Friday, September 22, 2006

Chinese TV streaming/recording

A post by Pandagator introduced me to a nice new tool for saving streaming video media. I have experimented with a number of ways to record Chinese TV, and have a number of streams to watch. This one however has the benefit of being both free and not too technical.

There are a number of places where you can obtain streaming Chinese TV. My best sources came from this page of links. Note that most Chinese sites seem to prefer Windows technology so the media is targeted for Windows media player. Also the connection is not always reliable. Sometimes you can get a good connection, sometimes the server at the other vanishes from sight for a while or returns a busy signal. Your quality of connection may depend on the time of day or on your geographical location. On a good day however you can watch Chinese TV programs and listen to real Chinese (well real TV Chinese anyway).

The bad news is that non-windows users have a technical headache to get the TV ( problem I still haven't solved, but I mostly use Windows now), the connection is usually unrealiable, and you can only watch what is being streamed to you, so if you see something good it is a one shot only, you cannot replay.

I have managed in the past to record using methods that are either technically awkward or errr... distinctly dodgy. Sometimes I have recorded 7 hours or so and then picked through it for goodies afterwards. It is a great way to listen to Chinese. Another huge advantage of recording is that you can often record streams when the connection is too poor to watch in realtime (the player just keeps trying to buffer).

The opensource program (SDP) detailed by Pandagator really works though, it is a bit rough around the edges but well worth learning how to use.

You will need some media urls to use with the application. You can start with the one Pandagator detailed NTDTV although bear in mind that this one is funded from outside China and may have a political agenda, it does usually have a strong connection though. Some sources will play in media plugins on the webpage but you can usually find the urls you need by viewing the text source of the page. You can also track down urls from this excellent page. These are not realtime streams but saved CCTV programs designed to be played via a stream. CCTV also provide pages with text for the dialogues :):).

A nice multi-platform media player you can play your recordings on is VLC. VLC is well worth having anyway especially for those moments when you download some interesting media file from somewhere and media player coughs up a codec not recognised error.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Rooted in sound!

I will be posting more in the future about my experiences with Chinese characters but before I do this, I should make it clear that my own personal strategy for learning Chinese will always be firmly rooted in sound and not writing.

I know this is an area that causes much argument, and many people may prefer to base their learning on the writing system. Many others will have no choice because they are following formal courses of study. I do have my reasons for preferring sound, which I will now try to explain.

For starters I think many people are forced into a 'literature' centric mode of learning Chinese. As the saying goes "if you only have a hammer every problem looks like a nail". The most horrific example is a type of comment I have heard a few times now on different forums from people in the early stages of learning Chinese. The comment goes something like this "how do you visualize the characters, when listening to full speed Chinese, I find it hard to visualize the correct character especially with homonyms?".

I can't imagine the learning system that would allow someone to even phrase a question along those lines. Visualizing characters will not help you sort out homonyms and visualizing conversation as text strikes me as a particularly inefficient way to translate in real time. For starters most Chinese sounds are represented by many characters (to visualize the correct one you already need to have extracted some meaning from context so why bother with the character bit). Also many characters have two or more sounds associated with them, sometimes different tones, sometimes completely different. Both characters and sounds have their own confusions, I am aware that you are more likely to extract meaning from a character than a discrete sound however you should bear in mind that the same character may well have a similar or identical meaning in Japanese kanji and obviously Japanese and Chinese are two completely different languages.

I have a suspicion that learning to understand the meaning of Mandarin from the writing system is not exercising the correct pathways of the brain to aid eventual fluency in conversation. For me it seems pretty clear that learning to write what you can already hear and say is a more logical approach (and the approach taken by all those that speak Mandarin as a first language).

I can see that many people will have no choice but to learn the reading as soon as possible and it obviously has a lot more relevancy for anyone actually living in China etc. Also many years ago there simply wouldn't be enough sources of sound input available for somebody living in England (or elsewhere) and learning Mandarin in their spare time. For these reasons many techniques for learning Chinese had to be developed from a predominantly literature-centric view.

Today the Internet provides us with a huge sound resource. We have podcasts, streaming TV and radio and of course DVDs and music. Sound input can even occur in otherwise dead time for learning (times where it simply isn't practical to get out a book and start reading)

I believe that the writing system and Chinese literature can offer huge opportunities for study but as with English I expect to acquire the basic language through the medium of sound and move on from there.

Maybe the real question should be "Are you studying Mandarin mostly from books or mostly from the spoken language?"? Followed by "Which do you want first, to be able to read it or speak it?".

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Comments Enabled at last (how embarassing)

How embarassing, thanks to an e-mail from John I just discovered that I have had the comments set to moderated on this blog all the time (I never checked). Thank you for all the comments, which have now been released, I must spend some time now to read them :). Also anybody can comment now.

Now I have comments I am spurred on even more! Dang I have been talking to myself all this time and not listening to what everyone else has to say (a bit like my early Mandarin Conversations). Having had a look it may take a little time to respond to some of the excellent points, it is terrific to have so much response it is all very valuable.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mandarin progress report 3

Should really have posted this a while ago, but here I am at seven and a half months. Generally all is well but I have an awful lot to do. And the blog is losing relevance (maybe).

You can go straight to the previous report.

The good news, the last time I posted a progress report I was hoping to be well into listening to the intermediate level Chinesepod lessons by around six months. That happened and I am still there. I think it is going to take a while to crack the Intermediate level. I can understand much of the Chinese chat about Chinese language but much of the rest of the chat requires a lot of hard work and analysis. My target on this score is to be studying the advanced level podcasts by Christmas.

Natural conversation is hard, but is seems normal that the ability to construct and utter Chinese is going to lag behind my ability to hear and understand. I am working increasingly on conversation with Skype. Unfotunately my Chinese friend, that I meet once a week is returning to Japan to work very soon. I think we will keep in touch over the internet though. My pronounciation is improving through recitation of toungue twisters and jokes, I do have a few sounds though that need serious work (rather than just improvement). The problem at the moment is between sounds like chi and che, which are okay in isolation but definitely not in conversation.

I still watch some Chinese TV over the Internet and watch Chinese films etc. The progress is steady but sure, it is very exciting when I am lucky enough to fully understand a few sentances rather than the odd word or phrase.

The time seems to be right to start learning Chinese characters again. I need to experiment a little more before I am confident about the best way to approach this. The initial goal is to be able to read Chinese subtitles in realtime. I think this will be a good first reading target and certainly easier than reading a newspaper. I want to keep the speed pressure because I don't want to teach myself to 'analyse' Chinese text, I want to be able to 'read' it.

Sounds are still very, very important to me. Despite an increasing interest in Chinese writing and literature I am still very committed to the idea that the spoken language is where most of the initial focus should be directed. On this note I am going to try to make some real effort to get some audio on this blog and demonstrate some of my ideas.

I am feeling a bit indifferent about the blog at the moment, I don't want to give it up but on the otherhand it doesn't seem to provoke much interchange of information (I have never had a single comment ;)). Having said that I have had a fair amount of e-mail and comments on other blogs. Also my Chinese friend found me through this blog and initially approached me about face to face language exchange so that was a big plus.