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)