Meet a tutor: Lei Zhao (Chinese)

Hello, my name is Lei Zhao, and I come from the northeastern region of China, majoring in Mathematical Physics. I work as a Chinese language drop-in and individual tutor at the language lab. I am happy to help everyone learn Chinese and understand Chinese culture and history. You’re welcome to join my tutoring sessions to discuss related topics. Of course, if you are interested in or have any questions about Physics/Mathematics/Chemistry, I would be equally happy to discuss them with you.

你好,我叫赵光磊(Lei Zhao),我来自中国东北部地区,主修数学物理。我在language lab做汉语的drop-in和individual tutor。我乐意于帮助大家学习汉语,了解中国文化和历史。欢迎来我的tutor session跟我讨论相关的问题。当然,如果你对物理/数学/化学感兴趣或者有什么问题,我一样乐意一起去讨论。  

Reed Language Learning Q&A with Sierra Abbott, Reed alumni and Chinese major

Deciding to take a Reed language class may seem daunting for some students, but it’s very doable and rewarding, and you may even find yourself majoring in a language you picked up at Reed! We interviewed recent ’23 grad Sierra Abbott about her journey as a Chinese major beginning from scratch her first year:

What made you decide to start learning a language at Reed?

I had always loved learning foreign languages in school! I took Spanish and Latin in high school, and wanted to continue learning more languages in college. I started learning Chinese in the first semester of my freshman year!

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Throwback: Mandopop Song Recs

Growing up, my parents would always play music on long roadtrips. It’s been almost a decade, but we still have the many of the same CDs, and the CD player in the car works just the same. The CD I have the most vivid memories of was the one with a strange medley of miscellaneous songs and artists: Michael Jackson, Jay Chou, Spice Girls, some opera, unknown voices, and 99 piano pieces. One artist that especially caught my ear was a Taiwanese singer-songwriter named Qi Qin (齊秦). Apparently, my parents had listened to his songs in their youth in the 80s, and can still sing along to some of the lyrics. 

Songs and music that can be enjoyed by different generations at a different point in time are always special— I was surprised by how much I enjoyed listening to Qi Qin’s songs. His songs have a timeless quality, and I think, are perfect for karaoke. Here are a few of my favorites from the CD:

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A Translation Project

I admire translators. Fan translators, in particular, who are often well-respected in Internet spaces involving content from another country. They relay information quickly for English-speaking fans so everyone can take part in the joy. But having read countless “translator’s notes”, I’ve constantly started thinking about how often meaning and nuance might get lost in translation, and how huge misunderstandings can spring from a mistranslation. I wanted to try translating text myself to experience how difficult it could be.

The first task was finding a text to translate. Translation differs across mediums, but I chose to translate an excerpt from a novel. Novel translation differs from other types of translation, such as interpreting dialogue, which I understand to be more literal. For novel translations, factors such as preserving the author’s style and intent must be taken into account.

The book I translated from is《废墟曾经辉煌》 (Fei Xu Ceng Jing Hui Huang) by female fiction writer Zhang Ling (张翎). It’s a book of lighthearted travel anecdotes, and the section I attempted translating was 成都散记 (Chengdu San Ji), a three part collection of prose about the city of Chengdu. 

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Feminism in China: “Cell Block Tango” Reinterpreted

cw: violence, abuse, misogyny

“天朝渣男图鉴” or “The Scumbags of China” is a parodic rendition of “Cell Block Tango” posted on Weibo in November, 2018.

There is a good chance that you’ve heard of the infamous “Cell Block Tango” song from the 1975 musical Chicago. In the scene, six women in jail recount the vengeful murders they committed, describing their mistreatment at the hands of their former partners. Loosely translated as “The Scumbags of China,” “天朝渣男图鉴” is a parodic rendition of “Cell Block Tango” by Tú Yǒuqín (徒有琴), a student at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. In the video Tú Yǒuqín plays six different women from six different cities in China, Beijing, Shanghai, Sichuan, Hunan, Guangdong, and Shandong. For each character, she slips into different dialects and recounts their acts of revenge against their abusive and misogynistic partners. While one woman recalls stumbling upon her husband’s notebook detailing his sexual exploits, another recalls being beaten by her husband.

“Cell Block Tango” from the 1975 musical Chicago

Posted on the Chinese social media platform, Weibo, in November 2018, the video roused conversation and debate about women’s rights and sexual and domestic abuse in China, contributing to a movement that has been gaining momentum in the past few years. The video was blocked and removed from the site not long after it was posted, speaking to how censorship has worked to silence and minimize the visibility of feminism in China. Nevertheless, the cultural and political impact of the music video cannot be undervalued.

I have been thinking about the significance of language, translation, and reinterpretation to the cultural and political impact of the music video. Representing six different regions of China, the six different dialects Tú Yǒuqín uses include Dongbei, Shanghai, Chonqing, Changsha, Shandong, and Cantonese. In re-appropriating an English song from an American musical, Tú Yǒuqín highlights the global phenomena of misogyny and barriers confronted by women everywhere. At the same time, her translation and reinterpretation of the song in multiple Chinese dialects serves to illuminate the distinctive lived experiences, oppression, and positioning of Chinese women in different regions of China. In this way, the “Chinese Cell Block Tango” is a testament and glimpse into the manifold languages of resistance and feminism across the world.

Full transcription and English translation for the song can be found here:

Phone apps for beginning language learners: Duolingo vs. Memrise

Duolingo: Duolingo’s app is very intuitive, is free, and has short exercises for both grammar and vocabulary for 100-level French. Structured exactly like the website, Duolingo features a ladder-like structure of learning; each lesson introduces new material based on past information. One nice feature to the app is the possibility of “testing out” of lessons, which is helpful if you find yourself bored by the current material.

Memrise: Almost identical to Duolingo’s mini-lesson/game-based platform, Memrise uses incrementally more difficult lessons with easy responses, presenting words or phrases and then asking for repetition. Some minor variations are present, however: Memrise uses short videos of native French speakers to help with listening comprehension. There is also a texting-based portion, where you can practice composing short messages by stringing together suggested words or letters. Memrise is less polished than Duolingo, and each lesson seems to introduce less material overall, with more repetition. This may be useful for learners who have a more difficult time learning new words or phrases. Memrise is free, but has frequent prompts to purchase a subscription. These can be ignored by simply tapping anywhere on the screen (other than the “purchase” button).

Visual of the Memrise user interface

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ArchChinese is an online dictionary that allows users to search for words and get definitions, possible phrases, and animated stroke order for characters. The interface is easy to use and is ideal for someone who is beginning to study Chinese.

恨海 ‘The Sea of Regret’

This novel was written by Wú Jiǎnrén in 1906. In ten chapters, the reader follows the story of two couples and their families as they head to Shanghai to escape the turmoil during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. This would be recommended for intermediate to advanced learners, but the translated version also provides insight into the discussion around family, marriage, and the status of women at the time.