Thursday, December 27, 2007

CSLpod (thanks Edwin)

Edwin left me a comment that introduced me to CSLPod. Looks like another great resource for me to pull lessons from and reduces to the need to roll my own (although this has it own merits sometimes). The advanced lessons do indeed have news and current affairs topics with transcripts. I had a quick look at some of the other levels also and there seems to some good stuff in there also. It seems that students of Mandarin are really spoiled, we have a lot of resources on the internet to help us.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rolling your own Mandarin lessons (from CCTV etc.)

There is a lot of Chinese content out there, and once you have picked up the basics it is fairly easy to find things that you can study and make your own exercises from. For example CCTV have a site where you can search for small video clips from news articles etc. Sometimes the site is a little broken and specific videos can not load but there is plenty that does work, and much of it has text transcripts. I uploaded the first one I have been playing with to youtube.

New reports seem to be special in many languages and are often fastpaced, I figure analysing and some repeated listening to this kind of material can be useful as part of a learning plan especially if you have some ability to zero into to specific subject areas (I have an interest in internet related matters).

I have the transcript that came with the video on my study materials blog.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Chinese streaming television TUV

I have posted about streaming Chinese TV and various programs before. At the moment I am finding the TUV player most convienient. PPLive seems to hog network resources and the choice of channels keeps changing too much (also seems to have lost the CCTV channels).

Basically when I am using the PC for writing or overtime (from home) I have a Chinese TV window open most of the time. Sometimes I pay more attention to it than others but it is amazing how often I find I hear an interesting phrase and start paying attention.

Sadly I don't understand it all but depending on the program these days I can often understand most of it.

You can download TUV player at

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Learning multiple languages 自相矛盾

A couple of people have asked me about the languages I am learning, because I occaisionally mention Cantonese and Japanese. Well to be honese the Japanese was fun but it is currently on hold. I think I was enticed by the wonderful feeling I was getting as I started to understand basic Mandarin and wanted to extend that into another language. However it now feel that to truly master Mandarin (at least to the extent of my ambition) I need to give it the main focus of my free time. I hope to maintain the first steps I have made in Japanese to return to it at a later date.

Maybe when you get to an intermediate level in a language the dynamics change and the things you have to do to improve change also. It seems very tempting to start an new language from scratch and get the familiar buzz from those early milestones achived. For me though this can only retard my progress in Mandarin.

Now having said all that I am going to confess to still pursuing Cantonese, this is at a slower pace than Mandarin studies and a different style. I have many reasons. Which I will explain in a later post, but in summary it is commonly spoken by many overseas Chinese, it forces me to stay true to my original beliefs of starting from spoken language (learn to read what you already know and don't directly associate sound to hanzi), it eventually puts me in the same position as many Chinese people (able to speak Mandarin and at least one other Chinese language), and lastly it is fun.

The main problem is that there are not the same resources for Cantonese, so after completing the Pimsleur course, I am hoping I can bootstrap from Mandarin (films with subs. and soundtracks for both Mandarin and Cantonese speakers etc.). Also jump in the deepend and use resources like those supplied by Marcelo, for example I know this Chengyu very well in Mandarin and here I have text and audio in Cantonese.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Mojiti again

I am returning to Mojiti again. I think it is a great potential resource for language learning. John has also played with it. As John points out it can be a little time consuming particularly at first but I believe it makes a great tool in the learning Chinese arsenal. You can create your own little excercises and projects and at a level that suits you, these are far more powerful and interesting than any homework you might be set in a class or an excercise from a text book.

My next Mojiti project is to finish transcribing the following video, I figure if I post it here I will have to finish it (I have been rather busy recently and only made a quick start so far). I will be fairly hard work, although I know what she is saying (a least a pretty good idea) that is not the same as being able to write a character by character transcript, there are a few areas I am going to find quite sticky. Transcribing in Chinese is most important for me then I will do an English translation set like I did with the last song I did. Basically she is talking about the definition of beauty, the proliforation of beauty products, chat shows talking about dieting beauty products haircuts etc., beauty product adverts, changing yourself this way won't provide deep lasting happiness, if she changed her eyelids (I think) it wouldn't make her any happier in the long run, friends and family will love you for what you are, everyone has their own personal beauty etc. etc.

When I get round to finishing it I will put a transcription on my study materials blog also. This is the nearest thing a self learner like me gets to homework.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ellen's Chinese podcasts

After mentioning Naturegirl's blog in the last post I really should also mention Ellen's Chinese podcasts. Ellen has lots of material on her site and most of it comes with audio. There are different levels of dialog, with text and translations. You also get to hear children's voices, male and female...

I am not sure why more people don't seem to use resources like this, material posted by real Chinese speakers is particularly precious. Ellen gives you some real dialogs often with a lot of humor. Naturegirl's chengyu were a great find, I have just started really taking the study of chengyu seriously and appreciate the example sentences and the fact that I can ask questions.

I get the impression that many learners carry a classroom mentality and are afraid of stepping outside of a set course of instruction. I don't see how stepping outside and spending time expanding your experience can ever cause harm?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Naturegirl found again

Strange title I know. but a little while ago someone called Jenny left a comment. I found her blog and it is a great little resource. Sadly I then lost it (forgot to tag it). I thought it had vanished but turns out it wasn't on Blogger.

I found it again when I followed a comment left by naturegirl on The Tower of Confusion blog Visit the Chinese Help blog, there are lots of Chengyu and other bits and pieces that can help us Chinese learners. Thank you Jenny/naturegirl!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Chinese English lessons

Been a while since I was looking for Chinese lessons on English. The switch makes a nice diversion though. This one is from Mofile:

Give it time it may take a little while to load. Basically I try to keep cycling through bits of everything. This type of material has well spoken Mandarin that is mostly easy for me now (particularly as the context is very strong). There are some words I don't know and some I can guess. I put these new words in a vocab file on Google docs, and study them when I have time and feel like that type of study. Usually when studying words I just freewheel. For example in one of these I picked up 挣扎 (struggle) so when freewheeling I search for it in Google and in the results that pop up try to find interesting snippet that contain the word, snippets that I can read and understand in Chinese. Straight away I spot 内心的挣扎 wow that must mean something like "internal stuggle" in English. Now for sound, I practice saying the sentance out loud a few times, run it through text to speech etc. and then search for the phrase 内心的挣扎 in google. Lots of hits, this is a common usage it seems so I read a couple that I can understand, copy that phrase into a lexis document in Google and move on. Sometimes I may quickly hit the ting database or the Chinesepod dictionary to see if there are any other sound files (not in this case). I would guess that occupied five minutes or so.

Typing this I listen to one that I "studied" last night. I know it pretty well but now, I am half paying attention. Listening to stuff you already know plays an important part I feel, it allows those words (said that way) to drift towards a status of effortless understanding, rather than understanding that requires focused concentration.

I don't use those lists on Google docs a lot, sometimes when I check them it is just housekeeping, weed out all the words and phrases that I look at and think "well of course it is". Also I try to avoid cut-and-paste as I punt these words around in various web places and documents. Typing the characters each time reinforces reading recognition.

I rarely use flashcards, I have fiddled with them once or twice in the past, but reinforcement through real material makes things stick much faster for me. If you find contextual links between material for short periods of time then a lot of dialog gets repeated.

For a while I am going to keep hitting you guys with examples of why I think the whole idea of what it means to study something and to learn something has gone out of the window. In some cases just retaining the concepts of teacher, classroom, textbooks etc. seems to hamper people when studying online.

Monday, October 08, 2007

found something

Searching through Chinese vlogs and found something amongst the reams of doe eyed girls miming or singing badly to cheesy songs. Check out the page, there are a number of interesting videos from here. The multi-part story is very good but starts off slowly. I would punt these over to youtube but I ought to get permission first, maybe there are plans to put them on other sites. I would like it if I could annotate on

Sunday, October 07, 2007

study without effort?

A comment and response to a comment another blog made me think hard about what learning Chinese actually means now. I can't explain conventionally so here is a recent story, I have many more from further back in time but this one sums up what I am trying to express.

I took some time off work last week to visit my grandfather for his 90th Birthday. I left my wife and children at home and went to pick up my Mother (2 hours drive). During the drive I listened to some music and also listened to some Chinese. I listen to 4 Princess Remy podcasts and some radio podcasts from SBS radio including a 19 minute mini radio drama. The Princess Remy pods I can usually get the gist of quickly but the subtleties don't usually come through except on repeated listening. After a while I may start looking up some of the words, often I have a little trouble with the Taiwanese accent but that is all to the good. I listen to more music, arrive at my mother's house relaxed and stay overnight, most of the rest of the evening is normal family chat, but I pull out my media player for a few minutes and watch a xiaoxin(小新) cartoon (one of the ones I have nailed most of the dialog on, I like them they are funny).

Morning and an early start, still three hours drive to get to my grandparents house, we set off early and stop for breakfast. My mother is doing some shopping to take to her parents I have a little time, I read part of an English newspaper over coffee and listen to an imandarin podcast on the chengyu 自相矛盾. I know this 成语 pretty well so really I am just being attentive to tricky bits, repeating in my head and sorting out errant tones. I pretty much ignored chengyu until recently, seemed pointless until I had basic conversational skills, now I find them very interesting. I like imandarinpod, one of the easiest ways I found to transition into "all Chinese" learning material.

Car journey starts, first I listen to music and chat to my mother and her partner, later I listen to the Remy podcasts and SBS material, including a new show that I had saved. I do a lot of repeated listening to material that I like but usually cycle through many things. I may listen to it once, listen again a week later, listen two weeks later with a dictionary etc. The constant mixing and making connections between different bits of dialogue seems to work. Every time I listen to something it gets easier eventually if I have not got bored and abandoned it, it will seem just like English and I can reuse bits, this is where most of my vocabulary comes from. My mother is interested so I pause bits and summarize them in English, I can't do simultaneous translation (I am not that good especially whilst driving) but I can give her a good idea of what is going on.

We arrive, my grandparents are still look after themselves, however there is much to do and many little things to help them. Mostly busy the rest of the day but in the evening I walk down to the local Chinese takeaway with a family member. I warn the guy I with that I not looking for any spoken practice, I don't like the dynamic of having a non-chinese learner with me when I practice speaking, besides Cantonese is way behind Mandarin at the moment and most of these places speak Cantonese. As we wait for the food I contemplate the sign above the internal door 安平入出 should make sense but I don't get it, then it dawns 出入平安, it should be read from right to left I suppose, meaning something like "enter and leave in tranquility/safety". The food arrives, the guy I am with obviously wants to push me into some sort of demonstration, he takes the food and says "how do I say thank you in Chinese" to the girl. I groan internally but she responds xie4xie4 oh Mandarin! I ask her if she speaks Mandarin in Mandarin, she does, I feel the guy next to me take an interest but I won't be beaten into his agenda, I ask her if she speaks Cantonese in Cantonese, and am greeted with a blank expression so I ask her in Mandarin, she replies "a little" (at this point she seems a little phased out), they all say a little even when they don't I find ;) I thank her for the food and say goodbye in Mandarin. We leave, she presumably thinks I speak better Cantonese, the guy I am with says "that wasn't very long". I smile ruefully and tell him she only speaks Cantonese (there are some advantages, to learning an uncommon language ;)).

The rest of the evening is tied up but before going to sleep I listen to a few Chinesepods I am reviewing the love story ones, there are still bits of vocab and subtleties in the chat that can help me a lot, but these seem amazingly easy compared to six months ago. I don't know whether I am going to really get down to studying the advanced pods from Chinesepod, I dabbled a bit but maybe at this level there is a bigger payoff in just plugging away at sources of real Chinese. Perhaps the discussion in the Media lessons will be worthwhile though. Time will tell. Chinesepod was a big help in getting me to the point where I could pick and choose but now I am not sure about its application in the future.

Next morning is Birthday day for my Grandfather, we have convinced my Grandparents that we are taking them out for a meal which is quite a big deal for them, so we go into the city center for a couple of hours to leave them in peace. My mother keeps mentioning the Chinese, I want to resolve this so tell her that we can return to the Chinese takeaway in the evening. My plan is simply to start a discussion about the sign, I can always pretend I haven't guessed to read it from right to left (sometimes starting by asking something you already know is a good way to start a conversation). I am not happy with this plan but needs must. We visit a Chinese supermarket I come across and buy a few things, all the conversation is in Cantonese. Sometimes now I will try a little Cantonese and maybe they speak some Mandarin but they seem busy/flustered and not good prospects for conversation.

After the supermarket we come across one of those Chinese health shops, paydirt, they always speak Mandarin in these places. The shop is empty, I turn to my mother "okay now it my chance to prove I can speak Chinese". I wander into the shop and a Chinese lady appears. The plan is simple, buy some goji berries (goqizi), I use them anyway, they are usually a little expensive in these place but worth it for an excuse for conversation. Also in these places you can sometimes get a hard sell for expensive things you don't need but speaking Chinese usually circumvents this.

I greet the lady who appears in Chinese, she seems surprised I start by asking for goji berries and things get a little sticky. The conversation remains in Chinese but gets a little bogged down. Seems that buying the berries in this one is more complicated than usual, finally we get to 100g for £5 (quite expensive but I agree). The talk is a little stilted, as she weighs out the berries my mother says something (I forget what) and I say to the Chinese lady 她是我的妈妈,她不相信我会说中文。My mother asks me what I said and I tell her in English "I said this is my mother, she doesn't believe I can speak Chinese. The Chinese lady turns around and says in English "that is exactly what you said". At this point everything changes, maybe for a little while we were in one of those twilight zones where she hadn't quite registered we were speaking in Chinese (it happens).

Now things flow, mostly in Chinese, I recant my learning experiences etc. (she assumes that my wife must be Chinese initially), turns out that she has lived in England for six years, now it her home as she is married to an English man, her husband knows about 500 words but can't make sentences yet etc etc. all in Chinese and at this level without much effort. She asks for my business card but I don't have one, so we exchange email addresses. Apparently I may be able to help her husband learn Chinese (something it seems she would value). The only English is when she assures my mother that I can speak Chinese very well for an Englishman especially after a short period of learning.

I suspect I may have caused her husband some suffering ;), I will await to see if I receive and email for a while if not just send one thanking for speaking practice. I left the shop on a slight adrenalin high and there was no need to visit the Chinese takeaway that evening. Most of the rest of the day was devoted to my grandparents. I had a little time in the evening when they were dozing to read a PDF I had made of one of the Clavis voices of china dialogs (read it on my hand held media player/computer). I pretty much know this one off by heart but and using it to practice reading Chinese characters. Before sleep I watch a Chinese Doreamon cartoon, I find these a little harder than xiaoxin but this one has some interesting dialog.

Next day is a lot of driving. I listen to the SBS material, the Princess Remy podcast s and the Cpod lessons, then lots of music. Normally I wait longer before repeat listening, but I am limited to what I have on my small cheap mp3 player and haven't had computer access for a couple of days (fiddling with the larger media player is awkward whilst driving. I thing about what next.. I have a Harry Potter film in Chinese to watch at home and the film Ghosts (about the Chinese cockle pickers that died in the UK). I am sure Ghosts will be a very moving film but I want to wait until my Chinese is better to do it credit (Harry Potter is of course much easier). Next week I need to return to a place near I work to talk to someone who only works Tuesdays, I want to discuss some issues about chengyu in general, in Mandarin, should really think about any new words I may need at some point....

I have kept things general to protect the innocent and omitted all the many occasions when I talked Chinese in my head to myself, or translated stuff in my head just to see if I could etc. etc. I don't feel I worked hard at learning Chinese these few days I describe. But I did work! at one point I had to work very hard to get to here but I knew what I was doing. Now this is what I mean by effortless learning. I do a little of everything, but grammar, vocabulary lists, flashcards, exercises, tests, stressing over nitpicky details, all play very little part. At the age of 39 I started learning my second language (Mandarin). At the age of 40 I have come a long way and moved into a zone where it is easy to keep going. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to learn a language. The next ones should be easier.

This like most of my blog posts rambles and contains many mistakes. But whilst I am typing I am watching Chinese TV (time is precious) so that works for me

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A song subtitled

More subtitling at This time I have also started posting again on my long-negleted study material blog, so you can view the lyrics here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Customise video online

Video and audio together have great potential for learning languages, particularly in combining reading and listening comprehension (their is such and variety of options and combinations with sub-titles I will need to post about them soon. I have been re-mixing audio for ages but only recently starting playing with video text. I put an example on Youtube (see below) but the process takes too long with the tools I have at the moment. This one is taken from the Clavis voices of China project audio and text.

I was delighted to find the site this site makes it easy to put subtitles, comments, pictures, animations etc. over other videos that are already online. This is potentially a great tool for language learners and modify videos for language learning purposes. The video below is one I overlayed with subtitles etc. It is the video released by Max introducing his mobile phone in Chinese, all the subs and translations etc. were applied on the Mojiti site.
Not quite fair on Max as I am sure that he is good enough to be thinking in Chinese but it seemed a good way to get the English translation in.

Monday, September 10, 2007

From the mouths of babes

Thanks to a comment from Edwin and about learning in the manner of children and thanks to reading a post on his blog. I thought it would be good time to tell about something that happened last Easter.

Learning a foreign language has made me far more observant about language learning and about people speaking my mother tongue (English). I have two nieces, one is four the other is seven, both are very smart and have advanced language for their age. The four year old is extremely brave and experimental here is an example.

Surrounded by a small cluster of adults she "takes the stage" and tells us about some cooking she has done with her mum. It is clear that she realizes the difference in level of adult speech and wants to make a good impression. You can see the concentration and internal preparation as she says "Then mummy helped me grate the limes", there was a pause here, the key word being "grate" she was not sure but she saw everyone understood and continued feeling proud. "We put the lime ???" ahh she didn't spot this one what is the result of the grating " in the bowl and added lime juice". She found a substitute word a got through it.

None of the adults corrected her about "skin", that might make her feel bad. Perfectly naturally her grandmother asked her "What else did you add to the lime zest?". You could almost see the cogs turning in her head, now she knows that zest would be a better word for the result of her grating. Note she has been allowed to participate and not been overtly corrected, also note that even at the age of four she is equipped with some fairly sophisticated tools to learn her mother tongue.

Her elder sister is not so experimental and does not like to make mistakes publicly. She is also very observant though (again you can see cogs turning when she finds her self in a situation with a bunch of new adults). They live in South Wales and are learning a little Welsh language at school. The conversation turns to language a few times, my brother in law lived in Japan for two years at that time I had just started to learn some Japanese and he was asking question about Chinese. Both girls are proud to show of some bits of Welsh they have learned, they teach me to count in Welsh (nothing boosts a child's confidence more than teaching an adult something ;)).

We heard some Welsh words and a couple of songs. I talked to my older niece about her Welsh. She had been watching me talking about language with her father and quickly set me right "They only teach us some words and songs at school, they don't show us how to make sentences, I can't speak Welsh". She was right of course, that type of teaching wasn't going to make her a Welsh speaker ever.

I think an adult has the advantage of greater concentration, and attentiveness, also perhaps we can make more intelligent filtering decisions, but do we have any better strategies than a smart seven or eight year old child?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The start of a better Mandarin course (hypothetical)

I guess I may need to rethink my blogging style, I don't have much time so I tend to brain dump, possibly causing confusion. In my last post I briefly outlined a possible start to a better Mandarin course. I have quoted below.

"Right people here is a whole bunch of Vietnamese, Cantonese, Thai, Japanese and Mandarin audio." Please use it to calibrate your ear to Mandarin language, I will test you on some more audio at the end of the week just to make sure you get it. When you get the feel you can always listen to try to determine where the sentences are, when people might be saying names, what sounds are often co-opted for breathing stops etc. what is the mood of speakers and identify a few common sounds you hear a lot (mimic one or two of these at the end of week, and I will tell you what they mean). Don't worry about meaning for now, but if you think you have guessed something, especially in the video material you can share on Friday. Ok see you at the end of the week, oh and by the way let my know which Mandarin voices you each like the best, we will see what we can do as you are going to be listening to them a lot."

Jenny commented that: But I imagine that many people would give up too quick with your method. They would say to the teacher:“What are you expecting me to hear? How shall I hear out the names. I mean I don't even know that language. So how do you expect me to distinguish Mandarin from Cantonese when I don't know what both are alike“

Here is where I am at. Firstly I would hope that on a university course the students would be at least relatively smart and have some motivation even if it is just to pass the course rather than a passion for Mandarin. How do they work out which is Mandarin? They go online and find examples of the target languages to work with. They use the knowledge gained here to filter what they hear. If they are smart they will realize that they are probably better off spending more time listening to Mandarin so they can positively identify just what they need. Granted some won't get it, I may need to spell it out to them (they lose a few marks :)). Maybe the names are too hard , maybe not, but it is surprising what you can discern if you listen.

For example a colleague of mine spent a little holiday in China, he had no interest in learning Mandarin but when he came back he said to me I kept hearing zhe ge and na ge all the time (although being Northern Chinese it was more like zhei ge and nei ge) what do they mean? He was happy when I told him that mostly he was hearing "this" and "that". You would be surprised how much more interesting stuff can be discovered by someone listening attentively to a language they don't yet understand.

At the end of the week I would expect that those that had worked at it would have a good start to the rest of the course, and started to learn the way that that children do before they can even speak. I bet you that a Chinese (or any other child) will usually react more favorably to an adult speaking the language they are familiar with than a foreign language even before they can understand a single word.

The biggest initial hurdle to most Westerners is that they have never heard Mandarin, first sort that out and give the same ability to identify it as they may have to differentiate French and German (even if they don't speak French and German).

The conventional learning approach is so ingrained that most people cannot think outside of it. The intention of my course would not be to teach people Mandarin but to teach them how to learn Mandarin.

Yup they are going to have to work at it the first week but that is as it should be.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Childlike simplicity

I appear to share a lot of views with Steve Kauffman at the linguist blog about language learning. This post on learning like a child to me is the essence of everything.

My experience is that a lot of language learning is actually acquisition rather than learning. Like so many things in life you have to just do it and apply some sort of feed-back mechanism, the feed-back allows you make adjustments so that you improve. There is a learning element or appears to be because you increasingly acquire words and phrases but even that is probably overemphasized because eventually when you begin to roll, meaning of new structures and usage is inferred from usage and experience. I almost certainly learned that 2+2=4 but I know that 120+120=240. I learned (kind of) jin1tian1 guo4 de hao3 bu4, but derived from observation that jin1tian1 guo4 de hao3bu4hao3 (今天过得好不好?) means "how has today gone?". Snap! one moment at the right time and the realization that combination of words can be used in this way is owned.

Children acquire many skills by acquisition, they just need the raw materials, the desire to learn and maybe a few holistic suggestions ("keep pedaling", "look ahead" etc.) What they do not need is a complete breakdown of the bike mechanics, laws of physics and a detailed diagram of every physical movement they need to make. It should be simple. For language learning you still need desire, the raw materials are sound and text and surprise surprise, much of the feedback can be applied by yourself, most of the rest by speakers of the language in action.

Many of the adults who approach language learning cannot let go, some are even offended by the concept that they should learn like children. Right from the word go they want to know about aspirated fricatives and complex grammar. Right from the beginning they obsess about the slight differences in pronounciation they hear (which is right?) and soon they will try to apply the grammar rules they learned to real spoken language and squeal in indignation that they are not obeyed. Somehow they have managed to forget that their own mother tongue only loosely obeys grammar rules when spoken in real situations, forget the regional pronounciation variation in their own language etc. etc.

Linguistics does not directly map to language learning. The science of language is important and useful as is the science of physics but I can learn to ride a bike without physics knowledge. Educational institutions have a vested interest in mixing linguistics into their course because otherwise the course material would look rather sparse, and how would they set and mark exams?

Maybe the perfect Chinese course would be like this for the first week.

"Right people here is a whole bunch of Vietnamese, Cantonese, Thai, Japanese and Mandarin audio." Please use it to calibrate your ear to Mandarin language, I will test you on some more audio at the end of the week just to make sure you get it. When you get the feel you can always listen to try to determine where the sentences are, when people might be saying names, what sounds are often co-opted for breathing stops etc. what is the mood of speakers and identify a few common sounds you hear a lot (mimic one or two of these at the end of week, and I will tell you what they mean). Don't worry about meaning for now, but if you think you have guessed something, especially in the video material you can share on Friday. Ok see you at the end of the week, oh and by the way let my know which Mandarin voices you each like the best, we will see what we can do as you are going to be listening to them a lot."

I can't really see a university going for that though but perhaps I am wrong?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Even more video

Maxiewawa left a comment and linked to one of his videos, he seems to have been busy ;). I particularly like this one...

Maxiewawa had made a composite video of people talking about their mobile phones in Japanese. I am on the slow-burner with Japanese, just collecting materials and working out how to keep up a slow and persistent progress, it was good to be able to recognise a few words though. This is his mobile phone introduction in Chinese...

I like getting Chinese from all sorts of sources, there seems to be an increasing number of non-native Chinese speakes putting stuff out there in Mandarin which is great in my opinion. Seeing as my shouji is in many respects the complete opposite of Max de shouji I am hoping to post a video response within the next couple of days. I don't have webcam or a proper video camera so I need to experiment a little first.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Video again (spoilt for choice)

A couple of times I have posted about video, just thought I would mention an excellent Firefox extension. There are a lot of Firefox extensions to help download videos but downloadhelper is the best it makes it easy to download video files. Before using this one I sometimes had to resort to analyzing network packets to get video on my hard-drive. AuntySue at the Chinesepod Cantonese forum pointed this extension out.

Just for example from Youtube you can get a few useful Mandarin learning resources.

You can find a lot of Chinese video websites that this extension is likely to work on listed on a Danwei post.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Minimum effort required?

There are many activities in life where a certain level of effort is required and without that effort the final objective will never be achieved not matter what the time scale. I can decide to run for fitness, but if I wish to run a marathon in a respectable time then I have to invest the effort in training. Simply running for half an hour once a week may make me a little fitter but even after ten years of this I will not be ready for that marathon.

I believe that to learn a language you have to be prepared to work hard, either at a certain level all the time or occasionally in concerted bursts. If most people (there may be exceptional minds to which this does not apply) don't do this then they will only ever achieve a superficial grasp of the language, no matter what the timescale.

My understanding of the mechanics and chemistry of human memory is somewhat superficial (I haven't made that concerted effort to master this kind of knowledge). However there does seem to be an element of "use it or lose it". This use it or lose it principle would suggest that if you only learn in a casual manner then you will reach a point where you are just "treading water", a lot of your effort will be reviewing things you originally learned long ago or the new things you learn will be offset by the old things you are forgetting.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Seconds out, round one..

As I intimated in the last post, as news goes this is a little stale being two months old. But it is far too significant to leave out.

Language learning can be like a sport, even like an extreme sport. There is the training and preparation and eventually the adrenaline rush and thrill of the event.

A couple of months ago I found out that the manager of our Beijing office was coming over for a few days. In the past I avoided talking to him, I couldn't see the point if I was only going to exchanging the odd phrase or two (there are other places to practice that). This time however I sent him an email. I explained that I had been learning Chinese for a little over a year and would like a chat if possible.

Now here was the problem, almost every other time I have talked Chinese face to face I have had some control over the circumstances and some context to start conversation from. Now I am in an open plan office, some of my workmates already make fun of my Chinese learning they know that at some unknown time this guy will be around and they can't wait to see me struggle (its a guy thing, I am just as cruel to them when I get the chance ;)). As the day draws on my mouth feels a little dry, there is a tingling in my arms and my stomach is lurching a little.

Suddenly when I am least expecting it a smiling Chinese guy appears and shakes my hand. My heartbeat is thudding in my ears, I can hear knives sharping in the background. Dry mouthed I stumble through the worst Chinese greeting I have ever uttered. Kindly in English he asks me if I know about the tones yet. Damn this won't do at all....

World shrinks, open plan office vanishes, people vanish, there is just me and a smiling Chinese guy. I tell him I know about tones and apologize we start to talk after brief introduction, we talk about language learning, about Westerners learning Chinese about families ...... I talk in a slow measured way, that belies the huge amount of mental processing going on for each sentence I have to construct (this was the hardest part).

At some point early on he looks at me slightly incredulously and says "you can understand me, I can understand you". It was a surreal experience.

Eventually we had to finish, I discovered to my surprise that we had be talking for almost 30 minutes, and also realized that there was almost no English used. Obviously he was used to speaking to foreigners that may not have a good grasp of Mandarin but even so this experience felt like a huge milestone had been surpassed.

I asked a workmate if he was entertained to which he replied "once you have listened to a couple of guys speaking Chinese for 15 minutes it starts to get a little boring". Since then no one has made fun of my Chinese learning efforts.

That evening I was exhausted mentally but very happy. The feelings I had, the nerves that vanished, the total focus etc. were just like those I have had in past when putting on gloves and a gum shield and sparring with the expectation that I could get a little hurt.

Since that time I have actually tailed off a little, actually speaking to people. I have the confidence to know that I can quietly spend a little time building up more vocabulary and comprehension, then get back into playing the sport...

Blown away (overload)

I have big problem, I want to blog, but can't. I feel like one of those NASA probes that lands on a comet and they get so much data back it takes years to process.

The overload mentioned in the title isn't an overload in language learning, just an overload in insights, new discoveries etc. Language learning has already started to change my life and mind in so many wonderful ways.

This blog isn't really a diary, it is not a record of everything I do and I don't even care about keeping things in the right time line. It is nice to comeback and track some of my thoughts overtime though and sometimes is it good to put a little back by attempting to make suggestions that might help people in similar circumtances to myself.

So much to say ..... where to start ..... OH I know, hang on I will be back.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Video pt.1

Been very busy recently, language learning has not taken a back-seat (still remains a high priority) but blogging certainly has.

Increasingly I am looking to video materials for learning resources. Partly because it is a change of pace, and partly because as my Chinese improves I can actually watch things to relax (and learn at the time, you can't get better than that :)).

Looking at video from a strictly learning point of view, apart from the above, what can video offer over listening or reading? I knew there was another element but it was difficult to explain. Recently I got hold of the Disney film Mulan, very useful as it has Cantonese and Mandarin soundtracks. I skipped through it quickly and played a couple of bits just to see how accessible the Mandarin was. One place I stopped on was a scene that has been played out in lots of films. The invading army captures a couple of enemy scouts. The scouts are mocked and scared a little and then released to deliver a message to their leader. At this point you are thinking "Hmmm usually it is considered good practice to just send one enemy scout back" At this point the leader of the Huns scratches his beard and says "送信需要多少人?" a rather evil looking henchman replies "一个" with a murderous look and draws back his huge bow.

OK so what is my point? well the Hun says "Hmmm how many people does it take to deliver a letter", his henchman replies "one person". Simple language and with the right visual information you can enjoy lots of comprehensible input. Perhaps you are thinking that it is somewhat relative whether the language is simple or not, however consider the same story written down, I can guarantee that I am going to stumble over the language and have to resort to a dictionary at the moment ("drawing a bow" etc. etc.) I wouldn't have a clue". The same scene couldn't have been rendered as just sound either without considerably more information.

Video gives me more learning modes and more options and sometimes I can hit a sweet spot where I am still learning but in a fairly relaxed way (if audio content becomes so easy that I don't have to concentrate much, is also usually stops teaching me anything). The video acts a little prompt to help me absorb new patterns of speech.

I want to speak more about video soon, but for now: you probably know about watching Mandarin video on youtube, however there is much more available on Chinese sites. This page has a load of links.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Turning Chinese?

Apologies, a bit of a random post this one, things move so fast and my work has been extremely busy recently. Chinese learning is changing but I have climbed over a few foothills and am now surveying the mountains I have to climb to finish the journey.

Skype has lost favour as a method of learning. Although I learned so much from Skype, there are many disadvantages. The sound quality is often not so good in one or both directions and the lack of face to face communication with body language etc. makes a huge difference. I must get back on Skype to keep up with a couple of friends though.

I want to post more on here about what I am doing and how I am doing it. My approach is unorthodox but seems to pay off, maybe others will find some use. I also need to get back to posting in Chinese on my other blog :). Writing in Chinese is useful but I have mostly been doing it in emails recently. My knowledge of Chinese characters is coming on now, with the need for scratching away or spending a lot of time with flashcards. My plan of learning to read what you can already understand and learning to write what you can already read seems to be paying off. I still can't see how anybody could think it would be good idea for a Westerner learning Chinese for the first time to start learning the hanzi straight away?. Of course I suppose anyone who has learnt that way has no option but to think it is best. Maybe I too am stuck with what I did but so many things seem to make sense. For example the feeling of learning to read hanzi and going straight to Chinese in my head, never having associated an English meaning to the character (except via translation from the Chinese).

I have started learning Cantonese (in my own way). I think I will have fun with that. I have experimented a little in the past but waited until a couple of things occurred. Firstly my feel for Mandarin tones is good enough now that I can feel out the Cantonese tones without damaging what I already have. Secondly, I will pace Cantonese well behind my Mandarin studies, I find I am translating Cantonese to Mandarin to understand it, rather than English. That feel right and seems to indicate it is safe to learn them both now. I think I will have fun with Cantonese, it will also give me some completely different opportunities to practice speaking. As usual it is mostly a listening and absorbing excercise for a while, but my recent Chinese friend (who sadly is returning to China after such a short time) can also speak Cantonese so I got a little initial Cantonese pronunciation practice.

I will probably be a little busy finding out a new language partner for face to face practice. A complicated business but I hope it won't take too long. Actually I discovered I have three huge advantages now. Firstly many Chinese people seem to find it hard to learn English in an English speaking country (probably because most of residents are not learning Chinese so naturally don't feel like spending a longtime discussing the finer points of language learning). Secondly I can speak very standard English, which makes it easier for them to understand and they feel more confident that they are not picking up a weird regional accent. Thirdly I have advanced far enough with my Mandarin that they know I am serious about their language and culture and not just messing about, trying to look cool etc.

I am using Chinese as an excuse to break old habits and patterns in my life style (brewing oolong and jasmine tea at work instead of having coffee etc. etc.). Also using it as an excuse to re-appraise all the worn out thoughts and philosophies churning around in my mind.

Anyhow back to some serious study.....

Saturday, March 31, 2007


The tones in Mandarin are considered one of the main problems for Westerners, who come to learn the language, and they have certainly caused me some problems. I think it is hard for someone who has grown up with a tonal language to understand the difficulties of those who have not.

I can say that I have made considerable progress. I try to do little things all the time to improve my feeling for the tones. Initially I was in the same boat as most beginners seem to be, I could hear the tonal difference of syllables but instantly forgot them (I am too used to this sort of audio information being used to carry emotional content in sentences, not changing the meaning of sounds). I also know for a fact that I am still a long way away from the natural ability of a native speaker.

Now I can usually discern tones in clearly spoken Chinese and can often reproduce tones myself. There are difficulties in sentences with some sounds and I have to spend a little time getting used to a new word (in isolation the word it usually easy but in a sentence it is often not so easy). I also have a few blind spots with common words, for example I can say ying1wen2 in isolation but often pronounce it ying2wen2 in the middle of a sentence.

Rather than going crazy over tones I tend to work on them a little all the time. I am constantly attentive to them, and try to do little things to improve. For example if using an online dictionary to check a word I think I have heard, I commit to adding the tone marks when I add enter pinyin (getting these wrong and wasting more time, tends to focus the mind). I sometime concentrate really hard on identifying the tones in Chinese I listen to, even if the words are obvious.

One day, I think I will achieve something close to the natural ability with tones that a native speaker has, I just don't know when. I don't think there is a magic bullet for most of us, just a gradual development. Initially you don't know enough words to get them mixed up anyway (it was quite a revelation when I first mistook lian4xi2 for lian2xi4 when the context was confusing, of course I was also focused on trying to understand the other words).

Some people equate musical ability with tonal language ability, I am not so sure, I can easily tune a guitar by ear, but only to itself, I don't have perfect pitch. I think a general continual attentiveness and time is all that is required. I think even a skilled musician will have problems the first time they encounter a tonal language. We are all different though, I would be interested to hear of other peoples experiences.

I was trying to think of something that may cause Chinese speakers a similar problem when they learn English. Maybe some of the more subtle sentence inflections, for example the hidden 'but'. When a statement is made in English with a slight inflection that tells a native speaker that the word 'but' should be added. "I like what you have done (but)." maybe the sentence that follows takes a non-native speaker by surprise in some cases if they take the first statement at face value?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

iMandarin podcast

I discovered a new podcast recently. The people behind the iMandarin podcast seem to be releasing two a week. I think the podcast is intended to promote their residential training and possibly online training, however the podcast and part transcript with examples is free to download and use.

Many of the podcasts discuss an aspect of Chinese life or culture and there is much discussion after the dialogue about aspects of the language used. Almost all the podcast content is in Chinese.

I like them very much, I can understand most of the content first time through (with some concentration), and most of what I do not understand I can get on repeated listenings. I am just going to use these for a bit as a "busman's holiday" (a slight variation on what you normally do as an alternative to a rest) before I start a serious assault on the Chinesepod advanced lessons.

There are a few improvements that could be made to the podcasts, there is only only presenter, I think the background music could be dropped and they could probably drop most of the little English (sometimes the choice of words to repeat in English is somewhat strange). However this is just looking a "gift horse in the mouth" (being overly critical about something that is free). I think many people who were comfortable with the Intermediate cpod podcasts could gain a lot from listening to these also. And if below that level or wanting some reading practice you can always work with the transcripts.

Friday, March 09, 2007

All Change

Ok so now I have two other blogs connected to this one I thought is was time to move to one of the newer templates etc. Still a few things missing (like the other learner blogs), but I will restore these and appropriate feeds etc. I am even toying with the idea of adding a photo 真吓人!

Actually I am undergoing a little bit of a strategy change, my previous English blog post have been little more than disordered brain dumps (not so much written as regurtitated). I have to see how I can get it to work with the Chinese blog as that develops, but I am kind of hoping that eventually there maybe material that could be useful to a Chinese person studying English (including audio). I think with this internet game it really can be the case that the more you give out, the more you get back :). Special thanks to all the people (both Chinese and English and many behind the scenes) who have helped me on my journey so far......

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Do I need to go to China?

I really, really, really want to go to China. That is a fact, indisputable and undeniable. Another unfortunate fact is that it is not likely to quite some time (zhen zao gao!). Okay so assuming I can be all grown up about it, rather than crying like a baby (Whaaaaaaaaa!) there is another problem. A number of people seem to be firmly of the opinion that I will not be able to learn Chinese unless I go to China or a Chinese speaking country. What if they are right? Personally I think/hope they are wrong and here is why I think/hope this.

I have encountered a number of non-native English speakers who have learned pretty good or even excellent English whilst only living in a non-English speaking country. If they can do this, why can I not do the same with Chinese. Granted that they may have a considerably larger exposure to English in their home country than I have had to Chinese, however there is plenty of material out there on the Internet now, so I can make my own exposure.

Whilst there are plenty of examples of Westerners who have learned very good Chinese whilst living in a Chinese speaking country, there are also many that learn nothing or next to nothing, so being in China does not mean learning Chinese.

The Internet also provides many opportunities to connect with and talk with Chinese people that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. In addition the few Mandarin speakers I have met in the UK regard it as a novelty if a Westerner attempts to speak Mandarin so they are very helpful (this may change if learning the language becomes more popular and they get fed up with the attention).

I concede that I will miss out on some cultural issues and standard day-to-day interactions until I go there, but there again even a trip to an American city where they speak English would result in some measure of culture shock until I adapted. So is there really any reason nowadays why a Westerner cannot learn Mandarin from their own country?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mandarin progress report 4

Well this my fourth progress report after just over one year of study. I can honestly say it is working, but still a long long way to go. I still don't have any time for books or grammar. Obviously some of the questions I may ask are grammar related but I do not spend any time studying grammar for grammar's sake.

I finally learnt enough spoken Chinese to warrant a more intensive (although anything is more intensive than none at all) study of the characters. I did learn to write about 150 of them as part of this excercise but now have decided for me at least that writing doesn't help me learn to read and this year I want to learn to read Chinese. I have no idea how many characters I can read confidently it could be anywhere from 250 - 400. When I am confident it is at least 500 I will probably take one of those online tests to make sure I am not fooling myself.

My speaking is improving rapidly but still has a long. long way to go. Listening skills are way ahead of everything else at the moment. I listen to Chinesepod intermediate and upper intermediate amongst other things, I generally don't bother with the texts and can understand most of the chat and dialogue after a few runs through. Each lesson at that level is still chock full of things to learn though so I think I will be browsing and revisting these for sometime to come. I have also used some of the transcripts prepared by Goulnik and two prepared my Lantian as a boost up and reading practice. I also listen to the podcasts at Chineselearn online these are different to Chinesepod as they are structured. The first course of 60 lessons has been pretty easy for me as it starts at beginner level, but I learnt a couple of things and it was a nice review. I feel the course is well thought out. Occaisionally I listen to Serge's podcasts as he gives pretty comprehensive lessons on many helpful subject areas.

I use Skype frequently and have recently made a very special friend. Genuine connection with people is a huge boost to learning Chinese as then you are driven to learn more so that you can share more communication with them.

I am reading much more Chinese recently, I use text to speech, followed by annotation followed by dictionary lookup (in that order) to get over my limited character recognition skills. I can often read a lot of some student texts or simple chatty blogposts or simple dialog subtitles but obviously main stream Chinese is still a huge, huge challenge. I don't tend to read stuff that takes a lot of dictionary work too often. I am cruel to myself and am only really satisfied with fast scan recognition anything I have to stare at for a while I count as partial failure. I strong believe a sense of immediacy is important. Sometimes I chat in text in Chinese, or a mix of Chinese and English, this is good practice but I don't like the MS IME very much so I do not feel that I am fast enough (frustating those few times when I instantly know exactly what I want to say. As I hoped my reading ability is racing ahead to catch up with my listening ability. So for me at least I was right, and for those that thought this idea was bonkers :P (sorry I am dealing with being almost 40 by being a little childish at times :) ). At this point I truly believe I have lost nothing by delaying study of Hanzi and probably gained a lot.

Writing is very very new to me, I have started with e-mails and blog comments and am quickly moving on to a Chinese only blog. My next theory is that my writing will race ahead to meet my reading ability. I try to write fast and limit myself to few dictionary lookups. As a result I think my writing is relatively childish and contains many grammatical errors. I am happy with this I think if I can get enough correctional feedback my writing will improve. Most of the feedback from Chinese people would seem to show that my writing is easy to understand (if often incorrect) so I guess my expectations of childlike writing are met :))

When I can I watch and listen to Chinese radio and TV and films etc. Now I understand a lot, lot more so I actively seek out content I can understand more of and leave content that is impenetrable (therefore more chat shows and less news reports). My extensive listening seems to mean that now I am un-worried by fast speaking or a number of accents. What usually stops me understanding now is just not knowing the words (sounds daft I know, but I know what I mean :)). Often in various circumstances I have found myself understanding a stretch of Chinese without thinking about it and I think "oh how nice they put some English commentary in there (John Pasden stylee)", then I do a double take and realise it was all Chinese. Of course then for a little while I think a miracle has happened and now I can speak Chinese, until a stretch comes along that I have no hope of understanding and brings me down to Earth with a bump.

I think this is pretty honest appraisal of my progress so far, obviously pride will have made me over-estimate some things and modesty underestimate others (they rarely maintain a true balance). I now really believe that in 2008 I will be able to say wo3 hui4 shou1 zhong1wen2 without a single yi dian3dian3 and only a tiny prick of conscience. Hey that means I will be able to watch the next Olympics in Chinese :).

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Chinese only blog

Things are lining up for my system of Mandarin study this year. A big part is going involve outputting considerably more Chinese and learing from my mistakes (a huge learning oppourtunity there).

Well now is the chance to gasp in amazement as an English man prepares to butcher the Chinese language (sorry in advance). I have set up a Chinese only blog. The interface needs a little work however the idea is that I only blog in Chinese. I will provide links to English translations but in a seperate location, this way it may be of a little interest to Chinese people learning English or at least if butcher the Chinese version too much then my meaning will be captured somewhere.

Errrr.... that was it, sorry nothing more to see or read here.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Mandarin Brain Slices

Today is my Chinese learning first birthday :). This next year of study will be very, very different. To mark this I have been for a little while moving my written work etc. to the Internet via Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Now I have worked out that I can apply a little polish (not too much). And publish them via the Internet and another Mandarin-Slices blog.

The idea of a brain slice is not so much that of a learning resource because they will not always be polished enough. Also they may be seriously out of sync. with my current studies, I have plenty to catch up with. This is my vision of Internet student 2.0 begining to be realised, a vision that started ever since I discovered delicous links and has a long way further to go......

Some of the brain slice may be useful little study resources for other people, some not. This is your chance to rifle through my Mandarin study school bag. It may take a little while to catch up to some of the stuff I could post but I waited until I had a least four to illustrate the type of things (both long and short) that will be included.

I will of course be more that delighted if other Mandarin students allow a little peek into their school bags too. Learning online is at the brink of huge changes........

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

good start to 2007 B

I kept thinking that my approach must be wrong because people keep telling me it is (you have to have a class, you have to have a teacher, you have to go to China, you have to start learning to write straight away, you shouldn't spend so much time listening to real Chinese etc.) Either that or I have some kind of freaky mutant brain. Whilst I could accept that the approach might not suit everybody I couldn't believe I was that freaky (maybe you can though ;)). If it wasn't for people like Mashood (who might not be doing things exactly the same way but seems to have similar ideas), I probably would have doubted my sanity.

Anyhow I found a little while ago that I am not unique (which rhymes with freak) after all ....

I came upon the site of Steve Kaufman. The site is The Linguist Steve has learned many languages and also now runs a company that teaches English. Steve has a lot of posts on his blog and podcasts. He is not afraid to speak about his ideas in many languages either. I particularly like the stuff he does in Chinese (I can understand a fair amount of that as he probably speaks slightly slower than many native speaker and slightly simpler).

The link I gave above is to the blogs on the site, which is what is of most interest to myself. For example there are a series of podcasts where the Steve talks to another language guy in four languages. Here is the Mandarin version. I particularly like this one as I could pretty much follow the meaning all the way through. I as still a little hazy about some of "language ego" stuff but I will make time soon to have a crack at transcribing it.

I have spent sometime reading his stuff, listening to his podcasts etc. I find that most of his conclusions about language learning agree with a lot of things I have find out for myself (he must be very smart ;)).

There are a few issues I need to think about and may disagree with (I would be highly suspicous of myself if there weren't) but on the whole he seems have a brain that my brain can at least sympathise with. I am sure I will post more about The Linguist as time goes by.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A little fun

Before things get too serious. I found this on Chinablast If you need a transcript (one of the pigs in particular needs to speak up a little) then follow the link it is one of their active, small transcription projects.

Educational? Well I can say that I will never forget the word wu1ding1 for sure. Nothing else new in this for most people however it is fun and it provides a little practicing in linking these question words in an unusual perspective :).

Saturday, January 06, 2007

good start to 2007 A

Had a great start to Chinese learning yesterday lunchtime. I need to practice speaking a lot more this year and Skype is a wonderful way to practice (possibly essential for someone in my position), however Skype has the drawback that there is no body language. I find talking face to face much easier and even on a good Skype connection face to face talking seems easier to understand in comparison. There are probably many reasons for this but some simple reasons are fairly obvious. For example if you are talking face to face you may see that someone isn't understanding what you are saying straight away and rephrase the sentance or substitute a word, but on Skype you may have finished the entire sentence before you know there is a problem.

I had a little face to face practice early on with a guy who was finishing an MBA at Bath university but he has left now and it was a little early on in my learning. Luckily I have found a fairly reliable source of Mandarin speakers for a little occasional practice.

Problem: where to find Mandarin speakers I can meet up with, I met one weekly for a while who was finishing an MBA at Bath university and it was great. However he was nearish my age, married and had similar time constraints so it was easy to make arrangements that suited us both. Young students a (almost literally) generation away and whilst I don't mind talking to people of all ages I might either weird them out or they might get frustrated that we are running time schedules and constraints that appear to come from alternative parallel universes.

I tried some takeaway shops and a Chinese supermarket but they spoke Cantonese. I have made a very useful discovery though. There are a multitude of Chinese medicine and health shops across the UK now and at least two of the different chains operate in a very similar way. At the most basic they have a Chinese medicine practitioner and an assistant. The Chinese medicine person is a Mandarin speaker (it says so in their job adverts) who may speak English and the assistant is proficient in Mandarin and English (also says so in their job adverts ;)). I practiced a bit away from home when I was visiting other towns or cities (these things are all over). The assistant is usually a girl who will respond with gushing enthusiasm when you attempt to speak Mandarin (although one was very nervous and shy but that seemed to apply across the board Mandarin or English). The power in the back is often a Man who will not go out of his way to speak Mandarin with you (you might not even see this person).

There are two of these places near where I work :). I went shopping for the first time this year and noticed a change of staff in one of them (I had already had some basic chats and ordered my wolfberries in Mandarin with the previous assistant). I went and launched into Mandarin (checking that the assistant spoke it even though I was sure she would). Unfortunately she was very withdrawn (also with other people that just spoke English to her but I guess I would feel like that in a foreign country too) but the power in the back room was a lady this time as soon as she heard my Mandarin explanation; that I want to practice, she leaped out and engaged me in approx 20mins of wonderful conversation in fact the best most fluent conversation I have ever had. Yes we used some English but mostly Mandarin and she was smart and kind enough to dumb down her talking to a level where I had a fighting chance to understand.

That conversation is like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, granted the rest of the tunnel is still very very very long but I have seen the light, and I walked out of there on clouds (I was shockingly mentally exhausted though). I have an open invitation to return to chat. Even better just before Christmas I had finally managed to convince the older gentleman in the other place that I could actually understand and speak at least a little Mandarin (rather than just being a freak coincidence derived from the mumblings of a mad Englishman) and he told me I was welcome to return for a chat also.

Great, some face to face conversation, it is much much easier than Skype which I find a little awkward, this just increases my admiration for the great Chinese people I have talked to on Skype who can speak English so well (particularly Ellen and Keyu). Now I have a goal, first to get invited behind the counter for a cup of tea (I know they make it back there I have caught a glimpse), secondly to bring the shy assistant out of her shell if I can.

If you are English and bemoaning the lack of casual conversation opportunity then why not see if you have one of these places near you?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The brain and language

Learning a new language is a big issue and involves a huge investment in time. For me it makes sense to spend at least a little time studying the learning process, if you find something that makes even a small improvement to the way in which you study it will pay off hugely over time. Whilst looking around for something to teach me more about the brain and language I discovered this video on Google videos. Just the ticket to get started.

IMHO Google video rocks as you can download easily from it unlike youtube where you have to jump through hoops using things like the unplug plugin for Firefox, even then you need a media player that will play flv files. There is a lot of Mandarin stuff on google video and the mp4 download option means it is easy to convert or play directly on mobile devices. Yes I do know Google bought Youtube but at the moment the interfaces and content are seperate.

The same people have also produced a long video in both Mandarin and English about the Nanjing massacre. This is obviously a very heavy subject and at the complete opposite end to the spectrum from the girly talk I mentioned in my last post. However the documentary is over an hour long and the presence of both an English and Mandarin version makes it a potentially valuable study resource.

English version

Mandarin version

I am acutely aware that emotive issues like this, the holocaust, the bombing of Dresden etc. etc. are open to much interpretation and many viewpoints. If you want to get a perspective on the many viewpoints issue you could do worse than watch the Japanese film Rashomon, also available in Google video. Apparently like a lot of good old media it is now public domain (happy days).

Rashomon (not Chinese but worth a watch)