I guess it's good I didn't do anything too key to the oral exam this week since my week was cut short, we learned some new verbs and played charades, the kids were noisy and did whatever they felt like and I sensed that maybe 5 people were actually playing in a room of 57 kids. I wish them luck on their tests, it's going to take both Thursday and Friday. When we ran out of words for charades I played them some Pixar shorts I was saving for my story lesson next week, I'm sure they'll be happy to see them again when we break down what makes a story. I know there's a lot here in regards to performing arts, and I thought it was interesting when we had representatives from a school in San Diego and their assistant was explaining that here in Hunan there's a lot more involvement in performing. Which is why the school has pictures of students who won national English competitions, and a number of singers who attend school here. I was definitely surprised to learn that the kids get art and music classes a few times a week. But I think one thing that's hard to explain about these electives to Americans trying to understand how classes work in China is that the kids don't necessarily pick these classes themselves. They have one classroom they stay in all day together and the teacher comes to them. They can enjoy music and art, but they themselves don't choose in the same way I chose the classes in my schedule in middle school. Thursday afternoons have a designated activity period when students can do what they want but I've often found that students can't go to or do what they want every Thursday. We had English Corner on Thursdays last term and a number of students would mournfully say they wanted to come but their teachers wouldn't let them because of a test, because of a class, because there was too much work to be done...we kind of just had to accept that we'd take what we could get and try to reach as many as we could.
My social group grew a little too, and I'm not very talkative so not many teachers know how much Chinese I understand. I turned to the other people saying "Meiguoren" (American) and they asked if I understood. "Yi dian" (A little) and they deconstructed lunch for me "Yu" (Fish), "Su cai" (Vegetarian food), "rou" (meat), and "kuai zi" (chopsticks). It was fun. I don't think the other English teachers know I understand them sometimes too. I tried to practice Chinese in the English teachers office once but I think because they don't practice speaking English with me that much they either don't notice or prefer to speak English with me. My Chinese isn't great so it's the most direct way to communicate, and I've since learned that Chinese both as a language and a system of communicating prefers direct speech (Which is why my students sometimes say "This give me!"). I try to be polite, but I went through a podcast in which a woman got upset because "If you sound overly polite, it's like you're trying to be somehow better and more correct when you could just be direct." So I still start a lot of sentences with "Qingwen" or "qing-" to say please but I'm sure I'm alone in using it as much as I do. The other teachers don't seem to when I listen to them talking. It's funny to me, Chinese has a reputation as a difficult language, when you see how it's written and have to train yourself to hear the different tones the reputation is deserved. But grammar-wise, I haven't found it to be overly difficult but you do need to practice syntax (word order) and there are things you add to the end of phrases to change the meaning of words but for most of my needs it hasn't been too complicated to just build. "Wo yao" means "I want" and "Wo yao _____ le" means "I will _____ ". Commands are as simple as just shouting the verb, no conjugation required "Deng yixiar" is "Wait a bit" and "Kan yixiar" is "Look a bit/have a look/let me have a look" depending on the context (most of the time, you'll hear it from people standing outside of their shops). It's so extremely direct that students sometimes have trouble remembering to add articles like "the" or "a" or things we expect in a full, fluid English sentence. I haven't learned the past tense, but I've heard that all I really need is the verb and the word "yesterday" or "last year". Why mess around with fancy conjugations when I can just tell you "last year" and make it pretty obvious it was in the past? But the Chinese language is vast, the culture is often misunderstood and we're talking about a huge country too. So though there are ways the language is easy and much can be understood just from context, the difficult part is remembering all the different tones, the writing system, and the cultural and historical context that adds nuance to what you want to say. And don't even get me started on how much depends on relationships and the expectations associated with those relationships (business, family, friends, and loved ones, which tend to overlap more here than in the US). I can definitely say more than I could at the beginning, but I still sense how much I have to learn and how much more writing I have to learn. It's not as easy as picking up a newspaper in a foreign language was for me in Switzerland since I had a strong background in Romance languages and could more or less get the gist of an article. Even the students here tell me it's hard for them to read the newspaper since you need to memorize so much to start reading.