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Weekly Intermediate Study Updates - join in!

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AdamD

A few indicators of progress in just a few days:

 

  1. This week (as per the listening rut thread) I've realised the ChinesePod elementary level is now mostly too easy for me.
  2. Last night I went to a Chinese-only event to see 大山 speak, and kept up with two thirds of the 90 minute length despite having a rotten cold and feeling like crap.
  3. At the same event, I was keeping up with the Chinese subtitles on the overhead screen, which means my reading speed has increased only recently.

 

Two more plateaus busted, then. I am loving this.

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imron
6 minutes ago, AdamD said:

I've realised the ChinesePod elementary level is now mostly too easy for me.

Progress can be so hard to see on a day to day basis, and looking back at what you were doing a year or two ago or is a great way to actually feel that progress has been made.

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AdamD

It really is. 18 months ago I was days away from packing it in altogether, but my progress since then is measurable in so many ways.

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stapler

The last two weeks I've largely stopped/slowed down drilling material from upper intermediate chinesepod and instead have been cutting and pasting every sentence I don't understand (when listening without subtitles) from 欢乐颂 into Anki. The gap from "learner" material to native is bigger than any I've faced before. The problem this time however isn't grammar or vocabulary, but just hearing clearly what people are saying. 

 

I find 关关 particularly challenging. According to wikipedia she is from Harbin. This is amusing because the city apparently has a developed a reputation as a place where people speak "clear Mandarin". It seems to me that their dialect/accent of Mandarin is actually quite difficult to understand. I still believe that education level rather than location determines how clear one's Mandarin is. I find 樊姐 and 莹莹 a bit difficult too, the later generally because she speaks while eating all the time often quite quickly. 曲筱绡 is clear, but the pace and the weird cry-baby thing she has going on can make it difficult. I find her father, and indeed all the male actors much more comfortable and easier to listen to. 安迪 is good too.

 

Drilling sentences from TV shows really burns me out, and because of the difficulty jump I have to grade myself a bit differently. Rather than marking right or wrong depending on whether or not I comprehend what is said the first time I listen to the sentence, I just mark it right or wrong if I can understand it after multiple replays (that is, until I give up). Even just being able to understand each sentence, even if I miss some bits of the sentence, is my goal. And because I'm generating 100's of sentences I don't want to spend all day drilling the same stuff. My goal is to get through a whole episode of sentences, having listened to each sentence in the episode many many times, and being able to understand the majority of them, even if I need to listen a few times to get it. The side benefit of listening to native material is that it really makes standard/clear speakers and/or learning material feel so much easier.

 

I've also made some small efforts to try and increase the amount of speaking I do. On the weekend I wanted to say a Mandarin speaker "Why don't they give you $100 notes anymore?" It seems like a simple sentence but I drew a mental blank. Not being able to articulate sentences like this one has started to make me a bit more agitated about my spoken ability. Though I still want to focus on listening more than anything else (I want to be able to know what people are even saying so I have an opportunity to reply) this is definitely something I'll need to fix.

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AdamD

In contrast with last week's 大山 event, in which I understood lots, I went to another 大山 gig on Thursday and understood almost nothing. Immediately afterwards, I went straight to a mahjong night and understood almost everything. In future I won't beat myself up for not understanding rapid fire stand-up comedy.


Yesterday I understood most of an upper intermediate ChinesePod lesson I couldn't get a grip on just a few months ago, and I can also understand some of the voice messages people send me without replaying them. This is huge. On top of that, I've only just begun to understand speech I'm not paying any attention to, which seems to be the final frontier of listening comprehension.

 

I'm also ploughing through the HSK5 word list at a decent clip, which has measurably helped my listening.

 

All this listening progress and word accumulation has cost me some grammar, so I'll be hitting that this coming week.

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Flickserve
On 16/04/2017 at 9:22 AM, AdamD said:

can also understand some of the voice messages people send me without replaying them

 

This is a big leap forward. Well done.

 

For me, I had a hiatus. I was ill with a cold a week and a half ago and that totally knocked off my rhythm in listening to sentences and sticking earphones into ears. Since it is now the Easter weekend, I booked some Skype sessions. I have had no interest in talking to language partners even though I have a few people on my wechat.

 

For this time, I selected a topic from Brian Foden's 8000 sentence book which I had already covered in my China bought 8000 sentence book (Richard Judkin). The topic was 'housework'. I photographed the relevant pages, turned it into a pdf which was sent to the tutor. Then we discussed the sentences, she gave me the putonghua version and also typed out the sentences whilst the lesson was recorded. It was quite interesting. Some of Foden's sentences were 书面 and some were 台湾国语 or 南方, e.g. 做饭 vs 反。My aim was really to revise some vocabulary in different sentence structures. However, why does Brian Foden's book contain a mismash of natural sounding spoken mandarin, 书面, 台湾国语 and 南方 expressions?  The inconsistency lies in the translations. I think Foden's book has English sentences translated into Chinese which can be a bit awkward. Whereas for Judkin's book, some of the English was a bit awkward whereas the putonghua seems much more consistent with what would be expressed normally. (of course, there are always some differences). Having said that, I still think Foden's book is still useful as a supplement.

 

Fortunately, speaking with the tutor for a couple of hours and discussing sentences has put me back in track. I need to do my own homework reviewing the recordings and hanzi. My speaking is a bit slow and unorganised. It's like a pidgean Mandarin. It can be understood but just doesn't flow off my tongue. I am not overtly concerned about this at the moment. My Cantonese used to be quite similar and still is at times. I also think quite a lot is the Cantonese interference in 'thinking' in Chinese as many times I know an expression in Cantonese and convert it to Mandarin. That gives me an interesting angle on learning Chinese. So far, I have been approaching the language learning from English to Mandarin. That's actually quite difficult. Should I be just use some of my second language Cantonese to try and learn Mandarin for some of the expressions? Maybe I should play around with that but as another form of entertainment. Hard to say but anything that helps is good. 

 

I haven't continued with 欢乐颂  - I think the listening practice is too hard for me just yet for this particular series. I don't have the vocabulary range that would allow me to focus on people's speaking.

 

 

I picked out an upper intermediate Chinesepod lesson just to listen. I find the Mandarin is quite clear. Obviously I lack some of the vocabulary but I can distinguish the words pretty clearly. That gave me a nice feeling.

 

On my occasional meetings with mainland chinese in HK, I don't have big issues in speaking Mandarin nor them understanding me. It's their replies that kill me and then I think "oh s**t...out of my depth again" :help:D

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AdamD
18 hours ago, Flickserve said:

I picked out an upper intermediate Chinesepod lesson just to listen. I find the Mandarin is quite clear. Obviously I lack some of the vocabulary but I can distinguish the words pretty clearly. That gave me a nice feeling.

 

Knowing exactly what you don't know is such a great position to be in.

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Flickserve
6 hours ago, AdamD said:

Knowing exactly what you don't know is such a great position to be in

 

Unfortunately, learning vocabulary has never been my strong point when it comes to languages. And the amount of vocabulary needed for me to get to my end of year aim of a 5-10 minute fluent conversation over dinner on a variety of common subjects is going to be very difficult. 

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AdamD

@Flickserve How do you normally study vocabulary? It could be a matter of finding a technique that works for you.

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Flickserve
2 hours ago, AdamD said:

How do you normally study vocabulary?

 

Usually by the principle of common words coming up commonly but I don't seem to have been successful. LOL. The main problem is lack of frequent enough interactions with the language. I have absorbed some vocabulary from the listening practice and associating TV show dialogue with script. Not well enough to use though. Some vocabulary sticks really well like 洗发水 without needing extra work. Whereas I always forget table and chair even though trying to associate the image with the spoken word.

 

My next strategy can go two directions. One is to use cloze deletion in anki. A bit sterile. Another is to try something I read up from Tamu's post. Give a list of vocab to a tutor, then the tutor tries to get me to use those words when talking. Tamu reported by the time of a third different tutor doing the exercise, the word would be set into active use. Will be interesting to try out as follows.

 

Firstly, I drill a couple of chapters from my 8000 sentence book. Then, I use Brian Foden's book to create more sentences around the similar topic and drill those. This should also give some reinforcement of vocabulary. 

 

Then I note down the unknown vocabulary and drill just those words. Then try to work with tutor(s) on making me use those words in my own sentences when speaking. The trick is have a skilful enough tutor. 

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AdamD

@Flickserve Is it that you find the process boring? I'm sorry if I've misinterpreted what you said, I'm just hoping to hit on the reason it's not working for you, because your regime looks pretty solid.

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Flickserve
4 hours ago, AdamD said:

 

@Flickserve Is it that you find the process boring? I'm sorry if I've misinterpreted what you said, I'm just hoping to hit on the reason it's not working for you, because your regime looks pretty solid.

 

 

Thanks Adam. Yeah. I am not that good with languages. I respond much better living in the environment making all sorts of connections with vocabulary. It is a matter of frequency - don't use it and you forget it. And I don't get to use nor hear the words I come across in daily life.

 

For instance, once I asked a person at work how to say "excuse me please" -> 請讓一下。Well I forgot after learning it.

 

A few months later, I was in Beijing outside the summer palace admiring the touristy stuff. I got suddenly barged into from behind by some marching soldiers. After a turn of the head and a "what's going on...?", I realised they were saying "請讓一下,請讓一下" except that I hadn't responded because I had forgotten the phrase and was not tuned in. Never ever going to forget that one now! Experience counts :-)

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imron
5 hours ago, Flickserve said:

I got suddenly barged into from behind by some marching soldiers. After a turn of the head and a "what's going on...?", I realised they were saying "請讓一下,請讓一下" except that I hadn't responded because I had forgotten the phrase and was not tuned in. Never ever going to forget that one now! Experience counts :-)

 

Make way for the Queen's Guard

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AdamD
On 18/04/2017 at 5:25 PM, Flickserve said:

It is a matter of frequency - don't use it and you forget it. And I don't get to use nor hear the words I come across in daily life.

 

Yeah, that's hard. I find I get to use a lot of new vocabulary online, but some words come up so rarely that they just don't sink in.

 

Not sure if this helps you, but I try not to stress about words I don't see or hear in context. When something new and relevant comes up, I add it to my list and study it with the incident fresh in my mind. It doesn't guarantee retention, but in my experience it's much more effective than trying to work with a new word I've never encountered in the real world.

 

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

 

This past week was a weak one due to a brief recurrence of my personal issues, but I'm spending a lot more time talking to people online. I'm also smashing through my current HSK5 word list (as per above, it's 100% words I've seen/heard and matched again the HSK5 list), which in turn is helping my comprehension because I'm ticking off more and more of the words I didn't know.

 

Yesterday I spent most of the day listening to Chinese lessons, and last night I watched some Chinese YouTube videos and chatted online until midnight. My fatigue threshold is getting higher very quickly.

 

I'm now so familiar with how plateaus happen (or don't happen, as is actually the case) that I'm completely confident any perceived lack of progress is just an illusion. Now even my worst listening days are far from terrible, and my best days are fantastic.

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imron
1 hour ago, AdamD said:

but some words come up so rarely that they just don't sink in.

The great news is that if the words are coming up so rarely, they're probably not that relevant to you at this point in time and it's ok if you forget them.

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AdamD

I rely on that too. It seems to work pretty well.

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AdamD

I've been doing a lot more listening this week, several hours per day when I've been able to manage it. I subscribed to a handful of Taiwan-based YouTube channels by fluent native speakers and advanced foreigners, all aimed at advanced speakers. Here's a few good ones:


the劉沛: An American (?) guy who mainly does Pokemon Go videos, but also travels domestically and internationally, doing short food reviews along the way. He speaks excellent clear Chinese, and is honest about his mistakes and difficulties.


Dream清醒夢Lucid: A British expat who's lived in Taiwan for more than a decade. Lots of discussions about contemporary issues: housing, marriage equality, racism, bullying.


阿滴英文: Taiwanese siblings who do short English lessons, but they talk about language acquisition too. Well produced content with good subtitles.


On Thursday night I understood nearly all 15 minutes of this video, which is a huge win. I also tried watching 人民的名义 but could barely understand anything. I'm pretty sure it's a combination of my middling vocabulary and the Beijing accents, so I'm not stressed about it. However, I keep hearing you can improve your listening by watching TV. If you don't understand what's being said and the whole thing is a complete mystery, how does this work? I trust all the people who insist it worked for them, I just don't understand how it worked for them.

 

All that being said, it really feels like I'm on the verge of breaking through the last big barrier to good listening comprehension. It helps to see foreigners in Taiwan smashing out fluent speech and having detailed conversations, because it feels like I can get there too. I've never felt this confident or aimed this high.

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Flickserve
37 minutes ago, AdamD said:

However, I keep hearing you can improve your listening by watching TV. If you don't understand what's being said and the whole thing is a complete mystery, how does this work? I trust all the people who insist it worked for them, I just don't understand how it worked for them.

 

My theory is that it is a subset of people who can do it and possibly girls and younger ages seem to be more successful (that's my theory anyway). They seem to be able to make the connections between language and actions on TV better. Or perhaps they just watch so much content repetitively that it sticks.

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imron
1 hour ago, AdamD said:

If you don't understand what's being said and the whole thing is a complete mystery, how does this work?

 

The problem is probably not your vocabulary.  The problem is more likely that your listening can't quite process and make out all the words at the right speed and as you start to think about what the gaps might have been, the show has moved on to the next sentence and your preoccupation with the previous sentence causes you to miss parts of the current sentence and so on.

 

The more you listen, the more you are able to process things at speed and then you can start to pick up new things from context, this is often easier than when reading because you have a visual display of what's going on and so you can match what you see with what you hear.

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AdamD
10 hours ago, imron said:

The problem is more likely that your listening can't quite process and make out all the words at the right speed and as you start to think about what the gaps might have been, the show has moved on to the next sentence

 

Yeah, that's always been one of my biggest problems. Even though some speech is full of words I know, it's coming on at such a speed that I don't know what I'm hearing.

 

10 hours ago, imron said:

and so you can match what you see with what you hear.

 

Where this falls down for me is that so much Chinese scripted TV is just people standing/sitting around talking and not really doing anything, which means there's not much visual context to attach anything to. This gets boring and demoralising super quickly. I don't know how people can sit through 30 hours of a single show in this way. (Again, I accept that it works for people, it just seems more a feat of endurance than anything else.)

 

Since I'm getting somewhere with vlogs I'll keep the emphasis on those. I'll probably keep trying scripted TV but it feels like a hiding to nothing.

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