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Beijing Part 2: Day 18

Heading into the second week of class, a few surprises have settled into reality.

While everybody's language skill inevitably has gaps between spoken, listening and reading/writing skills, they're especially pronounced in Chinese. My own arc has made my listening comprehension strongest, speaking second strongest and reading & writing a very distant, lagging third.

Last week, it became quickly apparent that I somehow had ended up in a class full of book-heavy students. I suspect that each and every one of them, even the 17 to 20-year-olds, can read and write Chinese more effectively than I can (maybe not more beautifully, but more effectively) but when the teacher calls for speaking?


Literally nobody would volunteer to speak up except for me. I quickly stopped volunteering immediately, as this creates an uncomfortable dynamic for everybody. Nevertheless, my willingness to talk, perhaps in tandem with the revelation of my real age, generated what I call an illusion of holistic competency.

A couple of my classmates, with whom I had not had any time to speak, came to ask me questions during break about the text. I was able to answer part of the time, even when I had to struggle to explain simple Chinese with even more simple Chinese because the supplicant didn't speak English.

Hopefully my fumbling with reading from print in class has dispelled notions that I'm a valid authority to appeal to when it comes to hanzi.

Additional new semester trivia:

  • There is French girl in my class who was insisting today she had an apartment in Xizhimen and walked to school every day in 15 minutes. You couldn't cover that distance on foot in an hour, possibly not even in two. After class, I talked to her, waved a subway map and she admitted she'd made a mistake. She is adorable.

  • My biker jacket and engineer boots appear to be having the predicted effect of increasing my aura of foreignness. People eye me.

  • Tomorrow we will have dictation in Chinese and need to write, Chinese. I'm going to die.