Friday, March 04, 2005


I'm getting to the point where my Chinese is good enough that I don't groan when handed a large chunk of written Chinese like, say, a magazine or promotional flyer. Basically, it's good enough to quickly analyze a text and pick out the important bits, and be able to understand enough characters/words to get the gist of those key sentences. I've gone beyond the basics of struggling word by word, even sentence by sentence, and I've progressed to absorbing entire texts at a time. This means that the way in which I learn Chinese has to change. I'm still trying to figure out how. One of my tasks for this weekend is to make a trip to a certain bookstore in Xujiahui to pick up an HSK study book or two and make a schedule of regular study times. Of course, this will have to be accompanied by plenty of fun reading to reinforce what I'm learning. John keeps recommending to me to hire a tutor from the Far East Normal University (Huadong Shifan Daxue). Once I feel comfortable coming up with suitable lessons for myself, I'll seriously consider doing that.

One of the ways I'm approaching this change in learning style is to examine how I learn new words in my primary language, English, another language in which I take entire texts at a time instead of struggling word by word. Fortuitously, the book I just started a few days ago (The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Rey Chow) is full of words I "don't understand". I went back and read the preface (four pages), and wrote down these words. They fit into several categories.

This is actually a word coined by Foucalt that is explained later in the text. Some Chinese words that I think I don't know are actually new words that the writer is coining and that a native speaker would not understand until it is explicitly or implicitly explained. These words are particularly frustrating because I don't know that I'm not supposed to know them.
I should know this one, but I looked it up. It is the adjectival form of epistemology, which is the theory of knowledge. In any case, this is a legitimate advanced vocabulary word.
Deceptively simple, this is one of those words that are being redefined in academia. Sometimes I run across a word that I think I know, then I realize from context that it has been given another different meaning, or is a word with several meanings of which I was only familiar with one. This is one of those, in English.
Legitimate word.
Legitimate word, but curiously not in any online dictionaries.
Legitimate word.
Legitimate word.
poststructuralist theory
Academic term in vogue. I don't read this kind of stuff in Chinese, but this kind of vocabulary is usually pretty easy to figure out because it's usually a direct literal translations from the English. This one is likely to be something like 后机构理论 (literally "after structure theory").
Another word taken a step further by theorists.
existentialist freedom
I don't even know how to go about looking up what this means. That's when you find an appropriate person and plain ask them.
Legitimate word. Why do I think this is just a high-falutin' version of "resentment"? Ahh, same French roots.
Legitimate word. I've been meaning to figure this one out for a while.

So this shows that there is more than one reason why I would "not understand" a word, and that the answer to the question of "what should I do to understand, speak and write better Chinese" is pretty much in line with my stock piece of advice to all other language learners: use multiple inputs and outputs.


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