Thursday, December 13, 2012

Out Of The Woods

The fall semester is now officially over. Thanks be to God.

It was busy and frantic, which explains my inability to write since before Hallowe'en. I haven't had a lot of time to really sit down and put thoughts and ideas in a blog post. But I have some time now, and since my last class of the semester was this morning, I have some time to contemplate what happens next.

Overall, I think I did reasonably well. Microbiology was by far the most challenging of the three courses I took. The reason for that was due to the changes that happened near mid-semester with the professor who was teaching the course having to go out on leave due to illness. Her replacement was a relative rookie who earned her Ph.D. this past May. Nice enough person, and certainly intelligent. But it was clear that this was her first real assignment teaching undergraduate students. In her defense, she was placed in a really difficult situation. But her difficult situation translated into a difficult situation for 28 students. I'm not sure it really had to be that way, but this is how it played out. We had our final exam in that class yesterday and I am not terribly confident in the outcome. I was carrying a class average of 85% up until then, and I have a feeling it may not be so when the exam grade is published.

Chinese I ended last week. The professor is back in Chengdu now, visiting with her family. I believe she will be back here sometime in the next couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to Chinese II in the spring; if the fall semester was any indicator of how the spring will be then I should be fine. I didn't expect to like the language so much, but I do. And I am really interested in learning more. So I'm going to spend some time between semesters working on conversational Chinese and reviewing the characters I have learned to this point. And I'm hopeful that I can do as well with the second part of the course. One thing that is certain is that I have to practice writing Chinese characters; I have had a hard time with that since I started. It's not learning how to write the characters that causes trouble for me as much as it is trying to be consistent and correct about the order of strokes, the correct stroke count, etc. Then there are the rules for use of certain adverbs and adjectives. For example, there are two descriptors that mean almost the same thing:

  • 有点 儿
  • 一 点 儿
Both say the same thing: a little. But 有点 儿 (you diar) and 一 点 儿 (yi diar) both mean "a little." The first, however, is used with adverbs and the second with adjectives. And there are other rules that make me think of learning English grammar in elementary school that, under other circumstances, could potentially drive me insane. That said, there are some things I like about the Chinese language as a whole:
  1. There is no gender
  2. There is no past/present/future tense
  3. It is a contextual language; a character can have different meanings depending on the context it is used in
  4. The subject/verb/object model is consistent
Other languages (Russian, other Slavic languages, Japanese) also use this model. The Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, etc.) are not consistent about this. I learned some Spanish when I was younger and I found that it depended on the situation where certain phrases and terms were used. On the other hand, I have friends who are Romanian (and both native speakers) and while it is a Romance language (its basis is Latin) it shares many properties of the Slavic languages spoken in countries sharing its borders. Additionally, many of the words in Romanian are borrowed from Slavic languages as well as Turkish and German. I think the percentage of loanwords into Romanian is 14-15%, but I can't be certain of that.

People have asked me why I am interested in the Chinese language? We are learning Mandarin, which is billed as "Standard" Chinese, as opposed to Cantonese, Hui, or Hakka.  And it really is; Mandarin and its associated dialects is more widely spoken in China than any of the other dialects I mentioned. If you consider, however, that over a billion people speak the different dialects of Chinese (and there are many more than the ones I mentioned), that is a lot of people speaking a single language and the dialects associated with it. My answer to that question is pretty simple: I have been interested in Chinese culture, language, history, etc., for as long as I can remember. I've also got a strong interest in anything related to Russia as well, and I'm working on learning more about both. I'm not nearly as far along learning Russian as I am Mandarin, but they both have my interest. And I could do it as part of the process of getting through all of the academic requirements I have for PA programs. Not that a language is necessary; it is not, in fact. But when presented with an opportunity like this I took it.

Next semester has the potential for being just as busy. It will be interesting to see what happens, but not only am I taking the same 3 course load but I am also increasing the number of hours I will be working. So we'll see what happens. For now, I'm going to enjoy a little bit of down time. Next week, however, won't have too much of that; I'm schedule to have a minor medical procedure on Monday (the joy of turning 50), Martha is traveling on Tuesday - she's also traveling this week - and I am doing a rotation in the OR and ER at the Cheshire Medical Center in Keene to fulfill a requirement of employment at my job out there on Wednesday. Then I'm driving to Boston to work the overnight and following day, followed up by returning here and working in Goffstown that  Thursday night.

So much for that. Maybe I'll have a little bit of time to write now, but we'll see whether or not that happens.


Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Chinese sounds fascinating, but seriously difficult. I am in awe of your dedication, Walt!

Best wishes for your procedure !

Walter Trachim said...

The procedure itself will be a piece of cake. IT's preparing the day before that I'm concerned about.