Monday, December 22, 2014

Quick Review of Mandarin Chinese Lessons with Serge Melnyk

More to come, but I wanted to post this brief review.  It has already been added to the resources review page.

Mandarin Chinese Lessons with Serge Melnyk offers a premium subscription on its website and also free podcasts. This review is just on the free content/podcast.  I am so ambivalent about this podcast.  On one hand, it covers a lot of ground and throws a lot of information at you.  On the other, it is on the boring side and it may be too much information.  My biggest concern is Mr. Melnyk’s accent.  He has a fairly thick accent in English even if he is completely understandable to a native speaker.  I am concerned that he has a similar accent for Chinese.  There are native speakers that participate in the lessons, but Mr. Melnyk seems to play an outsized role giving his likely accent in Chinese.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Keeping it Going During the Holidays

Hello fellow Homo Sapiens,

This is probably the third week out of the last four where I haven't met my goal of posting twice a week.  I am disappointed in myself and need to do better. 

At the same time, I have picked up my Chinese study slightly and I have an idea for how to keep up with my Chinese when I move on to my fitness challenge in February.  Come Feb. 7, 2015 I am going to set Anki at five new words a day and continue to do that aspect of my Chinese learning every day.  I figure that within a week or so, I will be under ten minutes a day.  I will continue to adjust my word count until I am consistently doing between five and ten minutes a day.  I assume I will drop some from my level of Chinese at the end of this project because I am going from studying over an hour a night to less than ten minutes a night.  It will, however, act as a prophylactic against losing all of the language I've learned and re-learned over the course of the project.

For the past week, I have continued to be good with doing my Anki deck every night.  I have also kept up with listening to one of the CCTV lessons.  I have not used Chinese Skill as much as I would have liked because it is getting more buggy as it gets closer to the end.  The longer sentences of the later lessons make it more difficult to accurately translate according to the app and I have died several times based on the English wording I have used. 

Of course, the challenge lies in, as the title suggests, keeping it going during the holidays.  I'll be away from home most of the next week, so I will let you know how the studying goes. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sharing My Little Blog With the World

Last week, I was feeling drained and at a loss for motivation.  I was in a bit of a rut with my Chinese studying and with this blog.  How did I address this?  I shared my language learning mission on the forum of Fluent in 3 Months.  I provided a link to my review of Chinese resources, which I need to update because I have used some additional resources that I have opinions about.

What happened when I shared my mission?  I got some encouragement from readers of that site and and added a few readers to this site.  I still feel a bit overwhelmed with work and family and my project.  I now have a few people following me that I don't want to let down so I've picked up the pace with my Chinese studies and am making sure that I keep up my blogging obligations I set for myself.

So thank you readers for keeping me on track.  It feels good to know there are a few people in the world that will take the time to follow me on my personal quest.  I hope that you find this blog either: a) informative, b) inspirational, c) entertaining, or d) a combination of all of the above. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

A look back. A look ahead.

Hi all,

Now that I have completed a little over a month of my project, I think it is time to reflect on what I have accomplished and where I have to go.

What I’ve done:

  1. Studied every day;
  2. Put myself within striking distance of finishing Chinese Skill (which is a little more finicky  the closer I get to the end);
  3. Put myself within striking distance of finishing Travel in Chinese and Growing up with Chinese; and,
  4. Posted eight times to this blog in the first month.

What I need to do in month two:

  1. Make a recording of me speaking Chinese to give me something to mark my progress against;
  2. Get on Skype and develop a language exchange;
  3. Provide blog posts that are more substantive; and,
  4. Review Elements of Style and focus on improving my writing in my blog posts.

I would also like to go back to previous blog posts and clean them up.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

This week was a drag.

My family traveled for the Thanksgiving holiday.  While it was nice to get away and to see family, it did cause chaos with my project.  I anticipated the issue with updating blog posts and was able to post twice last week.  My post on resources that I’ve used to learn Chinese will need to be updated, but I did check the box. 

I intended to study using Anki and Chinese Skill each day on the trip.  I did manage to use Chinese skill every day, but I could not get Anki working on my ipad.  I watched Growing Up with Chinese on YouTube as well. 

Obviously I haven’t posted since I’ve gotten back home.  I also have not done too much studying.  I have picked back up on the Anki deck.  It was pretty backed up, but I caught up and it is now back to a usual level of review. 

I am going to play with posting today and hopefully make up for my lack of posting later today.  I plan to recap my first month of the project and figure out what I’ve done well and what I need to work on moving forward.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Review of Resources to Learn Chinese

Greetings all!  This post will be updated throughout my time studying Chinese.  In it I will provide brief reviews of resources that I have used in my efforts to learn Chinese.  I am publishing this before I have completed all reviews because this is one of my longer posts and I want to meet my two posts for the week.  I hope you find this helpful!

Translator Websites:
Both are useful.  I often use them to translate an individual Chinese character or group of characters by cutting and pasting the character into the translator.  I think bing does a slightly better job, but there is not much of a difference between the two.

Blogs about learning Chinese:
Both of these blogs have articles that I found interesting and possibly helpful.  However, I think they both fall more into the category of time suck/procrastination bait most of the time.

Other websites/podcasts:
I like this podcast a lot.  The lessons tend to teach a language point or two while working in a cultural point.  I don't think that podcasts are a particularly good way to learn a language, but this is one of my favorites.  I do find listening to podcasts to be most helpful when doing a mindless task and that is when I listen to this.  It has a wide range of lessons, from the very basic to ones that require an advanced level of Chinese.  Even at the absolute beginner stage, I often miss the full meaning behind the dialog, but pick it up over repetition and explanation.
Chinese Learn Online is a pretty good program for listening comprehension.  The dialogs are gone read a couple of times, explained and then read a couple more times.  Each lesson is about ten minutes and usually covers 4-5 words and about 2 grammar points.  I often listen to the lessons multiple times because I’m focusing on work rather than the lessons, but I am definitely getting something out of them.
CCTV offers a few language learning programs.  I have watched the Travel In Chinese and Growing up with Chinese programs.  I generally like the programs, but I have found it difficult to keep my attention with them.  One problem with CCTV is that the video players

Mandarin Chinese Lessons with Serge Melnyk offers a premium subscription on its website and also free podcasts. This review is just on the free content/podcast.  I am so ambivalent about this podcast.  On one hand, it covers a lot of ground and throws a lot of information at you.  On the other, it is on the boring side and it may be too much information.  My biggest concern is Mr. Melnyk’s accent.  He has a fairly thick accent in English even if he is completely understandable to a native speaker.  I am concerned that he has a similar accent for Chinese.  There are native speakers that participate in the lessons, but Mr. Melnyk seems to play an outsized role giving his likely accent in Chinese.

Apps: Basically like a rushed version of Duolingo, which I don't mean as a big insult to Chinese Skill.  Duolingo is great, Chinese Skill is good.  Often times it will not accept variations in word order that are correct.  For example, you may be translating "I went to London once." and it might reject "Once, I went to London."  It is easy to work around because the app is consistent with how it will grad a sentence pattern.  This is one of my must use tools.
Anki deck:
Decks in Chinese are available at:
I've been using the Mastering Chinese Characters (Listening Sentence & Vocab) series and like it.  The spaced repetition system is excellent at building vocabulary.  The biggest issue is determining how many new cards to review each day.  As you start learning new words, you slowly build up a backlog of words you've already learned.  Over the first couple of weeks of working on Anki you will build an equilibrium.  If you miss a day or two, you can get pretty backed up.

Related reading:Might I recommend Dream of the Red Chamber.   It is a book about the decay of the Qing dynasty told in the most poetic of ways.  I’ve provided a link for my Amazon Affiliate program.  I’m not trying to break the bank with the link, but I’ve been trying to complete mission without spending any significant amount of money.  I intend to use money made with the Affiliate link to review pay products.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I dropped the ball (and that’s ok)

Last week, you will see only one post for my blog.  The post explained how it was a rough one for me, and the end of the week was worse than the beginning.  I did manage to continue my Chinese studies every day, in some way shape or form, and I did get one blog post in.

I need to be able to be accepting of missing one of my goals in this project during a tough week.  At the same time I need to hold myself accountable and do my best to correct mistakes that led to the failure.  I need to come up with plans to avoid pitfalls that arise as they are identified.  For example, last week I could have foreseen my week get worse as it went along, so I should have worked on writing a blog post earlier in the week.  I should have done a better job of avoiding procrastination devices like the television and my cell phone. 

This week, will likely be a little crazy as well.  Therefore, I need to do my best to get my work in when I can.  Obviously this post is coming on Sunday, and I will probably write much of the second weekly posts in the next couple of days before the craziness of Thanksgiving arises.  I will also need to formulate a strategy for getting my Chinese work in while traveling for the holiday.  I may need to download Anki onto another device, but I do not know at the moment how well it will work. 

This week I’ve discovered the website  I may have been the last to discover the site.  Although there is some overlap between my goals in this project and the goal of Zen Habits, it is a useful resource/jumping off point for working through my project.  An interesting post on Zen Habits discusses goals, or more specifically, the author’s desire to be goal free. 

In discussing goal setting the author states:

In the past, I’d set a goal or three for the year, and then sub-goals for each month. Then I’d figure out what action steps to take each week and each day, and try to focus my day on those steps.

Unfortunately, it never, ever works out this neatly. You all know this. You know you need to work on an action step, and you try to keep the end goal in mind to motivate yourself. But this action step might be something you dread, and so you procrastinate. You do other work, or you check email or Facebook, or you goof off.

And so your weekly goals and monthly goals get pushed back or side-tracked, and you get discouraged because you have no discipline. And goals are too hard to achieve. So now what? Well, you review your goals and reset them. You create a new set of sub-goals and action plans. You know where you’re going, because you have goals!

Full blog post at:

The author lays out some good reasons for not setting goals, but I am trying to deal with the pitfalls of goal setting in a different way.  I am trying to focus more on the process than the results and will consider it a success if I:

  1. Maintain the same goals through the project; and,
  2. Work every day in furtherance of those goals.

That’s really it.  So although I recognize I missed a blog post, by trying to shore up the process I can ultimately reach my goals for the project. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Trouble with Life

I have been studying Chinese every day for more than a month, without exception (I started refreshing my Chinese before I started this project).  The past two days have been the closest I have come to skipping a day all together.  I also intended to write one of my blog posts yesterday, but was simply too tired.  Although the week was busy both at work and at home, it is not so out of the ordinary that I can stop my efforts and still be successful in my project.

I managed to listen to Travel in Chinese, complete a lesson in Chinese Skill, and complete my daily set of flashcards using Anki on Monday.  Yesterday, I started my Anki flashcards, but did not finish them.  I was too tired to usefully study by the time I got started.  Lesson has somewhat been learned.  In a week like this one, I need to put in a little extra effort just to keep the streak going. 

I need to record my spoken Chinese later this week.  I wrote a portion of script with a small help from Google Translator.  Writing the script was humbling.  I ran into more trouble getting what I considered relatively simple ideas across.  Hopefully, by the end of the project I will be significantly better in getting a wider range of ideas across. 

Benny Lewis of Fluent in Three Months is working on refreshing his Chinese right now.  I have been looking to his blog more as our current language learning goals are overlapping.   He uses Skype to assist with his language learning.  I plan on looking into using Skype to practice my spoken language over the next week or two.  That’s all for now. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Future Goals and Present Challenges and Maintenance

My wife wants to get in shape.  What’s relevant for the purposes of my personal development project is that she wants me to get in shape too.  The problem is that my project, as I designed it, is to limit my focus so that I am more likely to meet individual goals.  I have told my wife that I am willing to focus on fitness in three months.  I wish I didn’t have to make that promise because it alters my focus, but family first.

I have only committed to this project for three months as another method of keeping my motivation.  Who can’t keep up a project for three months?  That seems to be the theory behind several challenges in which people can partake, from fluent in three months, which I mentioned before, and P90X.  I would have preferred to not muddle the only-three-month nature of the project by committing to another project following this one. 

I guess it is impossible to not dream a bit on the future.  One of my goals for the next three months will be to get in shape.  By the time the goal gets set, I will make sure that it is far more specific (either by attaining some fitness milestone or losing a certain amount of weight or some combination of the two).  I plan to continue the blog at this point, but so long as I post twice a week until February 6, 2015 I will consider my project a success regardless of whether I post again.  I do think a change from language learning to a fitness related goal will provide some interesting food for thought on how to stick to personal development. 

My final concern is what will happen to all of the Chinese that I am now learning while working on my fitness, and whatever goals I set after the fitness goal.  I suppose I will either have to a.) do something to continue to maintain my Chinese after I move on to other goals, b.) set up future goals that build on what I have learned, or c.) some combination of both.  I honestly have no idea right now.  I will continue to ponder this.  If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

As it stands, I am just completing my second week of blog posting and have studied Chinese every day for quite some time.  I do need to put a little more focus on the job related goal, but I do not know when I will have adequate time to address my shortcomings with that goal. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Growing Up with Chinese

Everyone* is wondering how I came up with my goal to pass HSK Level 4.  I took four years of Chinese in college and lived in China for a year, so I have a natural base in Chinese.  I have loved Chinese culture since I made the fateful decision to take Chinese as my required language course my first year in college.  There is general talk with the wife about going to China on a vacation in the next few years. 

Truth be told, I didn’t put too much thought into the specific goal of HSK Level 4. It is something that I think I can accomplish if I stick to fairly serious daily studies.  I think I will have learned more with the goal in place than if I made my goal more general, e.g. learn Chinese to a fairly comfortable level .  I should also mention that learning language is being informed by reading I have done on the blog Fluent in Three Months by Benny Lewis (although as you will see below, I am already breaking one of Mr. Lewis’ main rules).
What am I doing? What should I be doing?

Right now, I have been focusing on four things, of differing levels of usefulness:

  1. I have an Anki deck with Chinese words and phrases, in both pinyin and characters, complete with audio;
  2. I am using Chinese Skill (functionally equivalent to Duolingo, but for Chinese);
  3. I am listening to Chinese Learn Online lessons while at work; and,
  4. I am watching a Travel In Chinese or Growing Up With Chinese every night.

With Anki, I have been going fairly slowly.  I only am adding ten new words each night.  I do plan on raising the total words at some point, but I am going slow to make sure that I do not get overwhelmed with review words.  I plan on doing a deck that focus more directly on the HSK test the last month or two of the challenge,  but for now, I am sticking to more general words and phrases.

I like Chinese Skill, but there are some significant problems.  The biggest issue is that for many grammar points, it does not accept translations that are not incorrect in English.  For example, it may mark “Today I’m going to the bank.” wrong giving the correct answer as “I’m going to the bank today.” 

Chinese Learn Online is a pretty good program for listening comprehension.  The dialogs are gone read a couple of times, explained and then read a couple more times.  Each lesson is about ten minutes and usually covers 4-5 words and about 2 grammar points.  I often listen to the lessons multiple times because I’m focusing on work rather than the lessons, but I am definitely getting something out of them.

CCTV offers a few language learning programs.  Travel In Chinese is out of my level right now, but not comically so.  Where I’m at in Growing Up With Chinese, Lesson 60, is pretty close to right on my level  right now, but it takes a lot of concentration.  I think I can probably put my time that I spend watching these to better use, but watch because I set finishing both of these as one of my mini-goals, so I am riding out the string. 

What do I need to do? SPEAKING!!!! Plain and simple.  I need to practice my speaking both, because it helps what I learn stick and because the purpose of language learning is communication.  I need to find someone to talk to, but in the interim, I plan on writing up a short script and recording myself deliver it.  I plan on doing this a few times and use them to help track my progress. My failure to talk with someone in Chinese at this point is the Fluent In Three Months rule that I have broken.

I need to learn more characters and would like to be able to write, so that is something I need to work on at some point in this project, but I do not know exactly what form that practice will take just yet.  I am open to suggestions on how to boost my writing.  Should I study radicals first? Rote memorization? Something else entirely?  Let me know what you think works.

*no one


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Setting Goals in the Real World

I was cleaning today and I found a notepad that I had written down several goals early last year.   I was as ambitious as I was unsuccessful.  In this project I am attempting to resolve some of the mistakes I made so that I will be more successful with my goal setting.  I am trying to do a few things with this blog.
First, I want to document my efforts in focusing my energy on a relatively few projects while.  I want to have a contemporaneous record of what is working and what is not that I can review and improve on in the future.  Second, I want to use this blog to hold myself accountable on the progress I am making.  With the goal of posting twice a week, it will be evident by the number of posts I make each week.  With the Chinese goal, it will provide a chance at a weekly self-assessment of how I am proceeding towards the goal.  Third, I want to use it as a way to improve my writing.  I have not pulled out my copy of Elements of Style yet, but hopefully over the course of this writing I will.  Finally, I want to use it as a jumping off point to think about personal development.  I need to be carful that I don’t use this final reason as a means of procrastination, but I think it will be worth while to learn about ways people have stuck to their personal development projects. 
In that vane, prior to writing this post I looked at a blog post on goal setting.  I Looked at as focus as I started to write this post.  It actually looks like I did do a half-way decent job of setting my goals, but I should not have necessarily shared them.  Oops.  Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the first week of the project has gone. 
My next post, I plan on doing some writing on my goals with the Chinese language.  Until next time!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Start of Something New

I’m starting this blog to track my progress on long term goals that I am setting for myself.  At the outset I am setting the project length at three months as a hard deadline.  The deadline is February 6, 2015.  Initially, I’m setting two public goals.  I also have a work related goal, that I may write about in passing, but I don't plan on discussing it in much detail on this blog.

The short versions of my goals are:
  1. Maintain blog for the duration of this project.  I would like to create two blog posts per week for the three months. 
  2. Learn enough Chinese to pass HSK Level 4.

I have additional sub-goals in Chinese, but reaching HSK Level 4 trumps other sub-goals.

I will flesh out my reasons for starting this blog a little more in my next blog post.  I will also lay out some ground rules that I am setting in my attempt to reach these goals.

That’s all for now.  Come back soon for more news you can use on what I plan to accomplish with this blog. 
p.s.  Please feel free to leave a comment.