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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


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 16 times to burn the sentence pattern into your brain.

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

- if you want to practice shadowing the sentence, then replay the audio and you will get another 16 repeats. If you want 80 repeats, you will only use the Anki replay command five times. 160 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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