinese is embarrassingly poor and the conversation would run so much smoother if I spoke English to them. However, I’m in China and this is the greatest opportunity ever to improve my Chinese, so I ask the other person to speak Chinese regardless of how silly I sound. My host family is more stubborn though, and continue to speak English to me. I’ve resorted to asking, “What?” and “I don’t understand” whenever they speak English until they understand I’ll only respond if they speak Chinese.

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“I’ve found that my greatest Chinese conversations occur with taxi drivers. It’s the perfect scenario—you’re some strange, foreign specimen trapped in a car for gosh-knows-how-long with a curious, solely-Chinese speaking taxi driver. Every ride leads to a different conversation, but no matter what, by the time I exit the car, I feel so accomplished and proud of myself for understanding the driver’s strange accent and random questions, and for answering well enough for them to also understand. Though the drivers laugh at my pronunciation and small (but growing) vocabulary, I can tell my understanding of the Chinese language has been improving. Eema from four months ago, whose only Chinese experience came from Room 200 in BHS, would not be able to hold a thirty minute long conversation in a foreign language.

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“Judging how much my Chinese has improved is impossible for me to do myself, since even if myself and others can understand me, it doesn’t mean I’m speaking well. The people around me have probably just adjusted to my strange accent and mispronounced tones. Even though I don’t know the extent to which I’ve improved, I know my Chinese is better than before this trip. There’s Chinese surrounding me everywhere, and once I go back to America it’s going to be difficult to continue practicing my Chinese whenever I feel like. I can’t just look out the window and challenge myself to read a sign in all characters once I go back. I’m so lucky though to have my Chinese-speaking mother and the whole half of my family who speak Chinese to practice with. The only difficulty is that they won’t understand the Xi’an dialect that I’ve picked up, but I can teach them.

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