5 reasons not to study for the Chinese oral exam

  1. I don’t need to study just to say ‘aaargh’
    ( oral examination, you get it? )
  2. I’ll take a powernap instead.
  3. The listening test and written exam were OK, why wouldn’t this one?
  4. Relax, it’s still a hobby, right?
  5. Go to the pub and have a beer.

I practised them all; well, except for the first maybe.
The latter requires some explaining – and doesn’t quite fit the list.

As explained in Relentless Teaching, our teacher regularly organizes a get-together with her students and native Chinese speakers. Unlike previous occasions our class was well-represented last Sunday, which allowed us to team up and practice on the save level. Teaming-up with 8th year’s students doesn’t work very well; they are too good, speak to fast. And the beer is a bonus.
T-time tonight at 7:50.

A leisurely pastime got serious

May I introduce you to my loyal companions of the last 2 weeks: computer, coffee, loud music, pencil and paper, not to forget the occasional frown, indicating concentration and every degree between astonishment and anger over yet another erratic character. Well over 300 there are, with quite a few apt for labelling ‘requires more than 1 lifetime to memorize’. I used to think of ‘memory requirements’ as an expectation you had of computers, now I know it equally applies to humans and I sure could do with an upgrade.

My family has gotten used to my preference for the alternative companionship by now. And apart from my daughter lecturing me about the damage the music is doing to my ears, they all do sympathize. Trying to feed me healthier stuff than caffeine, placing that cheerful word when I obviously need one, excusing me for much of the household chores – to that, I could get used to.

Yes, it’s June. Hot nights, poor sleep and examinations. Gravity works hard on you in June.

The dreaded listening exercise we already had last week. Despair clearly set in on some of my fellow students, not on me this time. I really think I did quite OK. One done, two to go.
Written exam this Thursday, hence the pencil and paper. Grammar and comprehensive reading too. If work – you know, that auxiliary daytime occupation – leaves me off the hook a bit this week ( I know it will not, it never does ), I can do more studying. Unlabelling a few characters for instance.
Oral exam is scheduled for next week late. I’ll need to be fresh to be able to respond to questions promptly; a powernap may work a small miracle.

Unlike past years, this exam requires quite some work. Just paying attention during the year just doesn’t cut it anymore. I believe it has dawned upon most of us that this fourth year marks the point where a leisurely pastime turned into pretty serious business.

So where do we stand

I lost my cool last week. I’m attached to my cool, reluctant to losing it. But it happened, in class. More about that later.

First, back to the SMART goal I set myself. It seems I got there: on January 18th, after 141 attempts, I got a 90%+ score on vocabulary tests of lessons 6 to 22. And was able to repeat that 4 days later. Yielding an overall average of 95,4%.
Look at the graph which depicts minimum and maximum scores over time – you can even see the set-back period I talked about earlier.
And indeed, the vocabulary is now fresher in my head than it has been ever before.
But, but…
Is it also more effective for my listening skills ? Because, after all, that was the primary motivation of doing all this.
Which brings me to the cool I lost.
Needless to say, I lost it over a frustrating listening exercise that was really out of my league. ( Attentive readers by now have concluded that the answer to the question above is devastatingly negative ). This time however, I decided to bring it into the group asking “Now really, am I the only one who finds this exercise next to impossible?”. Guess what,  mayhem broke loose. Most of my fellow-students seemed to have been suffering in silence, much like I did; and all of sudden comments, more frustration and suggestions went back and forth. To the teacher’s great consternation.
But she took it well - she’s relentless, you know. She’ll be adapting ( read: lowering ) the level of listening exercises to where we hopefully stand a fighting chance.
That said, this ain’t over of course. My listening capabilities are still not where I want them to be.
I need to figure out a new exercise with a SMART target.


Things haven’t worked out lately.

I first came to the conclusion that my strategy for better listening skills was not paying off. I found out the hard way: by a failed test. My strategy probably made me spend too much time on writing than on actually refreshing my vocabulary. There’s something I can do about that. I hope that’ll bring better results.
Then I fell sick, making me skip weeks worth of lessons on China business development. Luckily, teachers did provide ample reading- and study material. That allows me – by means of self-study – to at least get the knowledge conveyed during the training.
If this is the wishing season, I’ve got a few to make 2014 starting better than 2013 ended.

China Business Development

Being able to speak a language is one thing. Doing something useful with it is quite another. Given that I’m getting more involved in the business side of things, studying China Business Development holds the promise of future opportunities.

China Business Development is broad post-graduate programme which highlights various angles of doing business in and with China. It features a language module, intercultural management ( given by the writer of he Wall Behind China’s Open Door: Towards Efficient Intercultural Management in China ), foreign direct investment, dispute settlement, etc…
I need to combine the programme with full-time employment, that’s why I’m selecting separate modules only. This academic year I’ll be following ‘Marketing for the Chinese Market’, ‘Export Management’ and ‘Purchasing in China’. It’s not clear whether I’ll continue the programme next year or not.
So far, it has been overwhelming. In the sense that I’m learning things I couldn’t image it existed.
Did you know that Chinese import taxes of mountain-bikes amount to 130% – unless you’re an MFN ( most favoured nation, aka WTO member ), then it’s only 13%. All these things are on a web-site, hosted by the European Union: the market access database. To give you an idea.
Studying it is quite a challenge, I have no precursor knowledge to link it to.

I expect the course will provide some groundwork for future professional work related to China. I’m sure some opportunities will pass by – surely if I give them a hand…


Change of plans.
I will be taking a nap before the lessons start and abolish any strict study regime.

Guess what happened.
To my own amazement, yesterday I performed exceptionally well at speaking and – hey, hey – listening exercises.
The latter score being 90% of the answers right; where my average is, well …, average.
Something must have changed, perhaps my study plan is already paying off.

No, it’s not. Here’s why.
I arrived 30 minutes early at school after what was a long and tiring day. The school is OK but it’s premises are not what you would could encouraging to socialize. So I stayed in the car, set an alarm on my mobile and dozed off for about 20 minutes. ( I did lock the car hoping them practical jokers would stay clear of it ).

The conclusion can only be that a powernap boosts results.
I’ll find myself a new study-nap balance – but stick to the plan to be on the safe side.

A smart plan

Recently, I vented my frustration at not progressing in listening capabilities to my teacher.
I know she’ll do anything in her might to help us out, but this time, the reply was limited to being patient and attending the Chinese Corners. That was rather unsatisfactory – especially the patience part.

So here’s the plan: A first step in improving my listening and speaking abilities is to better master the current vocabulary.

Let’s make it SMART:
Specific: I’ll practice vocabulary of lessons 6 to 20; that’s 15 modules
Measurable: I’ll work with Yellowbridge’s flashcards and want to get a score of +90% first-time-right.
Attainable: This presents a bit of a problem, let’s postpone this until after the timing criterion
Relevant: Given that listening and speaking Chinese is relevant, the plan indeed is too. There is an assumption that mastering vocabulary will improve that, however. Let’s accept this for now.
Time-bound: This is usually the hard part. Let’s assume I’m capable of completing 3 modules a month ( that is on top of all other study material ), I should be done by the end of the year. Let’s give it another month and set the end date to end of January 2014.
Attainable: Right. Should be doable , but let’s evaluate end of November to see where this is heading. In the meantime, I’ll keep a tally on how things are going.
As to the original goal of improving listening and speaking capabilities, I’ll just monitor my frustration levels. I win whichever way I can bring that down.

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