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dreamon

Beginner's Questions

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dreamon

Hello all!

I am a beginner learning Chinese from Pimsleur, then plan to work on the DeFrancis set. May I ask a few questions:

1. Does Pimsleur-ese significantly deviate from the commonly spoken language, e.g. in word choice?

2. Should I worry about DeFrancis set being outdated? (I understand that the China portrayed there is not the China of today, and that modern techno slang is missing.) For example, I learned English from C.E. Eckersley "Essential English for Foreign Students", which was at least as old, and it was perfect.

3. Any suggestions on how to organize my study of Chinese after Pimsleur, so as to take maximum advantage of my car commute time? Are there effective "intermediate" audio courses or materials, e.g. for vocabulary buildup?

4. I got a bit scared by the article "Why Chinese is So Damn Hard"; are things really that bad? If I work 30 min to 1 hr, say, 6 days a week, with average memory, when should I hope to read Chinese newspapers?

Thank you very much!

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renzhe

1. Not really, but it teaches you a very small subset of spoken language, and it's possible that you'll hear things expressed differently because of this. Pimsleur is a first introduction to a language, not a complete course.

2. Probably not, at least in terms of language. A couple of terms have changed, but the grammar is still exactly the same (society has obviously changed quite a bit). Textbooks are not really good at teaching slang and really modern usage anyway, and you'll be OK if you pick it up from reading and watching modern TV. The key is understanding the key language concepts and learning characters and vocab, the rest can always be caught up with.

3. There are many threads on here on self studying, it's a good idea to search around. Most people will recommend a rounded approach, involving listening, speaking (as far as possible), reading and vocabulary/character study. Just relying on listening will not work too well, IMHO.

4. It's impossible to give hard numbers, but Chinese does pose a whole set of new problems to learners used to European languages. In general, take the effort needed to learn an unrelated European language, and multiply it by 3 or 4.

If you put in genuine and sustained effort and follow a good program, you could be reading simpler books and watching TV shows in two years -- an estimate based on my experience learning on my own in Europe. In other words, intermediate level, with a good foundation. Then it becomes a case of improving the language through reading, speaking, watching, listening, and other sorts of exposure (coupled with further studying, of course), which is typically much more enjoying, but still takes some of your time.

Nobody gets great at Chinese in a couple of years. You can get good enough to enjoy it, though, and that's the main point.

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dreamon

1. ... Pimsleur is a first introduction to a language, not a complete course.

Thank you very much, renzhe, for your answers! Of course, I realize that Pimsleur is just an introduction, but a necessary one: without it, studying Chinese is like eating a slab of concrete. Pimsleur takes me to the beginner level, which is not the lowest level in Chinese.

3. ... Just relying on listening will not work too well, IMHO.

Sure, reading and characters are a must, but there is this resource of time that I have: car commute, and I want to keep taking advantage of it as efficiently as I do now with Pimsleur. Having tried Pimsleur, I will simply hate wasting this resource and going back to listening to old music CDs or radio advertisements. Ideally, I would like to use my car time not just for listening to Chinese, but, as in Pimsleur, for interaction and memory drills. Here is one potential vocabulary product: "Vocabulearn". Anyone tried it? The reviews are negative... Other suggestions?

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giraffe

Here is one potential vocabulary product: "Vocabulearn". Anyone tried it? The reviews are negative... Other suggestions?

I've tried it and it was absolutely wretched. I'm glad I got the disks from the library because otherwise it would have been a complete waste of money. It's really the worst possible approach to learning a language that I've ever encountered.

Acquiring lots of vocabulary is an important part of learning a language but this approach - listening to an endless canned stream of random vocabulary devoid of any context - is not the way to do it.

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OneEye

If you want to use something in the car, I'd recommend Assimil Chinese with Ease. If it is anything like their European language courses it will be well worth your time, and get you to a much higher level than Pimsleur (I've heard it isn't quite up to the standard of their French and German courses, but still quite good). You can shadow (speak along with the recording) in the car, and do the exercises, etc. The lessons are short, so you could review several during the commute, or you could review one several times until you have it down solid.

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doraemon

Chinese grammar is actually quite easy compared to English or other European languages, no masculine/feminine verb endings and stuff like that. The pronunciation can be a bit tricky sometimes, but I don't think the language is that horrific for a foreigner to learn. The reading and writing system can be a little difficult without an alphabet system, but learning them is like trying to identify different pictures you recognise, it can be quite interesting. B)

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renzhe

Using your commute time is a really good thing, and I encourage you to do it.

I can recommend finding some podcasts and listening to them, they tend to be around 10-20 minutes, so you can fill up your commute time. There are many threads on Chinese learning podcasts around here. Chinesepod is probably the best, but you need to subscribe. Others, like CSLPod are free.

While podcasts and audio can be useful for learning vocabulary, I find that their best use is in developing listening comprehension and internalising grammatical concepts and vocabulary in context.

I wouldn't agree that Chinese grammar is particularly easy. I don't consider it terribly difficult either. DeFrancis estimates that Chinese (written vernacular / Mandarin) grammar is slightly easier than French grammar, for example. It doesn't have many scary aspects of European languages, such as complex morphology, conjugations and declensions, grammatical genders, etc, which is very nice. But it does have things like measure words, counting words, tones and tone sandhi and aspect particles, most of which are new to learners.

Don't be afraid of the Chinese language. Don't think of its grammar as more difficult than that of other languages -- it is simply different, and the grammatical concepts Europeans and Americans tend to have problems with are concepts that are new to us. As long as you accept this, and give it the due consideration, you'll be fine.

Still, Chinese is a marathon, not a sprint, and you will be more successful if you start with a decent programme for the next year or two, and follow it. Pimsleur can very well be a part of such a programme, but do try to get away from it as soon as possible, and not get stuck in its pre-elementary level for too long.

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dreamon

Thank you, renzhe!

Chinesepod is probably the best, but you need to subscribe.

A few weeks ago I tried one beginner's Chinesepod podcast that they featured for free, and was disappointed. It was about chopsticks, and most of it was laughing, joking etc. in English, very little Chinese learning. Pimsleur, from lesson one, is a lot more down-to-business. Could you please direct me to the "good" Chinesepod podcasts that would compare to or beat Pimsleur?

How about creating my own "audio flashcards" for in-car vocabulary drills - did anyone try this? Ideally, the Chinese should be copied from a genuine Chinese record, to avoid drilling my own bad pronunciation.

Don't be afraid of the Chinese language. Don't think of its grammar as more difficult than that of other languages ...

My fear is, of course, not of the grammar but of the characters: if even native speakers who are graduate students of Chinese cannot write the "sneeze" character, what can I hope for? If even native speakers start to forget their characters after a year of living abroad, then for me, just a several-month break due to an emergency may ruin years' work. Also, I am afraid that my pronunciation will never be good enough to be understood. My English pronunciation has a strong accent, but at least it doesn't affect the meaning of what I say; how about a foreign accent in Chinese?

Pimsleur can very well be a part of such a programme, but do try to get away from it as soon as possible ...

What do you mean - get away? Stop before completing all lessons? And what to replace it with, in the car? So far, I haven't seen anything that beats Pimsleur in the car. Supplementing it with reading and vocabulary drills at home, that's another matter.

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cababunga
How about creating my own "audio flashcards" for in-car vocabulary drills - did anyone try this? Ideally, the Chinese should be copied from a genuine Chinese record, to avoid drilling my own bad pronunciation.

Have a look at Gradint http://people.pwf.cam.ac.uk/ssb22/gradint/

So far, I haven't seen anything that beats Pimsleur in the car. Supplementing it with reading and vocabulary drills at home, that's another matter.

I totally agree with you here. To me Pimsleur to this day has an unbeatable time/benefit ratio (considering in addition, that time you spend commuting is pretty cheap anyway).

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renzhe

A few weeks ago I tried one beginner's Chinesepod podcast that they featured for free, and was disappointed. It was about chopsticks, and most of it was laughing, joking etc. in English, very little Chinese learning. Pimsleur, from lesson one, is a lot more down-to-business. Could you please direct me to the "good" Chinesepod podcasts that would compare to or beat Pimsleur?

At a total beginner level, probably none. But Pimsleur is only useful for total beginners, Chinesepod goes up to very advanced levels, and starting with Upper Intermediate, there is very little English.

Do check the podcast thread in this forum for some other sources of listening, there are many out there.

My fear is, of course, not of the grammar but of the characters: if even native speakers who are graduate students of Chinese cannot write the "sneeze" character, what can I hope for?

Contrary to the doomsday scenarios, forgetting a character from time to time is not the end of the world. As long as you have a basic grasp of the language, you won't forget most of the important characters. The rest is the same as with any language -- you lose it if you don't use it, but it comes back when you get back into it.

Characters are a 2-3 years exercise in diligence. If you invest the necessary work, you'll have no problem. It's lots of work, but nothing really "difficult".

Also, I am afraid that my pronunciation will never be good enough to be understood. My English pronunciation has a strong accent, but at least it doesn't affect the meaning of what I say; how about a foreign accent in Chinese?

I've heard foreigners with atrocious accents who still got understood -- once you get to the level of sentences, even ridiculous disregard for tones and grammar can be compensated by context. Just like with most other languages.

Still, you should put a lot of work into fixing your pronunciation. The closer you get to the standard, the better you'll be understood, and more enjoyable your experience will be.

What do you mean - get away? Stop before completing all lessons?

No, I mean finish it.

Pimsleur is a 3-month course. You should finish it in 3 months and move on to more challenging things, or you'll be stuck repeating "我太太姓王" until the end of time.

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chinopinyin

The US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has a very useful free Mandarin Course, ideal to use when commuting. You have to bear in mind that it was produced in the 1980s,though

http://www.learnchineseez.com/fsi/mandarin/

http://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php?page=Chinesehttp://fsi-language-courses.org/Content.php?page=Chinese

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giraffe

I'd second the recommendation to follow Pimsleur with Assimil. The books are nicely structured and the audio is all Chinese.

Rather than carry the book around, I found it more convenient to carry a photocopy of the current lesson in my pocket so that I could sneak a peak at the English if I wasn't sure of the meaning.

I started with Pimsleur and then sampled a variety of audio courses including ChinesePod. I would agree that the beginner ChinesePod lessons are not very useful and they become progressively more painful on repeated listening. The intermediate lessons, though, are quite rich in content and I've listened to some of them many times without getting bored. The problem though, is that Pimsleur doesn't prepare you for listening to intermediate material and that's why I'd recommend Assimil. It didn't get me to an intermediate level, or even close, but I was able to listen to the intermediate ChinesePod and start absorbing a bit of that content.

Another thing I found helpful was to start watching Chinese television. Of course, in the beginning I couldn't understand anything that's being said (or very little) but I treated it as a kind of mental game - trying to spot familiar words or sounds, trying to identify tones or seeing if I could match up a character in the subtitles with a character in the dialogue. At first, all I could identify was "了" but I'm now recognizing quite a few of the characters (even if I still don't quite understand what's going on).

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Ed Log

you need 1500 words to get by.

If you target 30 mins per day then mix it up a little, reading, listening, spaced repetition flash cards (the most important in my opinion), pronunciation etc.

Many people fall into the book trap of being good on paper but not able to tell a joke or have fun in the language in a real life situation.

4 words per day is a tough target and there is no single best way, again mix it up and have fun.

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dreamon

Thanks for the excellent recommendations!

OneEye> If you want to use something in the car, I'd recommend Assimil Chinese with Ease.

giraffe> I'd second the recommendation to follow Pimsleur with Assimil.

Should I start with Assimil 1 or jump to 2 (if they start from zero)? Assimil 2 has only 4 audio CDs for the cost of $195 - is this justified? Pimsleur has 15+ CDs at each level.

cababunga> Have a look at Gradint

Thank you, could be useful! The Yali Cheng's sample's rendering is a bit disappointing, because the syllables are cut off before their sound is complete (of course, the voice itself is beautiful).

renzhe> Pimsleur is a 3-month course. You should finish it in 3 months...

That's assuming I listen to each lesson once. In fact, I listen twice; the first time I typically forget too much. But I agree, no point to dwell on it. Any recommendation how to approach the learning of characters? Should I practice writing, or just flashcards for now and writing a lot later? Should I try to build picto-visual associations, motor associations, decompose into parts, evolutionary, or try to remember characters embedded in text, or otherwise? What works best in the end?

chinopinyin> The US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has a very useful free Mandarin Course...

Thank you, lots of stuff here! The sound is not as clear as Pimsleur, maybe that's a good challenge though.

Ed Log> 4 words per day is a tough target ...

You mean, pinyin words? With English, my best tactic was to write long wordlists in two columns and memorize them in order. At first, I could not remember them out of order (or in text), but they become somehow "familiar" and later easier to learn again. The plus is that a lot of words per session is possible, up to 200. But yes, it is not easy nor fast, but the reward is unimaginably great.

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giraffe

Should I start with Assimil 1 or jump to 2 (if they start from zero)? Assimil 2 has only 4 audio CDs for the cost of $195 - is this justified? Pimsleur has 15+ CDs at each level.

I only did Assimil 2. It's a bit challenging because Assimil 1 goes further than all three levels of Pimsleur but it was ok. Yes the price is outrageous but then Pimsleur is even more expensive and doesn't take you as far. If you do go with Assimil, be sure to get the book as well (I believe they are sold separately). Since the audio is only in Chinese you'd never understand it without the book. I bought the books second hand through Abe Books.

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renzhe

Any recommendation how to approach the learning of characters?

Two things -- spaced repetition software and daily practice. Daily.

The rest is subject to extreme controversy, and I suggest reading about topics such as mnemonics, Heisig, vocabulary study, HSK vocab lists, isolated characters study, sentence-based study, radicals and phonetic elements, easy reading for beginners and intermediate students (see comics, Chinese Breeze, popup translators, etc.) and others, they have all been discussed here in great detail. Even the order in which to learn them is debated -- most common first, by HSK levels, radicals first, or some other specialised method (like Heisig or T.K.Ann). Chinese characters have an almost 5000 year old history and defy easy packaging. At a certain point, you just have to grin and bear it.

Personally, I did well with a combination of isolated flashcarding of characters and words coupled with lots and lots of reading for context and reinforcement. But you will notice that there are no real trends, and people have achieved literacy using a wide range of methods. Keep your mind open, try things, stick with whatever works for you and try new things if you get stuck. It's a distance run, you will need perseverance and patience, but if you keep pushing long enough, eventually, you'll manage it and wonder what all the fuss is all about.

The one thing that all the people who have learned enough characters successfully have in common is that they learned regularly and consistently for a longer period of time.

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dreamon

words = words - if you are only learning Pinyin then that is much easier.

Should I learn pinyin words separately (faster) and characters separately (slower), or characters plus character words without pinyin? Currently it seems to me that pinyin words then characters would be more efficient, kind-of like assembly line approach.

BTW, can I use Wenlin or some other software (or a free database?) to automatize creating printable wordlists similar to DeFrancis ABC dictionary entries? A wordlist consists of two columns: pinyin words in the left column and their English translations in the right column. It is used by closing one column with a sheet of paper and opening entry by entry. The ability to cut-and-paste selected entries from a DeFrancis ABC in text form should suffice.

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OneEye

Do not pay $195 for Assimil part 2. I don't know why it is that expensive on Amazon, but you can order it directly from Assimil for 64.90 Euros.

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