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Couple of questions from middle-aged self-taught learner


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I'm a false beginner who's just begun learning with seeing how far I can get self-studying in the 4 years others spend full time on a degree. I'm aiming for 16 hours a week which includes 2 hours a week formal tuition with italki, plus memrise daily, writing with exchange partners and reading plus watching film/tv/ listening to radio. 


Could anyone give me a reasonable timescale for hsk level attainment at the end of each year e.g. year 1 expect hsk 2, year 2- hsk 3 etc? I want to have goals that require dedication while being attainable. 


Also, I'm just too old for a masters in China- do the non-degree language courses at universities in China also have an age limit or can you be older?


Lastly, and this might be unlikely, but many years ago, I saw a Chinese uni advertising a work-study programme where you taught some English as a means to fund the language course. Does anyone know of something similar nowadays? 



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My situation may have been comparable. I didn't know anything about Chinese when I began but I spoke fluent Japanese and while my reading Japanese has never been great, I could recognize around 2000 characters to varying degrees. This has likely aided my study of the characters when compared to someone with no exposure to the Chinese characters before.

I began studying Chinese three years ago and I'm at around HSK 5 in the old (v2) HSK scheme. I think I have spent about the same kind of time on this while living in Finland as you are planning (and most of it with the covid restrictions so I have virtually no contact with Chinese people other than iTalki tutors). In the beginning I built my study around HSK word and grammar point lists and learning the Chinese readings of the characters, so I could track my progress. My main goal at the time was to first attain a conversational level and then be able to pick up reading real books in Chinese. I also pushed myself somewhat to be able to take the HSK test at certain points in time in order to see my progress. My first Goal was to take the HSK4 and I successfully passed it after about 20 months of study. I was supposed to take HSK5 six months after it but they cancelled it and didn't feel like pushing myself like that anymore anyway. Now 36 months after beginning my study I have abandoned the HSK lists and I'm basically just focusing on reading books and chatting with tutors. I think I should be able to pass the HSK5 without problems if I took the test now and I expect to be able to pass HSK6 a year from now.


Other than that, I began chatting with tutors after about 6 months averaging about one to three one hour long sessions a week. At some point I had as many as 7 but now I'm back to one to three. With first teacher I mainly created sentences about my everyday life, had the teacher record them for me and then I made anki flashcards with the sentences and drilled and listened to them all the time even when I wasn't "studying". Later I had the teachers only speak Chinese to me even though I was able to switch completely over to Chinese myself only after almost two years of having these sessions. Maybe I'm slow in that regard, I don't know. I also later began recording the teacher's voice during the sessions and listened to them over and over while driving and taking walks. After around one year since beginning, I started reading graded readers and now I have labored through about two translations of books that I had read before in English and now I'm working on the Chinese original version of the Three Body Problem. I also found it in an audio version and just finished listening to the first book.

So about the realistic time table, my take on this would be HSK4 after around 2 years, HSK5 after 3 years and HSK6 after 4 years is realistic. I might extrapolate HSK 1, 2, and 3 from there to take something like 2 months, 6 months and 1 year respectively.

About the studying Chinese in China while teaching English, it's not a university, but might want to take a look at https://ltl-school.com/

I think you get cheaper housing if you teach English while there, but I don't think it will cover for the program. No age limits. You just contact them, plan your course, and then you go there to study for the duration you agree on while living in a dormitory or a Chinese family.

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Hello @Liebkuchen I also only started to learn Chinese in my late 30s, mainly self-taught but also attend 2 hours lessons a week like you. I see @alantinalready gave approximate timeline for HSK which I think is fairly reasonable if you put that many hours and study everyday. Is there any specific reason why you put HSK as your goal? I think HSK 1-4 is probably a good place to start but I personally find their materials a bit dull and since I don't particularly need HSK tests for work/immigration/school purposes, I stopped using HSK book since I finished the HSK 4 book. I think it's also quite important to have fun goals that you can do with the language to carry you through the slog of intermediate plateau. I personally would really love to be able to watch Chinese dramas and movies without English subs, listen to podcasts and able to read tons of books in Chinese with ease and those goals really have been keeping me motivated and not give up.


I see you put watching film, TV and listening to radio as part of your study routine but from my personal experience those activities will only start to show meaningful result after around HSK 4-5 because native contents are probably too hard to be used as study materials for HSK 1-4. I did those activities for fun when I wasn't able to understand much but in term of getting meaningful input I relied more on graded materials like podcasts and youtube intended for learners and graded readers and some cartoons intended for kids that have been dubbed in Chinese. 


Not sure about the age limit for courses. I hope there is none because that would be terrible to put an age limit for learning. I also plan to go to Taiwan at some point to do a couple of terms at the Mandarin Training Centre, I hope they don't have age limit as well because that would crush me.

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As mentioned already there are some good language schools in China if you want to study language — no need for a university for a shorter course.


I spent 4 weeks at Keat's school https://keatschinese.com/ in Kunming recently (July-August), studying 20 hours a week. I was very happy with the teachers, although the tiny room wasn't too comfortable and I switched to the Holiday Inn across the road for my final week. To be fair, they do have a few bigger rooms available if you negotiate.


I've also heard good things about CLI in Guilin. https://studycli.org/guilin/

LTL https://ltl-school.com/ has the option of 50% discount if you choose to do a homestay and teach English 6 hours a week (presumably to someone in the family). It looks like this option is only available in Chengdu, Beihai or Xi'an (maybe Taipei too?). @LTLChineseSchool is active on the forums from time to time.



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Thanks, everyone for your input. I'm pleasantly surprised that it's doable- HSK 6 in that timeframe, that is. 


@amytheorangutan My thought about going for HSK 6 is to some sort of paper qualification to show for it. In a perfect world, I'd do a degree but I can't afford it/am too old now at 40 in China. I thought it would be cool to be able to say you've reached the same standard as a regular grad would have. But my real goal is to be able to converse freely with Chinese people and to enjoy film/tv and books. 


@alantin @mungoukThanks for mentioning the ltl school- I found it myself last night and saw the same offer which is very interesting. 

Edited by Liebkuchen
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  • 1 month later...
On 9/11/2021 at 11:50 AM, Liebkuchen said:

In a perfect world, I'd do a degree but I can't afford it/am too old now at 40 in China.


Most universities do have an age limit (usually 30), but not all. However, I suspect that if you went the degree route, you'd be the oldest in the class by quite a large margin. On the other hand, you'd probably fit in quite well in non-degree language classes. I studied at Jiaotong University in Shanghai for a year in 2008-2009, and there were at least a few students well into their 40s and 50s.


However, I don't think university classes are indispensable for learning Chinese. If you are motivated and organised enough, you could probably learn faster by yourself and by finding a few private tutors or language exchange partners. (I know some people don't like language exchange, but it gives you the opportunity to just practice and use your Chinese informally rather than focus on learning academically like you would with a tutor. Teaching English is a waste of time but I found that when my Chinese was good enough, the language exchange partners would generally just switch to Chinese and speak almost 100% in Chinese with me - I guess they enjoyed being able to interact with a foreigner without the obstacle of having to speak English.)

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  • 3 months later...

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