Summer school on language and culture

7 July, 2006 at 18:14 (PolyU)

Just a quick post to let people know how the PolyU summer school is going.  In these last few days, I’ve had three of the best lectures in my entire University life!

We usually study Putonghua in the mornings for 3 hours, have a break for lunch, and then have an afternoon lecture on culture for 3 hours.  So far, the language has been ok, but fairly standard in the way it’s taught.  What I mean is that they teach you things like counting, family members, where you’re from and those sorts of things.  However, the teacher is actively trying to make things more engageing, and is very receptive to ideas.  For example, I take issue to languages like Chinese taught using non-literal english phrases.  The reason is that it requires you to double translate something that is already hard to learn.  To give an example, The following sentence:


“What is your name?”

Putonghua (literal translation):

“You to be called what name?”
[“Ni jia shenme mingzi?”]

Now, the problem I have is that when they give us a test and tell us to write down in Chinese what a certain sentence means, they will give us the english equivilent translation, not the literal translation.  I find that it is harder this way since you have to first know how to convert the english sentence to a putonghua construct, before you even think of the particular words.

In this way, you are not building up a framework for thinking in Putonghua, with the correct grammar.  Rather, translating a sentence almost becomes a memory task of A = B, rather than using grammatical structure as a mnemonic technique.

I also think that this is counterproductive, since, our brains are thinking in english in order to try and understand a foreign language.  Anyway, I spoke to the teacher about this, and she thought it might be too hard for the students, whereas I said it might be a bit strange initially, but they will pick up the grammatical structure more easily in the long run and have a deeper understanding of the language.  So we will see what happens… 🙂

The other classes we take are on Chinese culture and have so far – much to my enjoyment – been mainly philosophical discussions or rather digressions.  We havediscussed the I-Ching, Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, western philosophy, Tai-Chi and meditation, tea drinking, among other things.  These have quite honestly been the three most enjoyable lectures of my university life, as I’ve already said.  However, part of the reason for this as I discussed with the lecturer was that, we are not constrained as much by a formal accreditation process, and the topic itself is very broad (Chinese culture).

Anyway, I have to run for now, going out to get some dinner on Hong Kong Island.  Hopefully the lectures remain as good as they have been thus far!

P.S.  Oops, this turned out to be not such a quick post…


1 Comment

  1. sarah said,

    i completely agree with the language learning side of things. it gets my goat trying to translate stuff that literally. kudos good cousin. enjoy the ace lectures while they last… dun dun dunnnnnnn

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