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Patrick_ChineseForum

How to not forget Chinese language when you don't live around Chinese people?

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Patrick_ChineseForum

Hi,

I always love learning languages. I used to learn Japanease for a few years in college and got to the level that I could read manga (Japanese comic books) with some help from dictionary. Then life got busy. Ten years passed by, I've forgotten roughly 80% of Japanese language that I once know because I don't have a chance to use it. Now I'm considering learning Chinese and don't want that to happen again. Even thought learning language is fun, I would like to have something to show for at the end (aka retaining the language knowledge).

I'm a single 35 yo man who live and work in Chicago. I have some free time on the weekend and have a few hours after work on weekday. I plan to attend a Chinese Mandarin class next January. What would you suggest I should do to retain the language knowledge after finishing classes?

What do you guys do to not forget Chinese (or any languages) when you don't live around Chinese people? Any advice/ideas are welcome.

Thank you,

Patrick

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Matty

Thinking in Chinese worked for me, that inner-voice in your head, mine now mostly talks to me in Chinese. And also I've never found anywhere where there are no Chinese, there always seems to be a Chinese person somewhere that's willing to make a new friend. But they may not be so easy to find.

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renzhe

Honestly, I think that learning Chinese will be a bigger challenge than forgetting it.

With most languages, there is a threshold where you internalise a language, and feel very comfortable with it. If you don't reach that level, you can quickly forget everything. But if you do reach it, you will usually keep the passive skills, and will be able to freshen up in a matter of months and reach the old level quickly if immersed again. Chinese is no different than any other languages in this sense, provided that you have reached a good level (easy reading of newspapers, easy 95%+ comprehension of most spoken materials).

There are many things you can do to combat the deterioration: watching in target language, reading in target language, regular conversation (once a week with a language partner, for example). It will deteriorate one way or another, but it's definitely possible to keep a decent level with some effort.

The main problem is getting to the level where you are maintaining your language level, rather than learning a language. This tends to be considerably more difficult with Chinese than with most other languages out there, especially for people with a European linguistic background.

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Matty

You could also get a net friend and Skype a lot and talk about all kinds of things.

Or you could get a professional teacher who can teach you online via Skype, I know a really good one, but the good ones are always a little more expensive.

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abcdefg
What do you guys do to not forget Chinese (or any languages) when you don't live around Chinese people?

I'm hoping that kicking my reading up a notch will help with this. It is much easier to find Chinese reading materials when I am in the US than it is to find Chinese speakers. I also watch some Chinese Movies and recorded TV shows.

Honestly, I think that learning Chinese will be a bigger challenge than forgetting it.

Though my Chinese is nowhere near @renzhe's level, I find it decays rapidly when not used. I think I've reached the internalization threshold he speaks of, and it comes back in a matter of weeks when I return to China. I don't have to think before talking here in China unless the topic is unfamiliar. My replies "just come out" naturally and more or less effortlessly. My speech may not always be correct (understatement), but it is pretty much automatic. So even though my conversation level returns to normal quickly when back in China, my reading only comes back slowly and with lots of effort. I must labor over almost each and every word. I do not retain the written material well.

This year I will focus on reading. Will make a post in the "aims and objectives" thread in a day or two.

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imron
What do you guys do to not forget Chinese (or any languages) when you don't live around Chinese people?

With the advent of the internet, it's quite easy to surround yourself with the Chinese language, even if you don't live around Chinese people. TV, radio, movies, podcasts, newspapers, magazines, books, chatting - both text, voice and video, are all readily available online.

I'm also personally a big fan of reading, which became a much larger focus for me after returning to my home country, although I tend to stock up on reading material on trips to China rather than relying solely on the internet for this because I prefer reading a book compared to a screen.

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Meng Lelan

With the advent of the internet, it's quite easy to surround yourself with the Chinese language, even if you don't live around Chinese people. TV, radio, movies, podcasts, newspapers, magazines, books, chatting - both text, voice and video, are all readily available online.

That is so incredibly true of this day and age. I used to worry about not living around Chinese people and ending up with bad Chinese skills, but nowadays I don't worry about that anymore.

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Olle Linge

I agree with the rest of the answers here, surrounding yourself with Chinese is not difficult at all. I've been living in Sweden for a year and a half and I learn a lot more Chinese than I forget. I read, listen to radio broadcasts and study actively. Keeping Chinese with you in your everyday life is a good idea, too, like having audio on your phone, flashcard software ready when you have time over to review, something to read and so on. In addition, I also agree that you can always find Chinese-speaking people if you want to, either where you live (check the closest university) or online.

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Silent

I agree with all above. It's not hard to keep exposure to Chinese, or any other major language, these days. Nevertheless does this help OP? If you get busy doing other things it's very easy not to put in the little effort needed to retain the language skills. The moment you have reached fluency/near native level it's fairly easy. Then you just take a Chinese movie, book or whatever to relax instead of the mainstream stuff.

If you're only upper intermediate/early advanced level or even less you have to put in a considerable effort to follow a movie or book compared to something in your mothertongue. It won't be that relaxing and when busy it's easy to give a pass on the effort if there's no real need to put in the effort. Essentially learning a language and wanting to retain the language skills takes commitment to use the language on a regular basis for the rest of your life. Sure, when you neglect it it won't disappear entirely. Depending on level, time you used it, time you neglected it etc when exposed again it will come back fairly quickly.

If OP wants something to show for the effort and retain the language skills I think he better chooses a language to which he has natural exposure or commits to put in enough effort to reach fluency/near native level so he can use the language for relaxing activities such as watching movies and reading books.

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xiaotao

At 35, time is not on your side but there is no harm in trying Chinese and learning for fun. I think it would be more rewarding to learn a language similar to English because you can get to a functional level quicker. To answer your question, I think the best way to learn vocabulary and retain Chinese is by reading reading reading.

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jono1001

I live in a remote and rural community, yet it does not stop me studying Chinese. I just have to accept that I can not get a Chinese tutor or Chinese friends to help me learn.

Patrick it sounds like you already have good plans to learn Chinese. I think that taking a class is an excellent idea. It also sounds like you have plenty of time set aside to learn. If you have already learned Japanese some year ago you can apply some of your language learning skills and methods to studying Chinese.

I think you should set yourself some short term and long term goals about what you want to do with your Chinese langauge skills. As well as this language learning has changed considerably since you learned Japanese. There are so many free resources on the Net where you can teach yourself. There are also some commercial software and websites that may help you learn. If I were you I would start now before you classes begin and see what you can teach yourself.

Good luck with your study.

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Patrick_ChineseForum

Hi guys,

Thanks for sharing your great advice. I was surprised to see many replies in such a short time period. It's interesting that Renzhe reminded me that it'll be a bigger challenge to learn than to forget. I really hope he's right. :-) My mom who spoke Chinese as her first language (but she gave up on teaching me when I was a toddler!) told me that since my first language is Thai (which has similar grammar structure as Chinese), I shouldn't have much trouble learning Chinese. I sure hope she's right as well. :-)

Matty. Thinking in Chinese? That's a great idea! You must be very fluent to think in Chinese. I doubt that I could reach that level without being physically in China...

Thanks everyone for sharing your idea. I'll start my first Chinese language class next month. I'm sure I'll back with more questions about Chinese language. ^_^

Patrick

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Patrick_ChineseForum

Umm... I think I should mention that even though my mom's first language is Chinese, it's not Mandarin. It's some kind of Chinese dialect that's only popular amoung southern China and Chinese who live in south east asia countries. So I don't get the advice like "just talk Chinese to your mom" :-)

Thanks,

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renzhe

I don't think that knowing Thai will help you with Chinese grammar, but I suspect that it will do wonders for your tones, so you have at least one advantage over most of us.

Otherwise, it will be a tough, but interesting ride, and if you really intend to learn Chinese, I recommend rolling up your sleeves and preparing for some hard work in the coming years. Good luck!

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rezaf
I don't think that knowing Thai will help you with Chinese grammar, but I suspect that it will do wonders for your tones, so you have at least one advantage over most of us.

There are two groups of "adult" Chinese learners who progress quite fast but can almost never get good at Mandarin pronunciation: The Thai and the Vietnamese. I have had both Thai-Chinese and Vietnamese classmates in language and TCM classes. I think the Vietnamese had a clear advantage over most of us but Thai students didn't have any significant advantage and most didn't know any dialect of Chinese. Of course I have also seen some very fluent Thai students but they have all learned some kind of Chinese from childhood.

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feng

Best way to not forget is to be regularly using it. You will have to change your life in some way to accomodate it. ie Gain an interest in chinese movies, books, or have some real chinese friends.

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feng
There are two groups of "adult" Chinese learners who progress quite fast but can almost never get good at Mandarin pronunciation: The Thai and the Vietnamese. I have had both Thai-Chinese and Vietnamese classmates in language and TCM classes. I think the Vietnamese had a clear advantage over most of us but Thai students didn't have any significant advantage and most didn't know any dialect of Chinese. Of course I have also seen some very fluent Thai students but they have all learned some kind of Chinese from childhood.

When you say "almost never get good at Mandarin pronunciation" what is your sample size? 5 people, 10? I just want to be aware of if your assertion has a strong foundation in fact or is just a random throwaway line.

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rezaf

There are many articles written about the problems of students who come from Vietnam and Thailand in Mandarin pronunciation especially in tones and intonation.

http://wenku.baidu.c...db6f1a1054.html

http://wenku.baidu.c...ed&hasrec=1

http://www.cqvip.com...spx?id=34563841

http://wenku.baidu.c...f90242e645.html

http://wenku.baidu.com/view/cf1ccb1dfc4ffe473368ab7f.html

I agree "almost never" wasn't scientific but these articles also suggest that the level of difficulty in learning Mandarin pronunciation is notably high for the speakers of these two languages.

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jbradfor

Note that there are a fair number of us who live outside China, in non-Chinese environments, who are able to improve our Chinese with even less time than you have. Slowly, very slowly, but at least the direction is positive.

In addition to the good advice above, my main advice would be to keep the learning fun.

At 35, time is not on your side but there is no harm in trying Chinese and learning for fun.

Not to mention that a fair number of us are older than 35 as well.... We're not dead yet!

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Patrick_ChineseForum

rezaf: Interesting info! Thanks for sharing. My mom never mentioned about pronunciation because she didn't speak Mandarin. I don't know about Vietnamese language but I know that we don't have the R sound in Thai language. That's one problem when Thai try to pronounce English words with R sound. I think Mandarin has an R sound like English, right? The links to Baidu that you posted are interesting. Sadly they are all in Chinese. :-(

feng: I was gonna ask rezaf about the source of his info or the size of sample data. You've read my mine. :-)

jbradfor: Agree! Even though 35 is not young, I believe we can still learn a lot at that age. I overheard my parents and grand parents talked in Chinese all the time without knowing what they talked about. It would be nice if that would help me a bit. Thanks for your nice encouraging words. :-)

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