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wushijiao

My recent studying methods

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wushijiao

I've always loved languages, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I have tremendous amounts of aptitude for it. Sometimes I feel like if I could go back in a “Back to the Future”-esk time machine and lecture the young, ignorant 12 year-old me about techniques to learn a language, I could probably know 4 or even 5 languages now.

In any case, recently I feel I've been making some significant breakthroughs with my Chinese studying, so I'd like to share what I've done and also some of the general principals I've figured out. I apologize in advance for writing so much. Skip the boring parts.

Techniques

1) Listen to tapes constantly. Right now, I teach English out in the dreary suburbs of Shanghai. Every day the commute used to waste almost and hour and a half of my precious time per day. I used to think that this seriously cut into my studying time. However, it finally dawned on me to use the commuting time productively by listening to tapes. I bought the tapes and books of HSK 听力关键词 and 听力惯用语, which were practical and useful for understanding slangy conversations and the way normal laobaixing actually talk. I listened to each tape for about a week until I memorized it, and then moved on to the next. Similarly, I (slowly) run about 30 miles per week. I also listen to tapes when I run, when I walk to the supermarket, when someone is yelling 哈罗! to me that I want to ignore…etc. Now, every day I get at least two or three hours of listening practice. After I finished the HSK tapes, I had my wife create tapes which leads to:

2) Create your own listening materials. I have hundreds of cards lying and around my apartment, collecting grey dust and nasty soot. Although I spend a lot of time making the cards, I don’t review them as often as I should. So, the solution was to put the info on the cards onto the tapes, and then listen to the tapes daily. Sometimes I also record useful parts of textbooks that don’t have tapes or other random things I want to memorize. After some trial and error, I’ve realized that the most effective format for remembering words is to memorize the words in how they appear in their set phrases.

3) Memorize words in their set phrases. I used to make cards with Chinese on one side, pinyin and English on the other. This is effective. But it’s better to also include some of the common set phrases or an example sentence as well. An easy way to do this is to just memorize the example sentences in the dictionary. I use the great dictionary 现代汉语词典 (which I call either my 二奶 or 小胖子). Like all good learner’s dictionaries, it contains commonly used set phrases. For example, here are some of the words that I have on my cards. 炯炯 (jiong3jiong3 bright, shining). On the back of the card, I have written 目光炯炯 (which is flashing eyes). 鉴别(jian4bie2, distinguish, differentiate) I also have written 鉴别真伪 (to tell the true from the false). 湮没 (yan1mo4, be neglected; be forgotten) I wrote down 湮没无问- sink into oblivion, fall into obscurity. Or 迫害 (po4hai4, treat sb. Cruelly; persecute; oppress cruelly) and I wrote 遭受迫害- to suffer persecution. Anyway, I record all of these vocab words on tapes, with me reading the English and my Chinese wife reading the Chinese. Obviously, using tapes is somewhat ghetto and pathetic in the era of IPODs, but it seems to work.

4) Read extensively. By this, I mean try to read large quantities without looking up all unknown vocab. I’ve tried for a while to find Chinese history books that would suit me. Finally I stumbled upon 正说清朝十二帝, which I loved. This book, which is targeted at a general audience, describes the Qing dynasty’s 12 emperors in a way that is accessible to non-academics. Chinese dramas have brought China’s rich and ancient history to life in a very vivid and entertaining way, but they have also distorted and twisted history in order to enhance the drama or for current political purposes. This book dispels and corrects a lot of common misperceptions. Right now I’m reading 正说清朝十二臣, and there are others in the same series that I plan to read in the future. Anyway, reading extensively could include novels, magazines, newspapers or whatever you are interested in. When reading the first 50 pages of a book, I usually give my dictionary a heavy beating. After I have become familiar with the author’s vocabulary (every author has his or her own vocab and speaking style), then I use poor 小胖子 less and less.

5) Watch TV and movies. I’ve made a goal this year to watch at least one Putonghua movie per week. I also have been watching 走向共和, which is “West Wing”-esk in its subtlety and nuance. Watching movies and TV shows every day can tremendously improve your language skills.

6) Try to speak as much as possible. I’m not much of a chit-chatty person, so I consciously have to make sure that I don’t forsake chances to improve my spoken Chinese. This means always talking with taxi drivers, people at the supermarket…etc. I also try to mimic their voices and mannerisms.

7) Listen to the radio and music in Chinese.

8 ) Use the resources that are out there for free. I try to browse through or use these sites daily: www.oneaday.org http://gb.chinabroadcast.cn/chinese_radio/pthlb.htm

9) Record yourself. One techniques that I've only just started to use is to record your speaking. Then listen to yourself and compare your recording to a native speaker’s. Which tones do you get wrong? Which words do you pronounce slightly wrong? I got this idea from a Chinese girl who I had mistakenly thought was from the US because her accent was 100% perfect. This was her method of “standardizing” her speech in English.

General Principles

1) Study as much as possible per day. I think the biggest reason why most people get stuck at a beginners or intermediate level is they simply underestimate much time it will take to learn Chinese to a fairly advanced level. I once underestimated it. Now I try to study at least 5+ hours per day, usually more on the weekends.

2) Study something formally. It’s a good idea to find a good textbook and study in an organized and structured way. Ideally, it would be best to be a student with a good, experienced Chinese teacher, of course.

3) In addition to studying formally read and listen extensively. This is crucial for retaining vocabulary.

4) Combine two studying methods so that they overlap. For example, when I was studying the HSK 听力关键词 and 听力惯用语 books, which put emphasis on how normal laobaixing chat, joke and scold each other, I read some soap opera books that used a lot of the vocab I was trying to learn. Likewise, vocab from the Qing dynasty books overlaps with 走向共和. I’ll study a pedantic word or idiom like 戟that seems too rare to be worth memorizing, and then it will magically pop up again in another similar setting. This means if you want to study Chinese news, get a good textbook and study that systematically, but also combine that with a good deal of time scanning the papers per day.

5) Read a lot about China in your native language. I find that it’s always much easier to read something in Chinese if I am already familiar with it in English.

6) Assess your weaknesses and progress regularly. For example, at one time I noticed that my Chinese level had stagnated, like swimming through mud. After analyzing the situation, I realized that I was wasting too much time watching TV shows like “Sex and the City”, “Family Guy” and re-watching old “Simpson’s” episodes for the millionth time. So, I decided to substitute that with Chinese TV and movies, which are both interesting and linguistically useful. It’s always nice to sit around a drink a beer while watching a movie and still feel productive. (That’s an American trait if there ever was one- the feeling of guilt and shame when being unproductive). Right now my biggest weaknesses are grammar and tones, so I’m working out a plan to deal with that.

7) Have confidence in yourself. I know tons of people who don’t improve their Chinese level simply because they lack confidence, and they compare themselves to better speakers. Learning Chinese isn’t a competition. I teach in China, and I usually tell my students that suffer from a lack of confidence that whether you are the best speaker in the class or the worst is really irrelevant when you have a one-one conversation with a native English speaker.

8 ) Make specific goals. I make short term, medium term and long term goals, and then I constantly assess them. For example, like I have already said, my medium term goals include: A) speaking more than 90% with my wife in Chinese B) watching at least one Putonghua movie per week C) watching走向共和 D) chatting with folks E) listening to tapes daily F) reading books and novels G) studying from a few textbooks I have

Anyway, these are just some of my studying methods. I'd be interested to read about any other unique methods people have created.

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wushijiao

Number eight seems to have turned into a cool guy with shades. 8):shock::D

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skylee

And you "asses" your goals. :mrgreen:

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roddy

Excellent post, thanks. Makes me realise how sloppy I am - I do a lot of things I like doing, mainly reading. But when it comes to the things I should do I'm a lot more lax.

Roddy

PS (You can stop the 8) appearing by writing 8 ) (with a space) or selecting 'disable smilies' when you post.

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wushijiao

Thanks, Roddy. The 8) 's no longer wear sunglasses at night. Also, thanks for the English lesson skylee. :mrgreen:

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florazheng

Hi Wushijiao,

This post is very cool.

I would like to learn what your device of listening is when you do running exercise etc. I hope to hunt for a device which is as small and light as a match box. It'll be great that I can receive live English news or program clearly, such as BBC, CNN, as well as tapes so that I can pin it on my skirt or tie it on my wrist because most of my skirts haven’t pockets and it is very inconvenient to take it all the time by hand. :roll::roll::roll:

Thank you very much.

Flora:-)

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wushijiao
I would like to learn what your device of listening is when you do running exercise etc.

I just use an old fashioned Walkman, which clips onto my shorts. That might be too big and bulky to wear on a skirt. I don't know. I think you can buy BBC and VOA broadcasts in MP3 form and listen to those on a small MP3 player? :conf

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ChouDoufu

Here's a hint to get rid of all those bulky tapes. Buy a 1to1 cord. It looks like the end of your headphones on both ends. You can get one at any computer market or anyplace that has a bunch of audio cords or something. should be less than 15yuan. If you put one end in your tape recorder's head phone jack and one end in a computer's microphone jack, you can record your tapes to computer and pop them onto your ipod or mp3 device. That would make travelling with a whole set of tapes a lot easier.

I congratulate you on your hard work wushijiao

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Harpoon

i dont really understand the "watch TV and listen to radio" in the foreign language for learning purposes... i mean, if you dont know the language, you won't understand what's being said... i dont see how you can learn anything... maybe the names for things if someone points to an object or something, but even that is kind of sketchy (you might not get tone information due to rapid or slurred speech, or they might not be saying what you think they are)

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wushijiao
i dont really understand the "watch TV and listen to radio" in the foreign language for learning purposes... i mean, if you dont know the language, you won't understand what's being said... i dont see how you can learn anything...

Well, I was targeting my post for people who have more or less mastered the basics but have become stuck in an intermediate rut. I know many people, mainly fellow teachers, that have made some good progress, but then the progress started to slow down once they could function in their daily lives in China. You’re right- listening to the radio or TV wouldn’t have much value at the initial stages. Instead, I’d suggest renting a Chinese movie. Watch it with English subtitles, but on a piece of paper write down a few scenes that seem to have fairly easy dialogue. Then you can go back and watch those scenes a few times with either Chinese subtitles or no subtitles at all. This should hopefully give you an idea of how Chinese is spoken with emotion and emphasis, which some tapes don’t capture very well.

Anyway, I could write out a plan for beginners if you want.

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florazheng
I just use an old fashioned Walkman, which clips onto my shorts. That might be too big and bulky to wear on a skirt. I don't know. I think you can buy BBC and VOA broadcasts in MP3 form and listen to those on a small MP3 player? :conf

Thanks for your response. :mrgreen:

I still want to hunt for a mini radio which can recieve English program clearly and stably. I hope to do random listening practice. I would like to listen live program rather than dead listening material.

Anyway, thank you.

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Harpoon
Well' date=' I was targeting my post for people who have more or less mastered the basics but have become stuck in an intermediate rut. I know many people, mainly fellow teachers, that have made some good progress, but then the progress started to slow down once they could function in their daily lives in China. You’re right- listening to the radio or TV wouldn’t have much value at the initial stages. Instead, I’d suggest renting a Chinese movie. Watch it with English subtitles, but on a piece of paper write down a few scenes that seem to have fairly easy dialogue. Then you can go back and watch those scenes a few times with either Chinese subtitles or no subtitles at all. This should hopefully give you an idea of how Chinese is spoken with emotion and emphasis, which some tapes don’t capture very well.

Anyway, I could write out a plan for beginners if you want.[/quote']

but Chinese word order does not match English word order..

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roddy

Harpoon, just out of curiousity, is there anything you find easy out about Chinese? You seem to be coming up with a constant stream of obstacles.Nobody is saying Chinese is easy, but it isn't THAT difficult - yes, word order is different, but that's what grammar is for.

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Harpoon
Harpoon, just out of curiousity, is there anything you find easy out about Chinese?

apparent complete lack of inflection for words (verb conjugation, changes from subject to object form, noun/adjective/adverb form, prefixes, etc... my birth language is Polish [not as fluent as I'd like to be], it's an absolute monster when it comes to these types of things :evil: ) + none of those of those stupid honorific/social class modifiers that some other Asian languages seem to be obsessed with.

as per the word order, i just thought it would be important :conf Even though the simple subject/verb/object is the same in English and Chinese, some things can be completely reversed.... you would have to have a really strong grounding in the language, otherwise chinese audio + english subtitles won't help you (which word meant which?)

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novemberfog

In regard to watching TV or listening to the radio, I guess it depends on how you look it it. When I was a beginner studying another language, I would rent videos to try to hear the language in actual use. Being able just to pick up a few sentences by ear made me feel really good, like I was actually accomplising something. Of course it could be looked at the other way, in that I didn't understand 95% of everything else. But I prefer to say that I could unerstand 5%. In due time you'll be able to get 25% by ear, then one day 50%, and after that it will continue to improve. Besides, there is nothing more interesting than a challenge, right?

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Harpoon

meh it actually seems like the opposite, idly listening to speech on TV or radio instead of sitting down and doing some hard grammar or vocabulary memorization. I guess i need more of a base :conf

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gougou

Harpoon, if you want to study vocab, obviously a movie is not your best bet. But if you have just a very basic amount of words, and want to get a feel for the language, its syntax, pronounciation... then a movie can prove quite helpful.

I did just what wushijiao recommended when my level of Chinese was much lower than it still is, watching Chinese movies with English subtitles, and even though the first few times I don't think I understood more than 1% of what was being said, it sure felt good to catch that occasional word that I knew.

In general, it'll be less than two hours of your time, and besides the linguistic benefits, it'll give you an insight into Chinese culture and keep you motivated...

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Harpoon

when you catch a word or two, are you cognizant of the tone (1,2,3,4, neutral) or do you just assume that "wo" is going to be mean "I" or "me" most of the time? (for example)

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sui.generis
meh it actually seems like the opposite, idly listening to speech on TV or radio instead of sitting down and doing some hard grammar or vocabulary memorization. I guess i need more of a base :conf

More base might be helpful. When I was watching Russian movies in a very early Russian class last year, I didn't find it very helpful, but I've finally reached a point where watching movies with some 汉语对白 is. Frankly even my reading (the er, outloud kind) has improved as I've adapted stops and starts more naturally. My speech patterns aren't exactly natural yet, but they are improving, owing at least partially to my repeating things said in the movie.

BUT, idly listening/watching isn't much good. When I get done watching an hour and half to two hours of movie, I want to collapse. I still, owing to my poor 听力水平, put a lot of effort into it. My vocab is quite a bit larger than what I can recognize in daily conversation, and movies help boost that, when I'm disciplined enough to watch them regularly.

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gougou
when you catch a word or two, are you cognizant of the tone (1,2,3,4, neutral) or do you just assume that "wo" is going to be mean "I" or "me" most of the time? (for example)

Well, my ears are far from being able to pinpoint the tone, be it on TV, in conversation or even on the tapes that came with my book. But because of the English subtitles, it is rather easy to know whether 'wo' did mean 'I' or something else. wo being one of the words I know, I would know that it was pronounced in the third key, and thus would become familiar with the pronounciation.

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