Scribbles in the Sand

All About My Life in Taiwan

Leave a comment

Lang-8 and FluentFlix, Mandarin Progress Report Aug 2012


I’ve recently  come back to my mandarin studies after a bit of a lackadaisical hiatus which didn’t have much focus.

I’m now treating the language like a Venn diagram of interconnectedness.  Previously, reading and writing were less important, with vocabulary acquisition and speaking (attempting to) being more of a central focus.

However, a holistic understanding of many small quanta is better at reinforcing things you’ve learnt. New vocab soon gets forgotten unless it’s strengthened by seeing it used elsewhere.

Recently I’ve been using Lang-8 to improve my reading and writing, and well as boost my syntax skills. This multi- language website is a place to write a short paragraph in your target language and have natives comment and correct your work.  You then give back to the community and correct other people’s work.  I’ve found that if you make friends and happily correct a small bunch of people with good feedback, they are very willing and quick to help you with yours.  This website is very good because it encourages you to think in that language and use words in sentences, and grammar structures which were previously just a series of rules.

When I say writing, I don’t mean picking up a brush, scrapping some ink on a rock and diluting it with water to make some lovely characters. I am a firm believer that the written language is less important for a 老外 and has very few practical uses in this age of technology. Perhaps somewhere along the road I will learn stoke order etc, but for now, to be able to recognise characters is so much more important.

For instance, I don’t know how to write thank you in chinese, but as soon as I see the characters written down I know instantly. Likewise, if I want to use pinyin to input it into the computer I just type xie xie. To actually hand write these characters would take a decade for me. 謝謝

I’m also lucky enough to be using the FluentFlix beta. This new website shows YouTube videos in Chinese, but underneath has a scrolling flashcards of whats being said in Chinese (simplified so far),Pinyin, and English. Hover over a word and it gives you examples and lets you add them to your flash card database.  This is quite a relaxing way to study because it requires little effort to listen to native speakers talk about a huge variety of topics and have easy access to translations, flashcards, example sentences etc.

I’ve completely neglected my vocabulary learning software Anki, and need to go back over previously learnt HSK decks to check they’re not all lost in the ether of my brain.

I am in two minds of whether or not to just devote a year of my life in the mountains as a monk, learning chinese 14 hours a day and become truly proficient in a small amount of  intensive study, compared to a long drawn out amount of itty bitty studying. I could prepare tea, sweep leaves, meditate, and learn kung fu at the same time.

P.s  I Just watched the Taiwanese movie, you are the apple of my eye,  那些年,我們一起追的女孩 and I thoroughly enjoyed it, 8/10 drumsticks.  Other Taiwanese Movies to watch include Monga, Cape No. 7, and Seediq bale




My Mandarin Plateau

I’ve reached a plateau in my chinese learning which has made me very disheartened.    At the beginning it was easy to see improvements because each new word learnt increased my knowledge two-fold.  Now i’ve reached a point when i don’t feel very confidant in having conversations despite knowing quite a lot of words.  At the beginning I was using Rosette Stone which is a tedious programme but does give you the very basics of the language quite well. Other learning resources included reading language blogs, listening to ChinesePod podcasts, and using the flashcard software Anki recently.

The past few weeks i’ve been going through learning word lists provided by the Chinese government for the chinese proficiency exam, the HSK.  There are 6 levels, the first level is 150 words, HSK2 is 300, and HSK3 is 600.  HSK 6 is something ridiculous like 5000 words. Anyway, i’ve learnt the words from HSK1 and 2 (not the characters) and am most of my way through HSK3, but i’ve reached the point of knowing many words but not knowing how to use them in a sentence, and getting frustrated when i forgot this endless amount of similar sounding words (there are only 400 different phonemes in chinese!). Even if a person knew lots of pages from an english dictionary, they would be  no better at trying to speak the language.

Now i’ve reverted back to listening to Chinese Pod and have begun memorising the dialogues so that I remember sentences rather than words. This is my goal for the next few weeks.  Sadly, the role of an english teacher is to speak English, so learning on the job isn’t great.  I can happily introduce myself in mandarin, and get through most situations providing i have my dictionary app for unknown nouns, but as soon as someone asks me something at high speed, i’m often dumbstruck and have to apologies, despite probably knowing how to answer the question if only I understood what the question was.

Added to this annoyance of not being a fluent god by now is that fact that the polyglot blogger Benny from (check it out) has made it his most recent mission to learn mandarin in just 3 months like his 8 other languages.  His updates on quickly becoming fluent are very interesting, but i can’t help feel quite annoyed by his progress and annoyed at my lack of.  However, I must rationalise this and realise that it is his job to learn and write about languages, and spends around 12 hours a day doing so,thus, i shouldn’t beat myself up too much.  I know everything about how to learn chinese,  but am failing to put that knowledge into practical results.   Hopefully my new goal of learning sentences, and grammar will be more fruitful.  I must also remember than before I came, i knew absolutely nothing, and had initially made an impressive start.  Now i just need to find a way of overcoming by current stagnation.  I know I should just throw myself out there and talk to ask many people as possible but this is something easier said than done.