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 :).


lairons said...

congratunations Chris!you have made much progress in learn are a deligent and hardworking person.i bet you will learn chinese well! and then you can be a Olymics vulunteer in Beijin or come to china and see Olympics Games in person.

as a chinese i'm very glad to see there are so many people learning Chinese.
i wonder what drove you to learn chinese? is chinese popular in your country?
reading,writing ad listening,which is easiest,which is harddest?

Chris said...

Thank you for your comment lairons.

Chinese is not a popular language to learn in the UK but some people are learning it. I am interested in using it to earn more money and because:

Listening is easiest, followed by reading and I have only really just started with the writing.

lairons said...

i think you learn chinese is more difficult than i learn english.because chinese characters are more complicated than english words,and there are more english learning materials than chinese in the internet.
in china,english is very other word,english is basic courses,just like math,everyone take english courses since high school or elementary school.
for me,english speaking is more diffcult than listening and writing,because there are little chance to practise it.also i cann't tell english from american english.

Chris said...


Do not worry about English English and American English. To us they are the same. I think the difference is not even so much as the difference between Taiwan Mandarin and Mainland China Mandarin.

You are correct though, because we never study Mandarin at School or hear it on Television an English person probably has to spend a few months at first just to get used to the sounds of Mandarin.

Edwin said...

I am always inspired when reading your blog. As a non-Mandarin speaking Chinese learning Mandarin, I feel that I should have done better then I am now.

Recently, I am challenging my own speaking skill by joining some Mandarin Skypecasts. I try joining the conversation but find the natives speaking so fast and sometimes I find discouraged.

After reading inspirational blogs like yours, I feel that I am ready to get back into the skypecasts and 'kick some butts'!

xiaohang said...

wow...i was surfing on the internet and somehow find my way here...i am a chinese student in bath uni and glad that have learnt a lot chinese.Just let you know that,if you are going to some shopping over the weekends,go to the morrisons supermarket on london load.there are tons of chinese students working there,almost at every single department in the store..they will be very happy to talk to you..hope this helps!

Chris said...

Xiaohang, thank you very much that helps a lot to know this. I can't go this week but I will soon :)

Anonymous said... are learning mandarin!

Learn - Chinese said...

There are some free Chinese lessons designed by CCTV (China Central TV) on Learn Chinese. You can try.

Anonymous said...

I also learn Chinese language by a special and innovative service in Beijing Chinese School. I like to learn in live class with teachers from Beijing directly. I also like to practice Chinese with volunteers freely everyday. Watching Chinese learning TV on CLTV is also interesting and helpful to practice listening and learn more about Chinese culture.

Anonymous said...

I think tones of mandarin pronunciation is the most difficult part for me. My teacher in Beijing Chinese School spent about 1 week explaining to me. After almost 2 months, I finally can pronounce correctly many words. To learn Chinese and mandarin, grammar is so easy. I always watch CLTV to practice listening and practice oral Chinese with volunteers on Voice Connecting China. I Love Chinese is also a good magazine to learn Chinese culture.