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roddy

Learning Chinese – advice for the new and independent student

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roddy

I've updated one of the paragraphs on characters to read thus:

You will need to learn to at least recognize characters. You may decide early on that you will not learn to write by hand - fine, you can get by with pinyin input on computers and mobiles. But not learning characters at all leaves you illiterate and devoid of study resources past the most basic of levels.

Other suggestions welcome, but bear in mind the assumptions at the top of the piece, and that I'm already at my 1,000 word limit - if something goes in, something comes out. However, there's still scope for more concise wording in places, which is how I fit the above changes in. Also, if anyone can think of appropriate further reading topics for any of the matters covered let me know which ones and I'll add the links.

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valikor
Don’t obsess about how many characters you know

Soooo guilty. And it's not getting me anywhere. I know almost 3,000 characters yet my Chinese is still terrible.

They should take those "Character Knowledge Tests" off the internet. So addictive and useless.

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joapsx

Great advice thank you :) I've only just started learning Mandarin by myself and this post has been of great help.

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xyz123abc

a. Integrated Chinese

b. New Practical Chinese Reader

c. Chinese Made Easier

Thanks for the choices. I like clear, definite choices to pick from :D

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Johnny20270

Hi all, just recently, joined, great post, Actually I made a loooong review of pimsleur Mandarin lessons on Amazon.com & uk

Can I post a link?

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1U3I7VON26NQ7/ref=cm_cd_notf_message?ie=UTF8&cdForum=Fx3LCL6MNOWXKRL&cdPage=1&cdThread=Tx33WAFKVIDURMC#Mx1DBVB2DHECD5A

I have limited experience of course but I do find the Basic Chinese Grammar really great. i have all but avoided characters but am just starting. Personally I think doing characters at the start just makes progress a little too slow initially I have just started yesterday so aiming at 10 a day. I have the memory retention of a goldfish so any more will definitely not be possible for me. Also I am aware that when I get to 100, I will be battling against retention of already learnt characters.

Best of luck all

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Manos

Great advice!! Thank you!

I study with a private tutor at home and i use NPCR, which seems quite handy and nice!

Also, may i ask how do you guys learn hanzi? For example 好. The way i learn is ''breaking'' it into its radicals, so i can remember that 好 is composed by 女(nu=woman) + 子(zi=kid).

I would like to start learning more hanzi from a dictionary picking up random words but what discourages me from it, is that i dont know all the radicals. I can memorize them of course but i dont feel i really learn them this way. Any ideas ?

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Homogenik

Thanks for this thread, it was very helpful. I myself am only a beginner even I actually began many months ago, but I was more dabbling than actively learning, although I did finish Pimsleur I and thought it was very satisfying. I've put chinese off my plate for the last month or so to focus more on other things, but now I'm reviewing the second half of Pimsleur I. Anyway, I was, through all that time, looking for a textbook and I decided to opt for the Basic Spoken Chinese (and Basic Written Chinese) series. I haven't gotten far yet (because of my pause), but I intend to get back to it in september (I'm leaving in august to learn polish in Poland so I won't be doing much chinese there). I went through only the first 4 lessons or both books and it seemed very well done as it gives a lot of explanation and only a few new vocabulary each time. Anyway, I thought I should mention it because it seemed to be more appealing as far as textbooks for chinese go (they're often a little dry and lacking cultural contextualization, as far as I can tell).

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Emma Grace

Thank you for your advices, but I couldn`t understand what do you mean by saying that pinyin has not exactly the same pronunciation every where.

Is it not like phons of other languages that are pronounced exactley the same everywhere??? Need some help about this :help

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cultureyard

Hi everyone,

Great advice! Since many things I wanted to say were already mentioned, I wanted to add one more - when I started learning Chinese (7years ago) I found

Pimsleur super helpful. It is an audio course that exists for different languages and their method is based on a lot of listening and mimicking. It is a tiny bit repetitive (and frankly a bit annoying in that way) but it feels like you are been brainwashed - in a sense that you can't not remember what you've learned. It is a bit out-of-date but I've recommended it to many beginners and most people really like it.

Hope it helps.

ilya

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Ania

Thanks everyone for sharing your experiences and advice. It's actually nice to read that people have the same problems and issues when learning Chinese :D

 

I started with New Practical Chinese Reader and I absolutely loved it! The textbook/workbook set included many exercises which I found very useful. I wanna move to part 2, but I'm a little scared of a textbook that doesn't use pinyin, so I'm using some other books for now to consolidate what I have learned. but I will definitely continue with NPCR! 

 

I don't take any classes right now, but I intend to do it once I feel ready for conversation in Chinese. I know that it's never too early to start, but for now it's just me and my textbooks/workbooks/podcasts.graded readers etc. :)

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BigMax

Hi, I've been learning Chinese for the last 2 years in my free time whilst I've been working in China. My problem has been that, as a naturally shy person, I have found it very embarrassing and awkward to speak in Chinese. Actually, even in my native language I wouldn't want to shout across a restaurant to call a waiter.

 

But recently I have gained more confidence with Chinese as I have, since I've taken classes for the first time, realised that actually my Chinese is quite good and I should have more confidence and self-belief. (I am currently at HSK 4). So I have continued frenetically studying and learning new words...

 

However, my advice would be this put a huge amount of emphasis on listening. I would say that that part is the most important, because it is all well and good being able to talk about something, but if you can't understand what the person has said, it will be a short conversation! It can be the most boring to study, watching a tv programme hour after hour and only picking out a couple of words, but you'll eventually improve. and that's what I'm working on now. 

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ChrisOei

Like westmeadboy way above, I first tried learning Mandarin with pinyin and without learning the simplified or traditional characters. I found it was really, really hard and gave up that strategy after about a week or two.

 

One problem that came up: you lose a lot of important information when you transform characters into pinyin. For example, the CC-CEDICT dictionary lists 31 distinct simplified characters (and 41 distinct traditional characters) for the pinyin "yàn". In order to figure out what the pinyin "yàn" means in a sentence, you'd have to look at the words surrounding it to get some context. So, you look up the pinyin syllables next to it, and you'd see a few dozen possible definitions for every syllable. It can be a total nightmare trying to figure out what a pinyin sentence means unless you're already familiar with which words and phrases are commonly used, but that requires some knowledge and experience that an absolute beginner won't have. I've had a much easier time figuring out what sentences mean when they're written in simplified characters.

 

Like Manos above, I've also found that breaking up a characters into its components (which are often radicals) helps tremendously. I took the data in https://cjkdecomp.codeplex.com/ and wrote some Clojure code to recursively decompose characters. In my opinion, learning Chinese without learning the radicals  (I didn't know about them when I first started) is like trying to learn English without learning the alphabet -- it's a *lot* easier once you can recognize the 100-or-so most common radicals. That, along with understanding phonetic-semantic compound words, made a tremendous difference.

 

One thing I'm still working on is finding people in China who are interested in practicing their English that I can practice Mandarin with. I've heard there's a huge demand for native English practice partners in China, so I think it's likely I just have to put more time and energy into those language exchange sites.

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Flickserve

Throw in my two cents here.

Something that helped me a lot in keeping going is thinking that learning Chinese is like learning a new skill or sport and is a hobby.

One has to take a pragmatic approach. Can you play a round of golf within 6months? Can you play a tennis match in 6 months from total beginner?

Taking tennis as an example, you need to learn to hold the racquet, how to swing it, turn your body correctly, do the footwork etc. just to hit the ball over the net. This is the same as speaking at an elementary level. Speaking at an expert level is equivalent to hitting the ball where you want it to go and making the opponent move around for a winning situation.

Listening skills are equivalent to recognising what shots come to you from the opponent and making the appropriate reply.

Thinking how much time goes into learning a sport (and how difficult it can be) helped me keep a perspective on things. There are bound to be times where you feel it's just too hard, especially if you are in an nonimmersive environment. Just like learning sports, try to do some regularly and not be too tired (I am guilty of being too tired). Sometimes, you may get tired of lessons so these times, change the input, e.g. talk to some different people (loads of people in China wanting to try a language exchange ), listen to a Chinese song, try watching a short program briefly or a film. You may not pick up much but you get the experience of trying to pick out words you might recognise.

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Apollys

What do you think of the Anki "spoonfed" Chinese deck, if you are familiar with it? My current method of study centers around that anki deck, learning to write each new character by hand and speak each phrase accurately. In addition, I'm exposing myself to a larger number of new characters through Skritter (but not writing these by hand, also they are decontextualized, this is mainly to make really learning the characters easier once I see them in my anki deck). I also had a free subscription to the Du Chinese app through the end of this year, but I will probably drop that for a while, since the vocabulary was too advanced to be useful for me.

I think I'm learning a lot, relatively efficiently. What do you guys think of my current regimen? Is there anything glaringly lacking?

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歪果仁

Like westmeadboy way above, I first tried learning Mandarin with pinyin and without learning the simplified or traditional characters. I found it was really, really hard and gave up that strategy after about a week or two.

One problem that came up: you lose a lot of important information when you transform characters into pinyin. For example, the CC-CEDICT dictionary lists 31 distinct simplified characters (and 41 distinct traditional characters) for the pinyin "yàn". In order to figure out what the pinyin "yàn" means in a sentence, you'd have to look at the words surrounding it to get some context. So, you look up the pinyin syllables next to it, and you'd see a few dozen possible definitions for every syllable. It can be a total nightmare trying to figure out what a pinyin sentence means unless you're already familiar with which words and phrases are commonly used, but that requires some knowledge and experience that an absolute beginner won't have. I've had a much easier time figuring out what sentences mean when they're written in simplified characters.

Like Manos above, I've also found that breaking up a characters into its components (which are often radicals) helps tremendously. I took the data in https://cjkdecomp.codeplex.com/ and wrote some Clojure code to recursively decompose characters. In my opinion, learning Chinese without learning the radicals (I didn't know about them when I first started) is like trying to learn English without learning the alphabet -- it's a *lot* easier once you can recognize the 100-or-so most common radicals. That, along with understanding phonetic-semantic compound words, made a tremendous difference.

One thing I'm still working on is finding people in China who are interested in practicing their English that I can practice Mandarin with. I've heard there's a huge demand for native English practice partners in China, so I think it's likely I just have to put more time and energy into those language exchange sites.

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歪果仁

Sorry for above still have not got the hang of it.

I am an independent self study student living outside of a Chinese speaking environment, learning a foreign language has always been on my bucket list. However keeping up motivation is tough. I did live in China for a year but have returned home and Started career that I can't do in China. So the prospects of going to China in the next two years are basically nil. In that context keeping the motivation up is quite difficult and probably the biggest battle I face. What does keep me going is seeing progress so the further I come the more determined I am to keep going. I don't want to waste all the hard work.

I like the metaphor of playing tennis I might use that. It does that a long long time to master the basics just like with tennis. It also explains the difficulty some (I) have with language exchange as you can't play tennis with someone that cannot return the ball

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