Studying Chinese in Beijing

Margaret and Rich at Mandarin Zone School

               Stretch your body   :    Expand your mind.  It is the tag. It is my mantra.   Keep improving, physically and mentally.

               First order on arrival in China are Chinese Lessons with Margaret at Mandarin Zone, her school near the Tuanjiehu station on line 10 in Beijing.  It has been more than two years since my first lesson with her.  Now about six years of study.  What I do not have in intellect I compensate with stubbornness and determination.   Can’t say it’s been an easy process, but fortunately people like Margaret and my first teacher Xin, have stuck with me. 

               From Park Plaza Hotel it is two changes and about forty minutes to the school.  Line 5 change to line 6 at Dongsi.  Line 6 change to Line 10 at Huijialu.  Exit at Tuenjiehu.  Total cost is 3 yuan, or less than a half a dollar, US.  China has put a priority on mass transportation.  Clean trains, clean, well-lit stations, trains running very often at an available price for everyone.  Doesn’t America have the will to serve its people better?  

               Emerge at Exit B, always a critical piece of information in Beijing since there are many exits and the choosing the correct one saves crossing large streets and avoiding attack by Beijing’s crazy drivers.

               The building entrance is in the alley, not on the main street, and a bit dingy.  Two small elevators service a 17 storey building.  At busy times, lines form and it can be two or three elevator cycles before you can get on.  At 9:30 most everyone is already at work, so the line is short.

               We are on the Second Book of the Beijing Language Institute Speak Chinese.  My progress is slow since Margaret reminds me I only have one lesson a week on SKYPE and do miss some.  It is true.  My attention to Chinese when I am at home lags. 

               Margaret is wonderfully kind, accepting my progress, or lack, with poise.  Always ready with positive comments.  What is, is!  During lessons however, she tortures me.  Continual conversation and use of proper grammar.  No error is left unmentioned.  I work hard.  Start sentences and then get lost somewhere in the middle.  Try grammar concepts. Struggle to get it all straight.  Feel happy I completed the sentence and see her face.  “Bu dong,” she says.  “I don’t understand, in English, she says.  Sometimes I try again, sometimes I just give up.  Then she laughs and tells me to try again.  At the start of the lesson I usually try to tell her something that happened to me.  Work on my conversion skills.  After a five minute struggle of confused grammar she says, OK now tell me the whole story again.  Then she giggles as she knows she is torturing me.  But, it does work.

               Truly, I have achieved a valuable plateau.  Basic sentences are ingrained.  Vocabulary has expanded.  Grammar concepts are getting sorted out.  While not fluent, I have a functional level of basic conversation. 

               It is good to see her.  We speak nearly weekly via SKYPE, still the personal experience is different.   Being out and about in China also allows me to test my skills with locals.  While I still do not hear and understand the local people, they understand me.

               Four days, three hours a day in the morning.  All that I have available this trip, but she moved side some other students to make time for me. 

               So we begin.  We spend three days reviewing all of the chapters of book two, 16 to 25 in tow and a half days.  Then we begin the new stuff.  Up to Chapter 28 and “ba” sentences, the last grammar hurdle in this book.  She tells me that Book 3 focusses on conversation and all difficult grammar has been completed. 

               My confidence has improved and I am willing to speak to people, ask questions and get directions.  Yes, I am stopped by many people who are curious about this white haired person.  They wish to engage, practice their English.  I in turn practice my Chinese. 

               I do have a weakness for the children and always offer a “Hello.”  I did learn from JoAnn, see an earlier post, “The Power of Hello.”  The parents always encourage a response.  Sometime we can engage more, and others just say “Hello” or “Ni Hao.”   

               Whatever, I do try to engage.  Practice conversation and improve my ear and my speaking.

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