Holy Hanzi Batman! What'd she say?

Apparently, my Chinese placement test went pretty well. Either that, or the teacher who gave the test was playing a cruel joke on me. They put me in level C10, which is an intermediate level. Intermediate sounded about right to me. I imagined that the class would be hard but that I would understand what was going on.  I didn’t. Let’s just put it this way: the first class was hard. I don’t mean “run the Portland marathon” hard, I mean “run the Hood to Coast by yourself hard”. . . . .While carrying your sister on your back. . . . . . .Barefoot. . . . .Get the picture?

From the minute the teacher walked in , I knew I was in trouble. She began right away, welcoming everyone and asking us to introduce ourselves. That was no problem, since our teacher at PSU had drilled us on this a lot, but once we opened the textbook everything went to hell. I’ve spent quite of time studying characters (hanzi) on my own, but mostly without the context of a sentence or paragraph. When I started reading the text, I could not really understand the meaning. Reading the book out loud made my comprehension decrease even more. Our teacher would stop to explain terms to us (all in very fast Mandarin), often writing lots of characters on the chalkboard to make her point.

Once in a while she would ask us questions. When she called on me, I really had no idea what was going on or what she was asking, so I could only stutter that I didn’t understand (at least I knew how to say that). She asked a couple of times and gave up, moving on to the next person. I later told Roberta, the Italian sitting next to me, that the teacher must think I’m an idiot. I sure felt like one.

There were 18 of us together that first day of class. (Over the first few days, this fluctuated significantly as people moved from class to class to adjust their level). It was an interesting group. There were eight Italians, six Koreans, one Japanese guy, one Swiss guy, one girl from Myanmar (I haven’t gotten the nerve up to ask her about politics yet) and one American (me). I was excited because I got to practice the little bit of Italian that I can speak. I should leave here with a better grasp of two languages.

As I sat there feeling stupid at the back of the class, I looked around and watched my classmates reactions to the class. For the most part, they seemed to be understanding what was going on. However, at the end of class they admitted to not understanding much, and assured me that they were just better actors than I was. That first class really knocked me back. I was convinced I should move down a level, but after talking to some friends, they convinced me to stay in the class, final exam be damned. I’m still not sure if I will end up regretting it, but I plan to keep studying and see what happens. Taking the easy route just is not my style. I don’t know why.