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jkhsu

What level of Chinese can you achieve outside of China?

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jkhsu

I'd like know the highest level of Chinese a working adult can achieve with self study outside of China and what study techniques have proven the most useful? The assumption is that you have a full-time or part-time job (not related to reading, writing or speaking Chinese) requiring you to stay where you are. Here are the conditions in detail:

1. In terms of formal instruction options, you only have access to community college level resources. In other words, you are not a Chinese major at a 4 year university with access to travel abroad options and the luxury of being a full time student.

2. You can not take off for a summer or a year to live in China / Taiwan / or Vermont (Middlebury) to attend programs like IUP, ICLP, etc.

3. You have access to hiring tutors - but not with so much spending cash and time that you can hire a live in tutor 24 hours a day. A reasonable option is once or twice a week for an hour or two.

4. You have at most a couple of hours a day to spend on learning Chinese.

5. You have full access to the Internet - so you have access to pod casts, online learning, tutoring, etc.

6. You have full access to any books to buy.

7. And of course you have full access to this forum.

I'd like to focus this topic on upper intermediate / advanced level and beyond. My own opinion is that it is possible to reach near native levels in reading (maybe listening even) but I am not sure how far one can get in speaking and writing (composition)? One may be able to pass the HSK6 given enough effort. Anyone have thoughts to share?

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xiaotao

1. I don't think community college classes will take a person very far.

2. I don't think heritage learners of any kind of Chinese needs to go abroad or far to get special training.

3. Meeting with a tutor 2-3 times a week is better.

4. 2 hours a day is good as long your good at doing it daily.

If you grew up listening to Chinese, I think it wouldn't be impossible to get decent results. If you are new to Chinese, it is realistic to say that it will take a great deal of time, time that one might not have enough of due to the responsibilities of being an adult.

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yellowpower

Hi

it depends on how you define fluency for yourself..is it in spoken or written aspects? Is it conversational or professional fluency? So there are varying degrees of/anddefinitions of fluency, and this applys even to native speakers in any language. Does your idea of fluency extend even to reading and writing? Also factor in your own background and prior learning with Mandarin will help you decide on a launching point.... the most vital question is why do I want to become fluent? No right or wrong, for some it's work, study, and other it's their cultural heritage,etc.

Answering this question of WHY.. use it to focus and direct your studies in your area of interest..is it business, the arts, etc.Find and build materials around what you want to become fluent in, the vocab, jargon, sentence expressions, etc for mastery. Later you can expand into different areas of interest. Some thoughts regarding your questions:

1) if time permits, and your language level permits you to, you can always take one or two chinese courses that you find useful. If you don't have a foundation in the language, a few formal structured classes can be helpful, plus you can ask the teacher for advice or tips...or maybe they can recommend some one to tutor you.

2) misconception or myth that Uni programs and exchange programs are gonna make someone fluent in that language. The exchange and study abroad programs are helpful but no guarantee of anything, it has its merits. You work hard to get the results and fluency you want and this takes time and effort.

3) this can be a hit and miss in finding the right teacher. You need to be direct your learning and outcomes and not just passively assume that teacher knows best. One to one is focus on your learning needs. Best to source your own study materials unless you are happy with what the teacher can provide.

4) create an immersion environment for yourself...listen to TV/radio news, music, watch movies, etc as much as possible in Mandarin all the time, on your IPhone. MP3/4 player, ...you've got to breathe and live in the language.

5) access your networks, family and friends who speak Mandarin...community centres, etc and don't be shy to ask to practice and speak the lingo with them. Older folks can be a great and helpful resource to practice your language skills.

Mastering any language takes a great deal of time and effort. So be prepared for the long haul and persistence will pay off..and the learning is indeed an adventure that will be a life time of learning because all languages whether English, French, German, Mandarin, etc are living and evolving all the time, so fluency is not an end stage or static. But as stated in previous forums...try to have fun with your learning as well.

Jia you!

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jkhsu

2. I don't think heritage learners of any kind of Chinese needs to go abroad or far to get special training.

I'm not sure I agree completely with this statement. I think even if you are a Mandarin heritage learner which means you grew up at home speaking "kitchen Mandarin", you will still get to a point where you are dealing with words you have never heard or spoken before. I know a lot of Mandarin heritage speakers who can't understand the news because they never formally learned words at that level. When learning those more advanced words, your tones may be off and you may not have friends / people to practice usage of those words. For spoken Mandarin, you're basically as good as your other heritage Mandarin friends (the assumption is that the are not totally fluent in Mandarin) and that's not good enough. Programs like the IUP or ICLP are designed to take a heritage learner to near native level but it takes money, time and getting accepted!

2) misconception or myth that Uni programs and exchange programs are gonna make someone fluent in that language. The exchange and study abroad programs are helpful but no guarantee of anything, it has its merits. You work hard to get the results and fluency you want and this takes time and effort.

This I do agree with. Just because you are in a University program or in China / Taiwan doesn't mean you're Mandarin is going to get better. It's what you do there that counts. I know people who have been in China for years and never learned Chinese at all. Even those who do take to learning Chinese end up at the upper intermediate level. Most can't read newspapers. It's pretty easy these days to be in that situation, especially in bigger cities like Shanghai and Beijing where lots of expats live.

Getting back to the original topic. Can anyone who has reached near fluency based on the conditions I listed tell us how you did it and what it took? Most people who have gotten to that level usually spent a good portion of time abroad.

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xiaotao

I don't disagree that going abroad would be beneficial but in your post you said that you can't take off for the summer or a year. I agree that Chinese learning for heritage learners varies, even among siblings. It just depends on the individual and the amount of interest in learning. I strongly feel that heritage learners can figure out vocabulary by reading or watching TV. I'm sure that if a heritage learner made a point to watch talk shows and news on a daily basis, he or she would make progress. All one would need is Pleco to look few words a day. I've seen it over and over again, heritage learners are always ahead, if they are interested in learning.

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jkhsu

I don't disagree that going abroad would be beneficial but in your post you said that you can't take off for the summer or a year.

That's correct, the option of taking a year or more off to do an intensive study program in China or Taiwan is not an option, but what I was trying to point out is that IF one had the time, it would definitely be beneficial and especially for heritage learners as well.

I strongly feel that heritage learners can figure out vocabulary by reading or watching TV. I'm sure that if a heritage learner made a point to watch talk shows and news on a daily basis, he or she would make progress.

Ok, let's set the conditions of the "heritage learner" so we're talking about the same thing. In my mind the heritage learner is not the person who finished 4th grade in China or Taiwan and then came to the USA (let's assume USA in this conversation) already knowing how to read books and basic newspapers.

I am talking about the person who was born or came to the USA prior to school in China or Taiwan and only spoke to their parents in "kitchen Mandarin". They speak English to all their friends. They never learned how to read until one day they get to college and realize they should take some Chinese. They then take something like Chinese for advanced beginners, etc. etc. If these heritage learners do not take any more additional classes, they won't be able to pick up the news with a dictionary. Whether you're a heritage learner or not, you need to spend the time to get to the advanced Chinese level in order to read newspapers and understand the TV News. There are classical chinese and cheng yu terms that you can't just pick up without learning.

What heritage learners do have an advantage in is that their pronounciation sounds more authentic Chinese, especially for intermediate type words. And that's obvious because they grew up speaking "kitchen Chinese" with parents. But I will state this again, for words they have never heard of, they will have the same problem with tones as anyone else.

You also mentioned heritage learners of any kind in your original post. I didn't bother going there because there are so many examples I know of people who speak Cantonese, Taiwanese, Shanghainese, etc, you name it that definitely do not have an advantage at the advanced levels based on the definition I gave for the "heritage learner".

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imron
My own opinion is that it is possible to reach near native levels in reading

Only after a very long time. Even if you get to the point where you can read everything an educated Chinese native could, there's still the issue of building up near native speed which takes quite a lot of time and effort.

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xiaotao

You just have to learn like everybody else. Dive in and you can judge for yourself if it's possible to get to the level you desire. I am told by a Chinese teacher that first graders start off learning 6 idioms a week. We are really lucky to have so many Chinese learning tools available to us.

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yellowpower

@jkhsu

it's great that you have an interest and desire to be fluent in Mandarin.

With technology so advanced, compared to past generations, language learners today have many choices. In the past, going abroad was the sterling standard and needed, but that was b4 the Internet and Media Age of today. Going abroad today is just but one option, there are many ways to bridge this divide. There is statellite TV, chinese cable, movies,internet radio, podcasts, electronic gadgetry, computerised learning programs, video conferencing, etc for "native speaker" immersion. Many textbooks come with downloadable MP3 or CD recordings of native speakers reading the text. All this arsenal at our disposal to create and tailor-make an immersion experience for ourselves.

Also, education has gone global and viral, so many China students are studying overseas in many corners of the world unlike in the past where interaction was limited. So one can still get exposure to native speakers without having to travel abroad. It takes time to locate and find where these people are, and no doubt there are some near where you live:-)

Going abroad is one part of the equation in an immersion experience, and as you correctly pointed out some just stick to their enclave of familiarity and don't get their feet wet. Wondering how you've concluded "Programs like the IUP or ICLP are designed to take a heritage learner to near native level but it takes money, time and getting accepted!" Everyone's experience varies, for some it works and for others maybe not, and whose and what definition of native level are we talking about here? Because just learning specialised high level sounding vocab without any real application is not beneficial, and is just but one indication of mastery of a language but is not necessary the pinnacle.

There are many well-known China universities that publish materials on so many topics and not just language learning, many come audio recordings some , etc. Check out their websites and order study materials that you need.

As for using very 'high level' complex mandarin outside of China/chinese speaking countries, this is a matter of realistic expectations: based on need, social situation, and education level of who you are talking to and for what purpose...even among highly educated chinese people who are living in western countries, not all are capable of such high level discourse unless they belong to academia or have specialised knowledge in a certain domain. So this is very subjective. And how many actual native speakers of any language are capable of high level skillful discourse? It takes more than language learning, as many have probably spent years of postgrad study to develop their expertise, and many will still say they are still learning;-)

Only you have the answer to what you're asking about in terms of fluency in your particular situation and needs. It is do-able but you have to define the degree of desired fluency for yourself and why you need it, then get your plan going. Find a teacher who is able to practice the more formal, academic chinese with you if that`s your attainment level. At the social level, it's better to learn 'slang' and more current sayings. Fluency is a balance of both formal and informal, so kitchen sink speech still has value and can be fun :-)

In the forums, you will find that many heritage speakers or advanced learners have the same concerns as you about mastery of the language at a higher level and becoming native-like or native in speech, writing, etc....it's a struggle and takes years of study. Sure it can be easier if one was living in a country that speaks the lingo 24/7, but then competency levels varies even among native speakers. We all have to live within the restrictions of where we live and find ways to make up the shortcomings.

And being a native speaker of any language does not mean that one doesn't have to use the dictionary,or is capable of speaking off the cuff about any subject using technical jargon with ease (which is also advanced and specialised vocabluary)...

..do your best and enjoy your journey of learning...jia you!

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歐博思

Adding to yellowpower's last bit in his post above:

Yep even natives won't know all words, so if in the process of learning Chinese, you come across a word you don't even know in English then feel free to discard that word in Chinese! The exception to this rule is Chinese cultural terms such as 上火, etc.

You said you weren't sure whether it's possible to attain a high proficiency in speaking. With my last paragraph in mind I feel that you can arrive at a quite solid speaking level. You don't need every fancy word that exists to have normal everyday life. But there are days I hear a fun sounding adjective someplace and then I start using it too =D

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jbradfor

In thinking about this, I don't see any impediment to reaching any level even outside China -- given enough time. Under your conditions, I think progress would be very slow, but I could see a dedicated person reaching any level they want given enough time. Well, until they die, that is.

What being in China gives you is immersion, motivation, and cultural aspects. Without immersion it takes longer to learn, but there is nothing unique to what you learn in immersion. Motivation, well, you already assume enough motivation to sustain decades of self-study. Cultural aspects would be more difficult, but between friends and access to current native material (TV programs, movies, books, websites) you can pick up some. Plus, being in China certainly doesn't guarantee learning anything about the local culture.

Can anyone who has reached near fluency based on the conditions I listed tell us how you did it and what it took?

I think such a person is rare, if such a person exists. Given the conditions, I would think it would take decades to reach near fluency. I would be very surprised if a person with enough interest in learning Chinese to sustain it for decades would never find an opportunity to study in China.

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Scoobyqueen
Can anyone who has reached near fluency based on the conditions I listed tell us how you did it and what it took? Most people who have gotten to that level usually spent a good portion of time abroad.

I have been going to China on business for 7-8 times, each time tagging on one or two weeks of intensive study. However, I work full time in another country and use Chinese at work sometimes when I am not in China (my work involves communicating with experts (mostly in English) in various countries and China is one. I need Chinese if I am to communicate with these people but I could have used an interpreter too). I have learnt most of my Chinese on those short courses though. Additionally I probably spent 80 percent of my time on listening comprehension and this has paid off. You end up knowning what to say in a particular context because you have "heard" it before. I do 2-4 hours of skype with a Bejing based teacher over the weekend. That works as well as the course nearly. I also study 3 hours a day which is related to a commute I do. Took me around five years to reach this level. I dont know what you term near fluency. I can do presentations and moderate events. For my line of work that is enough fluency.

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creamyhorror
Additionally I probably spent 80 percent of my time on listening comprehension and this has paid off.

Could you share some details of your study method? What material do you use, and how do you study/learn from it? Do you watch/listen to talkshows, news, dramas, movies, podcasts, and/or radio? Do you check up most words you come across that you don't know, or learn them from context? Do you make them into flashcards? Or jot them down to ask via Skype?

Sorry for the 20-questions, it just seems to me like a good idea to switch my focus to listening, considering that I've been doing mostly flashcarding and reading for the past year or two (and mostly fiction rather than news). Your experience would be helpful to learn from, considering your considerable progress.

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Scoobyqueen
Could you share some details of your study method?

I decided to focus on listening as obviously with Chinese being a tone language this was important. Also I find it so silly when your Chinese level is fairly good (or in any language) you cant understand what the other person is saying.

I listened to radio broadcasts every day but mostly those with transcript. I wouldnt read the transcrip until I had tried to understand what was going on. But this involves rewinding and rewinding. It is a bit tedious but if you are the patient type it is ok. I then underlined all words I didnt know and looked them up. Some I entered into a flashcard programme. In the afternoon I would listen to the same piece again this time writing down in hanzi what I heard (to practice note taking). I would then review these broadcasts. For the other aspect of colloquial speech, I used a text book on colloquial idioms plus higher level HSK material and listened to the dialogues again and again and again. Until the words and sentences stuck and I was able to just used a set phrase in a given context. I would repeat the phrase to myself again and again out loud.

Some examples of stuff that got stuck that way: 我还给老师了,这个考试考砸了,太不像话了,八字还没有一撇,在刀刃上,里三层外三层的。I remember these specifically because people have often asked how do I know that and obviously they came directly out of a book. I made sure I applied the new words though in the skype lessons. Also more intellectuall stuff such as chengyu. I just repeated and repeated. But again I made sure I repeated them in a context and specifically asked if I had used it correctly. I have tended to repeat set phrases rather than invidiual words. you can always recycle a phrase. I rarely jotted these things down as when you are speaking you either remember it or you dont use it. therefore I just wanted to learn these phrases by heart.

I dont know if this method will work for other people. If I have audioed enough I can hear the sentence inside my head. scary.

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jkhsu

@Scoobyqueen - You mentioned that it took you around 5 years of study, 7-8 trips, 1-2 hours of skype in the weekends and 3 hours a day. Can you go into more detail about the the books you used or what you listened to in the commute? Also, were you at the absolute beginner stage when you first started?

I can do presentations and moderate events. For my line of work that is enough fluency.

Yes, this I consider enough fluency as long as doing presentations and talking to people is not something you need to prepare and prepare.

Let me also explain the fluency I am talking about so that we are all on the same page. I mention "advanced level Chinese" several times, but the context I am talking about is really the term as it is used when teaching Chinese as a foreign language. Based on my trips to China and reading some grade level books, I would equate the USA Advanced Level Chinese in major Universities as being around 4th grade Chinese in China. 4th graders can read newspapers in China.

So when I say fluency, I mean being able to listen, speak, and read as well as an educated 6th grader Chinese person in China. Anything beyond that is really subject matter Chinese. For example business terms and scientific terms can only be learned if you study or work in that area of things.

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Scoobyqueen
Yes, this I consider enough fluency as long as doing presentations and talking to people is not something you need to prepare and prepare.

I think you always have to prepare for a presentation. If you want to shine a bit more you have to practice the chenyus and some contructs in advance. That is part of improving. But in terms of moderating, you cant really prepare for that ie you have to be spontaneous.

Can you go into more detail about the the books you used or what you listened to in the commute? Also, were you at the absolute beginner stage when you first started?

Yes but they will just be examples as I dont believe my method will work for everyone: I was an absolute beginner when I started out with self-studying Kan Qian's book called Colloquial Chinese vol 1 and 2 (Routledge) plus Chinese pod. They formed the first six months of study. Afterwards I went to China for a ten day course and was introduced to a series from Beijing Yu Yan Daxue 口语教程 vol elementary and intermediate (this book was too colloquial) , then NPCR vol 4 (great for grammar, intellectual but also colloquial stuff - love this series),Learning about China from Newspapers elementary newspaper reading book 1 and book 2, Open for Business - Lessons in Chinese Commerce for the millenium vol 1 and 2, pls around 6-8 HSK books focusing on the listening part only with obscure colloquial expressions, A course in Chinese Colloquial Idioms (Beijing yu yan da xue). Also three course books focusing on daily life advanced level and history intermediate provided by my school. all with audios. I wouldnt buy a book without audio or have the teacher record it. Additionally, Radio Australia and other radio broadcasts plus daily reading of www.gmw.cn. This have been the routine stuff I have tried to do regularly.

In total I think I may have had about 500-600 one to one lessons (including the courses in China and the skype).

I am satisfied with my level without having to put a label on it. However, I also feel I had to work really really hard for this. Still do. None of this came easy. Discipline or stubborness, tenacity and perseverance were all needed and still are.

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jkhsu

In thinking about this, I don't see any impediment to reaching any level even outside China -- given enough time. Under your conditions, I think progress would be very slow, but I could see a dedicated person reaching any level they want given enough time. Well, until they die, that is

I don't exactly agree with this. If this were true, I probably wouldn't have asked the question in the first place. The main problem with learning Chinese outside of China is at some point you don't have natives to talk to you all the time or work that is actually in Chinese where you need to communicate in both written and spoken Chinese for 8 hours a day, everyday. Like I mentioned in the conditions, the assumption is that you don't spend 8 hours a day in a Chinese company writing Chinese and talking in Chinese. I think if that part of the scenario were true, fluency would be attainable.

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Scoobyqueen
Like I mentioned in the conditions, the assumption is that you don't spend 8 hours a day in a Chinese company writing Chinese and talking in Chinese

My background fits these conditions plus the additional courses I did which thinking about it you might be able to do per skype too. I seem to remember half my time was spent doing the homework in the beginning. It is achievable but in my opinion you have to focus a lot on audio because you are not in China and because it is a tonal language which requires more listening practice.

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jkhsu

@Scoobyqueen - Your story is great. It's an inspiration for the rest of us. Another question, what do you do on a daily basis now to keep up the Chinese? Is reading the newspaper online good enough?

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jbradfor
The main problem with learning Chinese outside of China is at some point you don't have natives to talk to you all the time or work that is actually in Chinese where you need to communicate in both written and spoken Chinese for 8 hours a day, everyday.

And what exactly do you think one gains from this that one can not gain, in any manner, outside China? Besides, of course, the speed at which you learn.

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