How do you say that in Chinese?

Noah S. is currently a senior at SYA China and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. He comes to SYA from Robert Louis Stevenson School in California.

I have reached well beyond the one month mark and even now the flight to Beijing feels like yesterday. I remember arriving and not being able to read anything, understand much, or even conceptualize the idea behind someone’s speech. Getting in the taxi coming into Beijing, I looked at street signs, and I listened to the cab driver. I tried to understand. But, less than ten percent stuck. I realized I knew almost nothing. 

During the orientation days, on multiple occasions, SYA students were asked to go and find food for themselves. This was always a daunting task for me. Not only did I have to use my limited Chinese, but I had to also use it with a stranger. The first few times I always hesitated and thought before speaking. My first lunch out of school, I went to the noodle shop on the corner with a few classmates. 

“I’m just going to look at the picture and say 这个," (this) I said. This worked easier than reading and struggling through ordering. But, I realized I wasn’t learning. I can’t say ‘这个’ for the rest of my time in Beijing. I had to learn. So, I asked my classmates “How do you say this?” 

“I think this is 牛肉面, but it could also be something else?” These answers always helped. But, how could I get the best answer. The waitress! She must know the names of the dishes. 

I asked the waitress, “怎么说这个?” while pointing at the menu, looking very confused. It worked. The waitress answered and I had learned the name of this noodle dish. This started my mission: I will try to use the word “这个 (this),” while ordering food, as little as possible. From early on, I have struggled often, but progress comes at this cost. 

I fast forward to last night. I’m ordering boba, and I come out saying 谢谢, as I always do. I step back and I think, “Wait a second. I just ordered myself something with absolutely no problems and hesitation.” This is when I realized the benefits of my mission to learn. I saw myself in those early days and I compared it to my moment just before and the day in general. “Wow. I got all the way here using the subway, I just ordered boba, and my dinner had no problems too. I can totally just live in Beijing, order food, get around, and do it all.” I surprised myself with the gargantuan improvement in my Chinese language in just one month. 

If you’re reading this, you might hear this a lot if you’ve been looking around the website a little; however, coming to China has improved my Chinese language skills extremely quickly. In all honesty, it’s what has defined the first month here. Now, that I’m confident with my skills to speak, I regularly come into conversation with people here. It’s interesting how a few looks and close quarters within public transportation can give to a small conversation. 

When visiting my host family’s extended family, they had to constantly remind each other that it had only been a month since my beginning here. My host mom kept telling her brothers and sisters, that I could barely ask where the bathroom was in the house. They were surprised as I could somewhat make of their conversations even through their harsh accents.

Coming here I knew improvement would come, but the rate of improvement is what truly amazes me. Now, I’m asking myself what my Chinese will look like eight more months in the future. We’ll have to wait and see. 

  • Campus Reporters
  • SYA China