The Pandemic vs. Mandarin
By: Madelyne Berwitz
Ever since I was 三岁 (three years old), I’ve been in a Chinese school. My teachers would help me with my pronunciation, writing, and many other elements of Mandarin in the most interesting way possible. However, during the pandemic, my schooling has been slightly different. I have been homeschooled rather than in traditional school since the beginning of 6th grade, making learning Chinese even more challenging.
My parents were never educated in this language, although my 妹妹 (younger sister) is just beginning to learn. Despite that, my only source of people speaking Chinese were in pre-recorded videos. I would follow along with them and correct my pronunciation as the video continued. But self-directed learning can only do so much. Without a genuine teacher, I felt as though I wasn’t getting enough practice. This all changed a few months into the year, when my parents found me a tutor.
I went through two tutors during the 2020-2021 school period. My first tutor, let’s call her Emma, was honestly a 很好的 (very nice) person. She reviewed how to count to ten using my fingers and incorporated this, plus many other things, into a game. This was the most interaction I had in months. However, the simplicity of the activities she provided were geared more towards the younger grades. My mother suggested we look for another teacher who was used to educating children closer to my level. Thus, after many, exhausting days of looking through reviews and introductory videos, we found my new tutor, Wei.
Wei, or as I like to call her, Wei Laoshi (老师, teacher), is my current tutor. She’s been teaching me since November every other week. Sure, she is friendly and kind like Emma, but her teaching style was significantly different. Wei Laoshi immediately knew my level within a couple minutes of introducing ourselves. She talked to me using the appropriate vocabulary and assigned me the correct quantity of homework to gradually push my limits. After that call, I smiled at my mom, saying: “I think we found the one.”
Every two weeks I would look forward to meeting with Wei Laoshi. At first, we would read short stories, and she would help me if I had any difficulty with the characters. Later on, though, we started to occasionally play some 游戏 (games), such as Snakes and Ladders. Here, I would roll a virtual dice, Wei Laoshi would move my piece the amount shown on the dice, then I read the corresponding Mandarin character or phrase. I truly enjoyed these days. It was almost as though I was talking to someone physically, not digitally, sitting right in front of me.
To do all of my calls, I needed to use a computer because of the circumstances we are currently living in. Sometimes, though, due to the age of my device, it had a tendency to glitch and not do its intended function. Once it was extraordinarily slow that my entire homework accidentally got deleted! I stared at the screen in shock, irritated, but mainly 害怕 (fearful) that I wouldn’t be able to complete my assignment in time. Miraculously, with some persistence, I managed to redo it and hand it in by the deadline. Wei Laoshi was very impressed with my work, which made me very satisfied with the effort I put into it.
It hasn’t been easy continuing with my second language throughout the pandemic. During the first few months of homeschool, I had no interaction with any Chinese native speakers, making it difficult to develop enough knowledge to progress. But with the help of my magnificent tutor, I have been steadily improving in Mandarin. My life, as a bilingual student, has been tremendously impacted by her. Thank you (谢谢), Wei Laoshi!
Madelyne Berwitz is a rising seventh-grade student who has been studying Chinese for over seven years. She has a love for experiencing new cultures, as well as trying new things. Madelyne also has many hobbies, including baking, running, and traveling.