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How To Become Fluent In Chinese Quickly?

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Xiao Kui
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I struggle with the idea that Kaufmann "did it". He is better in Chinese than most of the so-called polyglots, but objectively speaking his Chinese is not very good at all. 

 

 

Kaufmann learned Chinese 30+ years ago and has learned 10+ languages since - he's now 70+ years old. I was once fluent enough in Spanish to interpret Spanish <>Chinese, but I haven't kept up my Spanish, so it's not great at the moment, but I don't doubt I could have it back to the similar level I once had in about a month's time if I needed to. His Chinese was good enough for the foreign service to consider him fluent at the time regardless of where his Chinese is now.

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i__forget
On 2/8/2018 at 5:46 AM, studychinese said:

I struggle with the idea that Kaufmann "did it". He is better in Chinese than most of the so-called polyglots, but objectively speaking his Chinese is not very good at all. 

I also struggle with the idea that he "did it", in 1970... 50 years ago when Pleco didn't exist (in particular optical character recognition), internet didn't exist, heck not even PCs didn't exist at that time.  Learning with traditional characters in freaking Hong Kong. He claimed to have learned 4000 characters in that 8-9 months. He mentioned he started reading newspapers after 3 months.

I am still to early in my studies to properly asses his claim (by listening to him), however I actually do believe that he did it, having read his book and having heard him speak other languages he allegedly speaks worse. He even says that "he become good at guessing the meaning of" characters/words he couldn't understand. 

Then he spent another 10 years in Japan which would have probably pushed his Mandarin to fluency (he met with people who only had Mandarin as their common language). His story is really interesting, they only thing I find insane and doesn't quite fit with me is the point in time he did all this.
 

 

On 2/8/2018 at 5:46 AM, studychinese said:

If one's goal is to be as good as Kaufmann, its an attainable goal.

Well it should definitely be with today's technology. But can you REALLY spend 8 hours studying Chinese in a day? Take a Saturday, how long can you spend over your books before you get exhausted? 

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imron
34 minutes ago, i__forget said:

Pleco didn't exist (in particular optical character recognition)

The first 7 years I spent learning Chinese I didn't have Pleco either - and I've got the well-worn paper dictionaries to prove it.  I still don't have Pleco character recognition, and honestly I'm not sure I would use it if I was a beginner - if you outsource a key component of your learning to a computer, don't expect your brain to get good at it.

 

34 minutes ago, i__forget said:

internet didn't exist,

No twitter, no facebook, no instagram, no WhatsApp, no youtube, no reddit, no Chinese-forums - I wonder what he did with all that spare time.......

 

34 minutes ago, i__forget said:

Learning with traditional characters in freaking Hong Kong

Where they exclusively use Traditional characters?  Don't see the problem here.  Traditional isn't any more difficult than simplified to learn.  I'm more impressed that he learnt Mandarin in HK.

 

34 minutes ago, i__forget said:

He claimed to have learned 4000 characters in that 8-9 months

That's ~15 characters a day.  Which is a lot, but not an impossible amount if you have enough spare time and few distractions, and it turns out he was doing intense, full-time study for that entire time, so definitely within the realm of possibility (plus I'm sure that while he 'learnt' that many, he probably 'forgot' a good portion of them as well).

 

34 minutes ago, i__forget said:

He mentioned he started reading newspapers after 3 months.

At the rate above, he'd know > 1,000 characters, and I'm guessing 'reading' was the same sort of 'reading' I did at that level - not really understanding much of anything beyond a snippet here and snippet there, but picking up lots of words to study.

 

34 minutes ago, i__forget said:

Well it should definitely be with today's technology

I'm not convinced today's technology makes a huge difference - I mean it does in some areas but then today's technology is purposely designed to erode focus, reduce attention span and be constantly interrupting.  It's a double-edged sword.

 

This guy (not Benny) had ok-ish basic Chinese after 3-months intense study (much better than Benny's).  Multiply that time by 3, and I"m sure it would have been even better.  I believe it's possible for someone to obtain reasonable Mandarin after 9 months intense immersion study.  It also helps when someone else (Kaufmann's employer at the time) is paying for it.

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i__forget
14 minutes ago, imron said:

Where they exclusively use Traditional characters?  Don't see the problem here.  Traditional isn't any more difficult than simplified to learn.  I'm more impressed that he learnt Mandarin in HK.

True. Being in Hong Kong has helped *a lot* with his character learning for sure. I mentioned traditional because he learned to write them which takes much longer I suppose since the strokes are more...

 

16 minutes ago, imron said:

The first 7 years I spent learning Chinese I didn't have Pleco either - and I've got the well-worn paper dictionaries to prove it. 

My guess is that he used really good graded readers, and lots of them. Possibly better than the ones we have here in the West now (whether created in China or not). Readers with which you wouldn't need the dictionary to move on. Unlike Chinese Breeze which in my experience requires a dictionary to be useful to the target audience (those with 80-90% comprehension).

 

22 minutes ago, imron said:

I wonder what he did with all that spare time.......

Totally agree.
 

23 minutes ago, imron said:

This guy (not Benny) had ok-ish basic Chinese after 3-months intense study (much better than Benny's). 

Benny's Chinese after 6 months (3 in Taiwan + 3 travelling in mainland) is horrific, appalling. Even I can tell you this (!). Possibly proves how crappy his method really is. Scott Young already had a basic level before his 3 month project. In particular he had already studied for 105 hours. That's equivalent to my first 3 months of studies!

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Luxi
1 hour ago, i__forget said:

I also struggle with the idea that he "did it", in 1970... 50 years ago when Pleco didn't exist

 

Not only Pleco didn't exist, but he would have had to use the Mathews' Dictionary  

 

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Pj_e2d3eHTQC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

 

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Lu
17 minutes ago, i__forget said:

My guess is that he used really good graded readers, and lots of them.

My guess is that he had no graded readers at all. Children's books are actually not that suitable for foreign learners, and I have the impression that graded readers for foreigners didn't exist until a few years ago. But with determination and a dictionary, you can (sort of) read a regular book. I assume Kaufmann had a teacher, which must have helped a lot.

 

I was thinking just today about how before Anki, in Taiwanese stationary shops you could buy little bundles of flashcards (that you could then fill yourself). Very useful. Before I got to Taiwan (before I even started learning Chinese), I made my own flashcards. Anki and other SRS are better, but not necessary. Before Pleco, there was the Little Red Book (Concise E-C C-E Dictionary). I used to carry it around absolutely everywhere, it was really good. Pleco is better, but again, not indispensible. Before Forvo and Youtube, there were casette tapes and they were enormously useful.
 

People have been learning each others' languages for literally thousands of years, before the internet, even before dictionaries. It can absolutely be done. The biggest difference the internet has made, I think, is in easy access to material, from texts to recordings to explanations etc.

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imron
53 minutes ago, i__forget said:

Benny's Chinese after 6 months (3 in Taiwan + 3 travelling in mainland) is horrific, appalling

I agree.  Scott did much better.

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somethingfunny
2 hours ago, imron said:

The first 7 years I spent learning Chinese I didn't have Pleco either - and I've got the well-worn paper dictionaries to prove it.  I still don't have Pleco character recognition, and honestly I'm not sure I would use it if I was a beginner - if you outsource a key component of your learning to a computer, don't expect your brain to get good at it.

I've said it many times before, but I'll say it again, not having a smart phone for the first year I learned Chinese was the best possible thing that could have happened.  I also had a lot of free time, which helped.  I see people now taking up Chinese and using things like the auto-translate feature in wechat and I just feel sorry for them.

 

And I didn't even know Pleco had optical character recognition.

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abcdefg
2 hours ago, Lu said:

People have been learning each others' languages for literally thousands of years, before the internet, even before dictionaries. It can absolutely be done.

 

"Pillow Chinese" is one time-honored method for at least getting started. 

 

I saw a steamy B movie several years ago starring Jessica Alba that served as an inspiration: "The Sleeping Dictionary" -- set in Sarawak, Borneo. Bob Hoskins and Hugh Dancy.

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Shelley

When I started learning chinese there was also no Pleco, no internet or much of anything. I used Practical Chinese Reader, and went to London to Gerard st to "China town" to go to the most wonderful bookshop and bought my first dictionary, a large tome of a thing I still have and use. I had to carry it and all the other books I bought, around the Science museum for the afternoon and then home on the train. It is much thumbed and loved.

My first Pleco was on my XDA running windows mobile 5. It was like magic to look things up with it.

 

I am glad my first encounter with Chinese was on simple level, and hard work was needed to get anything done. You soon learn your radicals when you have to look things up in a paper dictionary. Should almost be required for first year students, no electronic dictionaries just paper, a bit like no calculators in first year maths.

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Tomsima

I have a question about using paper dictionaries. After starting with pleco and realising how it was often too convenient, I switched to big red, I stuck with it for a few months, but the amount of times a compound word was not in there, but was in a pleco dictionary made me go back. I could never find those rarer compound words. What did you do then? Consult other dictionaries? Ask a friend? I want to just stick with one paper dictionary and get away from my pleco dependence, but it's just infuriating how regularly I come across words not in a paper dictionary.

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studychinese
17 hours ago, i__forget said:

I am still to early in my studies to properly asses his claim (by listening to him), however I actually do believe that he did it, having read his book and having heard him speak other languages he allegedly speaks worse. He even says that "he become good at guessing the meaning of" characters/words he couldn't understand. 

 

Remember - whenever you hear someone speak a language that you cannot assess, it will sound like that person speaks it well. That's just how it works.

 

I can assess his Japanese ability and I would rate it between lower intermediate and intermediate. He would struggle in a formal business setting. I can also assess his Korean ability. His Korean would be advanced beginner roughly. It is unfortunate that Kaufmann failed to achieve mastery in Japanese, for if he did he could have reached  an upper intermediate level of Korean (ie, no problems with life in Korea and competence in a business setting) in around 6 months of not particularly strenuous study. This is because Japanese and Korean are very similar, but the benefits of quickly learning one of the other can only be achieved by having mastery. Knowing a little of one or both doesn't help at all.

 

Other than Japanese, Korean, and Chinese I cannot assess any of the other languages that he speaks. All I can say is that his diffuse studies have come at the opportunity cost of true mastery, which when you think about it is really an obvious result. This is my problem with the polyglots, especially those on YouTube. They can help you be like them, but like them you won't achieve mastery.

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EnergyReaper
33 minutes ago, Tomsima said:

What did you do then? Consult other dictionaries? Ask a friend? I want to just stick with one paper dictionary and get away from my pleco dependence, but it's just infuriating how regularly I come across words not in a paper dictionary.

@Tomsima As a native Chinese, I have to say it's almost impossible to use only one paper dictionary. IMO, it's already 21st century and the whole society has entered an era of the great explosion of the information. There are many new web words coming out every year like "酱紫", "蓝瘦香菇", etc. My personal habit is using a web search engine like baidu. In fact, I haven't used a paper dictionary for many years.

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Jim

There is another way but the fluency only lasts for brief periods. Go out with Chinese friends and get uproariously drunk then start banging on at them in whatever Chinese you have; you may be able to sustain several hours imagining you're fluent and if they're drunk enough too they might even play along.

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imron
14 minutes ago, studychinese said:

Other than Japanese, Korean, and Chinese I cannot assess any of the other languages that he speaks

I just looked up some videos of him speaking Chinese.  I think he speaks it quite well.   Yeah, he makes tone mistakes here and there, and also I think his vocabulary choices are sometimes a little strained, but overall he speaks quite well - certainly better than the majority of videos you see of other polyglots speaking Mandarin, and he seems more than capable of carrying on a continuous conversation in Chinese.

 

7 minutes ago, Tomsima said:

but it's just infuriating how regularly I come across words not in a paper dictionary.

How big is your paper dictionary?  My mainstay used to be the 现代汉语辞典.  I'd run in to the same problem sometimes and when that happened I would ask people or note it down and look it up online later.

 

11 minutes ago, Tomsima said:

I want to just stick with one paper dictionary and get away from my pleco dependence

I don't think Pleco dependence is necessarily a bad thing (it eventually replaced my paper dictionaries after all), but you need to make sure you are using it in a manner conducive for improving your vocab.

 

The biggest thing I had against electronic dictionaries, and why I held off getting Pleco for so long (there were plenty of these devices available in China even before pleco become popular) is that they make it quick to look up - and therefore quick to forget.

 

What Pleco brought to that was built in flashcards, which made it easy to revise words you'd looked up.  They key to making electronic dictionaries helpful is don't just look up a word and move on.  Look up a word, then think about that word.  Break the characters down in to their component parts, note what the characters mean and how they combine (if a multicharacter word) to make the meaning.  Associate it with similar words you know, think clearly about the context in which you saw this word.  Develop the habit of spending time to think and analyse the words you are looking up.  Make sure to then revise looked up words.

 

Avoid using the dictionary as an expedient way to understand the meaning and then move on.  A paper dictionary forces you to spend more time looking up (and therefore thinking about) the word.  With electronic dictionaries you need to develop the discipline to do that yourself.  Personally, I think it's less hassle to develop that discipline than it is to lug around a huge dictionary :mrgreen:

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i__forget
1 hour ago, studychinese said:

I can assess his Japanese ability and I would rate it between lower intermediate and intermediate. He would struggle in a formal business setting. I can also assess his Korean ability.

I really doubt this is true. His Japanese is second to his French, and his Mandarin is third to his Japanese. His bachelors is form a French university so let's not question his French, then 10 years in Japan having already "learned" Mandarin. He conducted business in Japan even after leaving Japan when he started his own wood company, and as he claims it would have not been possible had he not known Japanese. He has defined the beginning of fluency as a B2 level. He has claimed fluency in both languages, probably long before he had a product to sell. He has not given me the impression of a person who would lie about his abilities. Why do you think his Japanese is intermediate? 

 

1 hour ago, studychinese said:

His Korean would be advanced beginner roughly.

In his personal blog he repeatedly states that he failed to reach fluency - however he defines the word. He might not deny that he speaks it, but he doesn't claim fluency.

 

1 hour ago, studychinese said:

Other than Japanese, Korean, and Chinese I cannot assess any of the other languages that he speaks.

Don't get hung up on his ability to speak well the rest of his languages after Chinese. He was never required to speak them, the only thing he does with them is enjoy consuming material in those languages. If he can read books/newspapers, that's a pretty damn good level to me nomatter how many mistakes he does when he speaks them.

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studychinese
3 hours ago, i__forget said:

I really doubt this is true. His Japanese is second to his French, and his Mandarin is third to his Japanese. His bachelors is form a French university so let's not question his French, then 10 years in Japan having already "learned" Mandarin. He conducted business in Japan even after leaving Japan when he started his own wood company, and as he claims it would have not been possible had he not known Japanese. He has defined the beginning of fluency as a B2 level. He has claimed fluency in both languages, probably long before he had a product to sell. He has not given me the impression of a person who would lie about his abilities. Why do you think his Japanese is intermediate? 

 

What does this mean? "Japanese second to his french"? "Mandarin third to his Japanese"? These aren't objective standards. They are meaningless.

 

I don't think that he is lying about his abilities, at least not on purpose. Japanese is a difficult language, and few foreigners reach even his roughly intermediate level. I think that his Japanese is around intermediate because that is what his Japanese sounds like. I reviewed him speaking Japanese by listening to him before I wrote my previous post to see if my memory of his Japanese speaking ability was correct. It was.

 

3 hours ago, i__forget said:

In his personal blog he repeatedly states that he failed to reach fluency - however he defines the word. He might not deny that he speaks it, but he doesn't claim fluency.

 

If he was at an advanced level of Japanese then he would have nailed Korean in about 6 months, as I did. With the advantage of knowing Japanese to an advanced level Kaufmann could have achieved an upper intermediate level of Korean in around 6 months as I mentioned before. I will even say that he could not but achieve that.

 

3 hours ago, i__forget said:

Don't get hung up on his ability to speak well the rest of his languages after Chinese.

 

I'm not hung up on Kaufmann or the other polyglots. What I am saying is that the opportunity cost of 'polygottism' is usually failure to achieve mastery in ANY language. That there are people out there with the "goal" of becoming a polyglot is a tragedy. 

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i__forget
8 minutes ago, studychinese said:

What does this mean? "Japanese second to his french"? "Mandarin third to his Japanese"? These aren't objective standards. They are meaningless.

What's meaningless? I meant to say that his level of languages is English > French > Japanese > Mandarin as claimed by him.

Based on the response here, his " his Japanese is excellent overall".

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Luxi
4 hours ago, Tomsima said:

but the amount of times a compound word was not in there, but was in a pleco dictionary made me go back.

 

Isn't it a bit masochistic to try not to use Pleco and stick to one dictionary? I had several C-E and C-C dictionaries in the pre-Pleco / pre-internet days and they were still not enough.

 

If I have to choose a single dictionary, I'd go for Le Grand Ricci, though it is in French. Luckily, Pleco has it at a much cheaper price than its paper and on-line access versions:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grand-dictionnaire-Ricci-langue-chinoise/dp/220408266X

 

For some perverse reason, one often knows the 2nd character in a compound but not the first. The Reverse C-E dictionary was invaluable but even in those days, very hard to find. It seemed to be permanently out of print. If you can find anywhere in China, grab it!

Reverse Chinese-English Dictionary

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studychinese
4 hours ago, imron said:

I just looked up some videos of him speaking Chinese.  I think he speaks it quite well

 

Are there any videos in which polyglots speak on a subject other than the subject of language? Over years of hearing the same stuff and giving the same answers, one can become very proficient in a limited context.

 

I will give Kaufmann credit where credit is due - he has done free form conversations with native speakers on occasion and posted those conversations on YouTube, which most of the other polyglots do not dare to do. I also acknowledged that he speaks Chinese better than the other polyglots. Like I said in my original post, I think its possible to reach Kaufmann's level in 9 months (with considerable determination), and Benny's level in 3 months.

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