06 March 2015

Concept of School, Seems So Secure

Currently pushing: The mysterious and ancient frilled shark. Of, um, ancienty. And the blue bull of India, the nilgai. You’re welcome.

Well, school started again, in early March. After initially thinking I would only stick around Taiwan for one semester, I wasn’t nearly ready to make future life plans yet so decided to continue on for another exciting three months of learning Chinese at Shida.

This time out though, I was going to drop the intensive course and take regular classes because I felt like the three hours of class plus studying and homework were providing me with little time to do much else. (Perhaps only semi-true, since I’m not the most efficient time manager ever. But many of my classmates agreed.) So my big debate for spring semester was which time slot to pick: 12-2pm or 2-4pm? Clearly the latter was my preferred option but then I decided to be responsible and go for the earlier than noon wake up.

Plus, my new-ish apartment was only a seven minute walk to school, cutting my commute time by at least half an hour. No more rushing to hail a cab to class...and then sending Snapchats to classmates that basically said "I'm coming!"

Also this semester, upon suggestion of my teacher, I demoted myself down a few levels, switching from the classes with mostly ABCs (American Born Chinese) to ones with mostly expats. Which meant that I went from one of the worst students in the class to one of the best — at least speaking-wise. I spent most of the first few days of the spring semester hopping around and shopping for a new class as being the best speaker was of little use to me.

As I discovered, in language classes, it’s far better to be one of the lesser students, because you are challenged and can learn from everyone around you. For example, my initial class was made up of people who had only started learning Chinese for six months. There was one ethnic Chinese, aside from me, and he was from Europe. Everyone else was straight foreign. Technically I’d been learning Chinese for twelve to fourteen years, plus I spoke Chinglish at home. Actually I’ve been quite impressed with how fast people can learn rudimentary Chinese — as most of the Shida beginners have their writing and reading skills comparable to mine — but it was a struggle to have basic conversations and that wasn't the challenge I was looking for.

So I went up a level and found people — still mostly foreigners — who’d been studying for maybe nine months, and while my listening/speaking might still be one of the higher ones in class, their overall proficiency was definitely higher than mine. Perfect.

One thing I do miss is my old classmates who, being mostly raised in America, were brought up in educational environments that stressed participation. Ironically, the bane of my young educational career was speaking up but now I find myself wanting a classroom setting where I won’t be the only one volunteering answers.

Having the teacher ask a question and then hearing crickets make for dull classes. Part of the silence is perhaps due to people not being as expressive in a language they are still learning, part of the non-participation comes down to individual personalities of course, but in general, the students from Asian countries tend to be quiet as mice unless called upon. Without classroom dialogue, two hours can crawl by pretty slowly.

One day I should post about the entire educational experience at Shida but for now I can say that its pedagogical model is exactly what you would expect: the Prussian one most of us are familiar with. It’s an effective method (debatable) but can be boring as hell without the right teacher and classmates. So I kept shopping around and settled for two out of three: Right coursework, right teacher, right classmates. Which would you choose?

Seen in the image above: I kept a sketch log of my classmate's earring selections. I was jealous of her many fine birds so this was the next best thing to actually owning them. And yes, I was paying attention in class. I just need to keep my hands busy when I sit down, otherwise I zone out.