Much as we have not mentioned our studies much of late, they have continued with the usual force. It is not nearly as tiring as it used to be. It think we have learned a large proportion of the words that make up the basics of most sentences. It used to be that when I didn't understand someone, all of their words would rush together into non comprehension, even the ones I did know. Now it has mostly flipped, and I am able to immediately identify which words I don't know in a person's sentence. What a relief! The worst used to be when the phone would ring and someone would instantly jabber Chinese. Now I am able to roll my eyes when yet another marketing call comes.
All of this increased comprehension is of course dependent on the person's accent, which is actually a real gamble. A huge proportion of the people living in Beijing are from all over the country and they all have their own dialect. Even when speaking Standard Mandarin, they have a heavy accent. Recently James and I were approached by woman who really wanted to talk about the boys and know how much money we made. But we could only catch about 50% of what she said at best. It was very embarrassing.
Ari has also overcome his shyness with speaking Chinese. This last year, he would mostly refuse to speak Chinese when we were around. He would speak for Chinese people, but never for us. It was a little bizarre and we never knew if he actually was learning much or not. However, he has recently gotten over this. The other night as we ate supper, James and I quizzed him on some phrases. "How do you say 'my dad went to Hangzhou' or 'when I go home my brother and I play' etc. We gave him some really strange and difficult ones, and he mostly knew how to say them. There were some differences of course, but even James and I have those. It seems that I am learning Chinese with a woman's tilt, James is learning it with a men's tilt and Ari is getting the kids version. Sometimes we all disagree on how to say something, but we eventually learn that everyone is "right".
Ari has also begun playing with his toys in Chinese. He'll make up extensive conversations between his toys in Chinese (although for some reason they are usually fighting about something). I asked Aiyi the other day if the things he said sound normal, and she said yes.
Jude speaks to Aiyi in Chinese the same way he speaks English. For example "There was a HUGE DINO SAUR!", usually with his arms spread as wide as possible and eyes wide open. He also understands what is said to him.
Aiyi has been spending hours telling them stories lately. Ari has told me a few of them. I wanted to go and check with her to see if he told me the right version
(forgot until now), because in my opinion, the stories are sometimes a little gruesome for young boys! Its a good thing that the boys don't have a closet in their room, because all the stories seem to revolve around something hiding in the closet waiting to eat little children (followed by a description of how they get eaten). From other children's stories I've heard, I'm now under the impression that Chinese stories for children are all like this. There have been a few nice ones too though. There was some story about penguins recently. It seems like she would have a hard time pulling off a story about penguins hiding in the closet and eating little children.
Above are some pictures of my recent homework. I was copying a lesson dialogue down on paper. I have found this to be a more effective way to learn Chinese characters. Even if I write a character ten times, I can never recognize it when I see it in context. But for every lesson I learn there are ten new characters, which I never remember. This all culminates in a dialogue at the end of the lesson which is written mostly in about 60% characters and 40% pinyin (the way of writing Chinese using our alphabet). However, if I write out the characters in a story or in context, it is much easier to recognize them. There are five pages shown in three pictures. On the first page I didn't translate them to English at all, but on the other four pages I did. If you follow the translation you can even catch a little bit of the dialogue. Since study comprises such a large portion of our lives still, I thought it might be interesting to give you a glimpse into what it looks like on paper. One of the pages also shows a little bit of Ari's writing.
If you have Chinese friends and instantly feel that you must put my writing to the test, please go easy on me! Between checking the characters I didn't know and trying to write them in the correct stroke order, this took me about three hours to do! It probably takes me between 3 and 5 seconds to write most non-simple characters. Chinese people take pride in having beautiful calligraphy...I believe I could be accused of having Chinese "chicken scratch".