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.....