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chi_ren

Absolute beginner

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chi_ren

... well almost. Hi guys!! i am starting my degree in Modern & classical Chinese in September, and would like some advice as to where to start, before I get there. I spent 3 months in Shanghai earlier this year. so its not all totally new to me, but I have never formally learnt any Mandarin AT ALL! So where to begin? (I know this is a broad, vague question, that might be difficult to answer, but suggestions are very appreciated!) Thanks!

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Lu

I'm assuming you're going to take this degree in a university not in China. Does the university offer the classes of your program at your level, ie complete beginner? If so, don't worry, just make sure you go with the program, try to never miss class, do your homework, and you should be fine for quite some time. That's really the best advise I can think of for your situation. If you are worried, maybe you can call the people of the program and ask what they will expect of you.

The only thing that might be useful to do in advance is buying a good dictionary. For classical Chinese, I'd recommend the Mathews (big, black and Wade-Giles, but good for wenyan), for modern Chinese the bilingual Contemporary Chinese Dictionary, or else the Far East Chin-Eng dictionary. Other people will have other recommendations.

I hope this helps, if you have more specific questions, feel free to post them.

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chi_ren

Thanks so much for your reply!!

Well, I;m going to SOAS (in London) and yes, they teach from scratch, so I know I'll be OK so long as I put the work in. I've bought two books from the reading list, and I'm going to check out some dictionaries, including your suggestions. Many thanks!

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Lu

SOAS, oh wow, I'm jealous now... :-) Make sure to check out their library, I heard it's really great.

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chi_ren

haha, yea i checked it out already, its AMAZING! can't wait!

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Ari 桑

I agree, a good, highly interactive class is by far the best way to begin. Once you absorb the basics, things get fun, and you get to start exploring on your own. But a good teacher is where to start.

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lozolo

u'd better make a friend who from china,begin with talking,then u will know what should study

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OneEye

The most effective thing I've come across in studying the characters is using an SRS program. SRS stands for Spaced Repetition System and is like flashcards on steroids. This is a better explanation than I could hope to give.

I've been copying and pasting the most common 3000 characters, their pronunciations, and meanings into Mnemosyne and the program automatically chooses when to bring each character up again based on how well I've done on that character in the past. It also automatically makes me learn new characters at a rate of 20 per day (or whatever I choose to set it to), provided I actually make myself do so. Very easy to do, and very effective.

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madizi

SOAS. I enyy you. :wink: (for others, check this out: http://www.soas.ac.uk/)

It is also useful to write characters on a paper. This way you memorize them better and also learn how to write them and which parts (radicals or phonetics) are combined together in particular character.

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chi_ren

Thanks for your answers guys! :) I'm defintiely gonna check out that SRS thing, never heard of it before!

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johnnycab

I have been a lurker here for a while, so it is apt to start with a long post or rant - whichever suits you. But, I was compelled to post on this thread and might be breaking a bubble...

I have been attending SOAS for the last year and a half - studying Mandarin for 2 hours a week. I know the institution generally has a very good reputation and it was one of my reasons to go there. Sadly, I am at a loss to understand why and extremely dissapointed at the moment, because I cannot hold a basic conversation in Mandarin due to the way we are taught i.e. speaking part constitutes 10 minutes approx. of the lesson organised in the most haphazard fashion - mostly focusing on breaking down your confidence rather than positive encouragement. No history of the characters is provided - just a short clinical assessment of the tone, absolutely no writing is done in class.

I have bought a lot of books, dictionaries and language courses, but they do not help me too much as we follow the books recommended in some bizzare fashion - missing sections or skipping parts that the teacher finds hard to explain or rather cannot be bothered to go into. There is no feedback or anybody to speak to, as nobody really cares, as long as they get their money. As for the library - yes it has some good books, but it is hard to borrow the ones that you need, as they will always be on loan. If you reserve them, you would be lucky to keep them for 2 weeks before somebody recalls them.

I am still continuing partly due to the fact that I have made good friends with people on the group and might as well see the course to the end as I am not a quitter. It has nothing to do with the appalling quality of teaching or the non-existent support you receive.

To conclude, I would say this to the OP that I am not a full-time student there, so cannot comment on the quality of teachers for degree courses. I hope you are lucky enough to get good teachers and enjoy your learning experience.

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Chinese Learner

Hi,

I am about to move to Beijing soon to learn Mandarin and look for work but have only started to teach myself Mandarin (using Fluenz, the Rutgers University chinese multimedia site:http://chinese.rutgers.edu/index_e.htm and the book 'A Key to Chinese Speech and Writing by Joel Bellassen' and various other resources) recently. I do speak Cantonese though because I am half Chinese and have lived in Hong Kong for over twelve years in the past before I moved to the UK.

To my mind, I would imagine the best thing you could do is find a personal tutor who is a native Mandarin speaker (preferably from Beijing so they don't have a regional accent!) and do an hours Mandarin speaking a day to practice conversation. Maybe you can find a student from Beijing who is studying in London and then do a lesson swap. You teach him/her English for an hour a night and then swap where then he/she teaches you Mandarin for an hour. If you did that every day for the length of your course I am sure that will really, really help! I imagine a course like that is really strong on teaching you to read and write, whilst not that great at teaching to speak like a 'native'....

However....

In these days of globalization and masses of people moving around the globe to look for work...

Why don't you just go directly to Beijing, Taipei or elsewhere to learn Mandarin? It doesn't make sense to me to study Mandarin in London when you can do it in Beijing. I'm sure the money you are going to spend studying in London will go much further in China. And also if you don't like the universities in China because they are too traditional and 'sino-centric' in their teaching methods then you could probably afford to get a private tutor. I'm sure your level of Chinese will be of a much higher standard after 3-4 years studying at uni or with a tutor in China than in London...

I might be completely wrong as I am not a linguist but I would think if you really want to learn Chinese, then go to China.

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adrianlondon

SOAS night classes are expensive and the teachers are often (always?) not the same ones who teach the full time classes. In other words, some will be good and some will be rubbish.

Hire a tutor and learn yourself.

I live next to SOAS but after seeing the price of their night classes got myself a tutor. I had 1.5 hours a week for 40 weeks spread over a year. So a total of around 60 hours. I got to over half way through the old "Practical Chinese Reader Vol 2" book.

When I then went to Beijing to study (having given up with the tutoring half a year earlier, as I had reached a plateau whereby I was forgetting as much each week as I was learning) I was tested and placed into a class equivalent to having already studied one semester full time.

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madizi

Johnnycab, it think that you are expecting too much of 2 hours a week. When I was at 1st grade of sinology, we had 12 hours of Chinese language a week (4 hours simplified and 4 hours traditional characters, 2 hours conversation, 2 hours fonolab). But when we went to China after a first year, we were just able to have basic conversation with people. And our character recognition was also very basic. Why? Because we learned Chinese in "non-Chinese" environment. That's additional obstacle on a way to learn Chinese quickly. Besides, I think that for people from West, Chinese is as hard as is English for Chinese people.

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johnnycab

CL/Adrian/madizi - I totally agree with most of the things you have said in your posts.

I always knew I would get to a point where the only option would be to go to China to learn the language - after all that is the purpose of learning the language. I am planning to go there after this term ends - but things are not always that easy, and some of the things need to be wrapped up, so I can be free from any commitments to spend at least 6 months there.

However, I *did* expect a little bit more from the teachers, from one of the renowned institutions, to give me a good grounding and make me feel excited about learning the language. It is extremely sad/dissapointing to experience disillusioned teachers and even when confronted by a excited little puppy wanting to learn a new trick (not the best analogy but it fits my description) they don't care whether I am getting my tones right or using the right grammatical particles - they just want the lesson to be over...it is soul destroying!

Adrian - I am in a similar position you describe i.e. forget as much as I am learning. At present, I am in favour of good tutors/swap/exchange students in addition to the classes - I would be extremely grateful if any of you can recommend me someone who is patient and does not get irritated at the slightest inclination, but who is harsh in getting me to speak - which is my biggest problem.

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adrianlondon

Unfortunately, my tutor (who, coincidentally, taught at SOAS) left London a couple of years ago; I don't know where he is now!

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Lu

Johnnycab, I understand your disappointment, seems even SOAS has bad teachers and you had the bad luck to get them. At the same time, with two hours a week, in a non-Chinese environment no less, I would not expect anyone to learn decent Chinese, ever. Except perhaps if they studied really hard on the side with all kinds of additional material. Two hours a week is just not enough. Like Madizi, after two years of intensive Chinese with 12 hours a week in classes, I could only just hold a basic conversation when I came to Beijing.

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madizi

One more thing, Johnnycab. How many students is in your class?

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johnnycab

Lu - Yes, it does take a lot of effort being in a non-chinese environment for rest of the week. However, it is not all bad - in my view I am at least learning something even if the progress is slow - as more than year ago I had no familiarity of the language. It is just the frustration of not having any encouragement which makes you feel excited to pick up your books or immerse yourself fully.

madizi - the class started with 12 students, a lot of people dropped out in the first term - then a few newcomers joined us on different terms. But, now we have settled on 6 students - which might change in the next term. I must add that this is another area which badly orgainised, as a lot of students who have come and gone, were not attending the classes regularly -- which is bad for the moral of the ones who are committed.

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madizi

Well, you live in a free country and people can come and go whenever they like. But I agree with you that this can be disturbance for others in a class.

Just 6 students? That's not a lot (comparing to 40 in my English classes, in two classes even 80:shock:). You could learn a lot. Maybe teachers are really not capable........

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