Evaluating your language can be hard and not very fun. There are different ways to evaluate where you are in the language. I think most people (1) take a test or (2) they ask a friend or co-worker. Both will most likely come short of revealing where your speaking proficiency really is. Testing can be misleading and only show strengths in your reading and writing comprehension. Asking a friend can also be misleading since most people are going to compliment “willingness to learn the language” more than give you a critical review of where you are in the grand scope of things.
I have heard it said that once people stop complimenting your language because you speak like them, then you know you are reaching a high level. This would seem to be right. I complimented my oldest child when she spoke her first words, her first sentences etc. but now she speaks “normal/often” and I don’t even think about it. Once we get to that point with those around us, we are getting somewhere (otherwise we probably have a speaking disability).
One of the things that has helped me and many others is to refer to the “Self-rating Checklist of Speaking Proficiency” that is in the back of the L.A.M.P. (Language Acquisition Made Practical by E. Thomas Brewster and Elizabeth S. Brewster) book. The book is a guide to learning any language. This checklist has 10 level, as follows:
- Level Zero Plus
- Level One
- Level One Plus
- Level Two
- Level Two Plus
- Level Three
- Level Three Plus
- Level Four
- Level Four Plus
- Level Five
The checklist gives a list of practical things that you should be able to do in the language. Once you can do everything in your current level you move on to the “plus” levels. The plus levels mean you can do everything in the previous level plus three things from the next level, so it evaluates your transition from level to level. This holds true up to level four. Level four and beyond is what separates the men from the boys. These last three levels ask the hardest questions.
Each of the questions are based on your opinion and only you can truly evaluate your language, so be honest with yourself. Use the time of evaluation to find out where you are and make a plan to move forward.
My last language evaluation was in June of last year, which was about 9.5 months ago. Since then we have moved to a new city and taken a four-month furlough back to the USA. During furlough we didn’t speak hardly any Chinese. I didn’t know what to expect when we returned to China. How much would we remember and how much would we forget?
In my normal language evaluation fashion, I will cover five areas and try to honesty evaluate my language level.
(1) Speaking – It comes back to you, it really does. After not speaking for four months, I was afraid to speak again. But once we were in the airport and around Chinese people, we start to speak, and to my surprise, it wasn’t that bad. It might take me a while to think of something or how to say it but I found myself just easily blurting it out. As I started getting into conversations and even preaching, I found that my mouth was “out-of-shape” with using the muscles that you use to speak Chinese. It felt like my mouth didn’t want to move that way anymore. Also, I feel like I gained more of a foreign accent, which is disappointing.
(2) Tones – I don’t find myself thinking about tones like I did before. This seems to be a good and bad problem. Good because I am thinking about the content and not the tone. Bad because my tones might be off and I didn’t even pay attention to it. I have to remind myself to focus on the tones and make sure that I keep them in check.
(3) Writing – I started writing before we left and could write several characters but I pretty much forgot all of it. I can remember parts of this character and that character but usually get stuck somewhere along the way when I try to write it. But I guess this is to be expected after only four months of learning them and then a four-month break.
(4) Reading – This seems to be the same. I guess I was a little more comfortable before I left but I am slowly finding myself getting back into the groove.
(5) Grammar – I can remember more the “what” of grammar than the “why”. As I am preparing things, certain rules are ingrained in me and I know to do them even though I can’t exactly remember why I should do it that way.
Well, that is where I find myself. I guess Chinese is a life-long commitment. I pray the Lord uses me despite my lack of ability.
This evaluation will cover the last three months of progress. My schedule hasn’t been the same each month so this will give a general idea of how things have improved.
1) Teaching. These past three months I had opportunities to use my Chinese in teaching. I taught in two different bible study groups as well as continue teaching my Sunday school class about every week. I am getting more comfortable at teaching the Bible in group settings and each time I teach I can see improvement (or what needs improvement). Also, I preached my first full church service at one of the new church plants.
2) Characters. I still have the same plan for learning characters as I did the last evaluation. My recognition of characters are slowly growing with time. As of now, I only use class time for learning characters (besides daily use such as texting and email).
3) Bible Reading. I finished reading through the New Testament for the first time in Chinese.
4) Language School. Part of the last three months I did language school and the other part I did not. I have now stopped formal language school in the mornings. This is not to say that I’m done learning or that I won’t continue more, but I have finished all the current material and in this season of life and our move to a new city in about a month, this is where I find myself.
5) Honestly Speaking. When starting to learn Chinese, in the back of my mind I asked myself, “can I really learn this language?” Months went by and I still wondered “can I really learn this language?” I can specifically remember having a small break-through around nine months that was “I am pretty sure I can learn this now!” Then I had another break-through around 17 months when I started teaching and from that point I knew I could learn this language with time and God’s grace!
I will no longer be writing these language evaluations monthly (not like they have been recently) but I will try to continue them where I think they will be beneficial to others as well as for accountability. Thank you for your prayers over the past 21 months!
1) Teaching. After we arrived back from Beijing I started to teach a Sunday school class every Sunday. This has been a great opportunity for me to really start using what I have studied over the past year and a half. I teach around 30 minutes.
2) Characters. Also, after returning from Beijing I started working through a new work book of “Spoken Chinese” to learn Characters. Though that may sound weird, it has really been beneficial. The book is full of text that start with a basic set of Characters, adding characters in each lesson, thus building on what you can read. Since it is a book made for spoken Chinese, there is no writing necessary and thus we can move through it quick focusing on reading the character while correcting tones, pronunciation, and grammar.
3) Translating. I have translated in class as well. Listening to a sermon in English and then translating it to my teacher. This has been challenging and helpful. I translated for the first time in a “live” setting this past Sunday.
4) My Level. I seem to have a functional grasp on grammar, tones, and pronunciation. I am ready to move from the “survival” stage to the “make an impact” stage.
5) Vocabulary and Listening. These are still the weakest areas but hopefully it is something that will improve in time since vocabulary will affect my listening.
This update will be different from the usual evaluations because we stopped language study in the formal sense of language school etc. over the past two months. As we reported in the last update we had an emergency trip to another city and ended up staying there for two months.
Though we had this abrupt stop we still we able to increase our learning because, well, we were still in China. We used our language in everyday activities and attended local house churches. Also, I used much of the extra time to increase my Bible reading in Chinese. Let me give a short explanation of the increase:
I was already trying to read about 25 verses a day, which included taking notes and keeping track of all the new words I was looking up. I then decided to use some of my extra time and read 100 verses a day, continuing to take notes. After being displease with the slow process that I was using (already taking notes on 23 of the 27 books of the N.T.), I decided that I was comfortable enough to not take notes and write down all the new words but to simply look them up. This proved to be the right step for me as I was able to start reading 250 verses in about the same amount of time with better understanding.
The reason that it proved to work better for me at this stage is because I was simply reading faster (not taking notes) and more fluently with less interruptions! I could keep concentration, noticing a new word several times in a passage, thus remembering it and my mind didn’t have time to wonder or get bored.
Everyday was different, but reading the Bible did noticeably help my language skills all around.
1) Teaching. This month I started to help teach with the “college guys” Sunday school class. The lesson is provided, so I just have to study my part and then teach it within 5-10 minutes. I really enjoyed this, though parts are challenging. Also, I was able to go over the lesson with the teacher during the week, him teaching me the Chinese and me helping him understand the Bible.
2) Reading. I stopped reading the book that I mentioned last month because I felt I was wasting too much time looking up new words instead of spending the time talking with my teacher. We changed to more of a “discussion setting” using new words as our topics (but with everything already provided, so as to not waste time, just talk). This seemed to work a lot better for the designated time of one-on-one.
3) Characters. My Character learning isn’t going how I planned it, as I am not finding that extra time in each day that I was hoping too, but I am learning more and more each day! How? Through texting. Now that I have a phone than can help me text characters easily and look up the ones I don’t know, I can comfortably text and communicate using characters with friends.
4) Listening. This is a goal for the upcoming month.
5) Abrupt Stop. On the last day of the month we had to go to Beijing because of my wife’s health and we will be here until the baby is born. I will be trying to continue my language studies, but will not be in formal “language school” again until the baby is born and we can return to our city.
1) Preaching. I was excited to be able to end November preaching in Chinese. I was able to meet the 5 minutes extra goal and preach for about 28 minutes! There is still a lot of preparation going into each sermon, writing it out completely before I preach and going over it with one of the Chinese pastors to make sure everything is correct.
2) Reading. I was able to finish my third book and start my fourth. The book I am currently reading is about a 6th grade level and it is considerable harder as there are tons of new words that I have not learned yet.
3) Characters. I started off strong but something went wrong in trying to add this into my already busy schedule. I am still working out the kinks of adding this part of the learning into my schedule and getting back on track.
4) Tones and Pronunciation. Even with our intense drilling on tones and pronunciation, I am finding certain combinations and words that somehow I have a hard time saying correctly (it is easier to say them wrong actually) and need to work to overcome those bad habits.
5) Stress. Language school/learning equals stress. After you have been studying the language for a year and you are still having people correct you, it can be stressful. I was definitely feeling this stress this month.
Thanks for your continues prayers!
1) Grammar. Our understanding of grammar is moving along as we get into more complex sentences and structures. I would say my understanding of a grammar pattern is futher along than being able to use each patter fluently. We are still drilling away in language school!
2) Reading. I have already finished a couple books in pinyin and will finished my third book within the next month. Each book I have seen my “reading with understanding” increase. I am currently still reading about six hours a week with a teacher.
3) Bible Reading. Reading the Bible almost every morning has really increased my reading speed. I was able to find a good medium for me, about 25 verses a day, as I am currently reading through the New Testament.
4) Characters. I started this month with learning characters. My plan is to add characters into my learning process. Every week I want to learn about 50 characters, or 10 a day Monday-Friday; writing each one ten times to learn the strokes, drilling with flashcards to remember the character and study the word and its meaning to make sure I have a good grasp on it.
5) Preaching. I had the privilege to preach a quick charge to one of the Chinese preacher’s at his ordination. Next month I will be back on schedule to add five minutes, Lord willing.
1) Preaching. My goal when starting out was to be able to preach for at least 20 minutes after one year of language study and I was able to reach that goal at the end of this month. This was the most comfortable that I felt preaching out of the six opportunities that I had over the last year. Hopefully, I will continue to increase and add 5 minutes next month, now that I finally hit the 20 minute mark!
2) English Fast. My English fast that I started a year ago is finally over. When we started language school I tried to fast from English music, TV, movies, podcast etc. The exception being days off in which anything in English was allowed. I was faithful to this for the most part but wasn’t supper strict about it towards the end. I also did end up reading my Bible in English for a long time and read a book or two that helped me in some personal areas. Also, I was suppose to listen and/or watch an hour of Chinese everyday but that part didn’t go so well.
If anything this helped me to start off strong and also create good habits that will continue even now that the English fast is over.
3) Bible. Reading and studying the Bible consistently has help me understand the preaching more. Also, each day I am and getting more comfortable with the “Bible Language.”
4) Characters / Listening. I will be starting to learn these more consistently starting in month thirteen. Also, I am hoping to put more focus on listening.
5) Progress, 1 Year. It is amazing to look and see the progress the Lord has allowed us to make over the past year. I can remember my first days of language school just like it was yesterday and remember all the frustration, all the down days, the valleys, the longs hours, and not being able to say a thing. With twelve months ahead of us I know the way is still long, but at least I can order food now :)
1) Bible. During month three and four I started reading my Bible in Chinese but after some time it wasn’t working out the way I was hoping and I wasn’t progressing. Therefore, I reverted back to doing my devotions in English and it wasn’t until recently that I was able to start doing everything in Chinese again. Now I try to read my Bible everyday in Chinese and am currently working through the New Testament.
2) Listening. My listening is still the farthest behind, but it is still slowly improving with time. I am starting to understand the sermons more and other conversations. Before I could understand a word our phrase in a sentence and now I understand a sentence except for a word or phrase.
3) Reading. My pace in reading is starting to pick up and I can read quicker and comprehend more. I am still doing about 6 hours a week of reading one-on-one with a teacher.
4) Characters. I didn’t progress in Characters this past month but have been doing some research and planning as to how we will start learning them once our first year is complete.
5) Crisis Point. As we are nearing our one year point of language learning, I realize we are coming to a crisis point. A point that is scary. A point that many wrongly choose…stop learning, start ministry. We have learned enough of the language to get by and live comfortably, but we haven’t learned enough make a huge impact. I can easily convince myself that I am better than I am. The temptation to stop and start ministry is knocking on my door, but I know that would only hinder and hurt what the Lord has for us to do here in China. At least 13 more months of language school ahead!