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.....


Edwin said...

I believe 9.5 out of 10 Chinese take-away owners in the UK speak Cantonese. At least this was the case many years ago when I was there. So you should be able to have a lot of face-to-face practices.

Have you checked out how Steve the Linguist learned Cantonese at the age of 51? He had a post in his blog on this a few months back.

Please also check the the one and only Cantonese learner's forum on the Internet. You can find a lot of helpful people there, including myself ! :P

All the best in your language learning!

Chris said...

Hi Edwin, thanks for the encouragement. You are correct in your assesment, I had to get inventive to find Mandarin speakers, for Cantonese I can walk two minutes from my place of work into a large, Chinese Supermarket with attached warehouse selling foodstuffs (thats where I sampled the teas from) and a huge resturant on the side. There is plenty of Cantonese going on there (mostly shouted :)).
My only worry is how they will react, I just browse and listen for now, I guess in about three months I will try to talk with them (I want to push pass the simple hello's etc).

Steve gave me the idea, of course he could speak Mandarin properly first, but I think if I learn in a similar way to him then with the resources out there, ironically the best way for someone like me to learn Cantonese is to learn Mandarin first.

Stupidly I am going for one more blog on Cantonese learning. Mainly because the language and situations I will find myself in are likely to be more colourful it will give me the chance try to blog in a different style.

Oh as for the the forum, I already lurk a little.

Brendan Lawlor said...

Unashamed nerdiness: Have you tried Googletalk instead of skype? I've found the quality better than skype.

Chris said...

Hi Brendan, yeah I have given Goolgetalk ago, I think it may be a little better, but I guess a lot depends on where you connect to. I think things got worse after that earth quake off the coast of Taiwan.

Xiaohang said...

In my opinion, there is an another aspect makes you stand out from the others, which is that you keep learning English by yourself ( without taking a course), still manage to find the courage to keep things forward. Personally, I found it really hard to keep things on track. Probably, this is one of the biggest weaknesses I have at the moment. I am sure you will make great progress in the near future.

barry said...

Chris, you are an inspiration. Just been looking on your Chinese website but, being nowhere near your level of fluency, couldn't find a place to comment. Keep going man!

William said...

I am also learning Chinese by a special and innovative service in Beijing Chinese School. I like to learn in live class with teacehrs 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.