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roddy

Learning Chinese – advice for the new and independent student

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PLA 機器人坦克 Squad    10
PLA 機器人坦克 Squad

Excellent advice. Your section on having a structured course is not something that I see mentioned a whole lot, but for those of us who perhaps lack discipline (or are "motivationally challenged"), this is one of the most important things. If it wasn't for the fact that I have to drag myself out of bed every morning and go to class, as interesting as Chinese is, I don't think I'd have it in me to open up my books, browser windows, pop in the CDs, and start reading/watching/listening/writing for a couple hours every day.

My experience has been with the Integrated Chinese textbook, workbook, and character workbook, and it's been very positive. The only complaint I have is regarding grammar explanations, which seem kind of fragmented or not as complete as they should be. The audio is also available online for free at:

http://jaguar.sjcc.edu/mberke/chinese/beginning_chinese/index.html

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abcdefg    2,379
abcdefg

Sound advice. Thanks. I take it all to heart.

My free advice to you, Roddy, is to puff this up a bit with filler and examples, add some personal anecdotes and a few jokes, and then sell it on the internet under a catchy title for $29.95 a pop.

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jbradfor    679
jbradfor

Great advice.

One quibble and one addition.

The quibble:

I’m assuming you are not enrolled on a full-time course, have not done any significant language learning before, and aim to reach general fluency and competency

I think this advice is valid for everyone, even those in courses (except of course the Course is already picked for you) and with previous language experience.

The addition. Ask yourself why you are learning Chinese, as that affects some of your decisions. Are you doing it for a school course, or a standardized test (e.g. HSK) and want a good grade? Then you need to focus on what you're being tested on. Do you want to obtain basic fluency for traveling, business, personal communication? Then focus more on vocabulary related to that field, and problem more on speaking/listening than reading. Are you doing just as a hobby? Then focus on whatever interests you, as staying interested can often be the hardest part, but also be prepared for fairly slow progress.

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fluxs    11
fluxs

Congrats, I think this is a great summary and I am sure it will help lots of people!

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Meng Lelan    499
Meng Lelan

omg, this is the best write up I've ever seen on this topic. I'm going to print it out and distribute to my students before they let out for the summer vacation. Mandatory summer reading is what I am going to call it. Xie xie roddy.

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westmeadboy    11
westmeadboy

As someone who spent 3 months learning (spoken) mandarin without learning any characters, I cannot help wondering whether I made a huge mistake.

Often when I'm speaking or searching for words in my head, I visualize the pinyin including tones. Of course, with most words I know, if I visualize the wrong tone and then make the sound, I realize it sounds wrong and then I end up looking the word up in some dictionary.

Anyway, my general question is, is there a danger on being too reliant on pinyin? Especially considering that there is very little pinyin you see in real chinese life.

Is it reasonably possible/recommended to learn chinese without ever using pinyin?

Disclaimer - the search function wasnt working when I wrote this post, so apologies if this has already been discussed.

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renzhe    1,639
renzhe
As someone who spent 3 months learning (spoken) mandarin without learning any characters, I cannot help wondering whether I made a huge mistake.

3 months is a very short time, so I wouldn't worry about it. If you want to learn characters, you can still start.

Anyway, my general question is, is there a danger on being too reliant on pinyin? Especially considering that there is very little pinyin you see in real chinese life.

Depends on what you use pinyin for. It is a way to represent Chinese language phonetically and nothing more. I think it's natural for people who grew up with phonetic writing systems to visualise phonetic transliteration when trying to remember sounds.

Is it reasonably possible/recommended to learn chinese without ever using pinyin?

You could use a different phonetic writing system (zhuyin, Wade-Giles, etc), but that's probably not what you're asking. I think it's possible to learn a language (including Chinese) without learning to write phonetically, but definitely not recommended. I see no advantages to doing this.

Another question is whether you can learn Chinese without learning characters, and it is, but it requires an immersive environment (living in China or a Chinese-speaking household) and your vocabulary and grammar will likely remain limited to everyday stuff (you'll have trouble talking about advanced topics).

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skylee    1,905
skylee

love roddy,

PS -

Another question is whether you can learn Chinese without learning characters, and it is, but it requires an immersive environment (living in China or a Chinese-speaking household) and your vocabulary and grammar will likely remain limited to everyday stuff (you'll have trouble talking about advanced topics).

And you would become illiterate.

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putonghua73    81
putonghua73
You can learn Chinese for free, but money spent may save you time and errors. Textbooks, a good dictionary, tutors. It’s still cheaper than golf, and much less pointless.

Roddy, I think I love you in a platonic, non-homosexual way for this quote alone. You have no idea at how much I absolutely detest golf as one of the most pointless activities ever invented.

It will be an endothermic day in Hell, before I pick up a golf club and wear checked trousers.

Needless to say, fantastic advice, Roddy. I've been learning on/off for 3 years now, have enrolled on college courses (one class, 2 hours a week. Good for developing the building blocks to build a solid foundation - if you go to a good college with excellent teachers - but just doesn't cut it), and am self-studying due to time constraints.

I definitely agree that a structured approach, and using a variety of media that focus on all 4 skills is good advice. It's very easy to work through a textbook and become too familiar with it and either become bored or know all the text by heart due to working through it day in / day out. Once my professional qualification exam is over in 2 weeks, and I have a bit more time before I need to hit the books again, I'll definitely look to purchase NPCR to replace 'Chinese In Steps' (official SOAS material - 马马虎虎). I'll move on to NPCR after I finally finish vol 2 - and eBay vol 3) and add Yip Po-Ching's 'Basic Chinese: A Grammar and Workbook' to improve my grammatical foundation, and review what I know already including practising and re-practising my tone pronunciation.

My tone pronunciation was quite good at one stage, as I made a point of enunciating clearly to develop good habits. Unfortunately, I've become lazy and I've noticed when talking with my language exchange partners, my tones are slipping. Need to invest time in the basics again.

Most of all, jbradfor points out, enjoy the experience! If it becomes a chore, then you'll have little motivation to push yourself.

Note: although I thought that the 'Chinese In Steps' series were 马马虎虎, they are generally well organised, very good CD audio quality (but Vol 1 is one, long track - a friend had to advise me on software to cut up the CD into manageable chunks for iPod / MP3 player use), excellent on tone pronunciation, and best of all 汉子 from the get-go.

My main bones of contention are:

  • introduce a lot of vocabulary (especially additional) that is not necessarily useful or will be remembered
  • lessons could have benefited from a better choice of dialogue (more common usage), and be more tightly focused (Vol 2 is a lot more loose than Vol 1 in this regard)
  • Audio CD Vol 1 is/was one, long track

One of my real bugbears for useless vocabulary was introducing 太极拳(taijiquan - Taiji Shadow Boxing!?) as one of the character's main activities.

The SOAS teaching method is that pinyin is only useful for learning pronunciation of 汉子。 It is a crutch that the college 'encourages' students to cast away almost immediately. It's a teaching method that really benefited and suited me.

Edited by putonghua73

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roddy    3,564
roddy
Your section on having a structured course is not something that I see mentioned a whole lot, but for those of us who perhaps lack discipline (or are "motivationally challenged"), this is one of the most important things.

I don't think it's just a discipline thing - you could be very disciplined learning 3,000 characters in three months - but it's not going to do you much good if you actually need to talk. It's more about the balance and structure, I think.

As someone who spent 3 months learning (spoken) mandarin without learning any characters' date=' I cannot help wondering whether I made a huge mistake.[/quote']

Not a huge one, but assuming (and for the sake of the advice, I did) you eventually want to have a balanced set of skills, you're going to need them at some point and I don't see any point in waiting - perhaps if you're actually in China and just want to be able to communicate as soon as possible, but even then - menus, street signs . . .

Edited by roddy
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westmeadboy    11
westmeadboy

I think I underestimated the usefulness of chinese characters not so much in everyday life but in terms of chinese content on the web. For example, if I'm searching for chinese music or movies, then I'm pretty lost for anything other than international chinese titles. Also news websites. I can use an online page translator, but its not great.

BTW - I never had a huge problem with not being able to read menus and street signs because in those places there are always people to ask which is great for practising chinese. However, websites cannot be done this way unless you have a very patient friend. Even if I'm sitting in Starbucks, then I'm not sure how many other customers want me to bring my laptop over to their table!

Now going from Intermediate (chinesepod level seems to be where I am/was at) content back to Newbie content for the sake of learning characters is kind of demoralising!

So my advice would be to not let your character level fall too far behind your spoken level, if at all possible.

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Shi Tong    32
Shi Tong

I think it's generally a brilliant intro into where to start with learning Chinese, and I agree that it's good advice for everyone!

One thing I would reitterate with westmeadboy is that you can learn other methods of sound input like pinyin like zhuyin.

I personally learned 3 months of official learning of Mandarin, but I also had to read and write properly, and with that came an understanding of how Chinese characters work. Further from that I was able to read more characters simply by frequently asking and reading certain words, increasing my read vocabulary.

One thing I MIGHT mention is that pinyin can be confusing (TO SOME PEOPLE), and there are alternatives like Zhuyin.

If learning Traditional Chinese characers, you may well end up learning those in Taiwan, where Zhuyin is used much more- therefore the two may go hand in hand.

That said, I'm also not suggesting that Zhuyin would necessarily help everyone with their chinese pronunciation, and it's not always easier than pinyin, though it is for myself.

Thanks!! :D

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chrix    25
chrix

Yes, but westmeadboy was talking about visualising tones. Why would zhuyin help you visualise tones more than pinyin? In bothn systems you're relying on diacritical marks, aren't you? I fail to see the difference here.

But it is true, a common newbie mistake is to learn words first without tones causing you to have hard time later...

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martin_r    11
martin_r

Thanks guys, this is really useful and encouraging for a beginner like myself. I've started by using Pimsleur audio lessons only. I wanted to see what how far you could get without books (and postpone learning Chinese script). I feel its worked for me so far - I've got a bit of a feel for tones and can juggle around a few phrases. Now I feel confident to work on all the other aspects - and by now a bit of variety is quite appealing.

I'm learning Mandarin as a hobby and the possibility of visiting China is remote right now (I'm in Scotland), so I'll be using all the resources can muster - mainly via the miracle of the internet. The local Mandarin class isn't happening this year, as I was the only applicant! However, I'm rather excited to have found myself a language exchange partner to chat to via Skype. I've gathered all the beginners HSK vocabulary from popupchinese together on a spreadsheet with a flashcard program attached - so that should help me extend my vocabulary and learn Chinese script. I really liked wushijiao's insights about motivation and attitude. Yes it's going to be a long journey, but I'm enjoying the trip anyway.

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JenniferW    86
JenniferW

I think your comment, 'You’re not just self-studying, you’re self-teaching' is really important. I study on my own, have been for ages, and time and time again this aspect of it gets forgotten and then takes me by surprise. And I used to be a teacher! Making all the decisions a teacher makes, and the plans, gets less attention than the actual routine study, and from time to time I realise I should have sat back and thought more carefully about what I'm doing and why.

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Shi Tong    32
Shi Tong

Just a really odd kind of advice here, but a lot of people seem to need it; speak to yourself, and dont be shy.

If you've noone to practice with, or no native speakers, speak to yourself.

If you're worried about something being wrong, or a sentence structure, grammar, pronunciation, why not then post up the sample of what you were saying here and "we'll" let you know what's wrong?

Dont be shy if something is "easy" to other people. I'm not shy at all if my writing is cra*, I simply embarrass myself and ask more questions- it's a really good way of learning because you always remember the feeling of getting something wrong and then every time you think of that, you can remember the right version.

Ignorance is normal until you fix it, and it's the act of fixing it which is respectable, not the act of remaining that way because you're too shy or embarrassed to get things wrong, IMO.

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abcdefg    2,379
abcdefg
Ignorance is normal until you fix it, and it's the act of fixing it which is respectable, not the act of remaining that way because you're too shy or embarrassed to get things wrong, IMO.

Roger that!

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JenniferW    86
JenniferW

This thread dried up a while ago, but seems maybe the best place to wonder if anyone thinks it would be a good idea to start a new thread focusing on the experiences and situation of those of us studying on our own. (Admin - what do you think?)

I worked in China for a while, took some classes and courses at various points in my life both in China and the UK, but am now somewhere in the UK with no Chinese classes (and will be here for a while, certainly). I've been studying on my own, fairly successfully, but it's an uphill struggle at times, and I think maybe only other people in the same situation understand what this all entails. I wonder if there are other users of this forum in a similar situation - and who maybe motivate themselves, and deal with their study problems, more successfully than I do, and who I might be able to learn from?

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roddy    3,564
roddy

New threads are free, you're welcome to start one and see if anyone piles in.

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