Feeling Discouraged

One thing about learning Chinese is that, for me anyway, it often throws me for a loop. Just when I start to feel like I am making some progress – perhaps even getting pretty good at it – something happens that makes it unequivocally clear that I really don’t know Chinese at all.

I had one of those experiences last night when I started to do my homework for the week.

For this level (Integrated Chinese, Level 1 Part 2) I bought the audio CD’s so that I could listen to the dialogues and vocabulary. The textbook dialogues are written out in the textbook, so I can read along and follow them, but the workbook dialogues are not written out. I just have to listen to the CD and then answer the questions in the workbook, based on what is said in the dialogue.

So yesterday I started in on the homework, feeling pretty good about myself. Then I got to the part where I am supposed to listen to the workbook dialogue and answer the questions. I put the CD into my CD drive, fired up Media Player, and listened to the dialogue – and I couldn’t understand one thing. Well, that’s not strictly true. I got “ni hao.” I felt a little panicked at that point. I should be able to do this! I listened to it again. I paused the audio, backed up, listened again. And again. And again. After listening maybe twenty times or more, I kind of got the gist of what was being said, but I still can’t understand every word and get the details. Wow. I’ve put in so many hours studying, and I still can’t understand this simple dialog. It’s discouraging.

Not long ago, I read Tom’s post over at Seeing Red in China titled “It’s Easy to Learn Chinese – Really.” He said (in a comment to the main post) that for him reading and writing are more difficult than speaking and listening. For me, it is just the opposite. I can read and write some Chinese now (writing is definitely harder, especially just remembering how to write characters without any reference), but speaking and listening – especially listening – are really hard. I try to translate in my head as the speaker is talking, so I get lost. On top of that, about half the time, maybe more, I just don’t hear the word correctly. I get “ji” confused with “zhi,” “xi” confused with “shi,” “qi” confused with “chi” and on and on. I don’t hear the tones correctly, so then I don’t know if the speaker means “那”or “哪,” “十”or “是”or “事.” I should be able to tell from the context, but I’m not there yet. Chinese has so many homonyms, and when I hear a word, every possibility runs through my head – was it this, that, what? I think if I am ever going to be able to learn how to understand spoken Chinese, I am going to have to listen to a lot of dialogues, starting from the simplest. I clearly don’t have the listening skills now to jump in at the Level 1, Part 2 dialogues and understand them – but I will get there.

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2 Responses to Feeling Discouraged

  1. Tom says:

    Hey Pete, don’t worry about hitting a block like this. My listening improved faster than anything else because I have to listen to my co-workers chat in Chinese all day and I got tired of not knowing if they were talking about me.
    Start watching more Chinese movies and tv shows with Chinese subtitles and you’ll start to combine your reading skills with listening. That’s more or less what I’ve done to improve my reading.
    Language skills always build up according to what you practice most, and at this moment you’ve had more time with the book than the CD. Listen to it on your way to work, or you can download podcasts from chinesepod (I think they are still around).

  2. Pete Nelson says:

    Thanks for your encouragement, Tom. I think I can eventually get better at listening. What got to me was that I thought I was better at it than I am. I have Rosetta Stone, and I have used that a lot in the past, so I figured my listening skills were at least ok. I have a lot more work to do, obviously.

    I listen to my Chinese colleagues at work speak quite a bit, too (I have several colleagues from China), but usually they are speaking Cantonese – so no help there!

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