Saturday, February 28, 2009

First Three Months Learning Chinese

This guy wants to learn Mandarin for his gap year and asks for tips on Twitter. My advice would be to start listening to Mandarin (any Mandarin at first) to get an ear for it and then to hit the podcasts, that gets him off to a good start

For context I started learning Chinese as a rapidly approaching middle age English man with limited free time, no Chinese connections and only speaking English.

In the beginning there was a void, Ken and Jenny moved within the void and said let there be Chinese.... Okay maybe that is hamming it up a little bit but, looking back at what I wrote podcasts certainly impressed me as a language learning tool and hearing Chinesepod podcasts was a final push that made me pick Mandarin as my language of choice. As far as learning Chinese goes then podcasts are a terrific aid and there are a variety of styles that you can choose from, most are free to listen to (at some level) and many have free transcripts. Sound production quality and website quality varies wildly, but I would suggest take what you can). I listened to a lot, it is fairly easy (especially in the age of cheap easily available mp3 playing devices) to find time in even a busy day to listen to podcasts.

Some observations:

  • I quickly realized that I wanted as little English in the podcasts as possible and language that was natural speed, The Audacity software was a great aid, it allowed me to remix sound and create my own review files.
  • You can listen to podcasts in lots of places and at lots of times where conventional study would be impossible
  • Instructional podcasts require some measure of attention, and even with those that contain natural dialog you are probably better listening to authentic material if you just want to get a feel for the sounds and cadence of the language initially.

There are many Mandarin learning podcasts, I will start adding more and resume maintaining my learning Mandarin Twine. You can find any podcasts added to my Mandarin delicious feeds also (I am going through my Mandarin links, cleaning up and updating) also. I would welcome any further suggestions of Mandarin learning materials also.

In my opinion the biggest obstacle facing most Westerners who come to learn Mandarin is simply that they have not heard the language before. I spent a lot of time listening to Mandarin radio and TV online, listening to films etc, even when I had no hope of understanding what was going on. I think this helped me tremendously. In the early stages it was teaching me the sound of Chinese and I don't think the actual content mattered too much, variety was good though. The really surprising thing is that I see that I did not mention it at all on my blog until much later (I engaged in heated discussions on online forums at the time however). I think the problem was simply that at the time I was not confident that this approach had any merit. I believed it was the logical thing to do but it seemed to fly against common opinion, I was happy to engage in battle on forums but not blogs, although now I see blogging as a way to engage in discussion, there is nothing wrong with putting forward opinions to test them out, it is not a research paper after all.

Of course I have since discovered that other people have a similar opinion. Keith is very interesting as he has learned Japanese in more conventional ways and is now attempting to learn Chinese using an extreme form of listening to authentic content. I will be discussing this subject more in later posts.

Other relevant points:


Chris said...

On behalf of Whoops I accidently deleted a comment in moderation: posted:
"In my opinion the biggest obstacle facing most Westerners who come to learn Mandarin is simply that they have not heard the language before"

I think the major problem is that 50% of the market consists of complete beginners, who cannot tell effective and useful tools and resources from ineffective ones. So the market ends up biased towards organizations which spend heavily on marketing.

The solution is going to require a shift in the way online language services are promoted and monetized. I'm very optimistic that we'll be there soon. In the meantime, keep blogging about the stuff you like and help people find it.


sorry for messing up the post, actually I quite like their podcasts ;)

Luke Gedeon said...

I am following right behind you on learning Chinese. I have subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading about the resources you discover.

Thanks for what you have shared so far. I am still going through it.

Mos and Nikou said...

Hi there,

Nice blog. I'm also learning Mandarin in Shanghai and I think it's tough and needs plenty of patience. I'm also groping on reading the characters. I feel like I'm torturing myself in memorizing them.
I wrote my Mandarin progress on some posts on my blog TheShanghaiExpat. Please feel free to visit and let me know what you think for a link exchange.



Dan said...

Your comments are a huge help. I've decided to do this, partly as an mind-expanding project and partly because I have projects coming in Chinese-speaking countries. Your pointers are very helpful. I'll subscribe and catch up on the more recent posts. I also began with Chinesepod and it is still helping me. I wonder about and other sites.