Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Metcalf Elementary School Class!

Last time I told you about the different means of public transportation. Did you find it interesting or educational, convenient or scary?  I took a walk today and marveled at the skills the drivers here have. Some of the side roads I wandered down don't look big enough to fit one car down it, never mind two but somehow they manage it.  My friends and I have discovered a great alley that is hidden just across the main road from our school.  On this particular road there are small shops, repair places and restaurants on both sides of the road; some of them spilling out onto the sidewalks and into the street.  I figured it was a pedestrian and bike street until I almost got run over by a car which was going way to fast for it's own good.  Everyone around me seemed to see this as a normal event, so how could I be upset that I'm not used to this?

Now I'm beginning my project that I had proposed for the Gilman Scholarship. I'll be working with the 6th grade art classes at Metcalf Elementary School in Rhode Island, finding things around Beijing to help them explore an aspect of China's culture through art.  When I first told everyone at home that I wanted to learn to read and write in Chinese, most people said that I was crazy.  Here's a little bit of information that I grabbed off Wikipedia about Chinese Characters here if anyone wants to read more.  The biggest thing that most people are aware of is how many different Chinese characters (汉字 han zi) exist.  In books and historical documents there are more than one person could ever need to learn or use.  This is what makes the task of learning to write Chinese daunting. At first I was very nervous about never being able to become fluent in reading because there are so many different characters and combinations that it seemed impossible. Later I was told that I would only need to learn 3,000-4,000 characters to be able to be fluent.  Well that's better! 

I brought my fear of not being able to learn all the characters I would need to my teacher's attention.  She asked me "how many words do you know how to read in English?"  Well, I know a whole bunch of English words. "And how many English words do you not know?" Ahh. As it turns out, although there are many many words in the English language, I also do not know them all! This made me feel better about Chinese and writing.

To know where the bus is going, you need to be able to read the names of the bus stops!!

Writing Chinese characters is fun because you get to draw little pictures every time you write anything!  Some characters are very basic and easy like 不, while others can be difficult like 建.  The difficult ones are usually made up of a bunch of simple ones so they can be easy to learn also!  In my classes in Beijing we are learning 20-30 new characters every-other day which I find very quick. I needed to learn how to remember which parts make up each character fast so I could keep up with my classmates.  After trying for a little bit I discovered that each small piece of the character means something. When you put all the meanings together, you can understand the meaning of the whole character! Yay! It is almost the same as breaking down words in English to understand what they mean. One letter by itself does not help you understand the meaning of a word, but by putting them together you can make educated guesses!

In my next post I will go into more detail about the different ways of writing characters and will show you pictures of characters that I took while I was out walking around my university!

再见!zai jian! See you again!

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