口头报告, the Assignment that Won’t Go Away.

To introduce my studies and projects in the ACC program, I decided to follow a particular assignment that I complete just about every week: 口头报告. As a side note, those curious about studying Mandarin Chinese may not know what that word means or even how to pronounce it. In my opinion, the main challenge in learning a language without a phonetic alphabet is that I’m almost learning two languages at once. The first is the Chinese pinyin system, which uses a familiar alphabet with added tone marks to spell out each word. The second is the Chinese character system, in which each word is associated with, in essence, a drawing. For every word I learn, I must first learn the pinyin pronunciation and tones, and then I must separately memorize the character associated with that word. Fun, I know.

Anyway, 口头报告 (koutou baogao) is an oral presentation or lecture. Quite frankly, it seems that this assignment will just not go away. Almost every week at ACC this semester has included at least one presentation, the most apparent goal being to help students practice their pronunciation and fluency. Most presentations involve introducing our essays about a particular lesson text. Just last week I wrote an essay about our text on the emerging phenomenon of 房奴, or “mortgage slaves,” in China, the generally young homeowners who get overburdened by monthly payments and mounting interest on a home loan. It also explained in part the alternative phenomenon of growing numbers of 啃老族, adults with neither a job nor schoolwork who live with their parents.

So, that’s what I wrote about and then discussed in my presentation. I offered my thoughts on the idea that big houses, representing higher social status, entice young workers to buy them too soon and that the general lack of financial education in China brings economic challenges, especially considering that housing used to be heavily controlled, even assigned, by the government. I also offered a comparison between the situation here and that of the United States, as well as my thoughts on the role that parents play when their adult children cannot find work versus when their children do not want to find work. All this is to say that my Chinese presentations are no longer about my favorite colors or the seasons of the year; weekly presentations at ACC mean business, and my classmates and I spend a significant amount of time preparing for them.

Another presentation I recently finished involved my semester-long independent research project. Every ACC student chooses a topic to study and write about in Chinese, and our requirements include interviewing at least 5 Beijing locals of different ages and incorporating at least two scholarly articles into our semester-long research paper. I explored the influence that Beijing Opera has on modern era Chinese music, namely revolutionary and pop music. I first gave a PowerPoint presentation to my teachers and classmates, and the following day I presented again to a foreign language organization here in Beijing. I must admit that I was very excited to successfully give a 20-minute lecture on my findings about music and culture in China in Chinese.

In fact, I’m sure that’s why we are assigned so many presentations. My satisfaction in using Chinese to research and then introduce a topic to others shows just how far my language level has come this semester. The combination of reading, writing, speaking, and listening to Chinese every day both in and out of class has improved my language level in several ways, but that improvement is most obvious (and perhaps most rewarding) when I present. Not only do these presentations give language students an opportunity to practice our Chinese, but also they force us to revisit our research and public speaking skills from a fresh angle. For example, while I have enough experience lecturing in English to be rather comfortable, doing so in Chinese has pushed me to redevelop and reinforce this useful and sometimes overlooked skill. Indeed, these 口头报告 could be considered progress reports, and they represent my studies at ACC quite well.

Sure enough, I have yet another set of 口头报告 assigned for tomorrow: a 10-minute skit about a previous lesson text and a 30-minute explanation of my opinion on the differences between United States and China consumer habits and education systems. Although I admit I’m not as enthusiastic about the required preparation, I am looking forward to again seeing how my Chinese is coming along.

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