So we’re now closer to the end of September than the end of August, so it’s past time to do this. This won’t be my usual goals update post, because I don’t even remember where I ended up at the end of last month. Instead, I’ll talk about what I’m doing now and what my goals look like for the next few months.
First, I found out that I won’t be required to pass the TOCFL like I thought I would. One program I’m applying to will require it, the others won’t. I can take it again in March or whenever it’s offered next, and if I don’t pass it then, I just have to take an extra class (something like “Advanced Chinese”) as part of my MA. I’m fairly confident I’ll pass it in November, but if not then I’ll worry about it then. For now, I’m not worrying about it specifically. I do intend to work some with 《新聞與觀點》 News and Views before the test, but that’s all I’m going to do as far as the TOCFL goes.
This term at MTC, I’m taking Thought and Society. That’s my big goal for the year realized, so I’m happy about that. I read most of the book over the summer, but the teacher for this class focuses on usage rather than simply understanding, so it’s going to be really good for my speaking ability, which unfortunately is still really lagging behind. Well…I shouldn’t say unfortunately because it’s my own fault for emphasizing passive skills over active ones, but I’m working on that.
Other than that class, I’m also auditing a graduate course on palaeography in the Chinese department. I’m doing a decent amount of reading for this course and on other subjects related to what I’ll be doing for my MA. Right now I’m reading a book called 《古文字學初階》, and once I finish that (probably later this week), I’ll be working through 《文字學概要》, 《古音之旅》, 《中國古代文化常識》, and maybe a few others. I’m still a fairly slow reader, so these will take me a few months to work through (I’m only spending about an hour per day on them).
I’m still reading 文言文 a few times per week, but I’m scaling it back a bit to make room for the extra reading I’m doing. For now, I’m doing the reading for my study group only, and that’s plenty. I’ll pick this back up with more intensity later on.
I’m also currently taking Taiwanese a few hours per week, but it’s more for fun than for serious. I do intend to learn at least some Taiwanese while I’m here, but it isn’t a priority. That’s unfortunate, because it’s the mother tongue of a huge number of Taiwanese people, and it’s such a cool language to boot. I plan on doing some dialectology during grad school (as a secondary focus), so of course knowing some 台語 will be beneficial, but I mainly want to learn it because it’s interesting in and of itself.
Apart from all this, I’m trying something a bit new. I wanted to wait until I had experimented a bit more with it, but I’ll go ahead and write about it. I’m watching through a TV series right now called 智勝鮮師. Not only am I watching it extensively (as in, just putting an episode on and watching), I’m also working with it intensively. I’m going through episode 1 with a fine-toothed comb. I have a notebook that I’m filling with literally every word of dialogue in the episode. This is a slow process, because it’s handwritten. I usually cover about 3 minutes from the show per hour-long session.
As I’m transcribing, I’ll go through and look up unknown vocabulary and define it on the facing page. I’m essentially making my own personalized textbook out of the episode, in a format much like the 新選廣播劇 New Radio Plays book used at ICLP. The difference is that those plays are really old, while this TV series is currently being broadcast. Other differences are that this show is actually entertaining to me, the characters speak with Taiwanese accents (and fast), they use current slang, they make references to current pop culture, etc. The main character is a high school literature teacher, so there are lines of 文言文 scattered through the dialogue. There’s a lot of great stuff about this show from a learner’s standpoint. Of course, the choice of show is secondary, and if you decide to experiment with this technique you should decide on a show you like.
So after I’ve gone through and transcribed the dialogue, the next day I’ll spend some time working with the audio. I go through and mark the useful sentences, then practice reading them, repeating them after hearing the audio, etc. Useful can mean anything here, whether it’s new vocabulary, a funny or entertaining way of saying something, a pattern I want to be comfortable with using, whatever. Sometimes I pick a sentence specifically to work on my intonation, or my speaking speed and accuracy. There’s a line near the beginning which the main character utters in under 3 seconds: 看你們都輸的差不多了，我看今天的課就上到這裡為止吧. That’s 8 syllables per second, if you’re counting. My tongue just doesn’t move that fast (even in English), so it’s a good sentence to practice with. The goal in this session is to really internalize these sentences. My goal is to spend 30-60 minutes on this per session (2-3 times per week), but I haven’t done much of it yet.
If this works out well, I’ll be spending a lot of time with this material, and of course with Thought and Society. Lots of poring over notebooks, shadowing audio, consciously trying to use new stuff in conversation, etc. To that end, I’m hanging out with more Taiwanese people, and so of course I’m speaking more Chinese. I want to really push that aspect over the next year, because I really need to get my speaking skills on par with my listening and reading. I’ll be working on writing one-on-one with a teacher.
In fact, I believe Thought and Society will be my last regular class at MTC, because I can get on a different ARC through my wife’s job, and so I won’t have to take a certain number of hours of class to remain in the country legally. After this term, I’ll be meeting with a tutor twice a week, working intensively on writing and speaking (likely using 從精讀到泛讀 The Independent Reader as our main material), while reading as much as I can on the side (文言文 as well as continuing to read some of the basic works in my field, and maybe some for fun), watching TV, attending lectures/auditing classes, hanging out with my local friends, tutoring some to cover expenses, and generally just making sure that I’m as well-prepared as I can be for when I start my MA.
I was advised by a very reputable, famous professor (in Sinology, anyway) in the US that I should absorb as much language and cultural knowledge as I can while I’m here, so another thing I’ll be working on with my tutor is my general cultural knowledge. This will be more just asking for guidance than actively working with him/her. Popular and traditional culture. History. Etc. What do I need to read to make up (as much as possible) for the fact that I wasn’t born here? I have a lot of catching up to do in this respect, obviously, and it isn’t something I really think is possible, but I feel like I should put as much effort as possible into this (without neglecting my other studies, of course).
Another thing I’ll be doing (again? finally? we’ll see?) is learning some Japanese. I don’t expect to make great strides here, but I do plan on spending 30-60 minutes per day on Japanese. I’ve got Assimil waiting for me to dig in, and I also plan on using Tae Kim’s grammar and a book I picked up recently called 《第一本快速開口說的日語200句型》. There’s another book I may use after that (we’re talking a good bit into the future here) called 《新日檢N5~N1必考10000單隨手K》, which, as the title suggests, teaches 10,000 words, with example sentences for all, ordered by JLPT level. The books available to Taiwanese people to learn languages, especially English and Japanese, are simply unreal. I can only imagine what it would be like if we had anything close to this sort of selection and quality for English-speaking learners of Chinese and Japanese.
I’ve now been in Taiwan for 1 year, 1 month, and 1 day. When I came here I had a hard time doing much of anything in Chinese. I’m now reading academic books, auditing graduate courses in my field (and understanding probably 90%, which will improve a lot by next year I’m sure), and reading 古文觀止. I still have a LONG way to go before I really feel comfortable, but I have nearly a year before I have to do any of this stuff for real, so I’m confident that I’ll be OK by then.