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Challenge: Can I reach 500 hours of speaking Chinese on YouTube?


becky82
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Hi Becky,  I get that you're excited about this, but there's a lot about it that I don't understand.  You're setting yourself a goal to speak totally by yourself for 500 hours?  How will this automatically lead to improvement?

 

Wouldn't some of that time be better spent in conversation?  And some of that with someone who can tell you where you need to improve?

 

And what is the benefit to you of putting all this practice onto Youtube?

 

I don't mean to be throwing cold water on your excitement, it's just that this project has me baffled, and I'm wondering what your assumptions about learning are underlying it.

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I think this project definitely beneficial and one-way conversations are an under-rated way of improving your language and getting a better understanding of your limitations (i.e what you are struggling to express). Its also about learning things of direct interest to yourself. I find myself talking to myself in chinese and trying to express my thoughts in chinese sometimes, and its a great insight into my language capability and pushes me to find creative ways to verbalise what I am thinking.

 

Uploading to youtube provides a certain atmosphere or environment to help Becky keep focus, because after 10 mins of talking without a camera/mic, you will get distracted and stop.

 

I have to say though that I think there is some merit to script writing, editing and the whole proces of trying to make semi-polished videos though. It would push you to minimise mistakes and do retakes as you catch your own mistakes. As you get better, you can be less prescriptive with your script and just have a brief outline, but this is obviously a much bigger time committment

But I applaud your dedication and 31 hours is already a milestone!

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Wow!  That's very ambitious.  I'm way too self conscious to record myself on youtube, but I might record myself privately for a couple hundred hours next year as a project to improve my speaking too.

 

I'm a big fan of the theory that pure hours / practice / data is key to language.  I tried learning languages as a kid and I was uniformly terrible at every language I tried, and I'm convinced it's because I just didn't put in the time.  You can't out-smart language learning.

 

For me practice is easiest when it becomes mindless -- a habit.  So, to me, in depth practice is the easiest form of practice.  Easier, and therefore better, than "practicing what you want to do." 

 

Every time I find myself sampling around (and therefore it becoming no longer mindless), I know it's that I got bored and am about to break my practice routine.  

 

Listening for 30 hours to a book I've become used to, is much easier than listening to 300 different 5 minute youtube clips.  When practice becomes something I have to pay attention to, I know I'm going to stop pretty soon.  It's the same with physical exercise / working out.

 

As for what to record yourself saying, that's an interesting question.  If I were to do it (privately), I'd probably start by downloading some play/movie scripts and reading them, like an actor.  Or maybe a book that reads like a diary.  Maybe famous speeches?

 

If you were doing it on youtube, then probably do a podcast of something you're interested in.  Maybe you can finagle a friend to do it with.  E.g. I was just searching for a podcast talking about House of the Dragon show in Chinese, and found only one (of mediocre quality).  But one exists.

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Impressive undertaking! Even if you don't get to the arbitrary target of 500 hours, this is bound to be good practice. Both self-talk and reading out loud on the regular work wonders for improving speaking in my experience. 

 

But there's also an experimental side to this project that really intrigues me. Aside from giving you structure, regularity and all the other benefits mentioned above, making YouTube videos will also force you to face what your brain is bound to perceive as a captive audience, however imaginary, for very long stretches of time! That's got to keep you on your toes, and is in itself quite a different experience to everyday self-talk or even to the chummy turn-taking that happens in conversation. 

 

We know there's merit to this approach. Performing has helped the likes of 大山, 大牛 and countless other fluent speakers. Mind you, they may have got there by having to focus on quality a lot more: struggling for "perfect" delivery, as it were, rather than good enough. And there's certainly downsides to good enough, aren't there: the sorts usually associated with immigrant-like, forced, untutored output, ie fossilisation of bad habits - not just in pronunciation (which wouldn't necessarily be an issue), but also in phrasing. The latter may be difficult (or extremely time-consuming) for you to analyse and correct by yourself. But you're right that this will certainly help achieve a more literal definition of fluency: speaking fast and confidently.

 

Anyway, it was lovely to "meet" you, Rebecca, and thank you so much for sharing this idea with us.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I just crossed the 100-hour mark in my 500-hour challenge .  What's changed thus far?

  • I'm substantially less nervous about speaking Chinese in front of the camera.
  • I'm finding myself paying a lot of attention to mistakes in my pronunciation, and especially tones.  There's an "invisible audience" that I'm talking to.  I sometimes listen to my own videos, and discover pronunciation errors I don't realize I'm making.
  • My speaking speed seems to have increased.  It's not just that I'm getting better at mentally constructing sentences, I feel like my muscles are getting better at knowing what to do.  It's like hitting the racetrack, but for my facial muscles.
  • I'm becoming increasingly interested in making YouTube videos, and increasingly aware of YouTube's many features.  (And I'm becoming increasingly aware how many new skills I'd need to become a successful YouTuber.)
  • I find myself trying quirky study methods, e.g., in my latest video, I seem to have created a new type of challenge: a kind of speedrun where I read aloud a text as fast as I can.
  • Developers of various websites I use, like HSK Level and MyLingua, seem to find my videos helpful for understanding how their sites are being used.

I've deleted a few videos, since e.g. I accidentally leaked my info in them (and editing videos is 麻烦).  Sometimes my battery or storage space has run out while videoing on the go.  I've tried livestreaming, but it's just too complicated since I live in China and YouTube is blocked.

 

At the moment, I haven't spent a fortune (perhaps 100 yuan).  I bought some ultra-cheap equipment (mic, stands, green screen) since I don't know where this is all going.  But I feel like I should buy a good quality mic; even if this ends up going nowhere, I can use the mic for other things.

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  • 2 months later...

According to this app, I'm at

 

Quote

Total length of playlist : 8 days, 21 hours, 36 minutes, 59 seconds

 

which equates to 213 hours.

 

I had a bit of a gap where I got COVID (you probably heard about the wave in Beijing in the news), and after having COVID, I had very little "oomph" to do anything for quite a while (you need a lot of energy in front of the camera).  Nowadays I'm back at it; my iTalki classes helped me find motivation.

 

- I found the YouTube channel was a distraction from actually studying Chinese, especially adding subtitles to videos, but also lots of other aspects.  Currently I use https://jianwai.youdao.com/ to automatically generate subtitles, which sounds like it would be fast, but even that still chews up time.  (It's limited to 2 hours per day, which means I have to adjust my video size to use as much of that 2 hours each day...).  I think I've made an executive decision: the method I'm using is fine, I'll just keep using it to reach 500 hours of oral Chinese and not spend too much time tweaking.  Focus on the goal.

 

- I used to be a bit trepidatious about getting nasty comments on my videos.  The reality is, the people who don't like my videos simply don't watch them.  (Do you remember that Simpson's episode where Lisa asks "Why would they come to our concert just to boo us?")  I haven't got a single nasty comment thus far.

 

- I think it's fair to say that speaking, which used to be my weakness, has now caught up with the other aspects.  Now I feel like I have a fairly well-rounded skill set.  Maybe listening is my weakest aspect now.

 

- You can clearly see that I'm rather unsystematic about what I study ("here's three random pages from a novel"; "here's a whole academic paper").  I guess it's good for getting diverse practice and helps me maintain interest.

 

Edit:  It seems YouTube is truncating my playlist to 200 videos; I have more videos than that, but it's not showing up.  This is the downside to this project---all these "fiddly details".

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On 1/26/2023 at 10:46 AM, abcdefg said:

This exercise you are doing may have some benefits in promoting fluency, but the big element it lacks, in my opinion, is the instant feedback that real conversation provides. Maybe "phase two" of your project could include some unscripted conversations with ordinary people who are native speakers. 

 

Yes, but also... this quickly gets complicated and political.  I don't want to "use" people, and living in Beijing, it's very hard to find people who actually want to talk to me who don't want to "benefit" in some way.  If I'm not paying them, or if I'm not teaching them English, they don't want to talk with me.  I think it's due to the pressure in Beijing, e.g. high cost of living makes people desperate to get something in return.  This is one reason why I want to move elsewhere.

 

Being on YouTube detaches my progress from others.  I can improve whether or not other people are willing to help me.  If I peg my progress to others, they decide how much I improve, not me.

 

Talking with iTalki teachers is incredibly easy.  If I talk to random people (hang around restaurants at 2pm or so, and staff or delivery people may want to fill in time and are up for a chat), the problem is that we almost always have the same cardboard-cutout conversation (learning Chinese, food, living in China, travel, family, job, Australia).  I've had these conversations so many times that I'm not going to benefit from having them again.  I need to find someone who's interested in science, or some topic I also want to talk about.

 

Maybe next in line is to get a job at a university; maybe I can teach in Chinese.  If I go to a top university they'll force me to teach English, but maybe it's not like that at a less prestigious university.  We'll see what the future holds.

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On 1/26/2023 at 7:04 PM, becky82 said:

Maybe next in line is to get a job at a university; maybe I can teach in Chinese.

 

Sounds like an excellent idea. It would surely help you broaden the "conversation pool." One year I took a part-time job at Kunming Medical University helping with faculty training mainly for reasons like that. Wanted to meet people with whom I could develop shared professional interests. Was tired of playing "20 simple questions to ask foreigners." 

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On 1/27/2023 at 2:04 AM, becky82 said:

If I'm not paying them, or if I'm not teaching them English, they don't want to talk with me.  I think it's due to the pressure in Beijing, e.g. high cost of living makes people desperate to get something in return.  This is one reason why I want to move elsewhere.

 

On 1/27/2023 at 2:04 AM, becky82 said:

I've had these conversations so many times that I'm not going to benefit from having them again.  I need to find someone who's interested in science, or some topic I also want to talk about.

This may not be your thing, but you could find a tandem partner, who wants to learn English, and choose difficult topics. The partneranswers in English (to learn) and you speak Mandarin. Alternatively, you first discuss the topic in English and then in Mandarin.

 

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On 1/27/2023 at 1:23 PM, Jan Finster said:

This may not be your thing, but you could find a tandem partner, who wants to learn English, and choose difficult topics. The partneranswers in English (to learn) and you speak Mandarin. Alternatively, you first discuss the topic in English and then in Mandarin.

 

Even though I haven't used this precise method, language exchanges have always been 得不偿失 for me.  Spending half your time in English necessarily halves your study efficiency, putting aside organization time.  I'd rather just pay for community tutors on iTalki, where I can have class whenever I want, and there's no time spent teaching English.

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太棒了!This is a wonderfully creative and ambitious project. From what I can tell your use of the language is improving so this seems to be working for you beyond just acting as as motivator. I do think abcdefg has some good suggestions. Hoping that you can find some conversation partners that fulfill your needs. I'll be following your progress with great interest. Thanks for sharing.

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