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Learn Chinese in China

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About this blog

Well, I thought that starting a blog might help me keep focused on studying a little bit, and also just be helpful to continue gauging my process.  My name is Jonny and I am not really sure how long I have been studying Chinese, it has kind of been off and on.  I would learn some characters and a bit of vocab and then stop.  Then I decide that I really wanted to learn the language so moved to Harbin, and just finished a semester of a language program at the language school there.  In September I will be starting a 4 year degree.  I haven't taken any exams to assess my level, but I bought the HSK 4 book, did the first practice test just to see how hard it was, and passed with no real problems (238 or something I think).  My listening is where I really struggle, because I never had the chance to hear people speaking Chinese much before coming to China.  

I am on my break right now, but I bought the book for the level above the level I just studied at HIT, and I am slowly starting to make my way through that (whilst also trying to enjoy my rest)!  One of my teachers would actually like to do language exchange with me when she starts her break at the end of the month.  I think this would be beneficial because although I can easily learn Hanzi and new words by myself, context and getting the grammar down can often be a big challenge, so having a professional teacher will definitely help!  Normally I would avoid language exchange, but being as it is free and with a teacher I know well and who knows me, this sounds like it could be just as useful, if not more so, than a regular tutor.  

The materials I am currently using:


Anki - for new vocab etc.

Short Term Spoken Chinese (Elementary) - Beijing Language and Culture University Press

Hanyu Jiaocheng (Book 3, the blue one) - As above

Also just chatting with people as much as possible out and about


Today I had to go and get my physical health check done for my 4 year visa so I haven't gotten anything done Chinese wise, and now I am about to take my kids out to play.  Hopefully this will be a great chance to try chatting with some people!  Not sure if there is anything I should have added here or what, but that's it for now, and I am really looking forward to seeing how this looks in 4 years time!



Entries in this blog




Hey guys, sorry it’s been so long since I did an update.


I graduated successfully with a 92 average, which was number one, but honestly it basically feels meaningless. My final thesis was on the 3 body problem.


Doing the final year and a half online was a disaster, and my Chinese went downhill massively - thanks covid.

All the student had to speak, which meant we got about 3 minutes per class to actually use Chinese. Time differences also made it challenging. 

Glad that I graduated of course. I guess the question is, would I recommend this degree to anyone else? Probably not, but it depends on what you want to get out of it. My classmates were all young and were basically there to party and end up with a degree, I was there to learn Chinese. In person was better by far. Also important to recognize it was a Chinese language and literature degree. Classes on Chinese mythology were a waste of time for what I wanted, and my time would have been better used doing self study on stuff I would actually use.


I also really struggled with being treated like a child - things like having attendance taken at every lecture. In England you can attend lectures if you want, but exam results are what matter. If you fail then that’s on you, if you can pass without attending class then it’s all good, but that just wasn’t an option for us in China, to the point where you wouldn’t get a visa if you missed a certain amount of classes.


I’m glad I did it as I learnt a lot, but if I could go back in time I probably wouldn’t have bothered.



 Well it's been a very long time since I've posted an update, so here goes.  Just finished up the first semester of 4th year, one more to go which starts at the beginning of March.  Should be graduating in July.  We are still in Cambodia, for obvious reasons.  I feel like my Chinese has gone downhill, simply because online classes just aren't the same as actually being there, and the environment here is nothing like as helpful for learning as being in China.


Some classes were a complete waste of time.  Learning about world literature in Chinese is interesting to a degree, but something I will probably never do again, and so I feel my time could have been used much more productively.  With 30+ students in a class, the time to talk was minimal, and the exams were somewhat of a joke.  It's always nice to get good grades, but far better when you feel like you actually had to work hard to get them, and the exams were a challenge. 


Currently writing my thesis on 《三体:地球往事》,which has been incredibly interesting and enjoyable.  We have until June to finish the whole thing, and it's supposed to be around 10,000 characters (which really isn't many for a 'thesis').  I've written 13,500 so far and just sent it off to my tutor a couple of days ago.  He said there are no major issues, just a couple of sections are a bit too short (comparatively), so I will go back and edit those.  Feels pretty good to have the bulk of it done a few months early, and will certainly make the final semester far easier.  I feel a lot more confident with my Chinese now, even though it has fallen behind somewhat, and when I think back to starting first year, the improvement has been vast.  Certain tones are still a big struggle for me, especially when speaking fast.  The 4th tone + 1st tone combination really trips me up!  It's going to be great to graduate, but really for me the point was never the degree, rather I want to be able to converse fluently in Chinese, and continue to build on that in the future.  I will give a full report when I graduate, but if I had to go back I would still choose to do the degree, as the benefits have outweighed the struggles and frustrations. 


At this point I highly doubt we will be getting back before graduation, and with having to redo visas for the whole family, quarantine, pay for flights, find a place to live again, I am actually quite relieved about that.  Would love to go back to China, but not just for a few weeks before graduation.


As I say, a more in depth review will come in a few months when I am finished, but just wanted people to know I am still here and still trying my best to study hard!



What a strange season this has been.  I'm not really sure what to write, as our whole semester has been online.  I feel like I my improvement was minimal due to the online classes, and the format in which they came.


Speaking was done as an interactive online class, and so that was actually not bad.  But a lot of the other classes were prerecorded lectures, with a few questions to follow, in order to check that we had been listening.  The hardest class we had was 文学,and I got next to nothing out of it, because it was basically a teacher talking at us for a couple of hours, without any interaction.  I feel this class would have been really good if it was in person.  A lot of class time I just spent reading and doing flashcards, so that I was at least getting some self study in.


Overall this semester has been far from ideal, but I do feel there has been some small improvement at least, and was happy to get through 《三体》,which I will do my thesis on next year.  As far as getting back to China goes, I have absolutely no idea (nor do I think anyone else really does) as to when/how this will happen.  If the next semester starts online, I struggle to understand how we would be able to go back before it ends.  The logistics of trying to switch from online classes to actual classes, while international students are all having to book flights to get back, along with going through a two week quarantine, just seems like too much of a headache.  I imagine it would be much wiser to do it during a break. 


Anyway, not much to report this time unfortunately.  We have our final 4 week semester now - today is the last day of class, then 2/3 pieces of homework/papers over the next 3 weeks before we finish for the summer.  Watch this space to see what happens next!



The first semester of third year is done, and I am currently with my family taking a break in Cambodia.  Overall I feel that this semester went pretty well.


One of our teachers quit when we had 2 weeks left of the semester, and that was really weird.  One week he was there, and then the following week he just didn't turn up.  He was my favorite teacher and seemed to have the best relationship with all the students by far.  I would always message him to ask questions and such, and while he has since said I am welcome to continue doing that, it is still disappointing.  I am not sure who will take over the classes we had with him next semester.


I've tried to do a bit more reading of late, especially focusing on the type of literature we will be reading next year for our thesis.  I read 《棋王》and really enjoyed it, finding it about right for my current level, then I read 《断魂枪》which was short but interesting, and I am currently reading 《啊Q正传》.  I am mining a good bit of vocabulary from these books, and of course increasing the number of characters I can read.  I am also enjoying the cultural aspects of the books, though at some points they are still quite confusing to me.  I do also have 《三体》which I would like to read, but first I just want to focus on stuff for next year a bit. 


As far as speaking goes, I find myself in much the same position as before.  Obviously there is some improvement, but I still find that my tones go haywire when I start trying to speak a bit faster, in contrast to sounding wooden and strange when I speak slowly.  I'm still not sure of the best way to improve here.  I had a teacher suggest reading through texts that I am familiar with at a slow speed, which in theory sounds good, but my reading isn't anything like good enough to actually have an accurate pronunciation when I read out loud.  I think I just need to keep practicing, and doing my best to imitate native speakers.


My final exams seemed to go well on the whole, although I haven't bothered to check my results.  I can only get access to them through the wifi at the university, and because I live off campus I have never actually paid to be able to use this service.  I am also finding that I am less interested in my results, and more interested in my actual ability to communicate with people in Chinese. 


It seems strange writing this with the whole coronavirus situation going on.  We have been contacted by the university - they wanted all our details, where we have been, where we are going etc.  They have also said that people are not allowed to return early, and that anyone who is spending the holiday in Harbin isn't allowed to leave without applying 3 days in advance.  Furthermore, on their return they need to self-quarantine for 14 days.  There has now been a confirmed case in Cambodia, and to be honest with the state of the healthcare here China would likely be a better place to be.  For now we are just going to see what happens over the next 2/3 weeks, and what comes through from the university.


Until next time!



Mid terms are all done.  For the most part they went pretty well.  Not really a huge amount to share at the moment, we're in a routine as far as classes go, learning lots across the board. 


I've been trying to be a bit more active in increasing my input.  I started reading the first Harry Potter, and I'm a few pages away from finishing.  I marked characters I didn't know so that I could come back and learn the new words, and I've noticed that I've gone from multiple characters being marked in each paragraph near the start of the book, to sometimes 2/3 pages with nothing marked at all.  I've also been really encouraged to see lots of the stuff coming up in class appearing in the book, thus further cementing both the term in question, and it's usefulness for me at this point in time.  I'm not yet sure what I will read next. 


I am doing a lot of running at the moment, which looks like 4/5 treadmill runs a week, for anything up to 3 hours per session right now, simply because it's too cold to run outside.  The plus side of this is that the treadmills in my gym have TVs, so I have been watching various TV shows.  As with my reading, I have again found that lots of the things I have been learning in class are coming up. 


All in all I am feeling pretty encouraged right now!  There is a very long way to go, but there is also noticeable improvement. 



We have just completed the first week of third year!  I can't believe I am now half way through this degree, perhaps even over half way as 4th year finishes earlier than the previous 3 years.  We have a new teacher for 综合 this year, and so far I think she might be the best teacher we've had.  She has a great way of teaching, and explains things really well.  In both 综合 and 口语 our teachers have said that the major focus this year is going to be 近义词。 This is because our vocabulary is growing, and as it does a common problem we will face is misusing words that have a similar translation in the dictionary, but can't be used in the same way in Chinese.  A good example from this first week was 保存/储存,or 职业/行业。


Our other subjects are 中国历史,写作,修辞和阅读。I was really excited about history, and the book is great, but the class so far was uninspiring.  It was all focused on getting through the material and prepping for what will be on the exam, so we covered right up until 秦始皇 in one class, which was way too fast.  We also did some on 孔子,which ironically we have covered in more detail last year (twice). 


Our 写作书 is actually 高级 instead of 准高级,so it's quite challenging, but the first class was laughable.  Unfortunately our teacher seems to think we are retarded, and so spent most of the lesson explaining what a sentence is, what a question is, how a question mark/comma works etc.  She also calls us 'babies', which perhaps should offend me, but when a 36 year old woman refers to me, a 31 year old man, as a baby, it grinds my gears a bit!  Anyway, hopefully this class will improve, and the material in the book looks great. 


修辞 was fun, and I am also looking forward to this.  We looked at 比喻句 which are pretty straight forward, being as we use them in English all the time.  But it's interesting to see how Chinese metaphors differ from English ones!


All in all this was a great first week, and I am excited for this semester!  Other good news is that I got a scholarship which knocked my fees down 20%!  My teacher said if I had done more with the university then I would have gotten a higher one, so maybe next year!



I finished up the spring semester of my second year yesterday with my final of 7 exams.  Next week we start a 4 week summer semester, which consists of a week of class, followed by some outings and then a final exam.


This semester has been great, and I feel like I have made a ton of progress.  I still struggle with my tones, but thanks to lots of speaking practice I feel much more aware of the mistakes I am making, and am being much more conscious in my efforts to correct and avoid mistakes.  I really enjoyed speaking class this semester, as we had a lot of opportunities to be up the front giving presentations and such.  This was definitely the highlight for me.  Of course I would do massive amounts of preparation beforehand, but the fact that our teacher won't let us take notes up to the front to read from meant that I was forced to go with the flow much more.  This in turn has led me to feel much more comfortable speaking in front of others.


Final exams seemed to go ok.  In general they were similar in structure to previous exams.  I made a couple of silly mistakes here and there, but nothing major.  I find myself losing interest somewhat in exams and results, as I want the focus to be actually being able to converse fluently in Chinese, read books, write articles etc, rather than comparing myself to others, or getting great marks on an exam. 


I have already bought most of my books for third year, and have begun looking through them.  My reading book is the same series as this year, and so the jump isn't too intimidating.  However, for some reason we are now using a 高级 book for writing (I mentioned this to the teacher as I thought he had made a mistake, we are only 准高级 in third year, but he said this is the book).  There is a marked increase in difficulty here, and aside from pinyin for a few words, there is no English whatsoever.  This may not be a huge deal, but it's a cool little milestone for me hah!


I finished watching 男人帮 ages ago, and I'm now 20 episodes in to 一仆二主, and loving it!  The first was set in Shanghai, but seemed to use very standard putonghua, and so I didn't find it too hard to understand.  The latter is set in Beijing, and for some reason I am finding it far harder to understand!  If it wasn't for the subtitles there are whole sections that would just sound like one, long, slurred 儿 sound!  I am understanding enough to know what's going on for the most part though, and I am picking up lots of new vocabulary and characters, as well as working on my 听力!


I also bought a book.  I foolishly bought a copy of 三国演义,being as it was at a great price.  It took me half an hour to get through the first paragraph, at which point I realized this wasn't a productive undertaking.  Still wanting to be able to have a crack at such a Chinese classic, I bought a 青少年版。  As expected, it is much more manageable, yet still far beyond my level.  This is a challenge for me to accomplish over the course of the next two years.  Until then, I will stick with my textbooks, and of course with my great friend 淘气包马小跳!


In August my family is heading out to China, and we will be traveling to Xian, Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai.  I'm really excited to finally get to visit some other Chinese cities, as so far I have only been to 3.  Shanghai is mainly to get passports done for my sons (not to say I am not excited to visit, just that it wasn't at the top of my list of places to go).  I can't wait to check out the terracotta army in Xian, especially after spending some time learning about it in my 文化 class this semester.


Finally, I have just applied for a scholarship for next year.  This is from the university rather than CSC, and there are 4 grades, ranging from fully covered with 1000RMB a month for living expenses, to 20% off.  My grades are probably good enough to get me something, but I have basically done no competitions or activities with the university, which is something they highly value.  Getting any money off would be amazing, so here's hoping!



We are currently in the midst of our midterms.  Last week was 听力,写作和阅读,next week we have 中国文化,语法学,口语和综合。It's good because we get all of our exams out the way before the 5/1 break.  Exams seem to have gone ok so far.


As far as how this semester is going, I am really enjoying it and I feel that I am progressing.  Last week for 口语 we had to explain one of 8 成语 based on its story, and so I chose 愚公移山。I really enjoyed doing this, and was encouraged and how much I must have improved to even be able to consider doing this.  Then a couple of days ago I was in the gym trying to have a conversation and basically couldn't understand a word the guy was saying!  This seems to happen a lot - I will be really encouraged by my progress in one area, then take a hit in another area.  More often than not it's when comparing what is spoken/heard in the classroom, with the authentic stuff that happens outside the classroom.  Regular people are under no obligation to use standard Putonghua and dumb it down for you because you are a foreigner!  I suppose this just needs a lot more time and practice.


I have been trying to increase the input I get, and so I have been watching 男人帮。  I just finished episode 26 last night, and when I have watched all 30 I will find something similar to watch.  I watched this series 2 years ago and understood very little, but now I am getting a ton out of it.  I find that so many of the things I am learning at uni keep coming up in it, and it really helps solidify them in my mind.  This has probably been one of the most useful things I have done so far, and actually although I would always make excuses about being busy, finding 45 minutes every other evening to watch an episode isn't hard.



The new semester started a week ago, and it's been a great first week.  As far as my goals for this year, I've basically failed them all already!  I wanted to read a lot more, but over the break I went home for the first time in a couple of years, and so unfortunately my Chinese took a back seat.  However, I did get through one and a half books.  Now being back I feel like I have so much more to focus on, and I'd rather do a good job of covering all my class materials well than spreading myself too thin by plodding through a book.  Hopefully I can change this up when the books are a bit easier to read, and don't require constant stopping and note making.  Rather than dwelling on my failure here, I am trying to put it behind me and go all in with everything else!


This semester we have two different classes.  Our 中国概况 and 汉字学 classes are over, and in their place we have 中国文化 and 语法学。  I really like 语法学 and find it to be incredibly useful.  The books we are using are fantastic, and basically contain answers to many questions that keep coming up for me.  中国文化 seems to be fairly interesting, and we have a new teacher for this class.  She's very friendly and asks a lot of questions.  Although our class consists of 40+ students, there's only a few of us that don't sit on our phones and actually participate in the class, so I really appreciate an interactive setting.


On that note, our speaking class has changed slightly.  For some reason all of our exams are now going to be written exams (how someone's speaking can be tested with a written exam is beyond me, but it's out of the teacher's control).  So in light of this our teacher has said he will just teach one of our classes each week, and the other one will be dedicated to us speaking (presentations/reports/skits etc.). 


All in all, I'm really excited about this semester!



The first semester of year two is officially over, although I still have two finals left to sit.  My first 5 finals were quite difficult.  Especially challenging was listening, as there were questions to which we had to give written answers (rather than multiple choice), and I blanked on how to write lots of the characters that I don't use that often. 


I feel that I have progressed a lot this semester.  Before starting I had bought a book for kids and tried to read it, and I found it very challenging.  A lot of the grammar constructions were new to me, and there were many characters that I didn't recognize.  I have just picked up that book again, and found it far easier.  New characters are appearing much less frequently, and the grammar that I can specifically remember not understanding, I now understand.  One of my goals for this year is to try and read at least one book each month.  As books for young adults are still too far above my level, I am starting with kids books.  Right now I am reading from the 淘气包马小跳 series.  I want to be reading something that's actually native, and not completely boring, and this is perfect.  The story is actually quite entertaining, and it feels so good to be able to get through some paragraphs without having to stop to check a word.  I am also reading out loud as I figure this will only help my pronunciation.


I think the above is my biggest goal for the year, and will also benefit my areas of weakness the most.  Of course my listening needs to improve, but I get that almost every day in class, and I really do find general listening to be far easier than listening exam type questions!  I'd like to spend more time speaking with native speakers also, and I have found a language partner specifically for that, which will give me some good, focused time each week.  I'm also really trying to make the effort to speak to my wife in Chinese.  It's a bit easier now that it doesn't take me 10 minutes to string a sentence together, but it's so easy to revert back to the languages we normally use.  I will try harder!


The highlight for me from this semester was 汉字学, it was a fantastic class.  Unfortunately we don't have it next semester, but I have the textbook and I will definitely be going back to it.  It really changed the way I look at characters and brought me a lot of new understanding. 


We have a couple of different classes next semester, but I am not yet sure of all the details.  I will update in a couple of months once the new semester starts.  I am really excited about continuing to grow my Chinese over 2019!


Week 10/11

I think I am going to put longer spaces between each update, as when I write them only 2 weeks apart, I don't really have all that much to say.  These last two weeks have been good, and my reading and general survey midterms seemed to go pretty well.  General survey was open book, and so it was very straight forward.  Class last week was tough, as we moved into some general history.  Apparently next semester we have a dedicated history class which will go into much more detail.  I am looking forward to that, but the content is difficult because of our Chinese level.  Both our general survey and character study classes have a lot of content that is way above our level, but have to be taught to us by law. 


The highlight from this week was my character study class.  This class started out quite difficult (but very interesting) with mythology about where characters came from.  But these last two classes have gotten incredibly helpful, as we have been looking at the different types of characters.  I had read people saying that it's best to start out by learning all the radicals when learning characters, and I don't know whether I agree with that or not (I didn't do it that way).  But at this point, understanding the composition of 形声字, 会意字 etc., is so helpful for me.  Whereas I would previously look at a 形声字 and try to understand where the meaning came from, it now makes total sense that part of the character is relating the meaning, while the other part is the sound.  My method of trying to understand a character was completely misinformed, as I had no understanding of the ways in which characters are formed!


Week 8/9 - 还是期中考试!

Tomorrow I have my general survey and reading midterms, and then that's it.  My other midterms seemed to go ok. 


I got a 97 on my 综合, and it was a fairly straightforward exam.  The first section we were given 20 words, and we had to provide another word to match with it.  For example, we would be given something like 寂寞, and then have to think of an appropriate match, like 感觉。Sometimes it was in front, other times behind.  The next section was completing sentences.  We were given half a sentence, and then some kind of grammar structure in brackets, and we had make up part of the sentence with it.  The one I messed up here was 何苦,as I'd never heard it before.  In hindsight I gave a really dumb answer, as I treated it as a noun, rather than assuming it was some sort of grammar structure like the rest.  Then was a section on rearranging sentences, in which we were given a set of jumbled words which we had to rearrange to form the correct sentence.  Although I got them all correct, this is my biggest struggle.  Then a section where we had sentences and a choice of two words to fill in the blank.  The words were always similar in meaning, or the same meaning but different uses - 遗憾/可惜,忽然/突然 etc.  Then finally a 200 character + written thing.  Title was 我的爱好,so not particularly difficult.


写作 I got a 96, also not too difficult.  There was a section in which we had to give opposites, a couple of passages with true/false questions, another section which I have forgotten, and then a written piece at the end.  The title was something like 爱上汉语。 


听力 was a collection of HSK 5/6 questions.  I got an 87, which I'm not overly pleased with, but is about what I expected.  Getting all of my tones spot on when I speak in the hardest thing for me, but I find speaking in general to be much easier than listening.  This is an area I need to keep practicing in, but fortunately it's one of the easier areas to actually get good practice in, what with being in China and doing a degree in Chinese and all that!


汉字学 was fine.  Haven't got any results yet, but it was an open book exam so I'll be disappointed if I didn't do well! 


Next week I also have a brief 'presentation' to give, which was again a choice of topics.  I have chosen to 谈谈我现在的学习情况,and there are 3 sentence constructs that I have to have in there at some point.  Really working on getting my pronunciation correct.  There is no powerpoint to look at this time, and I feel that the more I try to just speak fluently and go with the flow, the worse my tones get.  It's really a shame because I feel so much more comfortable just going with the flow as I would in English. 


Until next time!


Week 5-7 - 期中考试

I am a week late in updating my blog for a couple of reasons.  Firstly because of the week off, and secondly because we moved house last weekend.  Our landlord wanted to sell her place, and we wanted to move out before it gets really cold.  We have found an awesome place, cheaper and bigger than the last one. 


Mid-terms are fast approaching, and I have 5 out of 8 of them over the next two weeks.  Speaking was last week. 


For someone Chinese, our speaking teacher is very direct when it comes to telling us how we are progressing.  I can't remember if I mentioned it in my last post or not, but we had to do a dialogue with a friend, and then do a short powerpoint presentation on a topic that we were allowed to choose from a selection of 7 topics.  I felt that it went ok, but because of nerves my pronunciation was even worse than usual (my tones are pretty bad at the best of times).  The teacher said the presentation was fine, but my pronunciation was pretty bad.  I already knew that, but being told it by the teacher was discouraging!  However, I am glad he hammers me on this because it challenges me to improve.


For our midterm we were randomly put into groups, and then given 3 words.  We had to do a 10 minute presentation.  The first task was to explain each of the 3 words, basically as if we were teaching the class.  Then we had to write a dialogue which included the 3 words, and present that.  Having been blasted for my pronunciation, I made sure to practice this over and over so it would be better.  I got a 98 on the exam and my teacher said that this time there were no major tone mistakes, and that it was way better than before.  I was really encouraged by this.  In general my pronunciation isn't really any better than 2 weeks ago, but because I have seen that I am CAPABLE of having much better pronunciation, this has sort of re-energized me to put more effort into getting it correct.  The task now is to get to a point where I can speak like I did after 3 days of continually practicing the same 10 minute talk, without having to think about it.  It wouldn't surprise me if this takes a lot longer than my time at university here!  However, I have to start somewhere!  I got some advice from my teacher, as well as trying to follow some points from one of Imron's posts on improving speaking.


I am also really encouraged to be hearing more words I know in general conversation.  Over the past few weeks these are a few of the words/phrases that I learnt, and then heard/read and immediately recognized when chatting with Chinese people - 露一手,侵略,急于求成,结巴,挖.


Until next time!


Week 5-7 - 期中考试

I am a week late in updating my blog for a couple of reasons.  Firstly because of the week off, and secondly because we moved house last weekend.  Our landlord wanted to sell her place, and we wanted to move out before it gets really cold.  We have found an awesome place, cheaper and bigger than the last one. 


Mid-terms are fast approaching, and I have 5 out of 8 of them over the next two weeks.  Speaking was last week. 


For someone Chinese, our speaking teacher is very direct when it comes to telling us how we are progressing.  I can't remember if I mentioned it in my last post or not, but we had to do a dialogue with a friend, and then do a short powerpoint presentation on a topic that we were allowed to choose from a selection of 7 topics.  I felt that it went ok, but because of nerves my pronunciation was even worse than usual (my tones are pretty bad at the best of times).  The teacher said the presentation was fine, but my pronunciation was pretty bad.  I already knew that, but being told it by the teacher was discouraging!  However, I am glad he hammers me on this because it challenges me to improve.


For our midterm we were randomly put into groups, and then given 3 words.  We had to do a 10 minute presentation.  The first task was to explain each of the 3 words, basically as if we were teaching the class.  Then we had to write a dialogue which included the 3 words, and present that.  Having been blasted for my pronunciation, I made sure to practice this over and over so it would be better.  I got a 98 on the exam and my teacher said that this time there were no major tone mistakes, and that it was way better than before.  I was really encouraged by this.  In general my pronunciation isn't really any better than 2 weeks ago, but because I have seen that I am CAPABLE of having much better pronunciation, this has sort of re-energized me to put more effort into getting it correct.  The task now is to get to a point where I can speak like I did after 3 days of continually practicing the same 10 minute talk, without having to think about it.  It wouldn't surprise me if this takes a lot longer than my time at university here!  However, I have to start somewhere!  I got some advice from my teacher, as well as trying to follow some points from one of Imron's posts on improving speaking.


I am also really encouraged to be hearing more words I know in general conversation.  Over the past few weeks these are a few of the words/phrases that I learnt, and then heard/read and immediately recognized when chatting with Chinese people - 露一手,侵略,急于求成,结巴,挖.


Until next time!


Week 3/4 - 我用的书

I was asked in the last post to list the books that we are using this year, so here they are:


综合 - Bridge, a practical intermediate Chinese course (I) (Beijing Language and Culture University Press)

口语 - Intermediate spoken Chinese 1 (Peking University Press)

写作 - Road to Success.  Upper Elementary Reading and Writing 1. (Beijing Language and Culture University Press)

听力 - I left this book at uni, but it's the listening book of the same series as 写作

汉字学 - The Culture of Chinese Characters (Beijing Language and Culture University Press)

阅读 - Read This Way 1 (Beijing Language and Culture University Press)

中国概况 - A Survey of China (Beijing Language and Culture University Press)


I would recommend all of the books.  The speaking book is probably the least useful in a sense, being as we don't actually do much from the book, aside from the exercises.  The exercises themselves are great.  I really like the 综合 and 阅读 books.  Both the books and the teaching methods of those two teachers fit really well with my learning style.  They will go through a certain number of the new words, explaining the meaning and use of each one, giving examples and having us create sentences.  Then we will go through the portion of the text which includes the words we have just studied.  The key words/grammar constructs have more time spent on them when we are in the text.  The pace is steady so that we have time to really digest everything.  One of the things I find hard about Chinese (and there are a lot) is small differences in meaning/use of words.  Being taught in this way really helps me with that.  I am talking about the difference between 忽然 and 突然 for example.


This week is 国庆节 and so I have the week off.  Next week for listening I have to prepare a dialogue with a friend which includes 9 sentences that were given to us.  Then I have to choose one of 7 small topics to give a 'presentation' on.  I think I am going to do 'differences in lifestyle between England and China'.  Because our class is big, this is only to be around 2 minutes long.  Such a time limit makes it harder I think, but still it is a great chance to be up the front practicing again.  We are not allowed to have notes of any form outside of our ppt, and if people want to opt out they are allowed to do so.  If you opt out 3 or more times in a semester you are not allowed to sit the exams. 


I really enjoyed the first year of study, and this year is so much better already!



I am now two weeks into year 2 of my 4 year degree program.  The level has increased notably!  The content of each class is considerably more than it was, and we now have 7 subjects instead of the 4 we had last year.  We now have speaking, listening, reading, comprehensive, writing, general survey of China, and character study.  Our class has also increased in size to 44 students, so it's absolutely massive.  These are students who have studied at HIT for a year, switched major etc.  We now have more Russians, one student from Turkmenistan, and lots more Thai and Korean students.  I'm not sure how I feel about the number of students.  Obviously it's way too many, and although it won't impact listening much, I think it will affect how much I get to speak to some degree.  The flip side of this is that interaction is generally by choice, and some people just seem to scared to say anything, and so I've been speaking/reading in class just as much, if not more than last year. 


The China survey class is quite interesting, and I am definitely looking forward to learning more about the history, geography and culture of China.  Character study is fun, but probably the hardest class of them all.  This is because we are looking at stuff like myths regarding the origin of Hanzi, and so of course there are lots of new words, a large portion of which appear to be fairly specialist, and probably not all that useful to us at this point in time.  Along with writing and listening, we only have one class per week of these subjects.


Speaking is great, as we now have our comp teacher from last year, and he is all about us speaking all the time.  He's already had us up the front talking which is great practice.  Our teacher last year was terrible, and we hardly ever talked in class, so this is really refreshing, and I feel like it is only going to help my speaking.  I'm still not a fan of listening, but at least we only have one class a week now.  Comprehensive is awesome, and I love the new teacher that we have for it, her teaching style is excellent. 


Nothing too specific for this first update, just a general overview.  I will give more details on what I am learning in the following updates. 



I just got home from my final exam of third semester, and so my first year is over!  The exam today was quite difficult.  It consisted of 5 questions which had long answers, basically like essay questions but much shorter.  They were based on what we have covered this semester in our week of class, and the places we went to visit. 


I am feeling really good about how this first year has gone.  I have a very long way to go, but I can feel that there has been a big improvement since I started, and that I have a good foundation for the next 3 years.  I'm not sure that there is one stand out area that I need to improve a lot more than anything else, but rather just that I need to keep continuing right across the board.  I was at a little show thing yesterday that my kids' kindergarten put on, and one of the teachers was speaking at the front and I understand almost everything she said.  Then when we ate together later on she was talking and I understood next to nothing!  This may have been because slower, more 'formal' type Chinese is easier for me to understand than dialect laced chit-chat, but it was both a great encouragement at being able to do something I never could have a year ago, and a reminder that there is so much more I need to learn, and so much more time I need to spend practicing.  The same rings true of my speaking, reading and writing.  I'll express myself really clearly, and then be misunderstood when I try to tell someone I'm from England.  I'll write something my teacher says is great, and then forget how to write 年 or 唱歌 in an exam!  I'll find a sentence out and about that I can read and understand, and then find one where I don't know a single character. 


Over the break I want to try and keep up with study, but I haven't yet thought out exactly what I am going to do.  I think I will try reading texts from a text book that I haven't used yet, in order to keep my reading up, and also to pick up new vocab.  I will try my best to speak Chinese at home (not just out and about), and try to do things where I can increase how much I am listening. 


I think this might be my last post until September when we start back up again, although I may drop a mid-break post if I remember. 






Well, the second semester is over!  I really can't believe how quickly 18 weeks has gone by, it seems like just yesterday that I was heading in to register for the new semester!  All I have now is 4 weeks for a third semester, and then on to the summer break.  So, exams...


口语 - It's really strange to me that we sit a speaking exam which is completely written.  I have a general complaint about language exams anyway, as I just don't think a two hour exam can really be indicative of how well you grasp a language, but I feel that this is even more true in a speaking exam with no speaking!  All that to say, I find writing far easier than speaking, and I think the exam went fairly well.  I only have my comprehensive grade at the moment, so I'm not sure how I did, but I think I passed without too many issues.  This exam had a section where we had to look at the character and write the pinyin, then vice versa.  There was a section of correcting incorrect sentences.  Then a section of completing a dialogue.  I think also one more but I can't remember what it was.  The hardest part for me was the sentences - most of them were fine, but there were a couple where I wasn't entirely sure what the mistake was, and so I might have inadvertently corrected something that didn't need to be corrected.  An example (as best as I can remember) - ...介绍得热情。  I figured the mistake must either be an incorrect use of 热情, or an incorrect use of 得。  So I had to choose whether to go with 热情地介绍,or 介绍得很清楚。I went with the latter, and still don't know which I should have gone with, or if neither of those was correct!


阅读 - No significant problems here.  I know I made some small mistakes here and there but I don't think there was anything huge.  Some of the questions were linking characters together to form words, writing the pinyin for characters and then making our own words (I messed up a tone or two here), various comprehension questions, and then a true/false set of questions based on a longer text.


听力 - Absolute nightmare.  I hate listening.  Not listening to Chinese in general, but listening classes, books and audio!  For this exam we were in a big lecture hall with rows that increase in height as you walk up steps towards the back.  I was near the back and the audio reverberated around the whole room, making it very unclear.  Other students I spoke to from various places around the room had the same complaint.  There was a little bit of guesswork here, and being as the questions all came from the book we had studied, a few that I know I got correct from memory!  As usual the 'mark the tones on the pinyin' section was the worst.  Pretty sure I passed, but not expecting a particularly good score!


综合 - Surprisingly hard this time, but I managed to get a 91.5 and remain at the top of the class, so I am thrilled!  First section was 20 words that we had to expand on (given something like 礼仪,and you have to think up something that fits - 外交礼仪),write the opposite to the given word (given 清楚,need to write 模糊), measure words (hardest was 心意,which thankfully a classmate reminded me right before the exam was 片), say whether various sentences are correct or not, organize sentences (given a load of words and you have to put them in the correct order), few comprehension questions, then finally write 120+ characters on your first birthday in China.  Hardest here by a mile was organizing the sentences.  They were really, really difficult for some reason.  I told my teacher I was quite disappointed at how I handled that section.  I knew I had a couple wrong, but as all the words are given to you, I should have sat there trying different combinations until I got it or there was no time left. 


Anyway, all in all exams went pretty well.  As this has been a long post I'm not going to write an end of semester report, but I will do at the end of the next semester (a first year report). 


Week 14-16 - 下学期结束了

The second semester of my first year is now over, and I have final exams over this next two weeks.  Following that is a short final semester of 4 weeks.  The first week is a full week of class, and then each of the following 3 weeks consists of going out somewhere on one day, and then having some sort of exam about the place we went to on another day.  So all in all we only have to go in twice a week, which makes it sound like a very laid back semester. 


I've really enjoyed this semester, and feel like it has gone by incredibly quickly.  I think there has been a noticeable improvement in my Chinese across the board, and I say this mainly from an outside of the classroom perspective.  I feel more confident in talking to people, and more able to communicate effectively.  Of course there is still a very long way to go, but it really does feel good to have made at least a little headway. 


My biggest area of struggle is still listening, and realistically I think time is going to be key here.  I'm going to keep working on this by trying to increase the amount of Chinese listening input I get.  I will try and hit this hard over my summer break, but I'd like to find something to watch/listen to a little bit every day, to get some focused/concentrated input.  Perhaps a podcast, news segment or Youtube clip.  While I realize the news is far beyond me, I still thinking slowing it down and repeatedly listening to/processing a short clip could be beneficial (I read a thread about it somewhere on here)! 


I'd also like to try and build my known character base over the break.  I have some textbooks which are still above my level (and not ones that we will study next year), and so I think I will try and read at least one text each day from any given book, and then familiarize myself with the new hanzi.  This will be helpful for many reasons, not least of which is that it will give me a head start for next year, and ultimately for third/fourth year where we deal with a lot more native content. 


Speaking is much the same as listening I think, in that the only way to get better is to simply spend more time doing it!  Following my last post I realized that I have been, in a sense, 'trying too hard'.  What I mean is that I have been trying to make my speaking better by using more conjunctions and whatnot, only to discover that they are basically all only used in written Chinese.  Thankfully they will still be useful to me for my writing, but I am now trying my best to adopt the 'normal' way of saying these things.  As was suggested to me, lots of imitation is the key right now!


That's all for now, there will be a post following my exams in two weeks!


Week 12/13 - 家人来了!

As I finally got round to uploading my photos to my computer, this week I have added a few random photos from uni and around Harbin in general!  I haven't got a ton to add this week as I now plan to wait and then write a bigger entry in 3 weeks, as that will be the end of this semester.  I got a 98 on my final comprehensive midterm and so I was really pleased with that.  My comp teacher said that our biggest issue now as a class is getting our speaking up to scratch.  For me personally I need to work on speaking speed, as I tend to pause a lot when thinking of what I want to say next.  This is also what I do in English, and so with Mandarin being a new language, the problem becomes compounded! 


In order to continue to build my vocabulary, and especially to make my 口语更丰富了, I have been trying to find new adverbs and conjunctions.  Things like 何必,何况,究竟等等.  I might even start a thread to build a good list of these kind of words, as I find they really make things more interesting, not only for speaking, but also when writing 文章. 


My family (mum, dad, sister, brother-in-law and niece) are all out visiting at the moment and we are having a blast.  Our comp teacher had said that if anyone got 95 or above in our midterm, we could miss 3 classes for free, whether it be this year or in the following 3 years sometime!  It worked out perfectly for me to miss 3 while my family is here, and being as I only have comp class on a Friday I get a 3 day weekend!












Week 10/11 - 好好儿读问题!

Over the last 2 weeks I had my reading/writing midterm, and then next Friday is the last of my 3 comprehensive midterms, and this one will cover the whole book we have been studying, rather than just one of the 3 units.  My reading/writing midterm went great, apart from one really stupid mistake on my part.  I misread the question and thought we just had to give the pinyin for the characters listed below, but we were also meant to make words.  Unfortunately that mistake cost me 10 easy marks, but I still managed to get an 88% so it's not the end of the world.  A couple of other students made the same mistake as we just assumed the question was the same as we cover each week in our book.  Well, we all know what they say about assumption!


One of our teachers frequently encourages us to get to know each other better, which makes sense, and so this weekend I invited pretty much all the students from my year over.  We had a blast, there were 14 not including us, all crammed into my our apartment, and each made food from their own nation.  Thai, Korean, English and Russian food!  I felt like it opened the way for more relationships, because we were basically forced to use our Chinese to communicate, rather than in class where each nation uses their own language.  If nothing else it was at least good speaking practice!


In class at the moment we are basically just continuing to slog through our books.  Listening is pretty mind-numbing, comprehensive class is the most fun.  We have covered a selection of grammar, including where to put nouns when you are dealing with the number of times something has happened, how to use 从来,the use of 地,要是...就, and a couple of other points that have slipped my mind!  I do have a test to photo and upload, but I've gone and left it in the classroom, so it will have to wait until next time! 


Weeks 8/9 - 口语和听力考试

Last week was our speaking and listening midterms, and on Thursday we have our reading/writing exam.  We also had another comprehensive exam (our teacher is giving us 3 to make up our midterm, one on each of the 4 chapter units that make up our book).  The comprehensive seemed to go quite well, although there were less questions, so mistakes will be more punishing than usual.  I was pleased to see that there was also more extra content than usual, and so I felt like the extra study I do by myself is really paying off.  One set of questions had us complete sentences using whatever word appeared in brackets, and 除非 showed up, which we have never studied before.  Thankfully I've looked at this in my own time and so had no issues with it.


Speaking went really well.  Our midterm is a spoken test, which to me is what one would expect in a SPEAKING exam, yet isn't the case for our final.  We had to read a short passage, read a list of pinyin words, and then talk about whatever topic was on the test paper we randomly picked.  I actually wasn't thrilled with my topic - a friend takes you to the airport as you are flying home, what would you say to them?  It had to be at least 10 sentences, so it wasn't overly difficult for our level, but I just found the topic a bit strange.  Again here I felt the advantage of living off campus and using Chinese everyday, and so being able to diverge a little bit from the standard book answer.  Most of the other students live on campus, and they have lots of friends from their own nations, and therefore only really speak Chinese in class for now. 


Listening was so-so.  The final 20 questions were all comparing the written pinyin + tones to the audio and saying whether it was the same or not.  This is my least favourite thing about listening.  I find I can usually understand the stuff at our level without too many issues, but I really, really struggle with distinguishing tones.  Thankfully I think this will be the last time that we have to do that, as these questions seem to fizzle out of our listening book now.  That being said, they are replaced with having to mark the tones on words in the middle of sentences, and I don't think I'm going to find that much easier!


Regarding my progress at this point, some days I feel really encouraged, and yet at other times I feel hugely discouraged.  We had some Chinese friends round last night and I was shocked at how much I understood and was able to communicate, for the first time I really felt like I have made a huge jump.  Then earlier on the bus a lady didn't understand when I was saying 'I'm a student here'!  So lots of ups and downs, but generally I'm feeling really good and excited to push more and more!




Weeks 6/7 - 综合期中考试

Over the course of these two weeks we had another of our word competitions, where we are split into two groups and have to write as many words relating to the topic on the board as we can.  This time the topic was sports, and we are no longer allowed to use pinyin.  We are all looking at words we have prepared beforehand though so it doesn't make it that much more challenging, but it's good to have moved away from pinyin!  I am pretty sure my group lost the last time, but this time we won!  We had 60+ types of sport written down, which I think I'd struggle to think of in English, let alone Chinese. 


On Friday we had our comprehensive midterm.  I always find it hard to judge how I might have done, but it seemed to go ok.  If I get it back I will try and snap a photo of the questions, but in the meantime I will add a couple that I can remember.  The first section was just choosing the correct words to fill in the blanks in various sentences - fairly straightforward.  The next section was making words.  This was weird because it was almost too easy, leaving me concerned that I wasn't doing it correctly!  Normally when we have to do this our teacher just gives us a single character and we can make whatever we want, but here it was words like 满意,清楚,热闹 etc., and so there were lots of 不太,很,非常!


The next section we were given lots of sentences and had to say whether they were correct or not.  For example:


我再想去那个饭店 - incorrect because, in contrast to 又,再 has to come after 想。

昨天我买了衬衫 - This one was difficult, because our book (using the exact same sentence) teaches that this is basically incorrect, and you only put 了 immediately after the verb if you have more than a single object following it.  So it would have to be 昨天我买了一件衬衫。However, I know that in reality this construction is actually fine, so I marked it incorrect and then put a note next to it.  Not really sure why our book says this sentence is incorrect. 


After this was a comprehension section.  And then the final question was writing a 200 word piece on 介绍你的购物习惯。I have since heard from some students that they didn't know what 购物 meant and so wrote something completely unrelated.  I feel a little bit sorry for them, but at the same time we had this question for our homework a couple of weeks ago, and our teacher told us before the exam that the final question would be a repeat of something we have written for homework in the past few weeks! 


This is turning into a longer post than I anticipated, but I just want to briefly talk about some grammar we hit on this week, which was approximate numbers.  An interesting point, which completely makes sense, was that while you can say 两三个,五六个等,it's never ok to say 九十个!After this the new thing for me was the positioning of 多.  Even though I don't really understand why, I now feel more comfortable using 多,knowing that with a multiple of 10 多 comes immediately after the number, whereas with other numbers it appears after the measure word/noun - 十多个月 vs. 九个多月。



Weeks 4/5 - 还是‘了’

I can't believe 5 weeks of this semester have already gone by!  Next week we have Thursday and Friday off, and then our midterms will be within the next 2 or 3 weeks.  These last 2 weeks have had some really helpful grammar, and also helped to clarify some things I sort of knew, but never really knew why I knew!


The first was more on the usage of 还是.  So far we had learned about using it when phrasing an 'or' question, but nothing else.  I felt like I knew how to use it as an adverb, but not really why.  The way our teacher explained it was incredibly helpful - you can use it when you have compared things and then come to a decision about which is best.  You don't need to mention any thing else in the decision if you don't want to, and whatever you think the best choice is will always become evident when you use 还是. 


For example: 我还是坐飞机去。 I am heading to Shanghai and, whether I have stated it or not, have compared the pros and cons of taking the train or flying.  For whatever reasons, I have decided that flying is still the best option.


We also covered more on using 了, this time on the rules of using time.  For example


我看电视一个小时 is wrong, but 我看电视看了一个小时 or 我看了一个小时(的)电视 are both ok.  There were also various other rules/exceptions which we covered.  I still find 了 to be tricky, as there just seem to be so many uses and rules regarding it, but this grammar has made me feel I understand it much more now than I did previously!


The ongoing student saga has now resulted in 3 students being kicked out, and 3 more down to a last warning, where if they miss one more class they are done.  This came from admin rather than our teachers.  None of them took it seriously before, but now that some have been given the boot they have come to every single class! 


Week 2/3 - 了

I have decided to update my blog every 2 weeks instead of weekly, as otherwise I don't really have a ton to put in here from week to week.  These last 2 weeks have been fun, and I feel like I am back into the swing of things now.  It was a shock starting back up and not being able to remember how to write out simple characters I have written many, many times before!  We are doing more 'activities' in class now.  By this I mean that for our dictation our teachers will have us up to the front in groups so that one group is writing on the board, and one group on paper as before.  In our comprehensive class we have also started doing 复述,where we have to retell one of the two texts from class from the front of the room.  These just spice things up a little bit and keep it from getting boring.  It's also a nice added challenge to have to try and put my Chinese to work while standing in front of the class.  I've always hated public speaking so this is a great push for me.


The main grammar point we hit this week was 了.  It was good to get some more clarification here, as we had already covered the idea of 了 showing a completed action or a change of state.  I had been wondering why sometimes 了 would appear directly after the verb, whereas other times it would be right at the end of the sentence, and now I know why!  If the object after the verb contains any extra information, a continuing sentence, or measure words, then 了 is generally going to go straight after the verb, but if the object appears alone, 了 will generally go at the end of the sentence:


1. 我买了两个苹果。

2. 我买苹果了。


We also looked at the placement of 了 in sentences with more than one verb.  All in all this doesn't seem to difficult, but it's nice to understand WHY something is the way it is!

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