Now that it’s a new year, I guess it’s time to look back on the last one. 2005 was an eventful, but difficult year for me. In looking back at 2005, I can’t help but look back at 2004. Most of the changes in my life this last year were in direct response to the problems of the previous year. At the end of 2004 I was in a tough spot. I’d been in Taiwan for two years, but I hadn’t met my goals for Chinese learning. Since getting to Taiwan, I’d been working part time as an English teacher. First I was at Sesame Street for a short time, then I taught at Joy for a full year. While working at Joy I studied part-time at Shida (師範大學) in the mornings. It really didn’t work very well. I only made about $40,000臺幣 a month, and I was spending about $7,000臺幣 a month on tuition. Between classes, food, transportation and housing I barely saved $200USD a month. Worse still, despite being motivated, I didn’t learn that much Chinese. I started out in the middle of Practical Audio-Visual Chinese book 1, and three semesters later, I was finishing up book 2. My grades were good every semester, and my conversational abilities were the best in the class each semester as well. Despite my efforts, after studying 2 hours a day for a school year, I couldn’t read much in Chinese. I still can’t read the news or play WoW in Chinese now. I can’t understand a lot of what’s on TV, either. I’ve been learning Chinese slower here, in a Chinese speaking country, than I learned Japanese back home. The final depressing thing about my life at that point was the fact that my work was useless. Kids who studied at Joy for 4 years still had terrible phonics, instilled by local teachers who themselves had some phonices problems, and really messed up grammar. Due to the idiotic rules so common at most big chain schools, I wasn’t allowed to use any Chinese to teach them what they were doing wrong, and I had to use a terrible, Taiwanese made, error-ridden curriculum. There is no feeling worse than squandering a wonderful learning opportunity for 100 children, twice a week each.
I had some good friends at Shida, but unfortunately, they all left Taiwan and returned to their home countries. I didn’t have a single chance to go home or see any relatives all year, either. That was kind of tough. All in all, I worked hard, and studied hard in 2004. I didn’t have much fun, and I didn’t really accomplish all that much, either.
I did know some people who made great progress, though. Every single person I knew who studied at ICLP for a year was able to understand nearly all the mandarin on TV, read the news, and read children’s books by the end. The problem was, a 10 week semester there costs $3500USD. That means that at my rate of savings at the time, it would have taken me about 2 years to save enough money to pay for 10 weeks of tuition. Since I know well, that students at ICLP make more progress in a year than students at Shida do in three, I decided that it’s worth it for me to switch. I stopped my classes at Shida, and started working at a much better school, Tomcat, in the fall.