19th November , 2012

Learning Chinese 2 weeks in

I've been trying to learn Chinese for 7 years. I'm 22 years old right now and I started when I was 15. I'm Chinese by blood and I was born and raised in London. This has always been a sore point in my life as I always get from other Chinese people: "So you're Chinese, but you don't speak Chinese - but you're parents are from Malaysia - doesn't that mean you speak like more languages than I can count with one hand?" Well... no it doesn't as I'm living proof right here that you can as a matter of a fact be Chinese and not speak Chinese. Anyway rant over, so onto progress.

According to skritter I've learnt to write just under 300 characters/words and about the same in definitions, tones and reading. I think that's pretty good as I've been aiming to enrol myself into the SOAS lower intermediate Mandarin course which requires around 600 characters to enter.

I've been doing on average atleast an hour a day, mostly using flash cards, but I've also done a few extra things. So lets start with flash cards:

Skritter - This has been an amazing app for me and I hirely recommending going to startupnoodle.com and subscribing to the newsletter there to get a 4 week trial instead of a 1 week trial. The price is also going up for this app at the end of the November, so it'd be good to make an account and they'll let you have the lower price forever. It's a super good app for learning how to write characters and I'm pretty sure from what I've seen - there aren't many Chinese writing apps out there, the few I've used pale in comparison to Skritter. I spend between 30 minutes and an hour using Skritter and that's real time as if you spend about 15 seconds doing nothing it will stop the timer so don't worry if you accidentally leaving it going, the most it will clock is a few seconds extra that you weren't attention.

Yoyochinese.com - On top of that i've continued to watch Yangyang's videos on yoyochinese.com and I've been finding them pretty useful as she explains things in contrast to English words and uses mnemonics sometimes to help you remember them. They're also short and sweet videos without too much repetition so if you've only got a few minutes it's not too long to stop you learning a thing or two in just 3-5 minutes. I'm not sure if it's worth the price tag yet (they recently upped the price $2), but I'll run out this month and see if the later lessons are worth it. I think i will finish all the videos within a couple months anyway and then I will definitely cancel and only subscribe in several months when they have produced enough videos to make it worth it.

Fluento - I've pretty much dropped this for now as at the start of the two weeks I think my Chinese was too poor to make proper use of this, but I might try and pick this up again if I have time. I don't want to spread my time too thinly, so I will have to trial this out again.

Livemocha - I've also dropped Livemocha from my learning tools. I may go back to this now and again to find new native chat partners, but apart from that features, the course materials are pretty poor (like a poor man's Rosetta stone) and they seem dated and fairly boring to complete. The feedback you get from native speakers is varied and some only write 'good work' just to get more LiveMocha credit points.

Watching films/dramas - I've been watching a Taiwanese drama for the last couple weeks, and I'm about 12 episodes in, which is about 10 or so hours of dramas. I've also watched several Taiwanese film (most on a day I was sick!). Monga is a pretty good TW gangster film for anyone that hasn't seen it. I'll continue to watch some Mandarin speaking things to keep my listening up and hopefully I'll learn a thing or two as well. This could be replaced by Fluento? And it might be more relevant and on my level.

Chinesepod.com - So this I didn't mention in my last post, but I've used their podcasts before and I've been listening to some of the old podcasts I downloaded quite a while ago now. They're still as relevant as ever and I've realised how powerful these podcasts are for giving relevant, high frequency vocab in the right context. I'm considering giving a subscription a shot, but will have to consider the pricing and whether I have the time to consume the materials. As a basic user you can download all 2700 podcasts and can use them after your subscription runs out so I might opt for that if I can't justify the premium subscription.

Private Chinese tutor - I have a private Chinese tutor now that teaches me a couple times a week (an hour at a time). She writes some of the HSK papers, so she seems very qualified for what I need right now! It's been great having someone experienced to guide me through my language learning quest. The only problem is that the times she teaches is basically when I'm at work, so I can only schedule lessons at the weekend (or possibly a short one at lunch). Private tutors are a great upgrade from language learning partners as I think the investment you make makes you work harder in those lessons and also with a professional teachers makes the experience much more digestible as a elementary language learner. I feel native speakers have a tendency to speak far too complicated and lose patience quite easily (or you lose the will to ask them to repeat themselves) and if they speak English, it descends into English quite quickly. Compared to standard lessons as well, even if they are the same price or slightly more expensive (but if you get a teacher from China, it's doubtful it will be more expensive) you get far more talking time with one on one lessons. I'm still planning on taking the SOAS Chinese course, but I feel a tutor is a great supplement to whatever your language learning techniques are.

Blogs - I've been reading quite a few language learning blogs and I'll digress a few of note that have inspired me (some not completely related to language learning).

  • Laowai Chinese 老外中文
  • Chinese Hacks
  • Sapore di Cina
  • Fluent in 3 months
  • Confused Laowai
  • Scott H Young - And this article is also fantastic written by scott from Fluent in 3 months about learning anything http://www.fluentin3months.com/focus/ These are the resources that I'm using at the moment and I'll continue to update my progress as much as I can hopefully on a bi-weekly basis, or possibly more if I find some good resources to share. I feel I've been super motivated to learn Chinese as I've been making grounds quite quickly in the last couple weeks and I think it's been for a couple key reasons, firstly focus. This is written up well on Fluent in 3 Months by Scott Young, but to sum it up I feel if you want to make progress in any subject area, you need to focus on one area that you will commit to making progress in. This is even more important when you have other commitments like a job. The other is liability. If you want to make progress, you need to tell everyone you are learning Chinese. That way you will feel bad when they ask you how it's going or they try to speak to you in Chinese. This will force you to make progress. Those two things are really driving me now - and also fixing up my blog so I can tell everyone else I'm learning Chinese. Yep - more liability.