Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chinese vocabulary lists

Sometimes apparently a picture tells a thousand words, in this case I think a video does a much better job, first let me make it clear, I do not like vocabulary lists and I do not like language learning approaches that rely heavily on them. Recently I had a go at some Cantonese learning material I was given, it started with a lesson on a dialogue with a fruit seller, part of the lesson material is a long list of fruit to learn in Cantonese, part of the review and audio exercise is to test you on your knowledge of fruit in Cantonese when you barely have any other vocabulary. A lot of language learning material seems to take a similar approach, take a fictional situation and give you a whole bunch of supporting vocabulary around that situation, surely better by far would be to introduce two common items of fruit and extend the vocabulary around areas in the situation that can be applied elsewhere, more fundamental language learning areas.

If I need to learn a lot of fruit, then a good dictionary and/or Internet allow me to compile my own vocab list easily, a list relevant to me. I can cope with this kind of material, usually I would just learn one 'fruit' and substitute that but some learning material would make that approach hard. To extend this further I deliberately decide not to learn many words (whereever I find them), leave them until later. For the longest time I only knew 3 or 4 colors, could only count to 100 etc, I was aware of others but didn't feel the need to learn a long list of colors before I had enough vocab. to have meaningful conversations about colored objects. You can only learn so much a once so learn what seems most naturally relevant.

Once I attended an evening class for intermediate learners, the teacher approach seemed very similar to the trainer in this video (although obviously not for self-defence). It quickly became clear that although the teacher was very keen to try to put her students in a very good light in comparison to me (a self-learner) they had no real ability to range outside of the situations they had been taught (the 'pointed stick' situations). This didn't make the teacher change her mind about her approach however, the final conclusion was simply that I am the exception that proves the rule. I never bothered returning to the evening class after the experiment.

Increasingly I am studying linguistics related material that I can find, I think this article Vocabulary Size, Text Coverage And Word Lists - 1997 has some relevance to the topic and is an interesting read besides. The following section in particular.
We are now ready to answer the question "How much vocabulary does a second language learner need?" Clearly the learner needs to know the 3,000 or so high frequency words of the language. These are an immediate high priority and there is little sense in focusing on other vocabulary until these are well learned. Nation (1990) argues that after these high frequency words are learned, the next focus for the teacher is on helping the learners develop strategies to comprehend and learn the low frequency words of the language. Because of the very poor coverage that low frequency words give, it is not worth spending class time on actually teaching these words. It is more efficient to spend class time on the strategies of (1) guessing from context, (2) using word parts and mnemonic techniques to remember words, and (3) using vocabulary cards to remember foreign language - first language word pairs. Detailed description of these strategies can be found in Nation (1990). Notice that although the teacher's focus is on helping learners gain control of important strategies, a major function of these strategies is to help the learners to continue to learn new words and increase their vocabulary size.
Not everything in this paper agrees with my views, but then I will hardly learn and develop by only reading things I agree with will I?

I hope you enjoy the video and I hope you understand the message I am trying to convey, I can see the relevance of specialized vocabulary list of words to help you in a particular situation but would assume you already have a decent understanding of Chinese, vocabulary lists if used are a very personal thing in my opinion. However you may be learning Chinese, are you safe from the pointed sticks?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Slow Chinese Resource

Slow Chinese is a great learning resource. A blog provided by a native Chinese (Xinyu Weng). Currently there are 36 articles all with audio.

The Chinese is spoken slowly and clearly (some people have said too slowly but hey read the title, it does what it says on the tin) and the language used is accessible (it has been pointed out maybe slightly too accessible in places, but I think that is appropiate to the aim of the site).

I am using the site mainly at the moment to improve my reading, it is great to have the option to listen to audio, particularly as my approach to learning Chinese means that at the moment I can understand considerably more than I can sight read (being addressed right now though), still learning a bunch of new words from it also.

You can find the podcast in Itunes and text is included in the description (so you can read whilst listening). If you prefer the audio a little faster then my Ipod touch does a reasonable job playing at 2x speed (the pitch is held constant it is just the speed that is increased). If need you could probably do a reasonable job of increasing the speed using a tool like audacity.

Ok not entirely natural but that is the point, there are plenty of natural sources of native Chinese, Slow Chinese however can be a great help for learners looking for either listening or reading (with audio) practice or both.

If anybody knows of any similar resources with the same aim then let me know.

If you use this resoure, and like it then consider leaving a donation to the author, it will encourage more of the same I hope and perhaps some variations.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Motivation In Learning Chinese


Haven't blogged for a long time, been far too busy recently and frankly working too hard (more than is good for my health). Still learning Chinese though and moving into new areas, but then I am a well motivated learner, a highly motivated self-learner. Actually the previous sentence is rubbish who am I kidding? I am just having fun and relaxing, enjoying myself, challenging myself a little, nobody ever had to motivate me to do that.

Whilst motivation in teaching Children to learn in general is important, I don't understand the relevance of much of the motivation discussions for adult learners. What kind of crazy mess are we in that there is a problem with motivation of adult students. If they aren't motivated why are they there (simply get a job or study something else, it not complicated), how did they end up on the course in the first place? If your course isn't helping motivated learners why is your course there?

Motivation, is surely something that comes from the inside, not something that can be poured in from the outside (outside events can motivate you but you still have to spark it up yourself). It is simple, you want to do something or be something, you work out what you need to do, get some help if needed and do the things to make it happen. You measure your success by getting nearer to the thing you want to be or achieve. If you can't do the things that are needed either you are incapable (get realistic) or you don't want it enough (find something that else that is worthwhile to you). If you can't find anything worthwhile then by all means blame the world, order more fast food and spend as much free time as you have blobbing out munching grease (or even eating healthy organic food I suppose), in front of mind-numbing TV (even choosing to do nothing is a choice).

What motivates me

Many many many years ago, I worked out a system for being motivated and it has helped me to accomplish a few life changing events, I am human though and suffer from my fair share of human frailties and weaknesses so my system has not converted me in some kind of supreme, being that has perfected every aspect of his life prior to moving onto the next plane of existence. When I feel I need to apply it though it works. In summary it was provoked by light cones and the many worlds theory, but you don't need to understand these to understand how I apply it. for example assuming the sun is fine now then what ever catastrophe hits it I will remain unaffected for around 8 minutes (light or radiation, or the stoppage of light can't get to me for that long because of the distance). In the same way assuming I imagine (and I do take the time to imagine so I know what I am aiming at) a me that can speak Chinese fluently, then the first time I decide I want to be that me I cannot possibly achieve it by tomorrow, I don't know how long it will take but I can start to guess (unlike the speed of light in vacuum the speed of learning Chinese is not a constant, but at the moment until someone invents a brain knowledge download device I can make some guesses).

I have to do things to bring the imagined goal closer and I have make realistic guesses how much closer it is (rather than focusing on the effort I put into it or using non-related indicators to measure progress). Every action that I take may or may not effect the probability that I achieve the goal (the probability that I eventually occupy the world where I speak Chinese), you could be honest and step outside of yourself and ask if I was someone else would they be prepared to bet on my achieving that goal, what odds would they give/accept at this point in time.

I am motivated by wanting to do/be something enough that it overcomes the inertia of being lazy or wanting to work on something else. Other people have motivated me, but I never expect someone to or offload that responsibility.

I really dislike the current trend where you hear approaches like we are all "good looking (Americans seem obsessed with this) , smart, intelligent, young (old doods are fossils of course and can't do anything) etc.etc.) If you need your ego massaged to do something then ..... go somewhere where charisma counts more than results and where everybody smells of rainbows. Basically the me that I imagine that can speak fluent Chinese doesn't miraculously become good looking with flashy white teeth and doesn't actually need to be that smart. I am ugly, middle aged and maybe sometimes a bit smelly, that has nothing to do with learning Chinese (so long as I don't let it get to point where Chinese people can't bear talk with me of course ;)). I don't need to be pampered, pumped up, feeling happy etc. to learn, maybe I will be tired, sad, even a little depressed at some times doing the process, fair enough that is life. In fact if I can make it fun, then that would be a trick, if I can make it self-driven then that would be a trick.... I have posted about effortless learning in the past.

I don't need someone to sugar coat the problem or prod me by pretending it will be easy or quick or give me gold stars every time I cough up a Chinese word (maybe when I was five year old but not now). I am driven by a more English drive, I like to hear how hard it is, that makes the goal more sweet, or even provides two goals, I can both try to achieve the end result and try to find an easier way.

What motivates other people

I am in awe of the motivation and dedication I see in other people, people who play golf for example, will happily sacrifice huge chunks of their free time in the pursuit of improving their game. The strength of character required to put all that time into improving their golf game is phenomenal, I am sure that their none golfing partners are grateful and supportive to the hardworking self-motivated golfers. People who like beer for example I have known many who will selflessly sacrifice most of their evenings to the selfless pursuit of excellence in beer drinking, even to the extent of risking their health due to intoxicating effects. Those dedicated selfless souls who religiously quality control the modern music industry, listening with due diligence to hours and hours on their Ipods, on buses in cafes etc. whilst I selfishly use the same device to listen to Chinese (shame on me). Those dedicated fishermen who will set forth in the middle of the night to go somewhere in the cold and spend a freezing wet day on a riverbank fishing (I have to assume that they are keeping the skills alive for times when other foods may run out). The elevated souls that sit honing their brains on crossword puzzles, sudoko puzzles and Nintendo brain trainers, the best I can feebly manage in my lazyness it to hone mine on language learning. Last but not least, my own teenage sons, I never would have thought that young people could work so hard, risk so much damage to their thumbs, sacrifice so much of the free time in the pursuit of playstation game excellence. To all these amazing people I salute you, this humble soul has no concept of how you do it.

I know that are more deep issues at play for some people, what if you have to learn a language as the side effect of another goal for example. I will revisit this and other topics another time when I feel motivated enough.