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Independent Chinese study: review


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So in total, I figured about $1100-1400 per month for accommodation, meals, and 125 hours of tutoring.




Wow that's really good living what you're doing, exactly what I want to do when I finally retire!


What are you planning to do next - how much longer are you staying there and what do you see as the eventual purpose of your Chinese studies?

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Tamu, that is really impressive and inspiring. You were wise to spend most of your time in the native environment on speaking and listening. You have a good foundation to build on. Now that you are leaving (or have left) this environment, you can probably concentrate on expanding your vocabulary, spending more time on reading (newspapers), writing, and listening (radio and TV shows). With the wide availability of online resources, all those things you can readily do outside of a native environment. Again, very impressive. You have an incredible amount of self-awareness and discipline.

Btw, if you would be share your audio Anki decks online, I am sure many would find them valuable.

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Thanks for the comments. I'm really lucky that everything worked out to have had the chance to spend 4 months in Taiwan studying the language full-time. Not everyone has that luxury, but hopefully independent learners can still find the information helpful. There's really a lot of misinformation on the internet about learning Chinese, and unfortunately loads of it usually is among the first things you come across when doing research on studying. I know from my own experience that it really can skew your view about progress, difficulty, levels, costs, locations. This forum has many realistic posts offsetting that misinformation, and I hope my post can add to that to help anyone who's thinking of studying independently get realistic facts.

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Fantastic write-up. May I ask a question? You say that you



record most of the conversations using the computer or a pocket digital voice recorder.


Do you ask or do you record without telling? In another life, I did some field sociolinguistics and I know that many people tend to change their speech when they know they are being recorded. On the other hand, a hidden recorder often produces recordings that are linguistically more reliable but technically of lower quality. How did you go about it?

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I think this is key:

I've studied several languages before, including 2 non Indo-European languages to advanced levels, so I have a good idea of what works for me.


It'd be a lucky first-time language learner that hit the ground running this fast...

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 Well, luck is not going to figure greatly in language learning, it's hard work, also  something else too,  the OP may not be in a situation that would prevent doing this (a full time job, parenthood, school, significant others, etc). So the OP may have a relative degree of freedom to do this.

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I think this is the greatest forum post I've ever read. Thankyou sir for such a detailed and interesting account.  


I wonder if you have time, if you could share more about where your motivation to Learn Chinese has come from, you seem to have an incredible work ethic which I'd be interested to hear more about.

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Thanks for the kind comments about this post.

@Laurenth -

Yeah, recording is tricky. People definitely change their speech when they know they're being recorded, so I've found recording using the computer better than a pocket digital recorder.


It's just because of my circumstances. I study all day in cafes and parks. I'm already sitting there with the laptop open. So when I meet someone and start recording our conversation using the computer, it seems more natural than placing a digital recorder between us. The digital recorder is a constant reminder that it's being recorded, but people pretty quickly forget if it's just a computer with no visible sign that it's recording. The downside is that the computer recording quality isn't so great. But since it's for just my own purposes, the recordings are more than good enough to be able to review later, analyze tone contours, and use as samples for shadowing.

The biggest issue I've found is that, regardless of whether or not they're being recorded, Chinese speakers don't necessarily speak in the same way to foreigners as they do to other native speakers. This is true in any language, of course; everyone regulates his/her speech based on perceptions of the listener's language skills. But it seems to me that Chinese is particularly noteworthy for several reasons:


  • Broad category of issues I'd lump under "cultural issues": lack of experience ever speaking Chinese with a foreigner, perceptions of foreigners, experiences with other foreigners, etc, etc. It affects different people in different ways, of course. But many people just don't talk the same when they're  speaking to a foreigner as they do when speaking with a Chinese native speaker, much more than I think is common in European languages. Of course, eventually at some point the people could revert to their normal speech patterns, but it could take quite a long time, depending on the circumstances.

  • As a foreigner, the combination of tones and overall sentence intonation, mood, and emphasis is really tricky, so that's what I'm really interested in analysing and mimicking from the conversations I record. But that becomes complicated if people are changing or exaggerating their tones all the time when speaking to me. I've read some research on this topic. One interesting paper explores the difference between speech directed at adult native speakers, babies, and foreigners.  It found that Chinese speakers "expanded Fo patterns in time and Fo range" when speaking with foreigners as compared to with other adult native speakers.

  • Chinese speakers change and exaggerate tone contours in a very unique way when explaining concepts. From what I've found, it seems many, if not all, speakers do this. I've found that it's notably different than how English-speakers, for example, change their speech when explaining ideas. In my case, since in many conversations native-speakers are explaining their history and culture to me, and since that also tends to be when I now encounter new words and sentence structures, I found that I ended up studying more of this "citational", "explanatory" speech form quite a lot. It definitely was giving a "citational" feel to my speech which I'm still working on fixing. (I wrote about it a bit in this post).

I'd be quite interested in your experiences. What do you think about all this? What have you found?

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