The Four Drivers of Language Learning

To start this week’s post, let’s engage for a moment in a thought experiment. First, imagine losing all ability to communicate with others—no ability to speak and listen, no ability to share meaning.
 
Now, imagine the opposite extreme. You can suddenly speak every language in the world. You can travel anywhere and establish shared meaning with anyone.
 
What makes the second scenario so ideal, and the first so dire?
 
Language is an immensely under-appreciated gift. Without it, we’re disconnected from one another and shared meaning is lost forever. With it, we cooperate, we develop, and we progress. The more skilled and free we are in our language use, the more hope we have as a civilization to achieve mutual understanding and the more meaning we enjoy in our own lives.
 
We all have an innate ability to move toward this latter ideal—a world in which we communicate more openly and freely with one another.
 
So, this thought experiment leads us to the more functional purpose of this week’s post: what is needed to acquire a new language? After seven years developing the Chinese Language Institute, our team has simplified the process down to four core drivers. The human brain is hardwired to learn language and share meaning. As a result, if we dedicate ourselves to the following four practices, we can acquire any new language and unlock endless opportunities to establish newfound meaning. Each of the following drivers are equally important:
 

1. Find your classroom

find your classroom
 
To get the ball rolling, it’s essential that you conceptualize your target language alongside the guidance of a skilled native speaker who fundamentally understands the mechanics of their language. There is no correct “in-class” environment—your classroom can be anywhere and under any circumstance. There’s also no overarching requirement for who your language teacher can be—you can learn from practically any native speaker.
 
Bottom line: learning in a structured environment from a native teacher who understands the mechanics of your target language is essential. Pay careful attention in class and absorb as much as possible.

2. Study alone outside of class everyday

study outside of class
 
To learn a language, you have to put in the work. There’s no substitute for rigorously memorizing vocabulary, internalizing grammar mechanics, and then memorizing more vocabulary. Devote time every day to self-study. Think of it like eating. When it comes to language learning, you need self-study to survive. Especially early on, you have to do it everyday.

3. Interact daily in your target language

Guilin speech
 
In-class learning and out-of-class self-study are only preparatory steps for the real show: interacting with others in your target language. After all, this is what language learning is all about, right? When acquiring a new language, you need to do this all the time. Ideally, you can learn language in a country that speaks your target language, but if you’re unable to do so, find native speakers in your hometown or chat with native speakers by phone or Skype.

4. Think in your target language

think in chinese
 
This is the X factor. We can’t stress this enough. In order to reach fluency, you must establish an instinctual habit of thinking in your target language. By establishing this habit, you not only constantly practice your new language skills, but you also no longer need to translate your internal thoughts into your target language when speaking. You can thus speak naturally and fluently. Language is a habit. It’s our greatest tool to share our thoughts. When our thoughts are in the target language, they can be shared without the interruption of translating native language thoughts into target language words. Only when this habit of thinking in your target language can fluency be achieved.

 
Now it’s all about action. You have the tools necessary to acquire new language and move a step closer to that ideal we explored at the beginning of this post. There’s no better time than now.

China Travel Tips: Table Manners

Every culture has its own set of customs when it comes to what you should and shouldn’t do at the dinner table. Below is CLI’s list of Chinese table manners that will help you further immerse yourself in Chinese culture.


Seating

The guest of honor or most important person at the table sits facing the door. This is called shangzuo (上座, the seat of honor). On either side of the guest of honor are other VIPs. This way the VIPs can see everyone as they come to the table. The host will often sit directly across from the guest of honor to help serve.

Serve Others First

Pouring tea
 
Whenever you scoop rice, pour a beverage, or take a napkin from the packet of napkins, check to see if the people next to you need the item you’re reaching for before you serve yourself.

Tapping Your Fingers for Thanks

Two Finger Tap - Chinese Thank You
 
When you serve someone a beverage, the individual will often tap one or two fingers on the table very gently to show their appreciation. This does not mean “stop pouring”; it means “thanks”.
 
The story behind this is that long ago an emperor wanted to experience life outside the palace, so he dressed in civilian clothes and was escorted by his guards. While outside, the emperor poured a drink for his servant. The servant wanted to express his gratitude, but didn’t want to reveal the emperor’s identity by bowing, so instead the servant made a bowing motion with his fingers.

Drinking Culture

Chinese Drinking Culture
 
When pouring alcohol, including beer, liquor/baijiu, and sometimes even wine, fill the cup or glass to the absolute brim. However, water, juice, or soda should fill the cup or glass close to the top, but not completely.
 
Whenever clinking glasses to cheers, the lower you strike someone else’s glass the better. This results in an amusing struggle to see who can go lowest. The person striking lowest is showing respect for the other person by expressing a sense that they are “below” that person.
 
When someone “cheers” with you, it is almost always a “ganbei!” (干杯!Bottoms up! — literally “dry glass”). If you are uncertain, watch to see how much the other person drinks and don’t stop until they do. Glasses are small for this reason. Of course, this often results in pressure to drink more than you may want. If you find yourself in this situation, it is socially acceptable to wave off calls for a “ganbei!” with your own lighthearted retort of “Banbei! Banbei!” (半杯!) — a humorous call to consume a “half glass” rather than “drying the glass” — in which case you may drink a small amount.
 
Try to have an individual cheers with everyone at the table. This often means you will need to stand up and walk around the table. If there are many tables, try to share a cheers with each table.

Communal Utensils

If any dish is served with communal spoons or chopsticks, be sure not to use your own utensils to grab food; use the communal ones.

Which Bowls to Use

The small plate is often used for scraps (e.g. bones), but some people like to eat from it too. In many particularly bendi (本地, local) restaurants, you may see scraps discarded directly on the tabletop or even on the floor.
 
The tiny dish is for a spicy pepper/soy sauce mixture called lajiao jiang (辣椒酱).
 
The small ceramic cup is for tea.
 
The small transparent glass is for beer, juice, soda, or any other beverage.
 
The spoon is for your own use, or it can be donated to a dish to be used communally.
 
Most eating is done from your bowl. Some people keep their bowl on the table, while others bring the bowl to their mouth.
 
Chinese Eating Style

Things to Avoid

Just like your mother taught you, don’t point with your utensils; the same goes for chopsticks.
 
Finish the food in your bowl (not including rice) before you add more.
 
Don’t leave your chop sticks in your rice bowl, especially not sticking up vertically (this resembles and is associated with funerary customs).
 
Don’t spin the lazy Susan if someone is taking food from it. And when spinning do so slowly so as not to knock anything over.
 
Wait until the end of the meal to serve rice unless someone asks for it earlier. Rice is the cheapest item on the table and it’s very filling.
 
Don’t openly pick things from your teeth. Cover your mouth with your other hand when you are using a toothpick.

Paying

Splitting the bill (or “AA” as they often say in Chinese) is rare in China. Usually the person who invites pays. It is still polite to take out your wallet and make an effort to pay even if you know you will be denied.
 
If you really want to pay but know they won’t let you, sneak off after the food is served and pay when no one is looking. Another option is to pay for KTV, drinks, or dessert after dinner. If none of this works, at least say, “Xia ci wo qingke!” (下次我请客!Next time is on me!).
 

Eating is a large part of Chinese culture and many business deals and friendships are formed over a meal. These tips will help you dive further into China on your own.
 
Let us know in the comments below if you have more to add to the list.

王城, Guilin’s “Princes’ City”

Guilin is steeped in thousands of years of rich Chinese history and tradition. One of the best known historical sites in Guilin is 王城 (Wáng Chéng), the “Princes’ City”, which served as an official estate for many Ming Dynasty rulers and their families.
 
Visitors are often surprised to learn that Guilin’s Princes’ City was built decades before the Forbidden City in Beijing. Although much of the estate has been restored over the last 600 years, many of the stone steps and railings and many portions of the ancient wall surrounding the estate date back to the original 14th century construction. Today, the site continues to provide a unique window into Ming and Qing era design and architecture.
 
guilin china prince city examination hall building
 
During the Qing Dynasty, the Princes’ City was converted into an imperial examination site and was later used as a satellite campus by Guangxi Normal University. The site is now a fully protected cultural heritage area open to the public. A karst mountain located within the property known as Solitary Beauty Peak provides an incredible view of the entire city of Guilin and attracts tourists from around the world.

Meet the Team: Summer

Name: Summer 刘春平

Hometown: Guilin, Guangxi, China 广西桂林

Job title: Student Activities Manager 学生活动主管

 

 

We are happy to introduce Summer, CLI’s Student Activities Manager!

 

Q: What value do you hope to bring to CLI through your new position as the Student Activities Manager?

通过你的学生活动主管的新职位,你希望给CLI带来什么?

A: I hope to show CLI students the parts of Guilin that you can’t see on the internet or read about in a book. I will give students the opportunity to touch local culture and experience the “real” Guilin. For example: to understand famous people throughout Guilin’s long history, experience local Guilin culture in rural areas, enjoy all four beautiful seasons of the year, and taste authentic Chinese cuisine. Of course, the most important aspect is to give students the opportunity to practice their Chinese outside of the classroom.

我希望能够带领CLI的学生们感受到除了常规旅游之外的桂林。带领他们去感受到桂林的本土文化。比如:了解桂林的名人历史、体验农村的乡土文化、领略桂林四季的美景、品尝地道的美食。当然,最重要的是,让学生的中文能够学以致用。

 

Q:  What is your favorite Chinese holiday? Why?

你最喜欢的中国节日是哪一个? 为什么?

A: My favorite Chinese holiday is Tomb Sweeping Festival. It is my favorite because I have the chance to worship my ancestors, and I believe this is very important. Tomb Sweeping day is every year during the spring; the scenery in Guilin is particularly beautiful during this time. My family and I can go out walking in the early spring, worship our ancestors, wrap Zongzi (a traditional Chinese snack consisting of sticky rice, various nuts, dried fruit and meat, all wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed) and enjoy fresh baby bamboo shoots (common in Chinese cooking). This is a simple holiday that combines family, food and the beautiful scenery of Guilin. That is why Tomb Sweeping day is my favorite holiday.

我最喜欢清明节,因为可以去祭拜过世的亲人。清明节是在每年的春天,这个时候的风景非常的美。一家人可以一起出去踏青,拜祭祖先,也可以亲手包粽子,还可以品尝到最新鲜美味的竹笋。一个简单的节日,却融合了亲情、美食和美景,是我最喜欢的节日。

 

Q: If you could take a student out to any restaurant in Guilin, which one would it be and what would you recommend he or she eat? Why?

如果你带学生去桂林的一家餐馆吃饭,你会选择哪一家? 你会推荐哪个菜? 为什么?

A: If I could take a student to any restaurant in Guilin, I would take them to Small Southern Country (小南国). It’s not too far from CLI and I recommend they eat the hot and sour beef soup. This dish has very authentic flavors familiar to locals in Guilin. Guilin cuisine combines many aspects of the eight famous cuisines in China, especially Hunan’s. Hot and sour soup is tart and spicy, and is a great starter for any meal. The beef is also very fresh. This dish is especially popular among girls.

我会选择桂林市三里店七星区的小南国,推荐酸汤牛肉。因为这是很地道的桂林味道。桂林菜在不同程度上融合了中国八大菜系的风味,尤其桂林靠近湖南省,所以桂林菜是在湘菜口味上的升华。酸辣汤,就是酸酸辣辣的,喝起来很开胃。里面的牛肉也很鲜嫩。女孩子尤其喜欢这道菜

 

Q: What do you think is the most interesting place to visit in or around Guilin?

你觉得桂林或桂林周边地区最有意思的旅游景点是什么?

A: I think the most interesting place to visit around Guilin is the Longsheng Rice Terraces. At the rice terraces, you can experience the magic and beauty of nature, as well as a variety of ethnic minorities. There are four different minority cultures that live in the rice terraces. They and their ancestors have been cultivating the terraces for hundreds of years and have had very little contact with the outside world. At the terraces you can see what a simple agricultural society is like, and experience the tranquility and beauty of nature.

我觉得是龙胜梯田。因为在那儿,可以感受到大自然的神奇,以及各种少数民族风情。在龙脊梯田上,住着四个不同的少数民族,他们在那世世代代地耕种,几乎很少与外界接触。所以在那里,可以看到最原始的农耕生活,体验最宁静的乡村美。

 

Q: What is the most valuable thing you have learned at CLI?

CLI带给你最宝贵的是什么?

A: The most valuable thing I have learned at CLI is “knowledge.” I have the opportunity to learn about different cultures and languages. Every time I speak with a student I feel like I am learning. CLI students often give the teachers and CLI Team a “Western Culture Class” to teach us about their home countries and their personal lives. Some of the classes include: Mexican culture, Lebanese culture, Israeli culture as well as classes about cuisine from all over the world! Through opportunities like these, I can continuously learn new things and expand my horizons. CLI is like a miniature version of the world; by looking through the “window” of CLI, I can learn about and understand the outside world.

最宝贵的是知识。在CLI, 我可以学习到不同国家的文化、语言。每一次和学生交流的过程,就是我学习的过程。学生常常给我们CLI的 老师们开授文化课,比如:墨西哥文化、黎巴嫩文化、以色列文化等等,同时,还有饮食文化课。所以在这样的过程中,我也可以不断地学习到新的知识。CLI就是一个缩小版的世界,通过CLI这个窗口,我可以了解外面更大的世界

 

Q: What is your favorite Chinese idiom?

你最喜欢的成语是哪一个?

A: My favorite Chinese idiom is 船到桥头自然直 (Chuandao qiaotou ziran zhi; When the boat approaches the pier, it will go straight with the current – everything will be alright). Why? This idiom has a very positive message. It tells us not to worry too much about things that have yet to happen, and in the end, everything will work itself out. As long as we act practically in the face of difficulties, we will always find a way to overcome.

船到桥头自然直。为什么呢? 因为这个成语传达了一个很积极的信息。就是不要太过于担心还没有发生的事情,因为到后面,总会有一个好的结果的。所以只要脚踏实地的做好眼前的事情,就算再大的困难在眼前,我们也总是有方法克服的。

 

Q: If you could visit any foreign country, which one would it be? Why?

如果你有机会去国外旅游,你会去哪个国家? 为什么?

A: If I could visit any country in the world, it would be Greece. In college I read lots of books on Greek Mythology and I was mesmerized by the stories inside. I hope one day to have the opportunity to go there and see for myself the ruins of ancient Greece’s sacred temples. I also really want to see the Mediterranean Sea, which Greece is situated next to. I love the beautiful Island of Santorini, the blue sky and vast open sea; all of this coupled with Greece’s infamous blue and white seaside architecture, I can imagine it is like being in heaven.

希腊。大学的时候,我就拜读了很多希腊神话,对里面的故事如痴如醉。希望有机会能亲眼去看看那里的很多神圣的寺庙。除此之外,我对地中海也情有独钟。而希腊就坐落在地中海河畔。美丽的圣托里尼岛,蓝蓝的天空和大海,再配上蓝白色的建筑物,仿佛天堂一样的感觉。


CLI Featured Photographer: Michael Steverson

Michael Steverson is an American born documentary and travel photographer living in Liuzhou, China. His work portrays the people and cultures of the places he visits while simultaneously evoking emotion and empathy for seemingly foreign lifestyles. Michael’s photography has been featured around the world, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The Smithsonian, CNN and The BBC.


Michael-Steverson-Self-Portrait.jpg

 

Q: Can you tell us a bit of your personal story? Where are you from?

A: I am an American documentary and travel photographer, originally from Kentucky. My father was in the military and we moved around a lot when I was very young and I’m sure that’s why I became so interested in travel and other cultures; the wanderlust stuck. I was actually born in Germany, but my mother’s family is all from Kentucky and that’s where we settled after my father was killed in Vietnam in 1967. I was ten at the time.

 

Michael-Steverson-Guilin-China-05.jpg

 

Q:  How long have you lived in China? What first inspired you to come to China?

A: I’ve been in China now almost ten years. I worked in the music business, in radio and records, for almost all of my adult life and as the record business began to change, I found myself looking at other options. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do, only that I wanted to try and develop my love of photography into something more than a hobby. I wanted to take a leap and do something totally different and unexpected. China seemed very exotic and it more than met those requirements!

 

Michael-Steverson-Guilin-China-06.jpg

 

Q: How long have you studied Chinese?

A: Well, it began even before I came to China, off an on for about ten years. I began with a basic course of about ten CD’s while I was still in the States, all of it in a very standard Beijing accent. I was in for a rude awakening. I distinctly remember getting off the plane in Guangzhou and hearing loudspeaker announcements at the airport that I was certain weren’t being made in Chinese! Of course they were. I’ve had only a few years of formal language training and I still can’t read more than a few hundred characters, nonetheless I can communicate fairly well. My wife is Chinese and speaks English so she has been my teacher in most areas regarding Chinese. One obstacle that I personally find difficult is that there are so many different dialects spoken in the area I live and across China. It’s much more pronounced than just a regional accent, often totally different words and sounds and tones. Ask ten people in Liuzhou to pronounce the word “two” and you may well get ten pronunciations!

 

Michael-Steverson-Guilin-China-02.jpg

 

Q: Your photos often seem to have a sense of happenstance, as if you wandered into a new setting and met a stranger. How do you earn the trust of the people you meet? What sort of topics do you like to discuss with them?

A: The photos that appear to be happenstance usually are. I am indeed wandering, for the most part, and looking for candid moments. My goal is to try and capture these people in their environment without altering the scene or spontaneity in any way. I most often don’t communicate with my subjects before photographing them. That usually comes afterward. Those conversations almost always follow a pattern. First, they typically want to know why I am taking their photo. Then, it’s where I’m from, how long I’ve been in China and if I can speak Chinese – often asking me that question even though we’ve been speaking in Chinese… I ask them about their lives, same as you would anywhere. If they are local to the area, if they have kids, grandkids, what their jobs are. Those are the encounters that happen by chance. A great deal of my work is producing documentaries and photo essays for magazines and newspapers. Those encounters aren’t by chance of course and usually entail very specific questions and parameters designed to tell the story.

 

 

Q: Can you describe your most memorable chance encounter?

A: That’s difficult – there have been so many enriching encounters. One does come to mind. Early one morning in Liuzhou I took a photo of a man who was sitting alone in an alley and he absolutely objected. He caught me just as I released the shutter and the image reflects that emotion. He immediately stood up and walked past me and into his house, muttering some choice insults over his shoulder. I did my best then to try and win him over but it didn’t work. He wasn’t at all interested and kept walking so I felt bad. I went back to find him a week later, to give him a print of the photo. I found his adult daughter, a woman about my own age, and she invited me in for dinner. The old fella’ was there and was flabbergasted to see me. His daughter and son-in-law kept plying both of us with warm beer and over the course of about an hour he warmed up. He eventually took the photo and stuck it on the wall with a piece of gum (not kidding). Now every time I find myself in his neighborhood I stop in and we have a conversation. The photo is still there, I assume still adhering to the wall with that gum.

 

He caught me just as I released the shutter and the image reflects that emotion.

 

You can check out more of Michael’s work on his website including his portraits of Luo Meizhen, purportedly the oldest person in the world at 127.

 

Michael-Steverson-Guilin-China-07.jpg

Guilin’s Flying Tigers

Many people don’t realize that the U.S. and China were close allies during World War II – and that Guilin played a central role in military cooperation between the two countries.
 
The “Flying Tigers” were an American volunteer air force squadron based in Guilin during the initial years of the war. Officially part the Chinese Air Force, their mission was to defend China against the Japanese.
 
The wide mouth full of sharp teeth painted onto the nose of the Flying Tiger planes (pictured above) is one of the most recognizable images of WWII. The Flying Tigers fought more than 100 combat missions, shooting down 272 enemy aircraft and destroying another 225 on the ground.
 
Last month, the Flying Tiger Heritage Park was opened in Guilin in conjunction with the U.S.-based Flying Tiger Historical Organization. The park is built on the original Flying Tigers airfield and includes a museum, aircraft shelters, and hundreds of historical items.
 
In a recent speech, U.S. Consul General Jennifer Zimdahl Galt perfectly captured the importance of the park and the significance of the historical era it recognizes: “As we honor their memory, let us look to the Flying Tigers for inspiration, as a shining example of the great things that can be accomplished when Americans and Chinese join together in a spirit of mutual friendship and support.”
 
 
Source: Xinhua News Agency
 
Photos: Flying Tiger Historical Organization, Imperial War Museums collection, and the German Federal Archive

CLI Perspectives: The Culture of Chinese Chess

Guilin is bubbling over with cultural experiences, and each experience is open for foreign students to observe and even take part in. There are ayi (“aunties”) line-dancing in city plazas each night; there are majiang parlors where people gamble and gossip late into the evening; there are philosophical discussions over tea ceremonies in local tea houses. Participating in cultural activities like these is a great way for CLI students to meet new people, practice their spoken Chinese, and interact with Chinese culture. In this week’s blog post, Bradford Fried shares a recent cultural experience and the language opportunity and friendship it provided.

 

Chinese Chess

By Bradford Fried, Co-founder of CLI

On a beautiful day in Guilin this week, I went for a bike ride around the city and into the countryside. Just like any other day, I passed numerous groups of Chinese men standing in a circle intensely focused on what was happening at the center. Many newcomers to China are surprised to discover these onlookers are actually observing a fascinating aspect of Chinese culture: Chinese chess.
 
I am a big fan of board games, so I decided to stop and watch. This small crowd had five people watching and two men playing. Some of the onlookers were strangers to the players, others friends, but all in attendance were eager to provide suggestions for the players’ next move.
 
For a board game, Chinese chess is surprisingly loud and energetic. Players slam pieces down with conviction while shouting out their actions. Although the game doesn’t involve a timer, it is fast and aggressive; most players only think for a few seconds between each move and games are finished in around ten minutes.
 
Chinese chess has been played in China for at least two thousands years. It can quickly be picked up by anyone who knows how to play international chess. The rules are very similar, as are the pieces and strategy.
 
As one of the oldest cultural activities in China, Chinese chess is a great way for CLI students to immerse themselves in Guilin’s local community. Within a few minutes of stopping to watch the game, I was talking with the onlookers and players, giving my own suggestions of moves to make, and asking why one of the players didn’t take an obvious capture. When the game ended, I was invited to play against the winner — and I was soon left wondering how I was defeated so quickly (but I think I put up a good fight).
 
Everyone I spoke with was eager to share their knowledge of Chinese chess with me and they asked me lots of questions about my experiences in Guilin. The game I played is a great example of an opportunity where trying is more important than winning, and there is lots to try in Guilin!

Student Spotlight: Daniel

CLI’s Student Spotlight series provides insight into the thoughts and experiences of current CLI students. From food to language study to best local attractions, Student Spotlight gets the inside scoop directly from students on the ground.


Name: Daniel Del Bosque

Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico

University: Yale University

Length of Study at CLI: 6.5 months

 

Q: How long have you studied Chinese? What sparked your interest in China and the Chinese language?

A: There is a very popular Chinese food restaurant in New Haven that my suitemates and I would often go to. We would never leave without asking for “fortune cookies” (which, of course, I haven’t seen once since I arrived in China). Every time after having dinner at that Chinese restaurant, it became a funny ritual to read the pinyin aloud to one of our suitemates, James, who speaks Chinese. Whoever could read the pinyin out loud and have James understand, won. But, that’s about all the Chinese experience I brought with me to Guilin six and a half months ago. I have learned other languages before, so I have a general interest in languages. I had always wanted to take a gap year to do something that I know I would never be able to do again, pause life for a year and dedicate myself to something very specific, Chinese! For the last six and a half months, my life has been in tones and characters, and I love it!

 

Q:  What’s your favorite place to eat in Guilin? What do you usually order there?

A: There are lots of good places to eat in Guilin, but the place I have been to the most is the Lanzhou hand-pulled noodle restaurant on the Cultural Walking Street (Lanzhou is in the west of China and its cuisine has strong Muslim influence). It’s the perfect distance away from CLI, the 10 minutes there are a great warm-up to a perfect bowl of noodles, and the 10 minutes back are great for digestion. If I take my scooter, it’s only a few minutes away, and I can even get carryout when I’m in a hurry! Every time I order the same dish: fried egg, tomato, and green pepper noodles. The place is magical. The smells of western Chinese spices linger in the air, and just as you sit down, there is a small bowl of delicious broth waiting for you. The noodles are the perfect consistency. The shop owners’ accent is fascinating. He is a reminder of how big and complex China is, and how far away some people’s families are from one another. Throughout your meal you can hear the loud thumping of the noodles being stretched in the kitchen. I’m proud to say that the 老板 (Laoban: Shop owner) doesn’t ask for my order anymore!

 

Q: What do you think is the most important thing for a student to remember when studying Chinese?

A: The most important thing to remember when studying Chinese is that even though it may seem Chinese is a difficult language and at times even impractical, it is the language with the most native speakers in the world (twice the number of native Spanish speakers, and three times the number of native English speakers). There is much sense and logic to the language, and when you think there is not, you need only look at the traditional character. Every character is like a 3-D puzzle with meaning, sound, and image. The sooner you learn to recognize separate elements in a character and their associations to specific sounds or meanings, the faster you will absorb new words and learn to recognize and write them. Chinese logic is very different from western logic, but also incredibly straightforward. The learning curve becomes steeper as you learn more characters. So, remember: write characters, write more characters, and then write even more!

 

Q: What is your favorite Chinese word or expression?

A: 宁静致远 (Ningjing zhiyuan: Tranquility yields transcendence)

 

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Guilin after class?

A: My favorite thing to do after class is hike a secret trail into Seven Star Park, and if I’m lucky, see some monkeys in the process. The park is Guilin’s biggest and has everything. In case you’re not familiar with the Chinese concept of everything, here is a short list of some of the things you can find inside: an expo of huge Transformer statues, a Buddhist temple, a paintball court, a beautiful mural, pandas, climbing walls, and of course, old women elegantly dancing and/or doing tai-chi. After the short hike into the park, there are many things to do, however, I always end up doing the same thing: climb to the park’s highest viewing point and listen to music while looking at Guilin’s breathtaking landscape.


CLI Featured Photographer: Trey Ratcliff

Trey Ratcliff is a world-renowned travel photographer and publisher of the blog stuckincustoms.com. Trey’s images from China’s famous cities of Lijiang and Guilin (some of which are featured above) are steeped in wonder and fantasy and evoke a desire for travel and exploration.
 
According to Trey’s website, he “grew up blind in one eye, which changed the way he has come to experience and visually map the world.”
 
“There is always something new, unexpected and beautiful to see.”
– Trey’s About page

Happy 2015!

We’re already halfway through our first month of 2015, and Chinese New Year is just around the corner in February.
 
Above are a few photos from CLI’s December 31st New Year’s dinner at a popular Guilin restaurant called Xiaonanguo (小南国), which translates to “Small South Country”. Over forty party-goers sampled dozens of the most delicious southern Chinese dishes in the traditional Chinese round-table style.
 
Among the highlights of the night was the presence of CLI’s co-founders, Robert and Bradford Fried, who both delivered warming speeches at the end of the evening, thanking everyone—students and CLI team members alike—for making CLI such a unique and exciting learning community.
 
In traditional New Year fashion, the group went out to the Shangri-La Hotel bar for drinks and live music after dinner. Students from all over the world joined their teachers, friends, and local community members to celebrate 2014 and welcome the arrival of the new year.
 
We hope you’re all having an outstanding new year!
 
-The CLI Team