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Learn Chinese in China

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About this blog

Documenting a learning progress.


Usually I update my efforts in the Weekly intermediate study thread. However, it is anything but weekly and I decided that I could really be a bit more organised about practicing listening skills and adding vocabulary. Doing a blog hopefully will give a better overall view of the progress. 


One is supposed to study what's interesting to oneself, but that does mean I get frequently bogged down into new material that's too advanced and overloading. Combined with a short attention span, little progress is made. When I talk with native speaker well-intentioned language partners, they always over estimate my ability. 


Finding native material at basic/advanced beginner level is a bit difficult. In this thread, there are links to cartoons at a slower pace of delivery. Bite sized pieces of simpler material sounds like a good start. 


Documentation :


Vocabulary can be classified into A) learnt before and now reinforced, B) can guess from context, C) need to look up. 


Number of difficult sentences. I. e. Know the words but listening was hard.

Entries in this blog


4Q 2023

4Q 2023

My big event is a week in Chengdu for an event. 

I am here with attending a sports event and taking some photos.


Compared to travelling to mainland China four years ago, and definitely not doing that much practice inbetween, I can get around with a bit of fumbling with words. I was asked if I wanted a bag after shopping and I understood that whereas four years ago, I couldn’t understand the words being spoken at me. 

People are definitely very friendly and helpful here. I went to the my event supposedly as a photographer. They told me I should have applied for a media pass beforehand. Unfortunately, the English information previously provided had no mention of a press pass. To cut a long story short, one of the staff at the event (with excellent English) helped me negotiate with security who were also very nice. The stumbling block was it was the first day of the event and they needed to strictly follow the rules set by the police. They checked my camera equipment and made sure it was a proper functioning camera. I should have asked what they were scared of - maybe explosive devices because you weren’t allowed to take a mobile phone recharging unit in either. After a couple of days of photography and being relatively harmless and keeping out of trouble, there were no problems with security. In fact, I also saw someone else in the audience using a large camera despite me being told on the first day cameras weren’t allowed in.


It’s been a busy day and most of the day, I am on my own doing my own thing not really communicating with anybody. The most mandarin I speak is to the taxi drivers who have heavily accented putonghua. Quite different to my experience in Qingdao where the taxi drivers had basically standard mandarin. My control of mandarin tones is imperfect - I rely on tuning in using the conversation to progressively speak better tones. This method absolutely doesn’t work with Chengdu taxi drivers. I can feel my tones are all over the place.


 I get a day off tomorrow to explore city centre. See what turns up there. The nice thing is finding that I can get around finding out simple details quite easily such as walking into the local gym and talking about their packages and rates. 



3Q 2023

3Q 2022

Nice to see Chinese forums back on line.


it coincides with me taking online lessons again.


I found HSK4 standard book quite uninteresting and went back to italki and found another community teacher. 

I think this one actually hits the right technique for me. Lots of simple sentences in English which I have to translate into Chinese. I might have to use a certain sentence structure. She then asks me the same questions again in a subsequent lesson so it’s like a SRS style but no stories. 

I quite like it. It tests my speed of translation and the faster I can say the translation, the more I feel I have really absorbed the language actively. You find you have a sense of achievement doing simple things better rather than trying to crunch on overwhelming oneself with new vocabulary or new grammar. You also know how good you are if you can pull out a translation smoothly. It is a bit like the glossika technique but at least with a teacher, they can pause, give some hints, give a bit of explanation and crucially, if you’re unsure, immediately give you another similar sentence structure to practice (unlike SRS apps ).


I asked a language partner to do the same thing as practice but she said I was good in all sentences. However, I wasn’t because some of the sentences I hesitated when saying the translation. I.e. there was a slightly longer delay where I had to use more time to think. -As a consequence, she didn’t repeat asking me any of the sentences. I need to teach her better. 

The sentences are in Anki for my own practice. I even got a different language partner on Hellotalk to say the sentences. Using iPad and Mac, the sound file can be downloaded into as a .WAV into iPad, then airdropped into Mac where I manipulated it the file in audacity. I saved the WAV file and transferred the file over to my PC. Oddly enough, I couldn’t open the WAV file in adobe audition. Not to worry - I used the PC version of audacity to turn it into an mp3 file. From this I created a .srt file using workaudiobook app, used subs2SRS to create individual MP3 of each sentence and create the tsv file to be imported into anki. 

Next week is a trip to Chengdu. I definitely feel my accent has gotten a bit better. Even after not really nor practicing the language, I am pulling out the words and flow better albeit with the Cantonese accent. I believe I am getting better. Another italki teacher who knows Cantonese and Mandarin said certainly my pronunciation is better than a lot of HK people trying to speak Mandarin. 

Back to practicing with anki. 

edit. Just noticed this blog has had 687k + views! What’s so interesting?? LOL. 



4Q 2022

4Q 2022

Still revisiting old lessons on HSK 4 book. Nice to forget and go over the material again. Some details I didn’t realise can be reinforced. 

My 聽力 really isn’t that good. Metaphors are over my head. I sort of keep a feel of the sentence for its meaning. If I try to translate, it is just so slow and I can’t keep up with the next sentence. 

I have been getting Hellotalk language partners to discuss some new vocabulary with me. That’s working ok.


Met a new person to do face to face language exchange. She’s serious and also has the PSC 1B cert. it was just free talk for me with adding extra new vocabulary however, that vocabulary seemed more easily reinforced because of the local context in everyday life in Hong Kong. 

For her side, she said she wanted better English. What do you do with someone who uses English on a daily basis at work?? In the end, I decided to teach her mainly intonation and rhythm on some of the sentences that she spoke to express the emotions better. Guess what……..she loved it! I’m like “huh??”


Found this YouTube content. It’s one of the few I enjoy.




3Q 2022

3Q 2022

Basically I did nothing for three months. 

I went to no listening and no exposure from July onwards. I was in Malaysia and used English or Cantonese there, possibly more Cantonese. Just the odd smattering of mandarin here and there when I need to. There, many of the 20’s and under group only speak mandarin. Their knowledge of dialects is decreasing markedly.


I went back to Hellotalk a couple of weeks ago for some random chats and my tones were very Cantonese. I could recalibrate fairly quickly when the person on the other end corrected me.


 I got a bit tired of electronic flash cards. Decided to go old school and write characters and notes on a paper card. Picked up a few characters and the vocabulary I pick up from one language exchange I recite with another partner. It’s a nice change to physically write characters. Hopefully, there is some benefit on the imprinting in the brain process. 


One conversation was quite unproductive. I spent more than half an hour listening to one lady’s marital (mainly childcare) issues in her English but very little Chinese coming back. The good thing is, the topic is a great ice breaker during language exchange. I can gradually build up more vocabulary with repetition when speaking to different people using the same topic. Seems quite an enjoyable topic for those who have children. Limited English doesn’t seem to be an impediment to expressing one’s feelings on this topic.


Maybe what I should do is take new vocabulary from lessons or past notes and just try to use them on language partners in a very informal way. Not just have random conversations and hope what comes up commonly will come round again. 



2Q 2022

2022 就快來

Informal Group sessions

I participated in a zoom call with other language learners. There were six of them either learning English or Japanese. One other native mandarin speaker. It was a nice distraction to listen to Japanese. 

I also did a group practice mandarin class hosted in New York. I sent in some details of my learning and my aims to see whether they would accept me. All along, I have never sought to connect to other learners of mandarin except for this forum. For example, when I attended LTL small group class, my feel for the language is smoother compared to the others and I felt I might demoralise them. For the New York group, I was a bit nervous as I had selectively forgotten to tell them I am based in HK. Would that be OK?

The group leader was really good in leading the session. She started off with recounting in mandarin about what she did in the previous week which was her son’s birthday. I volunteered to translate (surprisingly around 95% comprehension) and also introduce myself using Mandarin. In fact, they do have a couple of people from England that also sometimes join. Others have to chip in with stories and some didn’t. I explained usually I learn on my own but thought it would be a good idea to connect to more learners in a different way and also hear what sort of vocabulary they use. 

This group comprises of mostly overseas Chinese. A couple of them look quite senior. Some didn’t say anything nor show their faces. Some have a bit of HK connection so I can contribute a bit on the local HK comings and goings. It’s a bit difficult to gauge with some people remaining silent but so far I think I am one of the better ones.


I am a person that gets massive downphases in learning due to frustration of no progress. Hopefully, this group helps reduce that frustration because not only am I learning, but also can help in assisting others. The cultural similarities to other heritage learners helps massively. 


1Q 2022

2022 就快來

As omicron ravages through HK, work has got much quieter. I myself came down with the virus a few weeks ago and suffered moderate cold symptoms and some bronchitis. One result of the omicron surge is more time for self study. 

Face to face lesson plan


Just before the present outbreak, I did go for an assessment. I wanted to give myself a good kick in the backside to make a breakthrough and decided in-person small group lessons could provide the necessary stimulation (despite the extra expense) and found a language school recommended to me by a contact. This person had spent time in China and speaks English, French, Dutch and German but found Chinese a totally different proposition. If a person such as him recommends a school (after trying out others), then I could do no worse than try out his school!


The assessment went quite alright. It was just a conversation using mandarin (with my dreaded 港腔) explaining learning objectives, desire for face to face interactions, accent problems and vocabulary limitations. They explained their learning structure with small group classes and videos of online homework - IMO, a good thing to force me to do more. 

The assessment put me at HSK4. Nobody else signed up for that level making the small group class effectively a one on one. Not a bad deal though the hours would be decreased slightly. Naturally, most demand would be for beginner to low level intermediate classes. 

Unfortunately, social restrictions came into effect a couple of weeks before we were to start. I was offered online lessons, but I declined for two reasons: a) the primary desire was face to face, b) if I go online, I might as well go for italki lessons which would be significantly cheaper. 


Back to italki  (pro)


This time, I changed my learning strategy and went back to italki after a long break. The vast majority of previous italki lessons have been community tutors and we go through conversations with me trying to converse. The idea was common vocabulary comes up often so I learn like a SRS style. 


However, this time, I have decided to take a package of lessons and go through a textbook with a professional tutor to force me to be more systematic in learning basic grammar and vocabulary. I am three weeks (one lesson per week) into it and try to read the material and do the exercises in advance. It’s HSK 4 level.

Back to italki (comm)


One lesson a week is not enough. I have included a community tutor to work with for some general conversations. I have decided that total Chinese immersion is not necessary and sometimes just a bit of English from me will greatly facilitate the class. 

As mentioned before, I have the 港腔 problem. A new community tutor caught my eye being 土生土長 北京人 and advertising 北京話. To be clear, I am not going for 北京話 - my purpose is to try and get a bit of overemphasis on a northern accent to decrease the effect that Cantonese has on my speaking mandarin.

Our first lesson went pretty poorly. She didn’t have earphone and microphone (said it was broken) and the quality of sound was very poor with a bit of echo effect. In a way, that forced me to concentrate more on the listening and trying to work out what she was saying. I believe I am her first student on italki and me being a bit blunt, told her to use an earphone and mic next time.

Sound aside, I took control of the lesson. Firstly we had some general chat. She identified my sentence construction problems and I asked how to structure the sentences better. Normally for me, an italki tutor will simply type out the vocabulary I don’t know and move on. This time, I wanted her to type out the full sentence and I try to practice more than a few times. This gives me translation from English to Chinese in my own thoughts. 


With other tutors, the pace has been quite fast with lots of material covered. I think I have a feel of Chinese fluency from Cantonese which makes tutors think I can handle input fast (they are very mistaken). This time, I have been more careful to try and slow down the pace aiming for better retention of a smaller amount of material and concentrating on obvious areas for speech improvement. After about another 30 mins of this class, I deliberately stopped and said to go back to the beginning and revise the sentences again rather than just keep adding more.

We created ‘only’ 13 sentences. With new vocabulary and trying to improve the characteristics of speaking, it was enough for a first lesson. Remember, quality over quantity. 

She’s given me a post lesson recording of the sentences- I reminded her again to use the 北京味儿. Also for the Chinese sentences, she marked out the words which I have difficulty with - either fluency, intonation or pronunciation. It’s for me to do the practice using my computer. 

For the next lesson, I have explained that I want to go through these sentences again. Her role will to ask me one the English sentences at random and I try to parrot off the Chinese in a way that would become semi-automatic. She will also help fix pronunciation problems. If you say I could use Anki, you would be right. That’s part of the plan. 


Being her first student is pretty good because, a) she’s more diligent in making a good impression, and, b) her prices are less expensive.


Audio software 


I can’t believe I just discovered the function of slowing down speech in audio software but keeping the pitch. Maybe I did in the past but just got overloaded with all the amount of audio material that I collect and forgot to use it. I am using Audition to slow the sentences down and sometimes isolating parts of the sentence to hear them clearly. I find slowing down 1.5x for practice keeps most of the quality- any slower and the voice quality starts to change. This feature is also in audacity if anybody is interested. Again, I am working on fewer sentences but trying to improve the quality of each sentence. 


Other things


To pass some time, I did buy a TV box which giving access to a lot of channels. I tried watching some drama material but again the amount of new vocabulary was just overwhelming. Even though I am listening, many times I miss the meaning because of different words being pronounced similarly and I don’t have enough context.


I have played around with Hellotalk speaking to a few people. Generally good for chit chat practice rather than actual learning. One person said to me oh, you’re the first person who can speak more than a bit of Chinese. She said the people she’s spoken to before have only been able to say a few sentences and then give up with the rest of time in English- I remember me doing that as well. Because of that, I actually had left Hellotalk deleting my profile. Rejoined it again a year later after I had some improvements. Now it’s more equal but I struggle a lot with unknown vocabulary. 

In summary, the plan for is systematic learning via textbook structure, semi systematic learning via targeted conversations with community tutor, general chilling with other media and not getting frustrated with the amount of vocabulary I don’t know. 


A better 2022…..hopefully

2022 就快來

2022 comes around in a months time. What’s the plan?


1) For a start, I thought I should get a better hold of grammar patterns. 



Having a bit of structure is nice. So subdividing the grammar into HSK categories makes it feel a bit more systematic. 

2) Rather than just playing with the sentences in anki, I thought it might be a good idea to listen to a recording of the sentences first and drill them. What’s different to Glossika method? Glossika throws sentences at you at random. Listening to a set recording of the same grammar pattern but different sentences keeps it simpler to makes you the same grammar pattern across different sentences.

I found someone on HelloTalk to do the recordings. This person has a broadcasting degree and is also doing a PhD.   I be lending a hand in academic English in return for recordings and pronunciation training. Definitely a good find. 

3) to get the sentences, I took the anki deck and exported it as a text file. This was then imported into excel. Took less than five minutes to get all the sentences for HSK four from the anki deck into a nice organised list. The list was given to the hellotalk partner who has started reading them into voice files. I asked her to emphasize the tones so that when I listen and shadow, the tone is imprinted better into my memory. So far, she’s done about 120 sentences of very high quality. I will attach a sample later 

4) A prize find is this channel. Thank you @amytheorangutan! I have just started on this and I really enjoy the presenters style. She uses animation, hands and expressions quite cleverly. I also like her use of vocabulary in story telling. This particular link shows use of 過來 and 過去. I thought I had it pretty clear already but the additional examples and explanation gave extra vocabulary and extra depth to the learning. 



For example 失去了意識, 場景. 

Originally I had just started going through Chinesepod but I have dropped that now in preference for this channel for building up grammar and vocabulary. 





It was a crappy 2020.


Not really sure that I improved very much but it was a busy year. Hopefully 2021 will be better.


What should I be doing?


Converting the rest of original Glossika to Anki cards and using them for listening practice.


Found a deck based on Allset  grammar - let’s have a look and listen to that -  https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/782551504


There is another for Chinese listening drills - https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/1405939111


After that, umm, I don’t have a fully structured plan - Maybe take up some lessons again. Plans are doomed to failure with me especially when it comes to Chinese.


I think what I would like to do is to build up a whole load of anki notes that have audio  and have them available as one grand deck. Whenever words that you want to drill come up, then the note can be copied into another deck. Obviously some supposedly common words might not have that many sentences so, then perhaps working with a native speaker to get example sentences would be good. Copied notes can be closed as well.



A few weeks of glossika

Six weeks of Glossika. What have I learnt?


it takes a long time to enter the Glossika sentences from pdf to an excel spreedsheet. This the time limiting step.

I had to clean up the anki pack as there were some mistakes in transferring the sentences. Because I reloaded the data again from the beginning, I got extra doses of the simple sentences. However, this did mean getting more reciting practice. 

Although I started anki to get some practice with pronunciation, thinking about grammatical structures is getting easier.


Been though about 250 sentences so far and managing to keep on top of things. 




Switched to pronunciation for a while

It's been one of those down phases. I am just really lazy without the environment giving me a kick up the proverbial backside.


Changing things around a bit, I changed to practicing speaking skills. 


Materials - old glossika mp3 Chinese Beijing

Process - a) copy the sentences from PDFs into excel list (takes time)

b) create  srt from the mp3 GMS C (very easy and quick)

c) process the srt and mp3 in subs2srs to create individual sentences from the mp3 and the tsv file (UTF 8 )

d) to get the English sentences into the tsv file, I select all the data in the tsv file and paste into excel. Add another column on the right with the corresponding English sentence. Select all the data in excel, copy and paste back into the tsv file replacing the original data. 

e) import into Anki

f) setup the recall card showing English. Answer card is set to show the Chinese and plays audio ten times.




This way, I am practicing simple sentence construction. My spoken mandarin is a bit weird because I frequently translate in my head from both English and Cantonese to Mandarin. All of these sentenxe


I also do shadowing. After some multiple reps of sets of ten, I have been reviewing the sentences with a Mandarin speaker after practicing. I get feedback such as tone is a bit off, a word might be articulated too loudly, rhythm is off.



If comparing to starting straight away trying to be perfect with a teacher with an unfamiliar sentence, it feels more comfortable practicing with anki and then fine tuning. 




Some progress.

Trying to improve listening skills is a tedious process. Humans being naturally impatient skip over listening skills. Yes. Guilty as charged. 


Over the last month, I have been reviewing my anki cards made from Growing Up With Chinese 成长汉语. (See my earlier blog post). It's also an exercise in tidying up the cards with timings of sounds and clarifying some of the translations cards.


I try to intensely concentrate on each sound and try to mentally note down each softer, harder and dropped sounds. Mentally, it's very tiring. I try to do at least a few cards each time I open anki and then over one day, I give it a go perhaps three times.


It's hard to give objective measures of development but definitely random listening seems much easier than before, mainly applied to standard Mandarin There's also serms to be a slightly better feel for the language 语感 which enables me to guess at the overall meaning of a sentence even without knowing all the individual words. All in all, it's very encouraging.


Do I actually know more vocabulary? I don't think so at least not on an active recall basis. I haven't been actively learning vocabulary. I just look up words in the card that I don't know but don't write them down nor store them.


Intermediate level spoken Mandarin is easier to understand (YouTube videos). Increasingly, range of vocabulary, is starting to feel like the rate limiting step.


Spoken drama is still out of my range. My eyes are irresistibly drawn to the subtitles similar to rocket locked on target.


Talking with people is very interesting. In practice, I speak very little to other people using Mandarin. I don't do weekly chats, my chats are on an ad hoc basis and less than once a week. Like really random. It's not an area that I am focussing on at present. However, with the better listening,  I can follow the speed of speech much better and work out parts which I am unsure about much faster. 


When it actually comes to myself speaking, my fluency seems to have improved. Words that I know are coming into my head faster and coming out better. I am not sure if my pronunciation has improved or whether the better flow and intonation is helping the other party understand me better. It's probably a greater proportion of the latter. 


Future directions?


1) continue with 成长汉语 up to about episode 70


2) go through some Chinesepod lower intermediate with the same methodology. I.e. create flashcards and create listening practice cards. When do flashcards for listening stop being useful. Maybe at upper intermediate level? Someway to go for that.


3) I discovered I like instructional videos I.e. those that teach a skill, so cooking is a good one. At some point, I will need to sit down and fully concentrate on a five minute segment and learn all the sentences. That is, if the background music isn't too intrusive. 


4) dramas - lots of learning materials but it looks like I am not at the level to make them appealing. 


5) discipline myself to go through the lessons in my listening comprehension books of 发展汉语


6) sort of unrelated but maybe six months time really having a blast at pronunciation accuracy within spoken sentences. This will definitely need a tutor. I have my methodology but that is for another post.



Edit: forgot to mention, for the listening practice, I am trying to practically memorise each sentence. Good results have been reported by other forum members using this methodology. 


Unfortunately I went through another hiatus in learning. It seems to be a character trait that I go through periods of being good and taking a rest when learning Mandarin as a hobby.


Here's a list of useful links to posts and articles (to be continually updated) in no particular order. Reading back in Chinese forums helps me get interested again. It just shows how much we can read and learn, yet still forget.




1) List of everyday topics to discuss. Practicing discussing about these topics with different teachers or language partners. One can practice the same topic with different people to gradually increase fluency and also increase vocabulary around that topic.


2) How to make best use of an online tutor. Lots of practical advice by @NinjaTurtle

Note: many useful learning strategies in this thread.


3) transcription project. Lots of subtitle materials from shows that you makes searching for content much easier. Also refer to Best way to Use Chinese film / transcripts


4) Accent Improvement: more natural sounding tones - phenomenal post showing the amount of detail that one can analyse ones own tones for that holy grail of sounding native-like. Of relevance, refer to this Towards Better Tones in Natural Speech where one needs to stress the correct tone on key words when speaking to sound more natural whereas some other parts of a sentence, it's not so important. Some important practical advice here.


5) Honorifics in Chinese - this links to a Chinese honorifics wiki entry. I played with this a bit when communicating with newly met mature people on Hellotalk. Excellent resource and when you use it (and get it right), the feedback is pretty satisfying


6) Getting out of a listening rut - a very good thread that makes interesting observations on why a person may have much more difficulty listening despite a lot of effort. The most enlightening post is here on a 12th page.


7) Effective exercises for learning with a private tutor - not to be confused with 2) which has different strategies. Rote learning is an important way to success. A nice recommendation by @Tomsima for this book which I don't have, but learning some idioms for situational dialogues makes a whole world of difference.


8)Looking for more anki based material? It's here in the Subs2SRS Anki Deck Index


9) Transcribing Mandarin as a learning method. Lovely description by @Publius of the transcribing method. A further detailed description in here by @imron. A forum member posts their experience


10) Worst advice when learning Mandarin - third point is great!


11) Drilling tones - takeaway advice is a lot of drilling on the same sentence is required. Chorus method requires drilling more than 20-30 times and this really opened up my insight. For some reason, I am quite happy to do the same amount of repetitive drilling in sports but felt in languages, it should be easier. Not so - you need to put your time in and no short cuts.


12) Getting new vocabulary and syntax from chinese media. One of my favourite threads which contains the detail of how to use subs2srs to make anki cards from media


13) WorkAudioBook – a tool for listening practice (and subtitle creation) how to create .srt files and then troubleshooting the import into anki process


14) Independent Chinese study: review . The most popular post in Chinese-forums. How to learn Chinese away from formal classes. Simply awesome.


15) How to language exchange - this youtube video details the learning process of language exchange. It's the only video that I have seen that details the exact process within a language exchange session - further explanation with respect to input and techniques. Most other people talk about what you should do to find or keep a language partner rather than the content of how to learn within a session. Getting lots of commands can reinforce the acquisition process.


16) An interesting way and fun way to develop more interactions with people and helping your language skills.


17)Listening skills for northern accents, and southern accents


18) The process of using a movie to help your Chinese listening


19)  Mandarin YouTube videos to watch (link added on 1/1/2021)


Practice listening skills - beginner or intermediate?

I have been quiet but then decided to do some self studying.


Here's a little project I have been doing for listening skills. See if it helps you


I prepared some Growing up with China flashcards as a training listening deck.


Why did I pick this series?


- available on Youtube

- text and translation easily cut and from here - https://hanyufanting.com/category/other/growing-up-with-chinese/

- Short, manageable dialogue to prepare

- sometimes two versions of the same sentence being said - the dialogue from the actors and the host ( Charlotte MacInnis ) repeating it.

- said to be beginner level but I tell you when I really was a beginner, I couldn't make head nor tail of what they were saying because of.....

- they speak at native speed but short sentences

- the actors sometimes speak with words slurred together or using erhuayin which perhaps is more real life like; not typical standard mandarin teaching material


How are the Notes within the deck arranged?


- The pinyin and traditional characters were inserted using Anki's chinese pack. The pinyin maybe incorrect in places

- The recall and recognition cards are hidden

- A new card called "listening" was created - this will repeat the sentence automatically five times so if you didn't get it the first time of listening, you don't have to waste time pressing anki to repeat the audio. If after five times, you want to listen again, then use Anki to replay the audio and you get another five chances.

- Reveal the back of the card - it gives all the information and then repeats the sentence another 10 times to burn the sentence pattern into your brain.

- if it's not enough, use the command within Anki to replay the audio.

- if you want to practice shadowing the sentence, then replay the audio and you will get another 10 repeats. If you want 50 repeats, you will only use the Anki replay command five times. 100 repeats would be replaying ten times. So you can very easily build up numbers of repetitions.


Some sentences were really hard. I have one language wechat group and I would play the sentence to the group  and ask them what they heard. I would do this to try and confirm the subtitles with the audio. Sometimes I would get different answers but mostly the subtitles would be correct and I would be thinking "what the heck......"


So far I have done episodes 26 to 30. See what you make of it and what you get out of it




GUWC 26-30.apkg



I just came back from a conference in Beijing. Second trip ever there.


I wasn't able to use as much Mandarin as my trip to Qingdao a few weeks ago. That was because I went up with some people who could speak better Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese so I couldn't be forced to problem solve in Mandarin as much as in Qingdao. 


I went down to the wangfujing bookstore and spent a lot on books. Hope I will make good use of them. A few graded readers, textbooks on listening skills and a few books on learning from sitcoms. Should keep me busy for a few years.


I tried to arrange a badminton lesson with a coach. It nearly worked but he cancelled saying his mother had needed to go to hospital the evening before. Unfortunately, it was not possible to arrange for something else. 


I met up with some of my Beijing based "language partners". Actually, these people are not true language partners in the sense that we only communicate infrequently. I regard them as friends with an interest in English. I don't have anybody who I regularly have exchange verbal conversations with once I am at home.


Some observations on learning experiences :


- bars are too noisy, but there was a cylinder marked as 二氧化碳。A quick looked up in pleco confirmed it was carbon dioxide. 苹果酒 is cider so that was very useful.


- Went for a few meals. One of them was with a almost fluent English speaker. Loved the way I could listen to the staff and she could provide an instant repetition and clarification. For example, we were waiting in the queue for a table with a number and I thought they called out our queuing number (六六 as an abbreviation of 六十六). I was in about a 70% tuned in mode. In fact, they had called out number 60 - 六十零 dropping the sh- and -ng sounds. Since there was a few other tables still to be called out, I had the chance to carefully listen again.


- another couple of occasions I met up with minimal verbal English skill speakers. Lots of Mandarin spoken by them but not much comprehension on my side. Good for passive learning.



All in all, yes I learnt some more Mandarin but I think my experience in Qingdao was better due to me needing to sort out things for myself more there. Also, it was not easy to switch to English in Qingdao, Beijing is easier for that. Looking forward to going through those books.


Up and down

Practicing and learning Chinese has been inconsistent recently. I haven't had much time at my computer.


I still try to keep the Mandarin radio on. Even though I have it on much more than any other language, I don't really understand much more after four years.


I continued with creating a couple more decks from the Growing up in China series. Each episode had about 30-40 sentences. That's pretty manageable.


I now have the audio for the John Defrancis textbooks. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the books. My closest uni library has a couple so hopefully I can get some time to borrow them. I have been a fool. I never thought to try and look for Chinese learning books in the library. I am an alumini of the university and can easily get access to the library. There seems to be some other gems there.


Glossika Mandarin - this is a bit disappointing. I think I don't fit the product. Here are my gripes after about more than 40 sessions at A2 level. It is extremely annoying to have incomplete translations or to have sentences that rely heavily on context. There is just enough of these sentences to throw me off. For example, there is an English sentence which says "I am new around here" and the equivalent Chinese sentence could be about moving house or department. I think it is too vague especially as one is supposed to listen to the L1 and then think of how to say it in L2. We can flag these sentences up and report them but whether glossika actually listens is another matter. In principle, if you are paying USD 30 per month and acting as a scrutinizer for their sentences, I think that it is taking things a bit far.


Next is the method itself. For me as a learner, trying to follow native speed is impossible. My voice deteriorates into a mumble. My ten year old uses Mandarin at school everyday and her comment on the recordings was "they speak fast". I threw this issue out to their Facebook community and people said I haven't done enough reps. This got me thinking a bit more. Just how good are people's Mandarin after many reps? Yes, maybe your inherent knowledge of grammar is better. Your fluency may be better but can you be understood trying to speak garbled Chinese? What if someone could not understand you and you wanted to slow your speech down. You wouldn't be able to separate the words out clearly as a back up option. In my mind , this would adversely limit the communication process.


There is also another issue which I learnt from my sports as a player and coach. You simply cannot get people up to speed in a new technique, even in a sport they are familiar with. You have to give them enough reps at one time and gradually build up the speed. . Moreover, we don't do two reps and then change to a different technique for two reps and change to another technique for two reps and so on. Why not? Because it doesn't work like that! Different people also work at different speeds. Coaches at an amateur level do reps of ten, have a break, and another ten reps and so on. Later, we start introducing sequences of patterns.



Adult learners are also not so refined at their sports coordination - those that are are a small proportion. So, is it reasonable to expect native language speed when learning an L2? The mouth, for Lost people, simply cannot articulate fast enough. Some people don't even speak their L1 that quickly. I am quite happy to speak slower, but more clearly and smoothly. 


Glossika doesn't give the option of more than two reps of a sentence at a single time. That means you haven't been able to speak a sentence smoothly before moving on. Although the sentence comes round again later in the algorithm, you start almost from the beginning again when it comes round. 


So, for glossika Mandarin, I have my doubts on whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. For verbal fluency practice, it doesn't seem to be the right product for me. For helping listening skills, I think it is quite OK.


*Note - this post was written two weeks ago but only published today.


Radio Ga Ga

It's Easter holidays and like a good boy, I have been trying to do some homework in between some nostalgic moments of watching Queen on Live Aid. 


I upgraded my OS to windows 10. Windows 7 o' faithful servant I will miss you.


I had to reinstall Anki and it's been upgraded to 2.1 which is a little different and needed a bit of time to work out. The Chinese pack has a different name. I tweaked the chinese note format import from . tsv to make things a bit more efficient.


I created one extra anki card type - a listening card. It shows nothing visually and only plays the  audio sentence five times. After the 'answer' button is pressed, it shows all the information and plays the audio another ten times. The initial five times is for repeated listening so you don't have to keep pressing buttons and wasting time to hear the audio again. Whilst listening, I also pay attention to the rhythm and tones. After the answer is shown, the audio repeats ten times, again do that you don't have to keep pressing 'repeat audio' when reading the characters and trying to figure out the proper tones in a sort of native speaker style. If I want to shadow practice, then it's very easy to get multiples of ten reps by simply pressing the 'repeat audio'.


I mentioned in another thread I dug out some old anki cards on Growing up With Chinese and found my listening comprehension had improved a lot. I had only created notes up to episode 46. In my previous run of note creation, I had omitted out Mike's and Charlotte narrative voice. I think that might have made things less helpful. Because hearing different voices use the same vocabulary is also beneficial. Thus my new direction is to try and finish the series and redo the earlier ones to include Mike's and Charlotte's voice. 


I have made three extra episodes. I notice some of the scripts are slightly inaccurate and some o

words are incomprehensible. In order to check, I record that sentence on to wechat and send it to my very nice italki tutor in Beijing (where the series is set) for verification.


Returning back home away from the immersive Mandarin environment has its disadvantages. With the two italki sessions last week, fluency has definitely gone down and language interference from Cantonese has gone up. It's good to know these things are malleable so during the next visit in China, some more improvement will come.


I do think that effort in shadowing , revising tones and pronunciation has helped. I watched some italki videos of language teachers who speak non-native Mandarin in their introduction. Compared to those who have only learnt online, I think I compare quite favourably. I'm not as good as those who have lived in and studied degrees in China.


Been a bit naughty and not done my glossika training for a few days. I don't quite Iike that there are only two reps before a new sentence comes up. Although it does repeat later, I prefer a couple more reps continuously. Hence why I designed my anki cards to repeat the audio more times for each card. I paid for glossika so I better use it. Just how other users can get up to 70k+ reps is amazing. Saw it mentioned one person went through the whole Taiwan course and now doing the Mandarin Beijing course. Phenomenal.


Did I do better?

Despite learning Chinese Mandarin, I don't get the chance to use it very often. I get the feeling of minimal progress.


I haven't really been watching many intermediate learning materials since my last post. A bit boring for my liking...


I wasted a lot of time on the hellotalk app. Being a native English speaker is a big advantage when learning Chinese. Eventually, I decided to tell people I am only interested in talking verbally and real time conversation. This proved helpful in screening out quite a number of people who just wanted a friendly text chat with a foreigner. I tend to screen out people who have a strong 南方 accent though Taiwanese are fine. In the end HT is just an area for practice and I cut down my time on it.


For learning, I have been using Glossika. 25% through the A1 course. It's a bit boring but I stick with it. I don't like that it only gives two reps of a sentence. I prefer 3 or 4 at one time. Does it have an effect? I think it is hard to say for me - maybe a longer duration of practice would help.


I recently dug out some old ankicards that I made long ago. These were made from the Growing up in China series. I remember I had tremendous difficulty in following the speech at time of making them. Well, amazingly, I found my listening comprehension is definitely much better. There are words which I forgot but definitely relearn much better and it's much less frustrating.


I recently went to Qingdao for business and badminton. Initially a bit apprehensive yet looking forward to trying out the field experience. Last time I was by myself in China was two years ago in Guangzhou and I fell back to using Cantonese much of the time.


Pleased to say I didnt really have any major problems using the language for day to day life. Of course there were the trip-ups. What I particularly liked was I had to use the language for some simple problem solving which sharpens the mind considerably. Although there is still a lot to learn in terms of extending conversations, the initial handling of issues went quite smoothly. I had a couple of nice conversations with taxi drivers and made a large number of wechat contacts from playing badminton. I played a lot of amateur competitions in the past and when I played my trickshots on this trip, they were really well received. Of course, there was also the novelty factor of being an overseas Chinese.


So a great morale booster that there is some progression and I got a lot of extensive listening experience even though I didn't understand all of it.


Wouldn’t it be good...

....is a favourite song of mine by Nik Kershaw.


Wouldn’t it be good to just get a bit of time to oneself just to study without life getting in the way.  It’s been very busy.


At at least I have glossika to fall back on. It’s now very convenient - connect up my earphones, go into the browser on my phone and start the course. If I don’t finish, then do some reps later at another time.


So far I have managed about five days out of seven for the last three weeks. Nice. 


卡特家庭 5: 在超市) | Level 3 | Chinese



卡特家庭 5: 在超市) | Level 3 | Chinese


Methodology recap : listened a few times not looking at subtitles. Watched the video to help context. 



guessed meaning, characters known

放进 put in

过道 aisle

汽水 fizzy drink


Couldn't guess meaning, characters known. 

放进去 to put inside

放回去 to put back


Guessed the meaning pretty well, didn't know words before

架子 shelf

薯片 crisps

收银台 cashier's counter 


Previously completely unknown 


皱了一下眉头  wrinkled eyebrows (frowned) 

耸肩 shrug shoulders

曲奇饼干 - apparently usually it's 曲奇 for cookie and 饼干 for biscuit. The two words (four characters) are rarely used together.



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