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A Bump from the Past: "I Did It All Wrong!"


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A useful thread for confessing the mistakes you made when starting to study Chinese.


Myself, I'd say it's not taking pronunciation and tones seriously enough. Very hard to correct them later if you start off on the wrong foot.


https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/11415-what-would-you-do-differently-if-you-were-starting-to-learn-chinese-again/

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Less:

- flashcard editing

- passive listening

 

More:

- spoken conversations

- active listening

- extracurricular play 

 

Like most, I seem to regret not spending enough time or effort engaging directly with the spoken language from the get go. I struggle to think how you would do that in the beginning without the assistance of a very patient tutor/friend/partner. And I wasn't terribly good at looking for one. 

 

I also regret focusing so much on othering the language as an object of deliberate study, rather than something to play with and use in order to do something else. 

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I can't say I regret anything either, its been a great journey (so far!), I placed a lot of emphasis on speaking, tones and flashcard drilling at the very beginning, which meant my written grammar was far too colloquial for many years (almost certainly still is). I later signed up for a year-long calligraphy course with a great teacher and made a whole bunch of friends while discovering a hobby that I love.

 

Most importantly - all these choices were essentially just following the advice of those who had already walked the path ahead of us, shared here on CF. 

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I spent a year (2019, specifically) cramming down all 5,000 HSK vocabulary words, through four SRS flashcard tests: listening (the Pleco robot voice would say the word, and then I'd guess what it means), reading (Pleco would give the Chinese characters, and I would guess the pinyin/tones/definition), writing (via Pleco handwriting recognition), and speaking (Pleco gives the English definition, I guess the Chinese word). During the worst months, my daily review quota ballooned to as many as 200+ cards for each test (800+ total). It did improve my vocabulary recognition, but only in the same way that burning your house down eliminates the termite problem. That self-torture probably wasn't necessary. It would have been better to engage with Chinese books and media than to follow preset vocabulary lists.

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Perhaps aiming for the HSK6 was a mistake.

 

A lot of the test preparation time involved feels like it's only useful for the test, and nothing else, especially the writing section where you have 10 minutes to memorize a text, then 35 minutes to rewrite it from memory.  So those months spent preparing for the exam feel wasted.

 

And despite all this, I failed.  And the HSK6 still looms.  I wasn't mentally prepared for this.

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I do not regret anything, but in an ideal world, I would not have let my motivation dictate how much and when I study. Many times I was too tired or "not motivated" or I let other things distract me.

 

Now, I am trying to no longer let "lack of motivation" be an excuse. It is about self-discipline, not motivation and this means, if the goal is to study one hour, then it is that. No distractions, no googling, no let us see what is in the fridge, etc. 

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On 7/27/2022 at 6:53 AM, Jan Finster said:

no let us see what is in the fridge

 

lol!

 

Edit: I think discipline is a big thing for me too. I enjoy the time I spend learning Chinese and can't wait to learn more. But, I bounce around between different projects without realizing how much time I've spent away from learning Chinese. At least I almost always have Chinese TV playing in the background, so I can re-learn a bit of Chinese. It's amazing how much has been coming back to me. So, there's at least that, lol.

 

Edit 2: On a more serious note, because of so many threads I've read on this website, I'm 100% convinced that tones and pronunciation are what I should go after first in my Chinese re-learning.

 

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On 7/27/2022 at 7:52 AM, realmayo said:

(because my theory now is that if each time you see a word and you have to ask yourself 'now is this one A or is it B' you're basically training yourself again and again to be uncertain about that word)

Oh god I think you're right.

 

Not too long ago Anki added a button for 'card difficult: ask again in 15 minutes' instead of 'ask again in 1 day'. I spent the past few days whittling down my Anki queue (which I had neglected woefully) and I found this button very useful in just drilling and drilling and drilling some words until they finally seemed to stick. Because otherwise, yeah, they just stick for a few weeks or months and then you just make the same mistake again.

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Yep! "Neurons that fire together wire together". So if every time you see 左 you ask yourself "is that left or is it right" then your brain will associate "left or right" with 左 ......

 

On 7/28/2022 at 8:25 AM, 889 said:

Those polite but blank stares you continue to get from Chinese people when

 

Someone else pointed out a while ago: if in the middle of speaking Chinese the person you're talking to interjects quietly to repeat a word you just used, they're probably not congratulating you for your marvellous choice of word, but are tactfully correcting your serious pronunciation mistake.

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That works!

In fact for me the specific problem was remembering their tones, because naturally I learned both characters at the same time, therefore I knew that one was 3rd, one was 4th: but that meant that each time I came across them my brain would learn to ask 'is this the 3rd tone or the 4th tone one?' and even now, if I try to think in isolation what tone is 左, I can't do so without thinking 'it is either 3rd or 4th, oh yep it's third and 右 is fourth' which is very suboptimal: in my opinion a clear, but hopefully not common or extensive, negative side-effect of flashcards....

... and I would say, yes very likely curable by your method of "just drilling and drilling and drilling" over a short timeframe.

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As for the tones: it helps me a lot to colorize the characters on anki cards and word lists.

 

This is also my personal "I Did It All Wrong!!!":
When I was starting to learn Chinese, I thought it would be a good idea to colorize the characters according to their respective tones.
So I did.
Later I found that I was not the first one to have that idea, but my color scheme was not used anywhere else.
So, for compatibility reasons,  I decided to switch to a more popular color scheme (the one of mdbg).
Whatever you do, don't do that!
Chose your color scheme wisely and stick to it.
It is really a pain in the brain when 红 which was painted blue last week, now is orange, and it took me a long time to re-wire my synapses.

 

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On 7/28/2022 at 12:09 PM, realmayo said:

if I try to think in isolation what tone is 左, I can't do so without thinking 'it is either 3rd or 4th, oh yep it's third and 右 is fourth'

What helps me is remembering the tones of 左右 (approximately) since my inner voice will say it is 3rd tone and 4th tone... 

 

On 7/28/2022 at 10:31 AM, Lu said:

mnemonic for this one:

左 has 工 in it. 工 is for workers. Communism is for workers. Communism is left. Hence, 左 is left.

I think this is a great trick. I was never into Chineazy or the like, but for similar looking characters, this is probably the only way to remember them.

 

For example I alway used to confuse those 3 characters:

便  (informal; convenient; to urinate or defecate)
使 (try) (to make) [edit]

更 (more)

 

After your trick, I can now keep them separate. My personal mnemonic does not make any sense to someone else, so I will spare it to you.

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On 7/29/2022 at 9:21 AM, Jan Finster said:

I was never into Chineazy or the like, but for similar looking characters, this is probably the only way to remember them.

I am also not into Chineazy. I think the important thing is that you know the story is just a story to help you remember, and nothing more. Not scientific, not saying something about Chinese culture, not a secret to Chinese characters, or whatever. Just a story (or a pretty picture). Then there is no harm (but also no TED Talk).

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On 7/29/2022 at 9:33 AM, Lu said:

but also no TED Talk

Haha indeed! What an embarrassment to the whole Chinese learning community, that was.

 

On 7/29/2022 at 9:21 AM, Jan Finster said:

使 (try)

Surely you haven't memorised it as 'try'. Where you thinking of 试 perhaps? 

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Quote

I was never into Chineazy or the like

 

I didn't know what this referred to, so I looked up the TED talk on this.  Oh boy, I wish companies could be sued for making claims like the one below:

 

 

image.thumb.png.2ad062771459c22bafa13d8299cb02be.png

 

"A Chinese scholar would know 20,000 characters.  1,000 characters make you literate.  With 200 characters you can comprehend 40% of basic literature, enough to read menus, signs, and understand the basic idea of a webpage or newspaper."

 

I don't know about the 20,000 part, but I know 1,000+ characters and I'm still not literate.  I'm pretty helpless with most menus and many signs and can't even read most actual newspaper headlines without struggle and help.

 

The thing is, if you don't know any Chinese, you might be wowed and charmed by her presentation...

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On 7/29/2022 at 5:25 PM, Moshen said:

With 200 characters you can comprehend 40% of basic literature

Yeah, if you understand words like 我你他 and 的了吗 etc, you quickly get up to recognising 40% of all characters in a book, and 0% of all sentences...

 

Menus and newspaper headlines are both genres of their own. For menus, the 'learning x number of characters gets you to y% comprehension' might actually work: if you learn the various types of animals, some vegetables (especially the ones you like), some methods for preparing food, and the words 饭 and 面, you're set to order a meal. Then supplement that with some dishes that you stumble upon and enjoy and thus make sure to learn the name of.

 

Newspaper headlines are one of the most difficult types of texts, for two reasons: 1) they are about something new, so there are often words or word combinations in them that you have never seen before; 2) they are in shorthand. Best way to handle them, I think, is to only take a quick look at the headline and then just read the first paragraph. Chinese newspapers are really good with putting all the information in the first paragraph, and then repeating it all, but with more context, in the rest of the article.

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