“I don’t want to learn…”says my student

It may seem bizarre but since 2007, when I started teaching Chinese Calligraphy, I’ve had students who come to class regularly without learning anything, and some of them had informed me of their intention to learn nothing from the beginning.

One student sat alone at the back of the room and did her own thing at every class when I was teaching for the University of the Third Age.  We’ve kept in touch since and we’re still friends.  She was a competent calligrapher who just wanted the company of others as motivation for her own projects.  Now she’s learning French from another of my calligraphy student who was inspired to go back to university and learn Mandarin and become a volunteer tutor in French.

Some students turn up with skills and preconceived ideas that are impossible to unlearn, leaving no room for new input.

So I was not surprised when yet another student said to me, “I don’t want to learn…”.  For me, phew, one less student to worry about.  But what she actually said was:  “I don’t want to learn simplified Chinese”.

Now for the record, I do not teach simplified Chinese.  The student had mistaken some characters from a Tang dynasty script for simplified Chinese.  That is understandable, as some of the new Simplified Chinese characters are a step backward in the evolution of our language.  An earlier reform of some characters was discarded to reduce the number of strokes as a dumbing down was deemed necessary to increase literacy.

However, the change is inconsistent.  For example, they’ve taken the ‘rain’ out of ‘cloud’ (云 now instead of 雲)  but they can’t do the same to frost 霜 or dew 露 or thunder 雷 or hail 雹 and many other characters because without the ‘rain’ portion of the word, they would have lost their meaning and become different words: 相 (mutual)路 (road)田 (field)and 包 (wrap).  The simplified 云 came from ☁️, yes, a drawing of a cloud so it was adopted as Simplified Chinese though it had since been made to mean ‘said’.  Now the character 云 means both ‘cloud’ and ‘said’ in Simplified Chinese.  However, I am sticking to 雲 for ‘cloud’ and 云 for ‘said’.  Call me backward.  I don’t particularly want to learn Simplified Chinese either but I’ve had to do so for academic reasons.  It’s harder to explain it all to students who learnt Traditional Chinese and not the history of Chinese language.                      Confusing?  You bet; but for the new generation of school children, they wouldn’t know any better; how blessed are they.



About Mary Tang

An urban orchardist everyday, a volunteer regularly, a poet sometimes and a blogger since March 2015. I travel when I can. Food is a constant.
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16 Responses to “I don’t want to learn…”says my student

  1. Jan Schaper says:

    One of the things I appreciate about Chinese characters is that in part their appearance is linked to forms in life (clouds, water, trees etc) and that gives them added relevance.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. taphian says:

    It’s always good to learn something, I think

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Simplified and you don’t fit

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Stephanie & Julian Lymburner says:

    HI Mary, we’re back home now – thanks for taking us into the Secret Garden – what a delight and such a lovely zone of peace in the frenetic city.

    I said I’d send you a sound recording of one of my recent ABC OPEN stories……. here it is, hope you enjoy it.

    lots of love Steph and Jules.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. arlingwoman says:

    Teaching is just plain complicated. And it requires the right attitude as well, which you seem to have!

    Liked by 2 people

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