Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Use of Language One to Explain Language Two / Language One Confuses the Native Speaker of Language One

Using English to explain grammar just makes Chinese class harder. I've written before about the use of the words progressive and continuous in Chinese grammar. I can't keep the terms straight, especially when they're used to describe elements in the same sentence—e.g., 我正在坐着写故事呢 ("I'm sitting down, writing a story"). Really, who gives a shit what the elements are called as long as I can understand how they're working, at least at this level of language use? I try demonstrating, as a student, that I understand how the sentence is working, making other statements and questions with the same grammar. I have it straight, and then I'm asked, in English, to label which is which. Then it's all twisted around again—um, this one's progressive, no, continuous—and off my brain goes, feeling flung off a bridge. I'm trying to think in Chinese, and going back and form between that and English gets in the way and takes up time that could better be used actually constructing further sentences. An English explanation of Chinese grammar gives me, in the end, an English explanation of Chinese grammar. I can tell you a lot more about the language than I can actually use. I can't think about it in terms of English, because it ain't, obviously. 在 and 着 clauses are actually really easy to understand. Don't sweat their names, at least not yet.

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