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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


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. 



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