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


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