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Learn Chinese in China

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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. 


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Learning updates


Mandarin Lessons


My translation style tutor has taken some leave. I have already booked lessons for when she will be back which is going to be a couple of weeks time. I din't think I have been so keen on a tutor before (in a professional sense, of course).


Another tutor tried to get me to read out loud from the HSK4 - Actually, my pronunciation goes quite bad for familiar words when reading out loud. For example 爱好 I completely messed up and she flagged it as a word I can't pronounce properly. That hurt me a bit and I reacted by saying if you're going to get me to read, it's no different any other tutor especially when I reeled off a few sentences off the top of my head using 爱好  with the correct tones. We changed it around by her just saying the Chinese sentences from the book and I try to translate into English. I found that worked much better. Previously when I was asked to translate, I would have the written sentence in front of me which helped too much. Without the written sentence, I am forced to listen carefully and concentrate. This identifies my shortcomings much better in the areas of listening and speech which is where I primarily want to improve. I'm not too interested in reading or writing at this stage. There are so many chinese people who can read and write in English fairly well but find it difficult to use the language verbally. I want to avoid that situation but progress is slower. I have probably mentioned this in the past.





Hellotalk suddenly opened up their voiceroom feature to people in HK. It's a phenomenal feature and works differently to our normal ideas of language partner.


Voicerooms is where various users can open up a language room and others are free to join. Some who join the room prefer to remain as quiet partners, some would like to actively engage in conversation. I feel it benefits the intermediate learners better.


Let's say I join a Chinese (CN) voiceoom for learning Chinese. I found it's beneficial to have at least two native Chinese speakers (including the moderator) in the room to try to keep Chinese language on track. As many of the joiners are Chinese learners, the discussion tends to drift to English more for the discussions. I had better luck with the CN-EN voice rooms. Because of implied use of English, more Chinese people tend to join those rooms. A lot of the Chinese discussion goes over my head due to slower processing speed and limited vocabulary range. I try to listen for common words and those which come up a bit more frequently, I will ask the meaning. I have been in rooms as the only English native speaker and the others are Chinese. Definitely good Chinese listening practice if you're the type to hold your tongue a bit. I left one voice room where the talk was 80% dominated by a native English speaker speaking in English.


I did join one CN-EN room with only the moderator there. The girl spoke English pretty well ... so well that she would reply to all my Chinese in English. After a short discussion, I said sorry, for a voice room said to be CN EN, it's too much English and very little Chinese coming back and left the voice room. It didn't seem to phase her at all and no apology for not using Chinese. That's only the single case so far.


I notice when I speak, my pronunciation quality goes through up and downs even for the words I know well. When the sentence or vocabulary is a little difficult or unfamiliar, the pronunciation and tones go awry even for the words I am familiar with. Good to realise what's going on and I think the answer is simply more drilling.


Self drilling


For drilling exercises, courtesy of recommendations by  @TheBigZaboon , I found downloadable exercises on the tuttle website. I really want to get started on those. No written chinese to use was a crutch. Just pinyin which I tend to ignore anyway. I am thinking of creating Anki cards with the pinyin and audio and backcard has English. Can do a lot of shadowing like that and gives you a slightly random order to the exercises if you want that option. Later on, I could even work with a language partner to read the English sentence, and then I translate into Chinese. Given the positive feedback by @suMMit, I am pretty anxious to try this out in a more purposeful manner.


Ultimately, I am still working on basics, but trying to work them out much better. My rationale is if I can get the basics much stronger and automatic, I can add vocabulary far more easily to sentences. 




As documented in the past, motivation is a big weakness of mine accounting for prolonged breaks. Coming back this time, I feel a more sustainable type of motivation -  far better than in the past. Perhaps it's the confidence and belief instilled by the solely verbal cross translation technique. Perhaps it's the realisation of being able to actually use the language to communicate at a more natural speed adding to the confidence. Of course I do trip and stumble in my speech but I get back into saying what I want to say much more quickly and carrying on with my ideas. To be honest, it happens in English as well, I just don't notice it as much. Mainland China opening up for visits helps a lot. There's definitely two or more trips there next year emphasising that I really do need to use what I learn. 


I have noticed I am able to be more spontaneous to the native mandarin speakers that I know socially. There seems to be a critical level of knowledge of mandarin that you need to use with them before they will speak to you in mandarin. They need to be fairly sure that you are able to understand more or less what they say and they can only do that by judging the quality of output that you give. In the past, they would use cantonese or English with me practically straight away.


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