“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”
Apologies in advance, dear reader. Here I go again. Another "ups and downs of learning Chinese" post. But this time, I have an important decision to announce.
But first, let's have a look at my Chinese studies "history".
I had my first lesson in February of 2016. 2 months after I arrived in China. At the time, learning Chinese was my most important project. I had the time, I'm passionate about languages, I like a challenge, I had classmates and last but not least, I was keen to be "integrated" into the Chinese community.
Despite changing schools, then teacher and classmates, l maintained the enthusiasm the first year. I was eager to learn and would actually find pleasure in doing my homework.
I ended up with the most wonderful teacher and my new classmates meant (and still mean) everything to me. We were all on a roll. We shared the passion and had fun inside as well as outside the classroom.
All good things must come to an end
Yes, it sound a bit dramatic but I suppose I somehow knew that it wouldn't last. I got busy with other things. Got a part-time job, started to do more and more freelance writing and every time I took on something new, Chinese became much less of a priority for me. As a result, I failed my last exam about a year ago (HSK 3 exam). Last summer, our beloved classmate Elisabete moved to Indonesia, Egle decided to stop and there has have been lots of changes in the group. This has caused some instability - but that instability is not to blame for my current demotivation. I have simply gotten lazy, sloppy and too busy with other things.
There are 6 HSK levels in total and I'm currently studying level 4. I hope to do the exam in August or September and last week, I told my dear teacher Xin that I will be stopping after level 4. That was not part of the plan. I naïvely thought that reaching (and finishing) level 6 was feasible within the 4 1/2 years we'll have in China altogether. Reaching level 6 WOULD have been possible IF I had chosen to study full-time at the university (or at least 4-5 hours per day). I started off with 4 hours per week, then 9 and now I'm back to 6. Xin told me "HSK 四级真的不错“ (HSK 4 is not bad at all) - and she fully supported my decision to stop after the summer.
What do you know after 3 years?
I think the easiest way of telling you where HSK 4 gets you is by telling you what I can do - and what I can't - in Chinese:
Talk to taxi drivers and give directions: yes
Introduce myself and tell people where I come from, how long I've been in China: yes
Talk to our house help: yes
Get the essence of a radio programme (understanding roughly every 9-10 words): yes
Watch a movie in Chinese: no
Participate in a conversation about something that goes beyond small-talk: no
Interview sources in Chinese: no
Depressing innit? I mean three years.
On the other hand, I believe in always looking on the bright side of things. Had I not given it a try, my level would have been zero. I would have saved myself a lot of frustrations but also missed out on a lot of fun - and lifelong friendships! I would have relied on always having an English speaking person around me when trying to communicate - or gotten my translation app out every single day. I could beat myself up for letting go of something that was so important to me - but as you know
冰冻三尺，非一日之寒 “Three feet of ice is not the result of one cold day.” (Rome wasn't built in a day) - and what I've learnt from the past 3 years, is that Mandarin is an incredibly difficult language and it requires so much dedication and patience to become a fluent speaker. But trying to grasp it has been rewarding enough for me. I intend to spend this last year in China practising as much as possible with the man in the street.