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戴 睿

A "unique" environment of study... how to be most effective[?]

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戴 睿

大家好!

 

Hello everybody, my name is 戴睿 and I am a missionary for a christian church (hence the title 长老 in my username).

 

My hope and objective in writing this is to obtain your advice and opinions regarding how I might most effectively study the mandarin language.

 

This is probably going to be a pretty interesting post, because I come from an interesting environment of study.

 

Having viewed different topics and posts on the forums from afar, I was previously very impressed by the community involvement and support offered through chinese-forums.

 

To give you some background: I am 19 years old, and have studied chinese for a relatively short period of time. As a member of my church, we are able to sign up to serve 2 year service missions, in which we teach others about our belief. Because the church is international, missionaries are sent all over the world into hundreds of different countries to teach the doctrines of our gospel. This necessitates many of us learning foreign languages. Friends from my high school are currently in over 15 different countries, learning 10 different languages. Of those, I am the only tasked with learning Mandarin.

 

Fortunately, I had studied the language before hand, if only briefly (one semester at college). I have long had a desire to learn the Mandarin language, and this passion will undoubtedly extend far beyond my mission. However, the Church has a very specific way of training us to use the language in order to most effectively communicate with others. I thought I would share this with you all, and then ask for advice about what I can do now, having completed the "starter course."

 

At the start of your two years, you are sent to a training center for 2 months, to learn the language, as well as learn how to effectively teach. Teaching skills aside, we learn the language in a very specific way. First of all, our teachers encouraged us to "forget about characters." Because our goal was to reach a level where we could teach and verbally communicate with natives as quickly as possible, characters are viewed as a hinderance to the process, and thereby abandoned. Pinyin is introduced, as well as basic foundations of the spoken language, and we are from day 1 placed in an "immersion environment" in which our teachers speak nothing but basic mandarin with us. As the weeks progress, we learn basic phrases, grammar, and vocabulary regarding church-related material, and quickly reach a point where we can speak quite easily about the Church itself (Though not quite so well about other speaking topics not related to religion). This process lasts for about two months, at which point you are sent to your respective field and country to teach.

 

Let's skip ahead to my specific situation. I am serving in an English speaking country, specifically in university cities filled with Chinese national students. You spend each and every day with a "companion" or partner, whom you teach with. Generally speaking, and in my specific situation, this companion will always be a native speaker of the foreign language you have been tasked to learn. So for me, my companion hails from mainland China. Though we are not immersed in the language quite the way somebody serving in Taiwan would be, we try to speak it together often, and resultingly I seem to progress suprisingly quickly at spoken-chinese. However, often these conversations (again) are relating mostly to the church, and not to everyday common topics. This is not to say I'm not exposed to natural chinese about every-day, non-religious topics. I am. Every day we meet university students who talk about pretty much everything but religion.

 

Before we continue, I'd like to respectfully assert that I hope not to have this topic be a discussion of religious views or ideals. We each hold dear our own set of beliefs, and I in no way wish to push my own onto you all! My goal is just to receive your help on how I can study more effectively, purely so that I can improve my own language profficiency in a more well-rounded way.

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Now, my core question is: How can I grow competent in the written form of mandarin? My speaking level far surpasses my ability to read, much less write. This is a result of the way I was trained in the language. I, however, have concluded that in the long-term, being competent in both reading and speaking are probably of equal importance. At the moment, I am familiar with only a couple hundred very common characters. My goal is to get to a point where my written and spoken chinese are of equal levels. Beyond that, I'd like to develop a much more well-rounded vocabulary.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I think it might be beneficial to give you an idea of some of the tools I have at my disposal to study the language:

  • A native chinese companion, constantly with me and willing to help. I have struggled utilizing this resource because I don't really know the right questions to ask.
  • An iPod touch, with Anki, Skritter, ChinesePod, and Pleco (though I wouldn't say I really know how to use those applications effectively)
  • Access to the internet and a computer.
  • I can also write to family or through the internet personally obtain whatever other study materials you all might deem necessary.

Finally, you'd probably like to have a good idea of my schedule. Before I write it all down, know that this schedule is very solid. If I say that I will study at x hour for x amount of time, I will. You can be assured that there is little variance in motivation, as the mission rules specifically alot this time for the study of the language. Periods of time highlighted in red mean that for that hour, my availability is completely open in terms of how and what to study. Blue means that I can probably study in some sort of background or second nature way, though it will be less active. Purple means that the slot of time is hard to predict, though not necessarily void of chinese altogether.

 

  • 6:30 a.m. - 30 min. Arise, prepare for the day
  • 7:00 a.m. - 1 hour to study the language
  • 8:00 a.m. - 1 hour personal scripture study (can be in the foreign language if I so choose)
  • 9:00 a.m. - 1 hour companionship study (we study our plans for the day together, discuss our personal study)
  • 10:00 a.m. - 1 hour additional free language study
  • 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon - 1 hour Lunch (probably would be effective to fill this time with background listening, etc. - still reasonably open for study
  • noon - 8:00 p.m. - 8 hours Out on the streets meeting people, or in friend's homes teaching people. Almost every person we interact with will speak mandarin during these times. The conversations (outside of our specifically planned teaching material) are spontaneous.
  • 8:00 p.m. - 1 hour Dinner break (same atmosphere as Lunch)
  • 9:00 p.m. - 30 minute planning session (this includes planning our next day's activites, as well as what we wish study in terms of the language the following day)
  • 9:30 p.m. - 1 hour additional free language study

As you can see, my schedule is very abnormal in terms of how a regular person might study the language. I am of the opinion that I should be able to fill every minute of my day with meaningful language progression, assuming I plan effectively.

 

Now, having a better idea of my background, tools, and availability, I would Love your suggestions on how I might more effectively study the language, specifically in how I can spend my free time to increase my literate fluency while reading and writing!

 

Are there textbooks I should be reviewing? Frequency Lists? Using Anki in a specific way? Are there better SRS applications or general iPod applications I could get my hands on? Should I be partitioning my time differently?

I realize just how broad this inquiry is, but I want to express my gratitude in advance for all of your advice and suggestions! You all are seriously too awesome!

 

谢谢你们!

-戴睿

 

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realmayo

I would suggest you get one of the graded readers that people have recommended on this site. You already know the most common couple of hundred characters so the very beginner books are probably too easy. If your speaking and listening skills are way ahead of reading, you'll be able to understand everything in the book if it was read out loud to you. Make your goal to be able to read (and possibly write) all the characters in the book. Anki and/or Skritter will help you here.

 

Once you've done that, get the next book up in the series. And keep going until you get to a level where you wouldn't necessarily understand the contents even if they were read out loud to you. At that point, your character level will have basically caught up and you can get a textbook that's at the right level and study like a normal person.

 

If I had your schedule I'd do the hardcore character work during the first hour, read the relevant text and learn any new words you think worth learning in the second hour, and perhaps do some focused listening or watch TV in the final hour.

 

You have a native speaker willing to help you every day. See if you can use him or her to improve your pronunciation. Consider picking a normal common colloquial sentence and asking the native speaker to help you say it extremely well, i.e. as perfect tones and pronunciation as possible. The one proviso is to make sure that the native speaker has decent standard Chinese.

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Lu

 

  • 7:00 a.m. - 1 hour to study the language
  • 8:00 a.m. - 1 hour personal scripture study (can be in the foreign language if I so choose)
  • 9:00 a.m. - 1 hour companionship study (we study our plans for the day together, discuss our personal study)

You could perhaps consider combining these three, if you are allowed to do so: read a text about the scripture (or another relevant topic), make note of all new words and characters you come across. Look up all those words and characters (and/or ask your companion to help you understand them) and learn them. Write a short piece about the text you studied: summarise, write your own thoughts, whatever, and ask your companion to correct it.

 

Given that you already speak decent Chinese, another option would be to start with simply drilling the most common characters (reading and writing), and that way learning to write a lot of the things you can already say.

 

Good luck, you're certainly in a good environment to learn a lot, with daily practice and someone dedicated to helping you!

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戴 睿

Thank you so much for your replies thus far!

A few questions:

Realmayo, you mentioned graded readers. Is there a specific series you've found to be particularly beneficial?

Also, you mentioned having my native companion help me with pronunciation. This actually has been something I've put a lot of consideration into. What would you say would be the most effective way for him to influence my pronunciation and accent?

You mentioned reviewing more colloquial sentences, stressing fluency and intonation. Is there some sort of resource containing common colloquialisms I could use for this? Also, do you have any advice on how he might help me adopt a more precise Chinese accent? I would say my pronunciation and accent is standard, but I'd rather genuinely "sound Chinese," if that makes sense!

I think the whole concept of working with the native is something I really need to explore. He is more than willing to help, but has never been trained in how to teach someone Chinese. One problem I've run into is that many natives I meet and speak with are so surprised at my ability to communicate that they effectively quantify my mandarin as "good enough," not taking care to correct what they would consider to be only minor imperfections, like the fact that my accent is noticeably foreign.

Any further tips on how to work with him effectively? Thank you all so much!

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realmayo

I don't have a recommendation myself but do a search for "breeze" here and you'll find one series people seem to like.

 

The reason I suggested colloquial sentences is because I'm assuming your companion is not a particularly good teacher (most people aren't) and so if you just say "test me on my tones" or whatever, you might get nowhere. Plus if you use something too formal he might unconsciously feel he has to get you to speak in a slightly unnatural way, for example ignoring the elisions and changes of rhythm that are usually there in normal speech. Keeping it colloquial and natural should hopefully avoid that.

 

I don't reckon you need a resource to find sentences. Just use something simple that you want to say in normal conversation when you're with him. The goal here is to take advantage of the fact you've got a native speaker to help you perfect your pronunciation -- not to memorise a bunch of colloquial sentences (you can do that any time).

 

Also, if you ask him to correct you on every tiny mistake you make for an entire conversation, you'll both get bored and stop doing it properly (that's my experience). Just focussing on one sentence to get perfect each day, and being more relaxed about other chat you get going, seems more likely to succeed in my opinion.

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zhouhaochen

First, if you want to become fluent in Mandarin, your church's approach of teaching pinyin only and "forget about the characters" is probably not a very good way of doing it. As you are behind in characters by now, I would try to catch up (learn radicals - I like "Most Commonly Used Chinese Radicals" from Zhang Peng, there are plenty of others though).

 

Also, I am not a missionary and I can imagine you have a very different life style to myself or most of our students, but with a program where you basically try to speak, study and learn Mandarin all day, make sure you do some fun things that you enjoy in Mandarin. If this is only work or a calling for you, I personally suspect you might run out of steam reasonably soon. The hard studying is necessary, but you need to have fun with Mandarin and enjoy it. If you enjoy it, are immersed into a Chinese language environment and don't give up easily, you are pretty much certain to become fluent, whatever book/computer program/study method etc. you use.

 

We had a few people in Beijing at LTL studying Mandarin who had been missionaries at universities in Australia and studied Mandarin there in a similar way you seem to plan doing it. For someone who had never been to China before, their Mandarin was all pretty impressive, so go for it, it is definitely doable. You will also probably end up with a better accent than if you had studied in Taiwan (I hope I don't get stoned for that comment from ppl who studied in Taiwan....)

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戴 睿

Thank you both for your responses!

In regards to my native companion and the advice to avoid being overbearing while drilling each and every tiny mistake in my pronunciation - I think that make a lot of sense! I'll do my best to keep it relaxed, and only focus intensely on a very manageable amount each day.

Also, thank you for pointing me in the direction of the breeze series, I'll definitely check those out.

Zhouhaochen, thank you for your advice as well. I think I can reasonably assure you that my motivation or desire to study won't run out, regardless of the straining schedule! Haha I've been doing this for half a year, and to be honest, with each passing day and small improvement I make, I fall more and more in love with the language. I would say I've reached a point of obsession, actually. Also, I am pretty dedicated to making the most out of my demanding schedule, as I absolutely recognise that there will be very few other times in my life where I can dedicate myself to the language quite like this! All in all, I would say this is a LOT more than just "work" for me. I'd phrase it more as being "my whole life." (As you can see, I still have all that young person passion burning in me haha)

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OneEye
You will also probably end up with a better accent than if you had studied in Taiwan (I hope I don't get stoned for that comment from ppl who studied in Taiwan....)

 

You saw it coming, and still decided to make that ridiculous, unfounded, offensive statement? If someone was choosing between studying English in the UK or the US, would you tell them "no, don't study there, you'll have a bad accent"? That would be ridiculous. What makes you think that one country's accent is inherently "better" than the other's?

 

I've been at a conference all weekend here in Taipei, and I've listened to presentations from scholars from all over China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even non-native speakers from Japan and the US. The variation in accent, especially among the mainlanders, is enormous, but everyone understands each other just fine. I have a decidedly Taiwanese accent (which I've argued elsewhere on this site may be one of the most widely and easily understood Mandarin accents), and I've had absolutely zero problems talking to anyone all weekend. This is much the same as you'd expect in a room full of people from New Zealand, the US, the UK, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia speaking English with each other. They would all understand each other just fine (with maybe a few "could you repeat thats"), and anyone who seriously suggests that someone from another country has an inherently "bad" accent would be an asshole.

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戴 睿

Well, that little aside was unfortunate. As I work with predominantly mainland Chinese, I expect my accent will be thus influenced.

I wouldn't presume to say any one accent is inherently "better" than another when the purpose of speech is communication.

Now, any more study tips unique to my schedule and current proficiency?

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imron

Personally, I would not study scripture in your personal language study time.  I'm not sure what Chinese scripture is like, but I imagine it almost certainly uses a set of vocabulary and sentence patterns that are quite different from what you will commonly encounter in modern spoken Chinese.  By all means study scripture in Chinese during your scripture study time, but keep the personal language study time to study other things more directly relevant to things outside of religion, because you've already identified talking about your religion as being one of your strong points, and it's the other areas that need work.

 

I second realmayo's suggestion about graded readers.  The Chinese Breeze series gets good recommendations and there is another new graded reader series that has just been released that seems to be very well put together.

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imron

I also agree with Zhouhaochen's comments about characters.  Not learning them might make things slightly easier in the beginning, but not knowing them will be a hinderance as you try to progress to higher levels simply because without them your ability to access native content is severely limited.

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realmayo

The OP's core question is how to get his reading skills up to his speaking ones so, I'm sure he will be learning characters!

 

When I was in the same sitation some years ago I enjoyed plenty of "ah-ha" moments when I realised that two words I knew how to say shared a common character. Quite fun, like solving a little puzzle each time. 'So that's the shao in shaokao...' etc

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gato

I would also be wary of the quality of the Chinese translation of the Bible. When I looked through the Chinese translation a number of years ago, the language seemed rather pedestrian and unpoetic, a far cry from, say, the King James English translation.

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戴 睿

The bible that I study is the Chinese Union Version (with new punctuation, shen edition).

The scripture text was copyrighted in 1996 by the Hong Kong Bible Society.

That being said, I also strongly agree that the language in the bible/other canon's of scripture that I use is old and not very natural or modern. I have some focused time to study this during set scripture study, but during my other personal language study times, I'd like to focus on more colloquial, modern Chinese.

In terms of utilising graded readers to progress, are there any recommended methods of using them most efficiently? Should I get a few different series with a couple books corresponding with each level, and just work on quantity and exposure?

How can I focus my time on graded readers to squeeze them for all they're worth?

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Ruben von Zwack

I have another graded reader to suggest:

http://my.cheng-tsui.com/files/Chengyu%20Gushi.pdf

 

This one is a free supplement to a well-known textbook, "Integrated Chinese". It depends on you of course if you find these sort of stories interesting.

I guess you will have to take a look inside the different series and decide which difficulty level is right for you and which stories you like to read.

 

As to how to use them most efficiently: unless you have photographic memory skills, you may want to have a few Hanzi references at hand (there are good ones online - zhongwen.com, yellowbridge, chinese-characters.org, etc...) when you deal with new characters.

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Demonic_Duck

@Ruben von Zwack: Nice resource! Any idea which chengyu the first two stories are actually relating to though? They seem to be missing titles.

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zhouhaochen

@OneEye

yes, I did see it coming and there it was, fair game I expected way worse :lol::mrgreen:

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Ruben von Zwack

Any idea which chengyu the first two stories are actually relating to though? They seem to be missing titles.

Unfortunately, I haven't got a clue!

The first one though reminded me so much of this particular TED talk where the presenter explains how the hanzi for sun looks like a window, and the one for tree looks like a tree, so voila: you can read Chinese! (TED talk "ShaoLan: Learn to read Chinese ... with ease!") :wink:

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