Alberta Chinese Bridge on May 27th

I’m looking forward to volunteering as a judge for the Edmonton Confucius Institute’s Chinese Bridge competition. The theme this year is “Speak Chinese and make new friends around the world“. I’ve participated for the several years and it’s always wonderful to see the different ways that students make the topic their own and showcase their skills.   The day itself is always good fun– students start off with a knowledge test (see grade 1-3 study questions here), followed by the speech contest round, and ending with the talent competition.  Some students sing, some dance, some do magic— I once saw a student do a condensed ‘cooking show’ performance that was really neat.

 

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Edmonton Confucius Institute: The First Five Years

This is a wonderful video that captures the story behind the Confucius Institute here in my city.  I’ve said it in other posts, but after living in China for a few years, my earnest study of Mandarin didn’t really begin until I returned to Canada; as part of that process, I first got in touch with the CIE about four years ago to ask about participating in the HSK proficiency tests.

The staff have always been exceptionally warm and supportive—in addition to registering for the tests and making use of their fantastic library, I’ve also had the pleasure of participating in some of their public events.

 

Edmonton, as seen from the International Space Station

Notable signs the future is here: Astronauts and their teams are taking pictures of your city and sending them directly to your phone…..

Edmonton from the space station

Chris Hadfield
@Cmdr_Hadfield
Edmonton Alberta – the North Saskatchewan River looks serpentine, writhing through the capital city. pic.twitter.com/pHqGjCfU

Albertan soldier learns to speak Pashto

There was a great story in the Sunday Edmonton Journal about an Albertan soldier who learned Pashto while on duty in Afghanistan.  Definitely worth a read!  [update11/11: Journal story removed from website, but it’s still posted on the National Post site]

“By the end of his 2008 tour, the member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, 1st Battalion, could converse. But it wasn’t until he returned to Edmonton that his studies took off. Grove bought a computer program and sought out local Afghans to talk with. He watched Pashto videos on YouTube and covered the subtitles with his hands. He’d never learned a second language before, no classes in high school, and had no previous interest.”

Read more here

This is exactly the kind of person that I’m hoping to interview for my successful language learners project— do you know anyone else in the Edmonton area who has learned to speak another language as an adult?

The photo gallery that accompanies the story has a picture of  Cpl Shawn Grove, but check out this picture of his notes—- crazy to imagine having to tell someone that “Engineers are setting off bombs”!!!  [too bad the Journal story is gone– the picture gallery included a close-up of Cpl Grove’s notes, which included the Pashto for “Engineers are setting off bombs nearby” (!)”  updated: 11/11/11]

Cpl. Shawn Grove's dictionary and notes

Interviews with successful adult language learners in Edmonton (#1: Matthew-Mandarin Chinese)

 Do you know anyone in the Edmonton area who might have a story to share?

Matthew

Let’s pretend that you’ve moved your family to a completely new country– sure, you can get by in the language; however, among the list of challenges you must negotiate as a newcomer, you’re trying to manage the sometimes daunting task of learning how to negotiate the local financial system.

It’s not hard to imagine how happy you would feel if, in such a situation, a local staff member came out and worked with you, in your language. Again, maybe you feel comfortable with the language, but what if your spouse doesn’t speak it as well as you do–aren’t you meant to be having these conversations together?

The scenario I’ve described–specifically, the role of the helpful bilingual staff member–captures a little bit of what Matthew does every day right here in Edmonton: speaking Mandarin Chinese with some of his clients.   But what’s the story here?  Matthew grew up speaking English in St. Albert, one of Edmonton’s satellite communities–naturally, I was curious to sit down and ask him about his experience of learning Chinese.

Why Chinese?

According to Matthew, his journey began when he was twelve, when he got involved with Tae Kwon Do, “which is actually a Korean martial art–but my teacher was from Hong Kong”. Hearing the teacher speak Chinese from time to time piqued Matthew’s interest, but he never had a chance to do anything about it until he got to University.

Fast-forward to the year 2000.  Watching TV one day during the summer between his first and second year, Matthew stumbled upon a NFB documentary (Dashan – Ambassador to China’s Funny Bone) about Mark Rowswell, a Canadian who is fluent in Mandarin and wildly famous throughout China. Matthew had originally considered simply taking a couple of Chinese courses to satisfy the language requirement of his Arts degree; however, after seeing how far Mark Rowswell had taken Chinese after not studying as a child, Matthew thought,  “if he can do it, why can’t I?”.

By the time Matthew graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Linguistics and Culture, Mandarin–something that he had originally considered studying “on a lark”–had became a genuine passion.

Matthew’s learning process

In addition to the Chinese that Matthew learned in University, his HSK Chinese Proficiency Exam score in 2003 earned him a scholarship to study at Nanjing Normal University for the 2004/2005 school-year. Since returning home to Canada, he says his preferred way of continuing to learn is a method that one of his fourth-year professors used to teach a course here in Edmonton.

“What she basically did was take an old Chinese movie, 早春二月 (zǎochūn èr yuè) (Early Spring in February), and transcribe every single line in the movie, highlighting some of the grammar points and vocabulary for us. She divided the film into twelve units and we systematically made our way through the whole film over the semester”.

While he learned a great deal from that particular movie, after all was said and done with his ‘school’ studies, he decided that what he really needed to do was learn more colloquial speech. To that end, since returning to Canada, he has made a personal project out of studying a modern Chinese dramatic series set in Vancouver, entitled 别了,温哥华 (biéle, wēngēhuá) (Farewell, Vancouver). Just like his old professor, his goal is to essentially transcribe and translate every word in the series, writing down the pinyin of every idiom and trying to find an English equivalent.

Why movies?

“Have you ever heard some of the language tapes that some people use to study English?” asks Matthew. “The vocab is great, but real people simply do not talk like that.  When people flow with natural English, they drop syllables, consonants and round out vowels— Chinese is exactly the same.” For that reason, Matthew finds that movies and TV shows to be a more authentic learning resource.

Matthew says that he enjoys continuing to study in his spare time, and is currently about half-way through the 24-part series of Farewell Vancouver. “You have to understand, when I was studying in China, it was exhausting studying Chinese class all day.  When class was over, all I wanted to do was speak English with my Western friends or watch a DVD so I could unwind. Now that I’m back home, it’s more of a hobby that I can enjoy at my own pace.

How far do you want to go with your Chinese?

Regarding the question of continuing to learn Chinese, Matthew was quick to answer that “it never really stops”.  The question, in his mind, is really about the level of intensity that you’re willing to put into it at any given time.  For the time being, he has set himself the modest goal of “always being better”.

“Don’t get me wrong, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would go back to school to get my masters in Chinese linguistics”, says Matthew. “But, things being as they are, I have to be realistic and balance my Chinese study with my life, my friends and family–I have courses that I have to take for work and those take time too”.

For those interested in learning more about China, Matthew recommended a book that is available at the Edmonton Public Library: The Man who Loved China, by Simon Winchester, is the story of Biochemist Joseph Needham. (audiobook here)

Do you know any successful language learners in the Edmonton area?

Just like Matthew,  the profile that I’m looking for at the moment is someone who grew up primarily speaking English, started learning another language as an adult, and now speaks the language well enough that they feel confident enough, if the opportunity presents itself, to use it in a workplace setting.

Given the amount of diversity in our city, I am confident that Edmonton is home to many successful adult language learners.   Perhaps you know someone who learned to speak a new language to communicate with their in-laws, a new neighbour or perhaps a business partner?  I look forward to continuing this series as I get in touch with more people.

Tamaraneh Fundraiser in February

The Tamaraneh Society is a local organization that I feel honoured to be able to volunteer with. The coordinator is a remarkable woman named Memunatu Kamara who, after epic journey to Canada as a refugee, has worked tirelessly to support the rebuilding of her home village in Sierra Leone. Tamaraneh means “people helping eachother” in the Temne language, and that is exactly what we have been doing.

Tamaraneh Society has built, staffed and run two schools, dug one water well, provided seeds for three community gardens and almost finished constructing a health centre. The projects are run by the local community and coordinated by our board and our Canadian project coordinator. Six villages – almost 4000 people – benefit from our schools and water and will also use the health centre when it is completed.

We will be holding our annual fundraiser in February at the Westbury Fringe Theatre. If you are interested in buying tickets online, making a donation or finding out more about the Society, please click on the link below to be taken to the website.

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