Last Post from Monterey

Yesterday afternoon I did two class presentations, one group presentation and one individual. My individual presentation was some random word vomit despite the organization my powerpoint provided. As always I blanked on key words.

The group presentation was an evening talk show format, and I was the host. That went better for me, although our teacher was not familiar with the format; I think she expected the kind that’s common in the rest of the world: the round table, everybody talk at once kind of format (think The View) or a news debate show. Or even one of those variety shows, where there are 12 guests all at once, they’re all holding a wireless mic, and the editor later adds snarky sound effects, thought bubbles, and music… in other words, total chaos.

We were all like, oh no, we’re not doing that… we’re doing a civilized, American late night talk show, where each guest gets a solid three minutes largely uninterrupted to shine and plug their product. I sent the teacher a link to Diego Luna teaching Conan how to say “No mames” so that she could get an idea. Anyway, that went well.

This morning we sat and took our written test. Facilities made us get up and move in the middle of our test, which was annoying, but I just moved. Meh. I’m sure I got an 80%.

After the test I went to get a massage, and then after that I met the rest of the Chinese program at Monterey Beach. When I arrived I had to rescue the fire, and then I ended up spending a fair amount of time cooking.

When that was over, I came home… and had nothing to do. I wasn’t planning to leave until Sunday, so… I made arrangements to leave tomorrow, a day early. So I’ll drive up to San José and meet some friends for lunch, then back to Daly City… that will give me a chance to return my uncle’s bastón. Then on Sunday it’s Sacramento for lunch, and Ashland, Oregon for dinner.

Ok, how’s my Chinese now? It’s better than when I started. I’ve certainly seen a lot of vocab and patterns. A few of them are in my daily speech now. I’m not terribly worried that I haven’t internalized more of those yet… it’s not my first rodeo. I know that some of that stuff will start coming out of my mouth in the months to come.

I actually discovered this phenomenon when I got back from France in 1993. My French had improved tremendously from the immersion experience, and I had plenty of new frenchy habits. But I was a little disappointed that my French wasn’t even better. I would go to French class in Seattle and make a lot of the same mistakes I had made before. Oh well, I thought, I didn’t get fluent, but at least it was fun.

Fast forward to a year later, and I was totally able to speak French. So apparently the growth came after I had returned, after the immersion experience was long over.

Looking back now, it was silly to expect that language growth had to happen immediately in response to exposure. If you think about what has to happen neurologically, all the rewiring and reinforcing of neural pathways… all of that happens on it’s own schedule, and has to do with things that I can’t control, like synapses and blood flow.

So what I’m going to do now is keep reading a lot of Chinese, keep finding reasons to talk to people in Chinese, and write as much as I can. I bet a year from now there will be a big difference.

There’s a bigger picture question regarding trying to force language learning, the people who approach it boot camp style, the people who say “no pain, no gain” and then torture themselves with memory recall drills and then make themselves miserable. Those people will inevitably be successful and then attribute their success to all the suffering.

But there’s a different way to look at it… you can also see it as a matter of the brain keeping it’s own acquisition schedule. As long as people are feeding the language instinct with communication, they’re brains are going to develop along it’s own schedule whether they drill themselves into submission, or do what I do, which is chat with target language friends and read for pleasure.

I had a brilliant conclusion to this but I forgot it. It’s late, time to go to bed. My next blog post will probably be from Daly City.

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