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Introduction: Why I'm interested in Chinese.

Jeremy Andrews

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I became interested in Chinese because I really like the sound of the language. In fact, I don't mind listening to the same clips over and over because of this. My interest only deepened because of the characters. Each one seems to have some kind of interesting background or history, and when you put them together in words, you see how they symbolize these abstract concepts. It's fascinating, really.

I really like the grammar. It seems like bigger concepts are often clearly built-up from smaller ones in a way that makes sense. I like how it tends to use a lot of separate words to indicate things like number, time, etc.

Finally, I feel a stronger emotional connection when watching stuff in Chinese than I do in, say, Spanish. I find that even if I don't understand what's being said, I'm more likely to laugh or cry at the right time, and more importantly, I really WANT to understand what's being said very much. Something about it seems engaging.

However, I'm probably never going to travel to a Chinese-speaking country. My family all live here in Texas, and I'm financially/emotionally dependent on them to the point that I can't see myself leaving the state, much less the country. I do want to eventually be able to talk to native Chinese speakers online through Skype or something, perhaps even play online games with them. I want to get an idea of what their culture is like. I'd also like to be able to understand Chinese TV shows.

My biggest priorities are probably reading and understanding, but writing and speaking help with those so much that I see no reason to neglect any of them.

I know that Chinese isn't the most practical language to learn in my situation, nor will it be easy to do without access to native speakers in real life. But I do believe that it can be done eventually.

I have no doubt that Mandarin Chinese is worth learning, and I do think it's a good language. But what I'm most concerned about is my hearing and my ability to learn.

I'm actually deaf in my right ear, but I have normal hearing in my left ear. Sometimes I have to ask for things to be repeated in English quite often because of this, and wonder how much worse this tendency will be when learning a new language. I've misheard "city" as "sitter," and "sip of this" as "syphilis."

I've also failed to learn a foreign language once before (though I was trying to learn that one for pragmatism rather than because I wanted it), and I worry about my age. I'm 25 years old, and I wonder if I'm too old to learn a new language well. I've heard that if you don't start learning a language as a child (before age 13), you'll never learn to speak it well. Finally, I've heard that monolingual, native English-speaking Americans are the least able to learn a new language of any group. I fall into that category, so I wonder if I'm really capable of doing something most of my peer group cannot do.

Currently, I have at my disposal the Rosetta Stone software, and I've been working with something called Zhongwen Red that someone suggested a while ago, though I haven't gotten past the first lesson on that. I also used the about.com tutorial to listen out for tones and try to understand them, but I didn't get good coverage of the neutral tone at all. I have a sketchy knowledge of the third tone, on top of that.

So, should someone like me even try to learn Chinese? If so, what would be the best place to start with it? I keep repeating the first lesson in Rosetta Stone and Zhongwen Red because I don't trust my pronunciation at all, and it's only improving very slowly. The annoying part is that all my other skills seem to be improving more rapidly than pronunciation... reading and writing are ahead of speaking and listening, despite my best efforts to avoid that situation.

Listening is somewhat ahead of speaking, I can hear subtle differences between Chinese sentences that I myself have difficulty reproducing. My own voice sounds sloppy and thickly accented to me, and I can't seem to shake that. I can hardly believe it would be comprehensible.

I really don't know what to do, I feel very trapped in phonetics... but I think if I can master the phonetics of the language before moving on, everything else will come a lot easier, because I KNOW that is my weakest point in language learning. My mouth is definitely my least favorite part of my body, it never does what I want as well as I'd like... honestly, I think I'm less articulate in English when I have to speak it rather than type it. I was two years old before I learned to speak, but I was able to read at age three. And I was recognizing car manufacturer and store logos even earlier than that, probably as soon as I learned to speak.

Come to think of it, I actually had a lot of trouble pronouncing English at first. I recall that I couldn't tell b and v apart. I would pronounce vacuum as "baccum," for instance. I also couldn't make an R sound at all. At the end or middle of a word, I would just make an H sound. Doctor would sound like "Doctah," and Racecar wound sound like "'Acecah," with the letter after the initial R drawn out and aspirated heavily. I think it took until I was 4 or 5 for that to clear up...

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I'm 25 years old, and I wonder if I'm too old to learn a new language well. I've heard that if you don't start learning a language as a child (before age 13), you'll never learn to speak it well.

In my opinion, this is utter BS propagated by quitters. I have learned 5 languages to at least a conversational level, 4 of those after turning 20.

It is true that some things become a bit more difficult with age, pronunciation is one of them. Growing up bilingual also helps with other languages later, monolingual people have more trouble. Your learning habits are different from those of a child, and your brain is optimised for one language and you need to "reprogram" it in order to hear and pronounce another language accurately. Exposure is important and difficult to get in Texas. This are all real concerns that you'll need to address.

But nothing is impossible, and hard work and good instruction will get you anywhere you want to go, at any age.

Just be clear with yourself that Chinese is a long-term committment. You'll need to chip at it for quite a while, so it will only make sense if you intend to make it a hobby and an enjoyable activity. Make it fun and stick with it, and progress will come slowly, but surely.

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I started in my late 40's.

After about five years of hard work I found a tutor and friends locally, and that transformed the learning experience into something real.

If you can't afford a tutor, I want to tell you that prior to that I was successful at making Chinese friends on QQ, for free!

Good luck. :-)

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I would just like to say that I am 55 and have been learning Chinese for the last 20+ years. Age is not a barrier to learning languages. There are quite a few people learning in to their later years.


I am unable to travel due to medical reasons so I will never go to China, but I don't see this as a problem because I am learning for the pleasure of it.


I too love the language, the sounds and characters, so I really enjoy learning it.


As renzhe says it is a long term commitment and you will see slow but appreciable advances. I find it goes in leaps and plateaus, getting slow for a while then whizzing along at other times.



renzhe's post explains things well.


Keep your eye on this forum, don't hesitate to post question, ideas etc.. When asking questions try to include your attempt at an answer and as much relevant info to help people help you,


As to using Rosetta stone, I wouldn't use it a stand alone teaching aid. I would invest in the the first book and extras for the New Practical Chinese reader and mainly use the text book and use Rosetta stone just as an extra. There was a thread on this forum about the pros and cons of Rosetta stone earlier and if I remember right, the majority of people didn't like it as the main teaching aid. It doesn't explain anything and can be quite daunting at first.


Never heard of Zhongwen Red so no comment.


Good luck, work hard, and don't give up :)

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I notice you've heard and give weight to a lot of the myths surrounding language. My dad started learning Spanish in his forties and he is fluent. Both he and his brother began learning Chinese when I went to China. They don't study extremely seriously, but they've gotten pretty good after a couple years.


Also, there are a lot of opportunities for you to travel abroad. The Peace Corps is one example, though I believe you need a bachelor's. There may be other programs that allow you to teach English or volunteer in China.


Also, if you end up working as an interpreter, you could make decent money.


Learning is about practice. Practice speaking and you will get better. Practice pronunciation and you'll improve. Never underestimate yourself. You never know what you're capable of.

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There are a lot of opportunities to travel, but for many reasons apart from money, some people cannot visit china or indeed travel very far anywhere.

While being probably the best way to learn it is not the only way.


i don't want the OP to feel he has to visit to make any decent progress, much can be accomplished without visiting china.


As sparrow says"Learning is about practice. Practice speaking and you will get better. Practice pronunciation and you'll improve."


IMHO this can be done anywhere you have access to learning material. Access to the internet is helpful but not a must all the time.

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Agreed, travel is not necessary to excel with a language. It isn't.


Think about it like this: If you are constantly listening to an mp3 of a sitcom, you're receiving perhaps ten times the auditory input of a baby.


Half an hour spent practicing speech is often times more speaking than a lot of people do in a day, depending on their job. Most people don't spend a solid half-hour talking constantly.


You can get a lot done without travel, that is absolutely true.


Thanks, Shelley, for pointing that out. I didn't mean to make it sound otherwise. :)

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My concern would be that you're a bit light on resources. Rosetta Stone might have its place, but it won't get you very far. Zhongwen Red I just had a quick look at - maybe useful, but hardly comprehensive. 


My advice for independent learners is, as usual:

A structured course to follow is essential. Currently that means a paper-and-ink textbook, and the associated audio and video resources. Online and CD-ROM courses aren’t there yet, although they may make sound supplementary materials. Which actual course is less important – that will depend on what is available, what you like the look of, costs, etc.
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It's better than telling them to learn one character a decade, which is the conservative option. ;)

Or we could be realistic and pick goals which are challenging, but not stupid. Like 1000 characters in the first year. Then come up with a reasonable weekly plan and work on that.

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Maybe you've heard the joke:

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?


What do you call someone who speaks two languages?


What do you call someone who speaks one language?

"An American".


I don't really care why most Americans choose not to study a foreign language, since that leaves a market segment for me in the future. One could imagine that the less-than-stellar economy and people often working multiple jobs not having time or energy being a factor.

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Oh, I can hear in my left ear well enough. I was just pointing out that I'm practically deaf in that ear... ever since I got a sinus infection at age 15. They say there's a surgery that might be able to fix it, but it's thousands of dollars, I don't have a job, and I need that money for school. I might get it one of these days when I can get a job and pay for health insurance. I like to joke with people that a stereo or surround sound system is wasted on me, because I hear in mono anyway. I can pick up small sounds... I just can't tell where they're coming from. That's my biggest issue.

I'm not sure whether I'm having issues learning Chinese... I can hear the little nuances in recordings okay, if I listen enough times. But I can't tell whether my own voice is getting close enough. All I can do is listen to an audio sample, listen to a recording of my voice, and keep comparing them until I feel it's close enough. And it never seems quite right to me. So it's a little frustrating.

I live in Garland, but very close to Richardson and Dallas. I can take DART easily. My mother made sure of that, because I can't drive a car... I'm REALLY scared of driving.

I haven't had good experiences with special needs programs, anyway. My Dad was upset with me for not making eye contact, so he had me pulled out of class every week to sit with children who were acting out, or who were handicapped in some way... and have this lady gently pressure me about making eye contact. They treated it like a mental disorder, but I was really intimidated by eye contact, AND I wanted to point my left ear towards people's mouths. I felt humiliated, being treated like that, and I was glad when it was over.

They meant well and wanted to improve my social skills, but now I'm intimidated by face-to-face interaction in general due to being made to feel self-conscious about not maintaining eye contact. Thus, I mostly talk to people via texting, phone calls, Facebook and Skype calls, and try not to speak in person unless I have no choice.

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@Jeremy: As far as social skills go, if it's something you want to improve, you can improve it. Otherwise, forget this comment. :)


But if you can take public transit easily into Dallas, you should be able to find a Chinese tutor or language partner. Again, if you're completely turned off by social interaction, this is a meaningless suggestion.

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Yeah, I guess you're right, Sparrow.


I probably need to improve my social skills sometime. This is as good a reason as any.


I don't really know where in Dallas to look for those things, honestly, but I guess that's what Bing is for.

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Craigslist might make your search easier.


Also, you can look up the ESL (English as a Second Language) programs at colleges and universities in Dallas, which should have tons of people who would love an English language partner. You can negotiate half an hour of English and half an hour of Chinese, or however you want to do it. When I was living in New York, I did that all the time and met a lot of cool Chinese people. It's probably the main reason why I still speak Mandarin decently even though I left China six years ago. :P


[Edit: I accidentally a word.]

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