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Moshen

Cultural barriers in taking Chinese courses

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Moshen

More often than I would like, I come across cultural barriers in trying to answer test questions created by Chinese teachers. That is, I select the wrong answer not because I don't know the language, but because of some cultural difference I wasn't aware of.

Here is the latest example. There was an exercise that talked about Spring Festival (Chunjie), and the question was, what season did the dialogue take place in? Well, every year that I know of, the Lunar calendar puts Spring Festival in January or February, which to me is obviously winter. But that's the wrong answer. The correct answer is spring. Apparently Spring Festival ushers in spring. I asked this of a Chinese person and he responded like "Duh, how could you not realize that?" My attitude, though, is "How am I supposed to know that?" I'm also wondering why teachers who interact with foreign students every day of their career would not realize that this is a problem. I even lived in China for a full year and had no idea that they divide the seasons up differently than those of us in the West.

I can't think of other examples off the top of my head, but I know it's happened a lot.

Have you encountered examples of this in your Chinese study?

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mungouk
10 minutes ago, Moshen said:

January or February, which to me is obviously winter.

 

Travel broadens the mind... :)

 

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mungouk
14 minutes ago, Moshen said:

"How am I supposed to know that?"

 

Well the clue really is in the name.

 

I’m trying to think of other possible examples... most of the time when that’s my reaction it’s usually not understanding a text because they decided to leave out 如果 or some similar structure which is still somehow implied. 

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Dawei3

The question seems like a trick question that is too easy (i.e., like "what is a coat hanger?" :)  ) and the event happens in winter, so I understand your response.  I would be interesting to see other examples.

 

Not from studies, but one thing that initially puzzled me was that Taiyuan, Shanxi and Xi'an are considered to be in NW China.  I would have thought central China.  A Chinese friend pointed out it is because of historical reasons.  Then I realized we do the same in the US, i.e., Ohio is considered to be the "mid-west" despite that it is in the eastern 1/2 of the country.  

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anonymoose
2 hours ago, Moshen said:

There was an exercise that talked about Spring Festival (Chunjie), and the question was, what season did the dialogue take place in? Well, every year that I know of, the Lunar calendar puts Spring Festival in January or February, which to me is obviously winter. But that's the wrong answer. The correct answer is spring. Apparently Spring Festival ushers in spring. I asked this of a Chinese person and he responded like "Duh, how could you not realize that?"

 

I've had almost exactly the same conversation with a Chinese person in the past.

 

In China, seasons are exact and defined by precise dates set out in the lunar calendar.

 

In the west (or at least the UK), seasons are determined by the weather. Of course, weather is variable, and to an extent subjective, so seasons are much less precise. Even so, January and February are generally the coldest months, and are naturally considered to be winter.

 

I wonder how a Chinese person would understand phrases such as "Indian summer" or "long summer".

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Shelley

This is one reason why studying a language broadens your knowledge of that culture and more. If you learn that the weather year is broken up into to 2 week sections with interesting and descriptive names like Small cold and Big cold, there is one named for the insects, one for the colour of the wheat and so on it can all make more sense. There is a long list of things to do and foods to eat in each of these periods to help with health and prosperity. It is quite a comprehensive way of organising the year. This follows a similar pattern for the day in that it was divided in to 2 hour periods with descriptive names.

 

The new year always follows the 13th new moon and therefore jumps between January and February. It is a movable feast as is Easter here. 

 

Chalk it up to experience but I have to agree with  mungouk, the answer was in the question.

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NinjaTurtle
3 hours ago, Moshen said:

More often than I would like, I come across cultural...differences

 

This reminds me of how Chinese people are one year old the day after they are born.

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Shelley

Yes and the seven days after New Year are the the birthdays of 6 different animals with man on the seventh and how these animals can't be killed on these days and prisoners are not executed on the 7th day so this makes the second day after new years day Dog's day and is the birthday of all dogs. 

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Publius
3 hours ago, anonymoose said:

I wonder how a Chinese person would understand phrases such as "Indian summer" or "long summer".

The Chinese term 小陽春 is equally, if not more, confusing.

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Shelley

I have noticed that people in the UK use the term Indian summer incorrectly.

 

It is applied to a period of unseasonably warm weather after a normal cold spell in autumn. When I lived in Canada this would usually occur in the first 2 weeks in October after September was cool as normal and the temperature in the first 2 weeks of October was unseasonably warm. 

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Publius
20 minutes ago, Shelley said:

I have noticed that people in the UK use the term Indian summer incorrectly

They probably mean THAT Indian, you know, South Asia. :mrgreen:

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ChTTay

As above, a good example as to why travel and experiencing other cultures is so useful! It does sound like a trick question but then again, it’s called “spring festival”. 

 

As for Chinese exams, to get good marks just do exactly what the teacher told you is the answer. The more of an exact replica, the higher the marks. Dunt ‘elp get yer thinkin’ but tis easeh t’get high marks. 

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Hofmann

Can people stop dissing the OP and try to understand the situation?

 

The question asks which season the dialogue takes places in. Spring starts on the Spring Festival. Before then it's winter. When the Spring Festival occurs in non-Chinese calendars is irrelevant to the question. So, what did the dialogue say? Are people talking about their plans (e.g. travel, events, parties) for the Spring Festival? If so, probably winter. If they're going around giving each other blessings, congratulating each other, and partying, probably spring.

 

As long as you understand that spring starts on the Spring Festival, this isn't a cultural issue. In similar situations, you can end up in agreement if you explain your position logically. That said, some people truly have difficulty thinking straight, so tough luck then.

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Lu
9 minutes ago, Hofmann said:

As long as you understand that spring starts on the Spring Festival, this isn't a cultural issue.

But that is the cultural issue. In the Western countries I'm familiar with, nobody would say something that happens in January or February 'spring'. The Spring festival always happens in January or February, and to my (and OP's) understanding, that means it always happens in winter. Chinese people will reason differently: Spring Festival means it's now spring. Different reasoning because of different cultural background.

 

Unless this was explained in class, I think it is a bad question and the teacher should be more aware of this difference. Or just ask different questions to test their students' language skills not their cultural knowledge.

 

But to answer the original question: I don't recall running into this problem in Chinese class myself. Perhaps I have been lucky, or perhaps most teachers ask better questions.

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Moshen

Oh, here is another example.

During my first few months of learning conversational Chinese when I was working in China, my tutor had a terrible time explaining the verb 送, as in 送人, to me. I wasn't yet aware of the common practice of seeing someone to the front door after a visit, or to the airport or wherever in China. And because I didn't know the custom, I couldn't understand the word.

The tutor, who had never been outside of China but had been teaching Chinese to foreigners for years, looked at me like I was a pitiable idiot. And maybe I had never learned good manners? In the West, we do 送 people, but nowhere to the extent that they do in China.

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anonymoose
20 minutes ago, Moshen said:

I wasn't yet aware of the common practice of seeing someone to the front door after a visit

 

So, if you have visitors at your home, what do you do when they leave? Just remain where you are, and let them find their own way out the front door and shut it behind them?

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DavyJonesLocker
26 minutes ago, Moshen said:

During my first few months of learning conversational Chinese when I was working in China, my tutor had a terrible time explaining the verb 送, as in 送人, to me. I wasn't yet aware of the common practice of seeing someone to the front door after a visit, or to the airport or wherever in China. And because I didn't know the custom, I couldn't understand the word.

 

 

Sometimes you just need to see the word used in action for it to sink in. Every time I get a didi back to my apartment the driver says 送人 to the 保安 who then controls the automatic barrier to the estate. A lot of spring festival related texts and sayings  that are in NPCR books seemed very odd to me at the time i first encountered then but they are pretty spot on. 

 

I might agree with you in that it seems more culturally important to see someone to the airport personally rather than saying goodbye at the door but I'm just basing it my own observations as compared to the UK.

 

 

Your are right though in that there are cultural differences which are obstacles to learnng Chinese and are not language related. Some teachers really don't "get" western lifestyle nor how westerns think In fact when I think back, I am reminded of all the cringy Chinese texts with seemed to have no bearing to a foreigner living in China and every Chinese person I showed them to used to tell they they simply awful from a 老百姓 point of view. A heck of a lot of words I used in my first year I never used nor  ever saw again. Every text seemed to be about restaurants, dormitories, having kids, respecting parents, Beijing opera and blatant propaganda about all harmonious all loving Chinese society. 

 

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mackie1402

I had a test where the dialogue spoke of Chinese New Year and the speakers animal signs. One of the questions was asking about another animal sign and when I asked the teacher they just said "It's a cultural question. You should learn the order of the 12 animals and then you'd know." I changed my outlook from then on, as I suppose it's true, I am learning a culture as well as a language. They come hand in hand. 

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Flickserve
13 hours ago, DavyJonesLocker said:

Every text seemed to be about restaurants, dormitories, having kids, respecting parents, Beijing opera and blatant propaganda about all harmonious all loving Chinese society. 

 

So much like NCPR!

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DavyJonesLocker
6 minutes ago, Flickserve said:

So much like NCPR!

 

 

Short term spoken Chinese series is full of this too. As is the HSK series. Many chapters are pretty cringy. 

I'd say the number one mistake I made in the first year  learning Chinese was not getting out of the text books early on. 

 

The OPs post has reminded me of my experience leaning Chinese in a language school in Beijing. I and other had a lot of issues with the teaching style. The attitude was "this is the way we Chinese learn and we won't adapt to westerner thinking" Most of us were like "er,.... you're teaching Chinese to foreigners not natives" Many teachers just reflected the way they were taught in school or university, throw everything at you and expect you to absorb it like a sponge. 

 

An example would be there 4 days holidays but that means Thursday to Sunday. Students would be "well that's two, weekends don't count" 

 

Teacher "oh and you come in on the Saturday before"  newer students would baffled thinking they miss understood the Chinese .

 

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