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Weekly Intermediate Study Updates - join in!

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stapler

So in the last two weeks I completed a 40集 drama series. It was easy and didn't feel like 'study'. I'm fairly confident now that I'm getting by largely because I can read the subtitles easily, not because I can understand what they are saying. I'm not sure if watching Chinese drama is actually helping my listening ability as much as it is my reading speed... However because it's a 'low cost' activity - because it doesn't take much mental effort on my part - I think I'll keep up my routine of watching a few episodes each night just in case there is some small benefit.

 

I finished a Developing Listening textbook but I haven't started reading the next book in the series. I think I should do this as the small lessons are easy to digest; much easier than slogging through a whole chapter in a comprehensive textbook.

 

I only managed to finish one chapter in NPCR4 and one in D&H, but I studied them intensely. What I mean by that is that I turned many of the sentences from the lesson into English faced flashcards where I would try to reproduce the exact Chinese on the back. I've found this technique incredibly useful for internalising particular grammar structures (别看。。但,反而,只有。。才,在。。方面, 不比。。多少 etc) You can tell a technique is working because its mentally painful. In fact I've found this technique so effective that I've been turning lots of sentences with interesting grammar patterns into English-faced cards that force me to reproduce the Chinese without any help from reading or audio prompts. I'm going to continue doing this.

 

My Chinesepod listening dropped off because I just don't find it that interesting. In the end the temptation to just read a book instead takes over. In fact it's so bad that I ordered a bunch books from Taiwan and I've been busily reading them to the total detriment of practicing listening. The danger of having one skill at a higher level than another is that your strong skill also gives you access to more interesting content, making it harder to focus on what you should be focusing on.

 

In group conversations with my friends speaking Chinese I still cannot catch what anyone is actually saying. At first I thought it was just the complexity of a group conversation. But I realise it's also the speed and complexity of the actual sentences they're using. When they suddenly speak to me I really don't know what they're saying. But when we speak one on one they seem to adapt the way they speak, using very simple (and perhaps more importantly, "correct/standard" grammar - non-truncated) sentences. It's weird. One on one I really feel like "listening to Chinese is easy, they're talking about all sorts of topics at a fairly decent speed and it's easy to understand". But I realise now this is definitely a simplified version of Chinese spoken just for me. I must do the same with English to them (sometimes).... Although on the other hand I can totally understand the phone conversations they have with their families when I can hear both parties speaking.... Weird. I dunno what's going on; why some times I can understand everything and other times nothing.

 

I've also got one friend to speak to me for 30 minutes a week in Chinese. I just reply in English or Chinese depending on how I feel, but they'll stay in Chinese. I feel like this again is like watching a Chinese drama: it's a low energy exercise. I can just sit there and listen without too much effort  and reply in English if what I want to say is something complicated, or reply in Chinese if its something relatively simple. I'm not sure if this is as useful for developing my listening ability as intensely studying recorded material, but it has to help a bit I guess? Also I feel like this is the most I can get from them short of turning our friendship into a "language exchange" or something else I don't want. But this exercise has really been making me think about actually paying someone I don't know to speak to me in Mandarin for an hour or so (not a full conversation in Mandarin, but them just speaking to me in Mandarin and me replying as I feel like). The benefit of paying a stranger is I won't feel guilty about using them for my own purposes. But I'm not sure a stranger could do this, especially considering we wouldn't have many mutual topics to talk about.

 

Lastly, on characters, I'm still amazed at how many new characters I encounter and how easily I learn them. For the last two weeks I've had these: 窠 瞰 悸 珮 轲 釧 蹒跚 狞 逡 咀 飙 彤 伕. I estimate I know around 4500 characters. But the rate at which I see new ones leads me to believe that to really get to a level where you're reading without encountering new characters must be more around 6000-7000 - which makes me laugh when I hear stories of people talking about only needing 2000 to be "literate". I'd say around 5000-6000 is probably pretty good and you can usually skip the characters you don't know after that without losing much comprehension.

 

Lastly I was reading somewhere (wish I could remember where) about university Chinese language departments circa 1940. Apparently they we were filled with professors who could read Chinese fine, but couldn't speak it at all. A guy who learnt mandarin in Taiwan in the 1950s came to a university and the professors were shocked that he could actually speak the language. Sounds strange but I can see how I'm turning into one of these professors. Chinese is very accessible in terms of writing, but very difficult in terms of spoken communication when you don't live in a Chinese speaking world. Luckily thanks to immigration and digital audio this isn't (shouldn't be!) as much of a problem now!

 

One last thing: I think I'm finally getting close to being "intermediate" in the sense that I increasingly find Chinese study material boring/uninteresting - only useful for practicing specific things: grammar patterns, a set of vocabulary, etc - and increasingly want to just use native content - books, dramas, actual conversations. In this way Chinese is becoming easier and easier too as it becomes less a task and more of a hobby/activity (though I still need to be diligent, especially given the many times I have zero comprehension)

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pross

@stapler: For exchanges, this year I have been using the "speak in one language" for an agreed uptime approach. If nothing else, it forces me to feel uncomfortable using English when I should be speaking Chinese.

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Mr John

Apart from a few meaty posts from latecomers, things seem to have died down a bit in this spacious room, so I thought I'd drop by to explain my own irregular posts.

 

Last year prior to starting my degree I was really concerned that my Mandarin would go backwards. For this reason, I ended up overcompensating by using too much of my spare time and energy on Mandarin and not enough on my actual studies. As this is my final year, I have made a conscious decision to shift the emphasis back towards my major.

 

Also, as I find myself less and less attracted to the idea of living in China again, some of the things which motivated me to learn Mandarin are receding. Having said that, I haven't completely lost interest. Instead, I find myself thinking more about why I am learning and what I am aiming for.

 

During the last month I have only averaged between three and four days a week of new words. The amount of time I spend reading other material has also decreased, although I still read daily. Lastly, in order to save money I have put my online lessons on hold, which leaves language exchanges as my primary source of conversation practice.

 

Although this may sound like a negative trend, I think it is all part of an overall re-balancing of priorities which was long overdue.

 

I hope the silence of everyone else is an indication that you have all been too busy with your studies to report in. 

 

Lastly, I started reading a novel about some girl called 小豆豆 that hates maths. My favourite part so far is when she tells her math teacher that the mole on her face looks exactly like a piece of shit haha! For those just starting out, this is what it's all about; keep at it and one day you too will be able to read the high brow stuff. :mrgreen:     

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stapler

Things I've noticed since last update:

 

那邊 and 那裡

If all you look at is textbooks you'll get the impressed that everyone always says "那裡" or ”那兒". However listening to the way people actually speak I realise 那邊 is really popular. In fact I feel on the whole most textbooks, even when teaching "conversational" Chinese are still too formal and stiff. Not in terms of their choice of vocabulary per se, but by the lack of "filler" vocabulary and by sticking to "standard" ways of saying things of which 那裡 is just one example. This brings me onto my second observation:

 

Textbook reviews New Practical Chinese Reader, David and Helen in China, DeFrancis Intermediate Chinese

 

Two years ago I was REALLY lucky and managed to buy a heap of Chinese textbooks from the university library for $2 each, including the whole series of most Chinese textbooks (the entire DeFrancis series including the readers, D&H in China, Integrated Chinese, Practical Chinese Reader, NPCR, a bunch of Princeton Uni books (oh China, A New China, etc), and many others). When I first started learning Chinese I was just using the NPCR textbook as it was cheap, readily available, and everyone else seemed to use it. But having now had the opportunity to use quite a few other textbooks I think I can say that there is no good reason why the NPCR series is so popular. It's not as good as D&H nor DeFrancis.

 

So what are my main beefs with NPCR? The first is the topics of the book itself. While all textbooks seem to cover the same topics (weddings, shopping, the Chinese New Year, etc) this book does it in the driest way possible. I can't help but feel it does so because it can't be more "critical" of the topics it discusses. The NPCR has the same tone as the Chinese Communist Party. For example, the book will acknowledge a problem but treat it very superficially and then proceed to talk about how it's just getting better and better. The D&H on the other hand, gets much more into the nitty-gritty of the matter. Take marriage for example. The NPCR just talks about the facts of marriage and doesn't offer a commentary on the customs. D&H on the other hand has the characters talking about their feelings in a more realistic way (The American-Taiwanese girl wants to work and not that interested in marriage but feels the pressure to get married, her aunt thinks she's getting old and keeps interfering with her life to try and get her married, the guy she is introduced to is surprised that she's not wild and morally corrupted from living in America, and the guy's parents think she's too independent for their son and won't want to have a baby). This is the one of the more minor problems however.

 

The second problem with the NPCR is that the exercises to reinforce the vocabulary and the grammar are just not as well constructed as they are in a book like D&H. The vocabulary list in the NPCR is literally just a list. This is awful. In D&H many example sentences are given for key vocabulary, including additional sentences if a word can be used as both a verb, adjective, or noun as well. These example sentences are great for reinforcing the vocab. The same thing is done with the important grammatical constructions where it "builds up" - giving you example sentences then slowly taking away information and letting you write the sentence until you're writing the entire sentence with the new grammar construction without help. I find this method superior for getting the feeling for using the grammar. The NPCR does have a "key sentences" section but I often feel like it doesn't cover enough of the vocabulary and grammatical constructions that are used in the text.

 

D&H good points (sorry for scribbles - I always go crazy writing in my books. I tried to find some cleaner pages)

 

post-57919-0-81373500-1459734973_thumb.jpg

 

post-57919-0-96364900-1459737968_thumb.jpg

 

post-57919-0-11410000-1459737983_thumb.jpg

 

The final problem with the NPCR is that it's too formal. And here's where the DeFrancis textbook is at it's best. When I read the dialogues (I deliberately choose to read them in pinyin only as I feel this forces me to focus on the "sounds" of Chinese rather than the characters. I do this because as I have said in other posts my reading ability is much better than my listening ability so I don't want to use it as a crutch for comprehension) I really feel like it more resembles the way Chinese people actually talk. I've seen some people are sceptical about DeFrancis being "too old" and thus not a good textbook. I don't buy this at all. Yes there are some weird things that are a product of talking about modern life in the 1960s and 70s, but this is a very small part of the context, of which 99% is still useful and relevant.

 

Take this dialogue for example, I love that people are using “你看”, "鐘頭“, ”北頭“, ”那邊“, "工夫", this all seems to have been weeded out in most Chinese textbooks. And like D&H, Defrancis provides example sentences with vocab.

 

post-57919-0-34711400-1459734906_thumb.jpg

 

post-57919-0-02218400-1459737892_thumb.jpg

 

What really blows my mind is that in the last 50 years no one has made a textbook that actually uses life-like dialogues in the same way DeFrancis did. I wondering if this has something to do with almost all Chinese teaching pedagogy now being in the hands of ethnic Chinese rather than Westerners, and who still seem to overwhelming prefer the "don't teach street language" approach to Chinese.

 

Chinesepod

 

In the last update I was talking about how I was using the free cpod to listen to intermediate and upper intermediate podcasts. I wasn't sure if I should listen to intermediate or upper intermediate ones. I still feel like the intermediate dialogues are more at my level - they teach more 'base language' vocabulary while the upper intermediate podcasts tend to focus on specialised topics. So I made the decision to listen to both. But now this week the amount of English in the intermediate podcasts is pissing me off. Not only is there too much English, sometimes it's really bizarre English. For example, 您 is explained in one of the podcasts. We're at an intermediate level, why are we talking about a word that is often learnt in our very first week of studying Chinese?! So I've made the decision to just focus on the upper intermediate podcasts. If I had the energy I would go and cut out the dialogues only from the intermediate podcasts so I can still get some benefit from them. But I don't have the energy!

 

My routine for the upper intermediate podcasts is to listen to the whole file a few times then go look at the PDF to check the vocab I'm still not getting, then go back to learning to the podcast a few more times. At any one time I might have 3-4 podcasts going on in this loop. After 5 or so listens I delete them and move on.

 

Chinese influencing ability to learn other languages

 

Through accident I've been spending a lot of time with Indians from the northern part of the country recently and I've been asking them to teach me some words in Hindustani - just travel phrases like "how are you?" "let's work hard!", etc. The interesting thing is that when they're teaching me these phrases I find myself always wanting to make sure I say the lines "in the right tone". Tones are now so entrenched in my brain that whenever I try to learn the sounds of foreign languages I feel like I haven't grasped them until I have the tone - even if they are not tonal languages. It's bizarre and bit hard to explain. Has anyone else had this phenomenon?

 

Using old material to see your progress

 

I rarely feel like I've made a lot of progress. But when I go read or listen to something from 6 months ago - something that I find difficult at that time - I quite often find it easy. Sometimes I find it so easy it's trivial. This is definitely the best way to measure progress. Not numbers, hours, etc. Just the ability to smash content from a few months ago that you haven't had exposure to since.

 

On reading books

 

While watching a Western action movie subbed with Chinese I noticed something interesting. The dialogue was basic. So basic it's easier than children's TV. At first I thought it was just something to do with the movie being an action movie. But later I realised that translations just lose lots of the frills and nuance that come with the original language. This got me thinking. Maybe books translated into Chinese would be easier to read than books originally written in Chinese. So I got a copy of a book original written in English then translated into Chinese. Is this book actually easier than a "legit" Chinese book? I think so. Probably the main difference I've noticed is the lack of chengyu. Here's a page from the book to judge for yourself:

 

post-57919-0-29163800-1459737818_thumb.jpg

 

I understand that reading books online, particular with something like Pleco's document reader would make reading books much easier and probably more productive. But I prefer to read hard copy books and manually look up and add the words into Pleco flashcards as I go. In fact this probably means reading real books is more productive for me because it's more enjoyable (and joy seems to directly correlate with learning efficiency when it comes to language learning!)

 

People often say that Yu Hua books are good beginner books because they are "simple". But what does "simple" mean? Having read through two of his books and now some other Chinese authors' books I have to disagree. I don't think Yu Hua's books are simpler than others. I think this is a myth perpetuated by native Chinese speakers who equate his 土氣 style with being "simple" (Chinese hasn't seemed to have gone through the democratic literary revolution European languages has and still ranks prose in terms of how florid they are). But when I look at the grammar, the vocabulary, etc of Yu Hua it doesn't seem any more basic than other novels - or at least not enough to justify calling Yu Hua novels "simple".

 

Drama series

 

I finished watching my first complete drama series 美麗的秘密. I believe this was the first series I ever managed to watch because it is easy for beginners. Why do I believe it is easy for beginners? First, the shows' dialogue is almost all in very clear and standard Mandarin. This seems rare given how many Northern speakers there usually are in Chinese dramas. But more than this, the two episodes that set the scene for the whole series is headlined by a little girl. And children are muuuchhh easier to understand than adults. Super clear dialogue, often slow, no strong regional dialects: a good recipe for a beginner's show.

 

After finishing this series I've been trying to find another that meets the above criteria and doesn't have a plot/style of acting that utterly repulses me. After watching the first episode of about 5 different dramas I think I've found my new series: 愛情回來了. This show is more complicated and the dialogue not as clear, but overall I think it's okay. The only character I have difficulty with is one of the female leads (called 戚薇). I wikipedia'd to see where she comes from. She's from Sichuan. I don't know if it's because she's from Sichuan, if she has a speech impediment, or is just a lazy Chinese speaker, but I find it incredibly difficult to understand her at times. Other than her I think this show should be good for practice.

 

Anki

 

I've continued adding interesting sentences into Anki and now have it operating a lot like my Pleco flashcards. I'll add maybe 10-15 sentences a day but also delete stuff from my deck quite quickly. I feel like this is a good balance between just looking at things once and forgetting or wasting too much time reviewing everything and ending up with decks that take more than 30 minutes a day to get through.

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imron
This is definitely the best way to measure progress. Not numbers, hours, etc. Just the ability to smash content from a few months ago that you haven't had exposure to since.

Absolutely.

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pross
@stapler: I agree with all your comments about David & Helen.

 

Also, there is free audio available for the complete Defrancis series on itunes. So far I have only listened to the audio. Really ought to find a copy of the books.

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Flickserve

I don't contribute to this thread as I don't have a good weekly routine (irregular work schedule). I was intrigued by Stapler's comment. If you review old video as a measure of success, how can you seperate out a learning effect from the video itself. Is six months long enough? Having said that, I came across a video on YouTube of a formal lesson teaching students who had passed HSK 2. I think I watched a brief clip of it a year ago and didn't understand the teacher, whereas now I was able to understand 80-90% of her speech and her instructions to the students. I also watched a video of year 2 students of Chinese at an American University which I had never seen before. I could definitely keep up with their lesson. Granted it is all low level stuff but that is where I am. Chinese dramas are definitely too much for me needing to read the subtitles. So I have made progress albeit in conversation related to learning mandarin rather than 'street talk'!

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stapler

@pross - oh yeah I tried listening to the audio. I don't really like it. Sometimes the sound quality is quite bad (though lots is quite acceptable). But more than that I find it hard to organise given that it comes in hour long mp3s. My listening needs to be more bit-sized. The books are ridiculously expensive. I don't think they're worth buying unless you can get them very cheap.

 

@flickserve - there's no fixed time or method. But the example you give about listening to the teacher is what I'm talking about. I also want to comment on dramas and the other conversation you have going on here. I definitely can't handle dramas without subtitles. And even with them, I can only follow the main topic of conversation, not the details. So I don't consider watching dramas a part of my "core study". I always watch them late at night in bed when I'm going to sleep etc. I just autopilot them. I'd say it's just a step above "passive listening" in that I often hear things that reinforce vocabulary (or basic sentences I know) and I get use to deciphering sounds spoken at an often extremely fast pace (people are always flipping out in dramas...), but I don't think it's super effective at training my listening, at least compared to more intensive exercises.

 

Like you, I seem to have not too much trouble understanding Chinese people talking on the phone but get destroyed when I listen to dramas. Also like you, I was starting to think that maybe Southerners are easier to understand. I was working on the hypothesis that as most southerners seem to learn Mandarin as a "second language" they might speak it more clearly, slower, etc. and not let as much as their local dialect influence the way they talk like in the North/West. But it's hard to make that claim when most (young) southerners are "fluent" in Mandarin pretty much from when they were kids. As per the other thread I just watched an episode of 鏘鏘三人行 and (sans political vocab) found it much easier to grasp than dramas (but this is not to say I understood it). So I definitely think there's merit in the idea that talk shows are easier than dramas. - Oh and I last tried to watch this show last year. I definitely think I'm grasping much more of the conversation now. So this is another measure of progress!

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Ino75

Here is my first post on this forum which is really good by the way. It is motivating to see others Chinese learners, feel less lonely.

@stapler, I saw that you started to watch the drama 爱情回来了, I couldn't find a proper synopsis on Internet, could you please tell me roughly what the plot is. Thank you!

 

My learning routine - trying to have a consistent learning in order to really improve my level in Chinese. My goal is to reach a solid upper intermediate level :

 

- Anki : 20/25 min a day (my own deck + HSK deck)

- TV shows, dramas, animes or movies : but not in a passive way. I write key sentences and vocabulary that I put later in my Anki deck

- Reading - my weakest point (with writing) : online reading (short articles) or Chinese book (characters and pinyin)

- Language exchanges : conversations, listening practice or  questions about vocabulary, patterns...

- Writing : nothing for now (I gave up handwriting, it is too much time consuming)

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stapler

愛情回來了 is about 3 girls who face a different marriage 'problem'. One doesn't want to get married because she has nightmares about turning into a housewife. One can't get married because her boyfriend who is too poor. And the other thinks being single forever is best. It's fairly lighthearted/slapstick, not melodramatic like the last one I watched. It's freely available on youtube with high quality video + audio. As I said above, I think 美麗的秘密 is much simpler drama in terms of dialogue. But it is very melodramatic.

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Ino75

@stapler. Thanks a lot for your message. I am definitely going to watch this series. Marriage is for sure a big deal in China and besides learning vocabulary, I hope to learn things related to Chinese society and culture.

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Cid

Really liking this idea, so i thought i'd join in! Hopefully, i can keep this up. 

 

I pretty much only use ChinesePod as my learning resource since i find that mostly everything i need is on there. But i'll also watch the occasional movie to really put my progress to the test and see how much i'm able to understand without subtitles. I've been finishing up the elementary video/audio lessons and i've gotta say, i feel like i'm able to understand 90% of the dialogues without having to look up vocabulary words or listen to the explanations. So i've started moving on to intermediate lessons and while i'm still able to understand most of the dialogues, the written exercises are a big step up in terms of difficulty. There are quite a few words that i need to look up and even then, it's tough to recognize them in a sentence. But i feel like i'm really making fast progress and i really enjoy the lessons too so that's something! I don't use too much non-digital learning materials (maybe i should) since i'm the kind of person who likes to have everything organized in one place, haha. 

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stapler

The last few weeks I've stalled a bit. A combination of longer work hours, pressure to finish my thesis, and too many social engagements. At most I've been managing to only find about 30 minutes a day for Chinese - generally in the morning on the bus while my brain isn't completely fried.

 

In the last update I wrote a lot  about how I like the D&H textbook. I took a sneak peak at the next chapter. Can't wait to do it. Why? Because it's about 書面! And this is what I want to rant about.

 

When I first started reading Chinese books it was quite a shock for me. I had a vague sense that Chinese writing was different from Chinese speech, but I was told that Chinese had undergone a vernacular revolution. Foolishly I took this to mean that Chinese written is largely the same as spoken Chinese, except with a little more "formality". When I first started reading real Chinese texts I was hit with all these weird new grammatical particles, single character adjectives, chengyu, etc.It took me a long time to work out the different "grammar" of written Chinese. Worst still, I thought you could actually use some of this stuff in spoken Chinese. So I even started flashcarding all sorts of verbs and adjectives that just draw complete blanks on native Chinese speakers' faces.

 

I spent a few weeks learning about classical Chinese and I found it immensely helpful to understand modern written Chinese - which obviously still uses large amounts of classical Chinese phrases, grammar, etc. (especially Taiwanese writing). It was only in this roundabout way that I learnt what was going on in written Chinese. And this is my largest complaint with Chinese teaching/textbooks/introductions. Why is it that no one, when first starting to learning Chinese, comes out and explicitly says "Written Chinese is fundamentally different from spoken Chinese in a way European languages are not"? Even if you pick up a Chinese grammar book, I can't off the top of my head think of any that will mention the "replacement" written Chinese particles (與,於,以,將,則,而, etc), that will tell you that lots of "spoken" words are truncated into single characters, etc. I'm perplexed that such an important part of the language is ignored. I'm not suggesting that textbooks teach written Chinese, but I think it should be useful for beginners to be aware of how much it departs from spoken Chinese. Indeed most Chinese textbooks just talk about Chinese like 書面 doesn't even exist.

 

And this is just one more reason why D&H is a great textbook. Something like this should be included in every Chinese textbook/course in the first few months of learning:

 

post-57919-0-37171700-1460686436_thumb.jpg

 

In terms of listening practice (which is my main focus for now) I've continued listening to the Upper Intermediate Chinesepod podcasts. I find them quite difficult - especially the dialogues (the one on traditional architecture was a bit painful) but I'm not too fussed about being able to 100% understand every word in the dialogue itself. I'm starting to find that I'm just listening in order to concentrate on Jenny's analysis/explanation of the dialogue itself. I find this more useful/rewarding than listening to the dialogue itself.

 

I'm still listening to each lesson a few times and each time I do, I hear/understand a lot more than I did the previous times. Just this morning I realised Jenny said 以。。。爲主and had this feeling "oh I know this grammar structure!" but I also like listening for more "informal" language she uses eg 搞混

 

I also discovered a small video about a Chinese girl living in Japan. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfOlM7FUilQ) I'm thinking about scrounging around YouTube for more of this kind of stuff. The language comes in short bursts of spoken Chinese and the content is pretty interesting. Things like 锵锵三人行 are still too intense for me.

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Wurstmann

What things did you try to read?

I don't remember having that much difficulty with the written language. If the words are just truncated most of the time I just know what the full word is anyway

so I don't have to think about the meaning. And things like 与 and 以 were explained somewhere in the early volumes of Integrated Chinese if I remember correctly.

成语 I just learn as vocabulary.

In German I also write in a completely different style and use different words than what I use when speaking.

But up until now I have only read modern fiction, nothing old. So maybe the shock will come later. ;)

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stapler

I think the first "native" stuff I had a look at was some online news. I was perplexed by all the 該 稱 此 本 仍.

 

It's great if Integrated Chinese covers all this kind of stuff. It seems exceptional rather than normal to do that.

 

I feel like my spoken English is largely identical to my written English (even in an academic context). That might just be a problem with my perception or my distaste for nominalising verbs to sound "smart". Whatever the case, I think the difference between the two is much smaller than it is between written and spoken Chinese.

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Alex_Hart

Hey guys! Great thread - glad to see a lot of people struggling to keep up the weekly routine. I started off my Chinese language adventures in college courses and this is my first semester not taking a Chinese course. It's been really difficult to transition to the self-study paradigm!

 

I started off with the Integrated Chinese series for my first 2 years before transitioning to a book on a "deep" understanding of the Chinese language that was neither "deep" nor particularly useful (hence why I am not taking Chinese courses anymore). 

 

I'm using two books now: The New Practical Chinese Reader and A Kaleidoscope of China. I definitely prefer the latter and have essentially ignored NPCR since I have hit that point where essay assignments no longer seem to have an end. My studies have been slow going. I largely rely on Anki to keep me on a schedule. Hopefully, the summer will lead to a higher level of productivity!

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stapler

I've still be going through the upper intermediate Chinesepods. I find them quite difficult (the dialogue itself more so than the hosts' conversation). I'll listen to a new dialogue maybe 4-6 times. Each time I pick up new stuff and it becomes clearer. I definitely think this is a good level for me as it provides a challenge but isn't incomprehensible. Some of the topics are a bit "zzz". But even if the topic isn't interesting getting my teeth into the language that is surrounding that topic keeps my interest up.

 

I've really failed to keep up watching 爱情回来了. It's just.... too bad. I might switch to another drama. This lack of media that is interesting for Westerners I think is one thing that makes Chinese so difficult to learn. - also probably what makes English easier to learn than it would otherwise. And maybe also why Japanese is the most studied language in Australia (glad I'm not studying Japanese, definitely don't want the stigma of being a cartoon nerd!)

 

I managed to complete a chapter in NPCR4 and D&H this week too. By focusing all my energies into listening for the past few months the dialogues in these books are becoming quite easy. I find I can understand 60-80% on my first listen through, maybe 90% on the second, and then after checking out the new vocab and grammatical structures, 100%. I also want to say these books are almost becoming too easy. What I am finding them useful for however is new vocabulary (particular new verbs - and how to use them. EG 卸). I'm not sure how good the more advanced textbooks are after these ones, but I think I'm going to do a lot more intermediate ones purely to broaden my base. It seems more "advanced" after this just means straying into literary/formal Chinese, which I'm really not that interested in (and I get enough exposure to that from reading).

 

The part of the textbooks I hate the most are the 口语 sections. I hate answering textbooks questions aloud, or trying to roleplay with myself etc. My speaking abilities are really poor. But I don't think these 口语 sections will improve that. I simply just need to start talking to more Chinese speakers - something I feel awkward about when their English is quite good. In the last week I've only had a few encounters with Chinese. One was at a house party. Naturally I was very drunk so I had no problem starting up conversation with some Chinese guys who were there. But they left early and I had to socialise with other people. I wish Chinese loved drinking and going out to pubs as much as Westerners. The atmosphere and the alcohol makes speaking really easy for me! (and makes me realise the biggest hindrance to improving my speaking is getting the courage to actually use the language). The second opportunity was while playing badminton. An older Chinese guy knows I can speak a bit of Mandarin after I was talking smack about some Indian players we were playing against (god second languages are useful!) Anyway this week he suddenly asked me (we usually just use English) something like “一个礼拜打几次?” I was caught 'off guard' and just said "Wednesday". Then I realised I got it wrong and said "once". 哎. The pressure of being asked a sudden question in Chinese (even if very simple) is intense! This definitely shows I need more speaking practice (and as a part of that, confidence)

 

On a final note, I've realised that Chinese is hard for Chinese speakers in a way English isn't hard for English speakers. And I'm not talking about the characters. A Chinese PhD student told me they have great trouble watching the Chinese news. I asked why and they just said "they speak too quickly". I didn't get to follow this up more, but I think the meaning was that the formal/complicated language spoken at a quick pace makes it hard for them. Another Chinese PhD student could tell me the Chinese word for "paperclip". I love when this happens. It makes me feel better! :P  So there you go.

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Cid

That's really awesome, stapler! If you're able to get through upper intermediates, your Chinese is definitely not beginner level, haha. 

 

As for me, since last week i've just been continuing working on intermediate ChinesePod lessons and i'm beginning to see a bit of improvement which i'm pretty happy with. I haven't been learning Chinese for that long (just a few months) but i am really working my butt off and these lessons are helping a whole lot! Last week, i was having trouble identifying vocabulary words in sentences and had difficulty understanding the entirety of some of the dialogues, but now i am able to recognize a lot more words that i wasn't able to before and i'm now able to understand the large majority of intermediate dialogues as well! Looking forward to even more progress and checking in again next week. 

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stapler

Well I say I'm beginner because I still don't understand the 'real life' Mandarin conversations around me. I'll consider myself "intermediate" when I can listen in on conversations and know what's being discussed. At most I can pick out a few words that might clue me in to the main idea of a conversation. Chinese is a long road. Even after 4 years (but maybe of only 15-30 mins a day) I'm not close to "fluency" in spoken Chinese.

 

It's extremely impressive that you're already listening to the intermediate podcasts after only a few months. As you say, you definitely must be working your arse off.

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