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About this blog

I'm starting this blog because sometimes I feel like saying something about (my) Chinese learning that isn't really worth a forum post or is not a question. Somewhere to document my progress. It has been just about exactly a year now of consistent work, so I'm interested to see where my 普通话 is next New Year's holiday. I will try to use this space to post some interesting things I find along the climb!

Entries in this blog


Saving money on classes


I decided to make a change regarding teachers. After having studied for quite a while with teachers in the 18-22usd an hour range I decided to experiment with finding a cheaper main teacher. Six weeks ago I found a teacher charging 10usd/hr to go through the Hsk 4 book with. She has a nice standard accent(哈尔滨)and is engaging. I also found 2 teachers that charge 5usd/hr. to do discussion/speaking only exercises with topics I provide them.


The last "pricey" teacher I had was more skilled and experienced, but probably only 20 percent "better". Now I can have 4 lessons a week for less than I was paying for 2 lessons. In the end I think the loss in quality, is outweighed by more time spent listening and speaking.


奋斗 fèn dòu


I'm really enjoying the 奋斗 series, which I found on a forum thread here listing various tv programs with descriptions and levels. This is my first time following a Chinese drama. While it is definitely above my level, it's still comprehensible. The way I've been attacking it is to first watch each scene without stopping and get what I get. I then go back and pause each sentence and read the 汉字. I look up a minimal amount of words. The ones that seem very useful / hsk 4-ish level / easy to remember / or keep coming up - I add to my srs. Next, I re-watch the whole scene again without pausing. Finally, I watch the whole episode(45 mins). I'm on episode 5 of 32 so far.


For me 奋斗 almost perfect: Tons of Northern accented Mandarin, all kinds of everyday situations(restaurants, arguments, home, work, bowling and barbecuing,...) engaging story, cool characters, scenery of Beijing 15 years ago. The one con is that they sometimes speak very, very quickly, but I expect that can only help my listening skills. 

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real world

A while back I watched a unit in YoYo Chinese upper intermediate video course where they went to a restaurant in Beijing and ordered duck. Just for the hell of it and to go somewhere I haven't been, I emailed them and asked for the name of the restaurant. They wrote back telling me it was 青年餐厅( qīngnián) Fēngtái branch and the other day I finally got around to taking the subway down there. Turned out to be EXCELLENT roast duck! My wife is not a fan of duck, so I got a half all to myself. 半只 was 118块, not the cheapest, but not terribly expensive either. Service was great. I also had a little win moment in that I did all the ordering for myself and my wife, including some adjustments and requests - all the while the waitress did not once ask my wife for any clarification, confirmation, or even look her way?. It also reminded me that I don't go for duck often enough. So now I'm going to make it a point to try as many duck restaurants in Beijing as I can and see which one I like best. I already passed by a random one in a Hutong near 东四 and tagged the location in my phone, so that will be next.



3 year progress video

progress video

Today marks exactly 3 years from the day I signed up for my first Chinese course, studying Beginning Chinese. I’ve studied at least an hour, pretty much every day since then. I made a video of me speaking to record my progress. Still cannot speak very fast, but I’m not reading from a paper or anything, just trying to speak from my mind. Feel free to point out any mistakes or problems.




It took me quite a while to knock these off since I only did one lesson a week with a teacher on this book. (I'm also busy working my way through Chinese Made easier - book 1 and 2 done, halfway through book 3.) I feel a sense of accomplishment having stuck with the BASIC series consistently and finishing the Spoken, Written and Practice books. I think it's a fantastic set of books and found lots that has been useful in real life. I also found it to contain quite a bit of language that I haven't come across in other places and even enjoyed some of the more "dated" vocab. The books ( especially the practice book) feels like a somewhat modernized version of FSI. I am now going to begin the Intermediate level books of the same series.

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The other day, my teacher gave me homework to write about the new tea tray I bought. Here's my writing followed by her corrections:




With corrections(my wrong sentence in parenthesis):



茶盘=tea tray 

过程 = process

潮州 = Chaozhou

古城 = ancient city

走道 = sidewalk

圆 = circle, round

陶瓷 = porcelain, ceramic

不锈钢 = stainless steel

功夫 = gong fu

英寸 = inches

厘米 = cm

厘米 = include

快递费 = delivery fee





May 2021 recording


It's been about six months since I last posted a recording, I've been studying and practicing a lot, but also busy with work. I think it's a decent amount of time to see if there's been improvements or 退步. So here's a short recording I made today. Did a few takes, but nothing written down. I don't know if the grammar is all correct or not. Feedback always welcome.





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A barrier broken through

I've achieved a big milestone recently. Up until the last few months my significant other(a native) would never speak mandarin with me. When I first started, I pushed it but she wouldn't budge. I let it go and decided not to push it anymore. Still had her mother to speak Chinese with.


As I've improved, expanded my vocabulary, grammar etc, I casually - even accidentally would slip in some mandarin and she kind of naturally started replying in mandarin. It has happened quite naturally. Lately she's even been starting conversations with me in Chinese sometimes. Also, if she says something in English to me that I want to hear in Chinese or that is well within my understanding, I say "再说一遍“, she's a good sport about it and says it again in Chinese. Other than that, I'm still not pushing it. I also don't bother her with grammar questions and the like. 


Right now I suppose it's 25 percent Chinese 75 English, but a huge change from zero. I'm sure as I continue to improve my skills the percentage will shift further.


One minute audio messages on WeChat

I didn't give up on my recording myself  speaking for one minute(I had posted several up here last year), I just found a better avenue for it! I found a tutor who sends me a question on WeChat every morning and I send her back an audio message (approx 1 minute in length) of my response. She then sends me corrections. I pay her 30 kuai a week for this. Today was the 50th answer. Sometimes her questions are above my level, but I find a way to answer. An example question: "家庭和事业哪一个让你更乐于投入时间和精力?“ I have found this very useful on several levels: I learn some new vocabulary, I think of an answer in Chinese, I have become more comfortable recording audio messages. Sometimes I pose the question to Chinese friends and get their responses.


1 minute(or so) of speaking > November

Have not posted a recording in a long while, so here goes. This one is done with no editing, no stopping the recorder, no reading. I realize there are of grammar mistakes and I am speaking very slowly. Not sure, but I do "feel" like I sound more natural than the last recording I posted. This was my 5th take.


The file is slightly over the max size, so I had to put it on a Dropbox link:






September update

Time to update this blog. I have been ridiculously busy with work coming back onboard. I have not stopped working on Chinese at all though. I was planning to post more "One minute speaking" recordings, but 1) I realized I was running through them 10 times to get a decent one without too many mistakes and I don't think that is best done unless someone checks the grammar first. 2) I thought it best to wait a while and see if there's any progress over a longer period before posting another. Now its been a few months, I may do another round soon.


I've been doing a lot of speaking practice in class and out on the street, learning characters, reading. listening -  I'm pretty happy with my progress the last 6 months. This last few weeks we've been working on an eating out chapter in my main textbook, so I've made a real point of ordering new(to me) dishes, getting them to modify my order, etc in order to practice what I'm learning. I travel a lot for work, so I ask my teacher what I should try here and there. It gives me a nice language practice mission each time.


I am going to 武汉 for work next week and it's doubly exciting because my teacher lives there. I told her I'm coming and we've arranged to meet for a meal. We have been studying together on Skype for just over a year so it will be really interesting, if weird to talk in person! I'm a bit nervous, but I don't want to pass up the opportunity. She's a great teacher too so the least I can do is 请老师吃火锅!


I'm going through the Growing Up With Chinese episodes much more slowly than i expected. Partially because I'm doing lots of other resources right now and partially because a 15 min episode takes me at least an hour to go through. I've just finished episode 25, 1/4 of the way through the whole lot. Great stuff and perfect for my level.


Been doing a lot of speaking practice on Italki lately. I send them a pdf of a few  chinesepod episodes dialog and and ask them to review/discuss them with me. It has proven to be a decent way to have something to talk about and reinforce what I learned in the episode.


Also joined a Language exchange chat group, which is super interesting and useful for extra listening speaking practice on all sorts of random stuff. I like to post audio messages on there so I can listen back and keep working on my pron.


How I'm going to use my speaking recordings

So I found a teacher on Italki and sent him the first of these recordings. I found a male with good standard pronunciation who is not very expensive. I told him i didn't want a lesson, but rather use the time to listen, correct any grammar, vocab or pronunciation mistakes. I also asked him to send back a recording of him saying the same (corrected version) dialog in his natural speaking voice and normal speed. I will then use this to shadow and work on better sentence intonation, speed, etc.


One minute of speaking 说一分钟

The project I am starting now (inspired by Imron's  https://www.chinesethehardway.com/article/train-what-you-want-to-learn/  ) is to record myself speaking about a topic freely - no reading, no stopping/starting Audacity and no editing out mistakes. I may record several times to listen for mistakes i can catch myself and trying to improve on it, choosing the best of the lot to post. I will try first to speak for one minute and gradually increase it. My aim is to improve my fluency, speed, pronunciation, grammar and vocab speaking about a topic. That being, for me, the most difficult aspect of learning Chinese.


I am going to post these on my blog to motivate me to keep doing this activity and maybe get some useful feedback as well.  Although I realize listening to a Lower Intermediate level 老外 is not a joy - feel free to listen if you feel like it and give any kind of feedback if you like.


Here goes, topic #1 慢跑 / Jogging

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Loads of free time to study lately

Time to get this back up to date. After spending a couple months in SE Asia and studying just a little everyday, it's amazing how just being back in country (days before the border closure) raised my motivation. With only a little work to do, and from home, I've spent loads of time on Chinese study. It's pretty cool to have hours and hours to study whatever i want I am using lots of different resources, but all at a similar level: 3 lessons a week with my teacher online doing CME, Chinesepod, Chinese Breeze, Mandarin Corner, Growing Up with Chinese, etc. No flashcards or vocab lists. I think i've raised my vocab and grammar flexibility by a good chunk in the last few months. I've also been weening myself off pinyin.




Chinese in 柬埔寨 ??

In Cambodia jian3pu3zhai4 at the moment. We were at Angkor Wat the other day and I  overheard somebody listening to Chinese vocabulary. It was a local Cambodian guy, I asked him if he was learning Chinese. He was. We had a little conversation in Chinese and I found it quite amusing to chat with him. I think we were roughly the same level.


I've also taken my mother in law to the grocery store and as we chat about what we're buying, other shoppers seem quite interested in us lol. Maybe they think we have the "you know what". We've been out for over a month and we don't thankfully. There's a lot of Chinese characters around on signs, some stores actually take Rmb and the souvenir stall type people have the basic bargaining in Chinese down. One woman was saying 五块 when she clearly meant 五十块。 And there pronunciation seems mostly just passable.


I've also seen quite a few private homes with the Chinese door decoration (don't know the name for that).


Lately Ive been doing about 3 hrs a day of very relaxed study with this period of free time.


Trying to get back into he swing

Well, I took about 10 days break from studying Chinese while the virus news started breaking. However, over the last week, I've resumed studying.  I'm still somewhat distracted and finding it harder to focus. Partially because of the virus and partially because I've temporarily left China, in S.E. Asia at the moment. But, I'm with my wife and mother in law, so there's still plenty of Chinese spoken around me. I've doing a lot of Chinese podcasts and other online study material. I probably did about 3 hours worth today. I have been keeping up my Skype lessons with my teacher, who lives in Hubei. She looks totally normal, but I still worry for her and feel sorry for her that she's locked down in her house. I think she enjoys doing the lessons though as something to keep her busy.


 I'm going to really try and take advantage of having no work this month and do as much Chinese study and practice as I can.


Finished recommended no. of 中文博客Elementary


Though I'm going to double it and go for 160. This includes going through the podcast, doing the audio review (using vocab in context) and recording my own version of the dialog. I will passively listen to Intermediate episodes while on subway, train while I work on the next 80 elementaries.


first day in a year not studying

I can't remember the last day I did no study/practice/listening/reading for at least an hour. Because I have an excrutiating hangover. Ok, i've done something. I just looked up the word for hangover 缩酒 su4jiu3. Maybe I can muster the energy to listen to a podcast on the subject.


The irritating "make a sentence with this word" technique

Due to my work schedule, I had to take a lesson with a different teacher than my usual one. She was friendly enough, but she did this common teacher thing that I find so irritiating: go through the vocab list before studying the unit and saying to me: "给我一个句子“。 I fail to see the point of me making a completely random sentence, with no context using 往返票 , 决定,etc。 I tried to explain to her that this was a useless activity. In the end I said lets just spend the rest of the lesson chatting. Pretty much a waste of a lesson. For the life of me I cannot see how a teacher thinks making a random sentence, with no prompts or anything to give you ideas, is a useful learning method. ?


Audio without looking at the text

So two months ago, I started NOT looking at the transcript when doing any kind of audio material. I found I was relying on the transcript and/or vocab list too much. I feel this has helped me a lot in being able to hear the tones of words in full sentences just from listening. It has also been helping me with more natural sentence intonation. I've gotten better at it over the last two months and only look at the script if absolutely stuck.

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