Tuesday, June 20, 2006

An interesting vignette: "Wo bu keyi shuo yingwen! (I'm not allowed to speak English!)" I said to the owner of a stall in a clothing market. She tried to correct me, since I appeared to be making a common mistake, saying "I'm not allowed to" when I really meant "I am not able to". I corrected her right back...I was, at least this time, confident that I had made sense. Even after explaining it, she was still quite confused, and to be honest, I don't blame her. The language pledge is definitely a strange concept: send a group of foreigners to a strange country, and then remove any sort of clear communication from their daily lives, essentially reducing them to different stages of early childhood, depending on chinese proficiency. In case anyone didn't know about this aspect of the program, I'm not allowed to speak any English for the next ~2 months. Perhaps even stranger is that I'm thrilled they did this to us. Any language student knows that it's always tough to practice your skills in social situations, so it's pretty cool that I can speak Chinese with my peers and not annoy anyone too much. The most interesting thing about the pledge, though, is seeing the 100 level beginning students starting to learn. They're getting along surprisingly well, but it's still very tough for them to both communicate their thoughts and understand more advanced students. I'm sure that they will have amassed a huge vocabulary by the time they leave, it will be very interesting to see how it works out.

Aside from the pledge, it's nice to be in class again. There's always a struggle between structure and freedom, and this last week in Beijing without a schedule was a bit much. It was great to have some time to meet each other and get to know our area, but I wouldn't want to live this way for an extended period. As one of my program-mates said, you could probably spend 3 years in Beijing living as we were and you would neither learn nor accomplish anything. Plus, there's only so much you can do to improve your language without properly learning the technical aspects. Classes are going well so far, it's a lot of work and fast-paced, but we're learning very practical material.

Happy belated fathers day to any dads reading, and I'll have pictures up soon, promise.