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Tips for beginners?


Aristotle
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This might sound like a typical vague newbie question, and I'm sure you get it all the time on this forum, but far from being deterred, I shall ask anyway.

Browsing through the topics, I find several posts about the importance of getting things (mainly pronounciation) right from the beginning. Relearning seems to be a lot more difficult than learning. So, as a novice in the field (just starting, really), do you have any advice for me? Why learn from my own mistakes, when I can learn from others'? :mrgreen:

So, how can I make sure to get my pronounciation right? I read a post somewhere about "natural learning" or something similar, so now I'm trying to listen to a lot of Chinese before starting to produce my own. Is that a good idea? Will it do me any good to listen to Chinese webradio and such, even though I hardly understand a word of it ("something something something zhonggou... China! They're talking about China!")?

Speaking slowly to make sure the tones are correct seems to be a good advice. I'll have to be extra careful about that, since I don't have a teacher or native speaker to correct me (I'm trying to learn in my spare time, by myself... Probably a bad idea, but I don't have many other options).

My question to you, venerable forum members, is this: If you were to learn Mandarin all over again, from the beginning, how would you do it? See it as a challenge to collectively design the perfect method for good learning of Chinese. Naturally, correctness is more important than quick progress (though the latter hardly hurts).

Share your wisdom, oh forum elders! :help

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hi, I'm a beginner like you (only a few weeks in), so I can't give any advice on this at all, just a side-point personal experience from amother beginner: I'm using the Pimsleur audio CDs and the Total Immersion audio CDs, and listening to a "Newbie" mp3 from chinesepod each day, particularly the native chinese speakers, and repeating after them.

That's what everyone does I'm sure, but what I've found much more useful than that (for learning pronunciation anyway) is a CD-ROM from Tell Me More which has voice recognition. It plays a sound file and you have to try to match it, as exactly as possible. It shows you your wave file compared against the original native speaker. This, more than anything else, has forced me to try to do the tones properly. You have to keep repeating and repeating until the software says you've pronounced it close enough.

Not that I can actually do the tones well yet! :) but this is the thing which makes me really try to get them right, more than just repeating after the audio CDs and mp3s.

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something something something zhonggou... China! They're talking about China!"

hahaha I am in exactly the same boat.. All I need to do now is fill in the gaps between all the "zhongguo" I can hear and my listening comprehension will be at 100%.. :mrgreen:

I'll be interested in hearing experienced/native speakers views on this - is there any value in listening to stuff you can't comprehend, just to get "the feel" of the language? I'd like to think that every bit of exposure to chinese you get helps, even if the effect is very small, or on a subconscious level.

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I think getting as much exposure to the language as you can definitely helps: so go ahead and listen to stuff you don't understand, and don't hesitate to get any Chinese writing you can get your hands on.

That said, if I were to learn Mandarin all over again...

I'd say the first step would be to get the hang of pinyin and tones, ie pronunciation. There is only a finite number of Chinese sounds (syllables and tones), so you may as well get used to them as quickly as possible. By all means listen to stuff you can't yet comprehend, just to get used to the syllables, the tones and the rhythm of the language. If you continue to listen to stuff beyond your level, it'll also help your listening comprehension - you'll begin to recognise words and phrases you've learnt as you progress, even if it takes you a long time to understand everything you hear.

But I think it also helps to listen to short, simple passages, spoken clearly and not too fast, over and over again, and try to repeat, *aloud*, what the speaker said, imitating them as closely as possible. And yes, say it slowly and make sure you do get the tones right :wink: Don't worry if you have to repeat a word/phrase many, many times to get it right... that's how you learn!

As for when you want to start learning characters, I think it's good to start learning radicals (部首)from the beginning. It'll help you to recognise the "structure" of characters, and also help you to associate certain characters with certain meanings.

Hope that helps! :)

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Recording and listening to your own voice is also a very useful way of improving your pronunciation. Often you'll think you're saying something correctly, and it's not until you actually hear what you said that you realise you were way off. This post also has a lot of interesting ideas.

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Heya Aristotle. I'm a newbie too (both to the forum and Chinese). I do have one tiny bit of advice that might help you though. Personally I stress stroke order with writing. Not only is it bad form to haphazardly write characters but it is also cumbersome in your writing.

As a left handed person, it is double important that I learn correct stroke order. I use a small dry erase board to practice. If I get it wrong, I know IMEDIATELY because I smear the ink. This meathod might also be good for a right handed person too.

I also just like writing characters (I'm an artist. Pretty pictures amuse me :mrgreen: ) My handwriting is very good in Chinese too and I like to show it off. :wink:

Hope this helps. For the most part I'm a self taught as well so I feel your pain.:cry:

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Thanks, everyone who has replied so far. I'm quite curious about the Tell Me More software. It seems to cost a bit of cash -- is there any experienced learner out there who has tried it? Does it give good tones and pronounciation?

And wai ming, thanks for the tips. I do have a CD with all the initials and finals on it. I'll listen to it until my ears hurt.

And thanks for the thread, imron. There were quite a number of tips in there.

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hahaha I am in exactly the same boat.. All I need to do now is fill in the gaps between all the "zhongguo" I can hear and my listening comprehension will be at 100%..

I'll be interested in hearing experienced/native speakers views on this - is there any value in listening to stuff you can't comprehend' date=' just to get "the feel" of the language? I'd like to think that every bit of exposure to chinese you get helps, even if the effect is very small, or on a subconscious level.[/quote']

well the whole point of the Natural Approach is to mimic the way children learn, through listening. Children never try to construct sentances with difficulty, and then not understand what is spoken back to them - by the time they begin speaking, they already have a large listening comprehension, and they just start talking. Speaking before this point (the Thai school mentioned in the thread had about 600-800 hours of listening to instructors) will permantly damage your fluency, because you'll say it wrong and keep saying it that way. That's why the children's parents will always have their accents and bad grammar after immigrating to a new country.

an adult example is Africans learning other local African languages when they move to another village or labor camp or mine. Obviously there's no formal instruction given, so they just listen and find themselves becoming fluent after a year or something.

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I'm actually very curious about the ALG approach -- I read about it in another post. So now I try to listen as much as possible. The problem is that listening doesn't seem to be enough -- you also need to have some understanding about what is being said (i.e. what's happening around you when it's being said), to be able to associate the sounds to events, at least according to their website. But not having a teacher or native speaker around makes it difficult. As I wrote before, I listen to Chinese webradio a lot, but there I only hear the language, I have absolutely no idea what they're saying. So since I don't understand anything, I learn nothing, according to that approach. I'm currently trying watching Chinese movies without subs, to get some understanding of the context in which the stuff is said, but with the vast number of hours of listening required by the ALG approach, it seems I'll have to watch a thousand movies before I can get some speaking practice. That's three movies a day for a year!

So, Ferno, do you have any advice as to how to use the Natural Approach in self-learning? Since I read about it, I'm terrified of learning the traditional way, for fear of damaging my possible future fluency! :shock:

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Hello Sweden,

when I was studying in Helsinki University, my Finnish-for-foreigners teacher told us of a Swedish linguistic who had (in 80's/90's) created the same kind of system as Tell Me More, but it wasn't a CD-ROM but other kind of audio thing.

Later on, this new study "system" was adopted from Sweden to Helsinki University. The system worked exactly the same way as Tell Me More's CD-ROM, first you had to say a word and compare it with an original native speaker, later a short sentence, and finally a long sentence, and if your tone OR word stress OR sentence stress weren't natural, you couldn't go further. So you had to keep repeating and repeating until the system says you've pronounced it close enough and let you continue to the next word/sentence.

The Swedish linguistic said that for a beginner language learner it's MUCH more important to get accustomed to the new sounds, word stress and sentence stress than to study the word meaning, grammar etc. stuff. He also emphisized that in the beginning you really don't even have to understand the words, sentences spoken. You just have to let your ears and BRAIN get use to the new sounds, tones, word stresses and sentence stresses.

That's the whole thing. That's the point.

My Finnish teacher said the system REALLY worked miracles among foreing students. She said that quite often during the old-way-of-studying in a big student group Chinese learners fell behind the others but with that new system their progress was dramatic!

If I were a beginner Chinese learner, I would absolutely start with this system. And with the next new language I am certainly going to start with this: listening and repeating till I learn the sounds, word stress and sentence stress and not hurry with the grammar etc. stuff.

By the way, can you buy Tell Me More stuff from China?

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I'm terrified of learning the traditional way, for fear of damaging my possible future fluency!

I wouldn't worry too much about this. Plenty of people have gone on to achieve native or near native fluency using traditional learning methods. That's not to disparage the natural learning approach (which I think has plenty of merit), but going the traditional way isn't going to doom you to language learning failure. Different people have different ways of learning effectively. Find what works for you, and go with that.

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By the way, can you buy Tell Me More stuff from China?

I don't know about buying from China, but it seems pretty easy to order the Chinese one online.

If you take the "Natural Approach," it might take you three years to be as fluent as a three year old. Isn't that a tad slow?

According to their website, http://algworld.com, adults can learn about twice as fast as children. And in addition, some starting languages improve your speed of learning related languages. They even claim to be able to teach an English speaker fluency in French in a single summer course!

Anyway, I think my approach to Chinese (at least in the beginning) will be this: I'll do a lot of listening to webradio in the background and watch movies (though probably with subs), to get the sound of the language into my brain. But at the same time I'll use chinesepod.com and similiar resources to improve comprehension. I think I'll wait with speaking until I can understand at least a small amount of spoken Chinese and have several days worth of language recorded somewhere in my brain. And when I do start with speaking, I'll use the Tell Me More software, and make sure I get sounds and tones right from the start, especially in phrases (in single words, it's as easy as pie). What do you think of this approach?

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See, the reason I'm so afraid of getting the pronounciation wrong is because I don't have any teacher or native speaker to correct me. So if I get it wrong, I might not discover it for a year or more, and then it'll be really difficult to change. But hopefully, Tell Me More will help me with this.

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IMO, people speak based upon their MEMORY of how to talk. And, the memory created when listening to yourself is usually stronger (because of a natural tendency to think oneself is interesting and "important" :) ) thus, it creates a barrier to speaking correctly.

What I do quite a bit (with Pimsleur tapes), is repeat things in my head quite a few times before saying them outloud. But, I listen to each lesson quite a few times, probably more than most people.

At some point, speaking will be important. It's important to NOT judge yourself when you hear yourself talking. Otherwise, you will have resistance to continuing. Try to say something to yoiurself like "Interesting how I seem to hear it XXX when it's really YYY". I am enjoying learning something new..."

The self affirmations will really help to keep improving.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Someone mentioned pimsleur on the first page... I started by trying pimsleur, and I have to say I don't really rate it. It uses a very 'phrasebook'y approach, very artificial, with this cheesy guy going "This is how you say 'asparagus'." and stuff. Fine if you're just looking for a few choice phrases to superficially impress, but it doesn't give you any real grounding in the language.

I have found the Rosetta Stone computer lessons much better. They don't use any English at all, it's all intuitive using pictures and Chinese. I've improved a lot since I discovered them.

My main tip for someone wanting to learn Chinese though would be to go and study it in the west for a few months before coming! I think western learning techniques are better than chinese ones, and you'll find it very useful - the people I've met with the best chinese ability, barring one, all studied in the west first. I found as an ESL teacher over here that the school wanted to shut us all in a special FT house with the other FTs, and prevent us from getting immersed in the culture or learning the language, which was very frustrating. I have improved, but I've bene here 2 and a half years now. People are now saying they're impressed iwth my chinese but I know it could be way better.

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My main tip for someone wanting to learn Chinese though would be to go and study it in the west for a few months before coming! I think western learning techniques are better than chinese ones, and you'll find it very useful - the people I've met with the best chinese ability, barring one, all studied in the west first.
I'm amazed how simple minded this statement is, especially when it came out of someone supposed to be a language teacher! :roll:
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Well, my apologies if you found it 'simple-minded'.

The fact remains that, especially if you come to China to teach and not to study Chinese, learning the language from scratch over here is not that easy, and nor is it made that easy. In fact I'd go as far as to say schools actively seem to avoid helping or encouraging their FTs to learn the language.

By far and away the best Chinese-language speaker I know over here took a BA in Mandarin back in the late 80s.

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I don't know if I'd call it simple minded, but I would find it hard to agree. Teaching methods may be more advanced outside of China, but the potential for a full immersion environment in China is invaluable.

I think you're coming at it from a TEFL teachers perspective, which is fair enough, but I think that if you are here as a student (which is the case with the majority of in-China foreigners on here) then studying here is better than studying outside of China 99% of the time.

Even as a TEFL teacher, it's not impossible - requires motivation and time management, and if you are somewhere that actively tries to prevent you learning Chinese it will require you to leave the idiots behind and find a less ridiculous school, but you can still make a hell of a lot of progress. My first three years in China were teaching English, and at the end of that point I was more or less at an HSK 7 (which as I like to remind everyone was very nearly an 8 ). I'm entirely sure someone with motivation and study skills could get to HSK8 in one year while teaching full-time if they were living here. The most important factor, regardless of where you are and what you are doing, is motivation and study skills.

Roddy

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At our University, we learn mainly reading and grammar. There are unfortunately no resources available for conversation training. That suited me fine when beginning (I'm in 3rd semester now), because I saw no possibility or reason to speak the language. I "just" wanted to concentrate on the learning process, trying to find out what happened in me. Of course, I got so fascinated that I spent all the time on learning.

When I (hopefully) go to China to have the practical aspects, I will have a solid foundation to build on. This approach suits me.

I'm afraid I'm too old for immersion. I don't want it. It worked when I was 24: I learned Dutch from scratch to fluent in less than two months. It wouldn't work today, at 62. Despite my age, I'm in no hurry, so I'm envisaging two to three hours of tutoring per day, spending the rest of the time perstering shop assistants and reading.

Aristotle, between uni semesters 1 and 2 I took an evening class, hoping to get some conversation practice, with Folkuniversitetet in our town. The teacher had lousy pinyin knowledge, for example writing "len" for "ren", and her pronunciation was way south of Beijing (Zongguo etc). I got the impression that she had no experience in teaching (I was married to a very competent language teacher, so I know what can be had).

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