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Showing content with the highest reputation since 05/07/2010 in all areas

  1. 51 points
    I've been in Taiwan studying Chinese on an independent basis. I'll be slowing down now, so I thought it's a good time to share what I've found while I still have all details fresh. The flexibility you have studying independently has many advantages, but I know that for me, it also created many questions when I was considering if and how to start out on my own. So I tried to write up here many details about pragmatic issues which could be helpful in planning such as process, progress, prices, tips. There are lots of posts about "here's how I got started learning Chinese", both on this forum and elsewhere on the internet. This is just another one to add one more perspective and info. Hopefully it can be useful for beginners who are thinking of studying independently. ----- ----- ----- Summary I'd always thought about learning Chinese to a good level. I got lucky that things recently worked out personally and professionally that I could live in country and devote most of my time to studying intensively. I started overseas on my own for several weeks using resources I found on the internet and a grammar book I had. I then spent 4 months in Taiwan. While in country, I had 3 ways of studying: Private tutors For the first month, private tutors were around 40 hours per week. As my level increased, I was able to talk longer and longer with locals, so I gradually reduced the tutor time. Recently, I've had around 10-15 hours per week with tutors. Conversation with locals I study in cafes, restaurants and parks all day. I always find people to talk to for very long periods. I now have 20-30 hours of one-on-one conversation each week with a really wide range of locals. Self-study All the rest of my time. In terms of study time, I've been working on Chinese 70-80+ hours each week during the whole period, so something around 1600 hours total. Independent study vs. organized program There's no one right way to study a language: goals, circumstances, interests are all different. I decided to study on my own, not in an organized program, for many reasons: I like the flexibility of independent study. I've studied several languages before, including 2 non Indo-European languages to advanced levels, so I have a good idea of what works for me. There are numerous resources to study Chinese available on-line. Studying on my own with the help of private tutors is significantly more efficient for me compared to being in an organized program. Pace of learning, difficulty of material, and focus all match my interests and level. I don't care about a degree. I'm studying Chinese out of my own interest only. Study resources Introductory materials I downloaded some introductory materials from internet textbooks when I started out just to get going the first few weeks while overseas. Grammar I used Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar, by Claudia Ross. It covers a broad range of grammar patterns and usage situations, and has several example sentences for every grammar explanation. When I first started learning, I put every Chinese sentence from the book into an Anki deck, then revised so I could produce word-for-word each Chinese sentence when prompted with the English translation. This was my main source of both grammar and sentence structure when I started, as well as vocab. Once in country, I paid a native-speaker to record audio for these sentences, so when I was revising them in Anki I would hear the sentences spoken and mimic. Frequency word lists of vocab I used frequency word lists and worked through them on Anki, English-to-Chinese. Memorizing context-less words is just a way to build a base of vocab as fast as possible. Once in country, I kept working through frequency lists, but new vocab gradually came more from words I encounter in the context of daily life: conversations, newspaper articles, media, menus, etc. Conversations with native speakers I record as many conversations as I can, and later put native speakers' sentences into Anki (the audio of the actual sentences they say plus the written transcription) and memorize. TV shows as source of example sentences for new vocab Around month 2, I started with TV shows and documentaries as a source of sample sentences for new vocab, based on a great idea suggested by Tysond here. Before, I was finding sample sentences for new vocab from the big on-line Chinese-language sites for foreigners... but when I used those sentences, native speakers would often tell me that they sound weird or just wrong. So, I converted a bunch of shows and movies into an enormous database of pre-made SRS cards. Then every time I learned a new word in real life, I searched for it in this pre-built database. Almost always I was able to find several usages of the word. The advantage is that the sentences are from real (i.e., native speaker for native speaker) sources, as opposed to the weird-sounding made-for-foreigners sentences. So when I come across a new word or phrase I want to learn, I instantly have several pre-made cards, complete with audio, of the word used in context. Because it's pre-built, it also is a huge time-saver. Sometimes I have to stitch together a few consecutive cards into one so I get the full context of the word, but that's not much time; otherwise, it's a very fast and efficient process. Then I throw the vocab word with the audio of it used in context in the TV shows into my main study deck for memorization. Character recognition To get started, I used the same list of frequency words in Anki that I used for memorizing vocab, but in the direction of Chinese character-->English meaning and pinyin pronunciation. I also memorized the most common 100 radicals first, then eventually all the radicals. I found understanding character composition helped a lot (hanzicraft.com is great for this). But it's still just brute-force at first. I found it's really a slog for the first few hundred, but it does get much better after 600. Anki really is ideal for this. Reading Reading is a lot more than just character recognition. For reading, I just started by trying to decipher the sentences in the grammar book. After finishing the book, I started with newspaper articles, taking one topic at a time and reading many articles on that topic, then moving to a new topic. After month 2, I started doing a lot of timed reading-speed drills, including drills for reading-aloud. I found this idea of imron to be very effective. The whole process of reading with a stopwatch reminds me of running wind sprints in track training, but it's really worked and I plan on continuing it. Memorization I've found that memorizing full sentences for everything at the beginning helps internalize the language more than just learning words and grammar rules separately. In my case, conscious study of rules is necessary and helpful for some parts of language. But I've found that for me, the best way to learn everything to an acceptable level of naturalness is to memorize as much as possible, effectively drilling at the same time many different areas: vocab, grammar, intonation, etc. Just repeat what I know over and over and over until it's internalized to the point that I'm always getting it right, then riff on them by changing different parts. I don't often use the exact phrases I've memorized in spontaneous speech, but I find that I've internalized their constructions and intonations well enough that I can then easily build my own sentences quickly and in a more natural way when speaking. I know that memorizing lots of sentences isn't for everyone. I just find that for me, there's too much going on in a language to really study every part consciously. Real linguistic analysis to a very deep level is incredibly complex; the "rules" that a foreign learner sees in a textbook are just a fraction. Moreover, it's utterly arbitrary. Natural languages are unsystematic, illogical, inexact, redundant. We only occasionally notice it in our native language, but we're constantly confronted with this arbitrariness when we learn a new language as an adult. I always want to ask "why"... but in most cases, there's just no good answer. So I memorize as much as I can. I use Anki; it's a great tool for memorization. My sentence memorization is always from English to Chinese; I find Chinese to English doesn't drill it in as well. I try to put audio recordings of native speakers into every Anki card I have. In my case, I've found that I learn the sentence in a deeper way by hearing and repeating the audio than if I focus only on the writing/reading. If that's true for everyone, I don't know. Scientific understanding of the brain and language is extremely limited, and I'm pretty wary of many claims of different foreign language learning methods. I just know that based on my experience learning several foreign languages in different ways, I find that, for me, hearing and memorizing audio of full sentences works well to internalize all the subtlety and arbitrariness of a language. Tutors I meet with tutors each day in Taiwan. All communication with every tutor was 100% in Chinese from the very beginning. It was silly at first to try to communicate in Chinese because my vocab was so basic and I couldn't read or write. Simply sending a text to arrange the first meetings took hours of pretty inefficient googling to compose the message and then understand what they responded. But I wanted to be clear from the beginning that we would never use English. In the beginning month, tutors were my mainstay. Each day was from 3 to 8 hours with 2 to 4 tutors. I spent around 40 hours per week with tutors. As my level increased to the point of being able to have conversations with real people, I gradually spent less time with tutors and more time talking with locals I meet in cafes, restaurants, and the internet. Most days have been quite pleasant weather, so I usually meet the tutors in parks. In bad weather, we met in cafes. Potential tutors are everywhere: supply massively exceeds demand. I had nothing arranged before coming but never had a problem finding tutors. I met for tutoring with uni students, unemployed office workers, a professional musician, a writer, a real-estate agent, and retired high-school teachers, as well as several professional Chinese tutors. In total, I worked with about 20 different tutors over the 4 months. At the max point, I had around 10 on rotation. The good and bad of independent study is the flexibility and variety of different tutors. It's definitely an organizational challenge to interview, schedule, and manage tutors. If I were in a structured learning environment like a uni or private school, all the selection and scheduling would be taken care of. On the other hand, doing it myself I get to pick exactly who seems best for my needs at that point. It offers intense exposure to a huge variety of backgrounds, accents, word usages, etc. And the process of doing it all in Chinese - finding, hiring, scheduling, firing, etc - has actually been very beneficial both for language and cultural understanding. As an independent learner, you really have to think in advance about what you're looking for in your tutors. The characteristics I find make the best tutors for me are: Tutor's role I've found that until I reach advanced levels in a language, the tutor is not "teaching" me the language directly. For me, a tutor's value is as a native speaker willing to talk with me for hours, drill me with new vocab, listen very closely to my speech, correct every error I make, and answer my questions about word usage. Grammar explanations At these beginning levels, I don't find it useful to hear explanations from a tutor about grammar. I need the tutor to point out errors I make, but that's it. A good grammar book is enough, and usually better, than any tutor at helping me understand, and memorization and rapid drilling is what internalizes the grammar for me. Experience Everyone will have their own views about experience requirements. But in my case, I personally have found that experience teaching Chinese to foreigners is unnecessary. In fact, I generally found that it is a negative. One problem is that the tutor has learned a certain way of teaching and is often locked into his/her method. And the methods they showed me weren't my thing. But even when I found experienced-but-flexible tutors, I found that the tutor is simply too used to foreigners learning Chinese: s/he understands bad pronunciation and grammar, is more accepting of errors, is accustomed to foreigners learning at a slow pace, and holds me to low foreigner-standards rather than native-standards of accuracy and natural sentence construction. I found the "good enough for a foreigner" mentality is hard to fight in any Chinese native speaker I talk to as a learner, but tutors who have spent lots of time enduring struggling foreigners are particularly bad. People less used to foreigners were significantly better tutors for me. Level of Chinese I've found that when I've reached advanced levels in a language, the tutor's knowledge of the language becomes important. For example, a professional interpreter can be a great tutor because s/he is extremely focused on the details of language. But at beginning levels like I'm at in Chinese, I've found that most native speakers are fine; the difference in quality between tutors depends much more on their personal characteristics rather than on their language skill. Reliability Reliability is key. I had constant issues with tutors cancelling or showing up late. Tutors I worked with over the 4 months had lots of "human resources" type of issues which affected their reliability: a divorce, a few break-ups, problems with parents/children/spouses, a pregnancy, a motorcycle accident, unexpected situations with friends, etc, etc, etc. Some of the issues were real, but some were laughable: one tutor's "broken leg" healed in 4 days, another tutor's dead dog had a miraculous reincarnation when I happened to bump into her and the dog in a park a week later, etc. I found there was no way to predict in advance a tutor's reliability. There was no correlation with age, experience, profession, marital status, gender, nothing. One person I thought might be a flake was by far the most reliable; the most unreliable person turned out to be a full-time professional Chinese teacher with an impeccable CV and references. Independent tutoring is a tough job. Unsteady hours, low pay, no fixed contract, uncertain long-term prospects. And I wouldn't pretend that it's a thrill to listen to an idiot foreigner like me babbling away for hours in bad accent and broken grammar in their native language. So I was always happy to find someone reliable. I also was lucky to find 2 tutors who were flexible and "on-call". When a regularly-scheduled tutor cancelled 1 hour before our meeting, I would contact the "on-call" tutors, and usually one of them would have time to meet. Concentrated focus on my speech and willingness to correct me I want a tutor to listen to what I say and correct literally every mistake I make in grammar, word choice, pronunciation... everything. It's very, very hard to find someone who can do this to the standard I want. It takes a lot of concentration to listen for several hours to a foreigner speaking in your native language and identify every single error s/he makes. And it takes a certain person to be able to then constantly interrupt the flow of conversation to correct that foreigner. Issues I've found: people's focus falls off, they figure my speech is "good enough for a foreigner", they feel bad about correcting me constantly, they think my level is too low to strive yet for better accuracy, they think that errors are acceptable if the meaning can still be understood, they think it's better to let me keep talking rather than stop to correct me, they are interested in the conversation itself and don't want to stop it. But I'm very, very insistent that I want the tutor to correct literally every single error I make. Otherwise, I have no way of knowing and I will reinforce errors. Constantly correcting me made conversations very, very slow when I was starting out. But that's fine with me. I know some people emphasize that in learning a language, it's better to just speak freely and errors will eventually fix themselves or can be corrected explicitly later. But for me, my goal is to speak as correctly as possible. I can have free-flowing speech with acquaintances, random people in cafes, or talking to myself. My purpose in meeting with a tutor is to have a native speaker confirm for me that everything I say is correct according to native-speaker standards. When you're learning a language, you have no way of ever really knowing if you're right... you might think you said it correctly, but you don't have the same instinct which you have in your native language. You simply can't judge yourself. But if I know that every mistake I make is being corrected by the tutor, then I also know that what's not being corrected is good.... and that gives me a confidence in the accuracy of my Chinese which I wouldn't otherwise have. Conversations with locals I spent a lot of time in conversations with locals while I was staying in Taiwan. I don't know the exact number, but I'd guess there were at least 70 separate people I met randomly with whom I talked for at least an hour straight. Based on the hours of conversation I've recorded, I'd guess that it's probably in total around 125 hours of conversations in the last months. I studied every day in public places which have lots of people, cafes and parks mostly, in order to create chances to find people with time to talk at length. In the first month in country, the conversations were only a minute or two: "where are you from" and that's about it. Or I just stopped people on the street to ask directions to places I already knew and tried to figure out the response. I just didn't have the ability to do much more in real-world situations. I could barely understand them, and they could barely understand me lol. So almost all my conversation practice came with paid tutors. Around the 2 month point I was able to start having real conversations with locals who aren't accustomed to speaking with foreigners. From then on, as my level improved, I gradually reduced the number of hours with tutors and spent more time with locals. It was a wonderful confidence boost to see that I could have real conversations with real locals and that I sounded passable enough that they were willing to talk with me a long time. I never have trouble now finding locals to talk with for very long (1-3 hours) conversations every day. In fact, my problem is the opposite: sometimes I can't escape to study on my own lol. I've been speaking with people from a really wide range of ages, interests, professions and (very noticeably) accents. I record most of the conversations using the computer or a pocket digital voice recorder. Afterwards, I go through the recordings, drill new vocab and constructions, and analyse their speech. I pick out interesting sentences, snip them out, and then practice mimicking each sentence. People have really been incredibly good to me. They are so friendly, so helpful, so interested in my well-being. Many people have invited me to meet again for meals, several have invited me to parties, corporate events, to meet their families, New Year's activities, taken me to the countryside, taken me hiking. Even apart from the great language practice, it's really been an incredible opportunity to meet people and learn about their lives and culture. Language exchange I met with about a dozen language exchange partners. The "exchange" is funny. When we first meet, I start speaking in Chinese. I suggest an hour of English, then an hour of Chinese. But they always have some reason not to speak English. Sometimes they directly say that they aren't good enough or are nervous, sometimes they have some excuse (my favourite: "I was sick last week, so I don't think my pronunciation is good right now."). But whatever their reason, we just continue speaking only Chinese for 2-4 hours. A few of them have turned into essentially 24/7-available online chat partners as well (all in Chinese). I've gradually stopped meeting with new language exchange partners and mainly chat with existing friends or new people I meet in cafes for conversation practice. The language exchange meetings were a crutch for a while as I was transitioning away from tutors, but it's not necessary anymore as I've progressed. I have more conversation opportunities than I have time for now. Language wars I've read of many foreigners having "language wars": the foreigner wants to speak Chinese, the Chinese-speaker wants to practice English. But for me, I've never experienced anything like it. People talk to me in Chinese, always. Even from the beginning, when my knowledge was a few weeks' worth of self-study. In stores or restaurants, the employees almost always start with me in Chinese. Very occasionally, they start in English... but when I open my mouth to speak Chinese, they instantly switch and the conversation is 100% in Chinese. I'm in parks and cafes all day. People approach me to chat in Chinese, but no person has ever approached me to speak in English. Even the "wow, you can use chopsticks!" type of people all speak to me only in Chinese (I've found that they strongly believe that using chopsticks well is more impressive than, say, learning the Chinese language lol). Young, old, male, female, all socioeconomic levels... everyone speaks Chinese to me, always. As I wrote above, even language exchange partners didn't speak to me in English. I really don't know what's behind the difference between my experience and that of other foreigners. I thought that maybe the "language warring" could be a China thing and not present in Taiwan, or perhaps it's because I'm not in a university environment. But Forumosa (a forum for expats in Taiwan) is rife with stories of language-wars in Taiwan (there are hundreds of posts about it). Even this forum has a thread of foreign complaining about language wars in daily-life in Taiwan... All I can say is that for me, it was never an issue. Level I'm now at what I'd call "advanced survival" level: Spoken Hours-long, one-on-one conversations about most topics with native speakers who are not used to foreigners. Language problems don't impede too much for normal topics. Unknown words and areas can be explained with known vocab. Group conversations significantly more difficult, i.e. sitting at a table in a group of 4 native speakers. There are linguistic nuances of group interaction, social and cultural cues which are different, overall speed, inability to slow down and get explanation when I don't understand, and the fact that I'm not directing half the conversation. Even when I understand, it's hard to keep the flow. I'd say I'm at best only at 30% in ability to understand and participate appropriately, i.e. able to read the group dynamics, jump into the flow of conversation at the right time, keep things moving and not slow it down, etc. I can understand to a decent level TV talk shows (unscripted dialogue) that deal with topics I'm familiar with. For unfamiliar topics, the unknown vocab is sometimes too much and I'm scrambling to stay up with what they're saying. I've focused a lot on news programs recently: I can understand a lot of what is said... but the parts I don't understand are usually the most important so I often don't know what's going on until I look up unknown phrases and then go back and listen a second time. Regional mainland accents are totally incomprehensible to me. Homophones are a bigger problem than I'd have imagined. I've found the issue in speech is that if I take too much mental time figuring out one homophone, then I'm scrambling to catch up in the rest of the sentence. I often find it difficult to differentiate similar words based only on context, or to figure out where one word ends and another begins. Also, I usually hear the correct tones now, but it's definitely a mental lag and the tone doesn't yet provide my non-tonal brain as much of an instant clue as it should in distinguishing differences. I'm now doing homophone drills specifically now and should have focused more on this from the beginning. Accent I found that it's significantly harder to have a good accent in Chinese than I'd initially expected, or that I've found in other languages. I probably did 200+ hours on pronunciation alone and have now reached the point where I have good tones and overall pronunciation, and everyone tells me that I sound extremely clear and easy to understand... but I know that my sentence intonation is stilted and formal except for sentences I've memorized and massively pre-practised. I wrote a separate post about accent work. One issue I've noticed is that teachers of Chinese, or other native speakers with lots of foreigner friends, have so much exposure to bad, wrong-tone accents that they gain the skill of figuring out what the foreigner is saying. As a foreign learner, if your only contact is with people who are used to foreigners, you can be lulled into overestimating your pronunciation. It's hard to break out of that cycle, because in many cases most people you speak with at the beginning will be people used to foreigners. Register I have very little understanding of style, level of formality, register. For most words I know, I have a basic sense of which are more written language and which are more spoken. I know how to appropriately use a few polite request phrases on the one hand, and I know and can use a few modern, young-person slang expressions on the other hand... but otherwise, my ability to vary my speech based on the circumstances of the conversation is very limited. Reading I work on newspapers a lot. Each week, I choose a few topics and read lots of articles only about them. Once I've learned the topic-specific vocab, I can read new newspaper articles on that subject with minimal look-ups. Serious newspaper articles on most unfamiliar topics are impossible to read without many look-ups and are still just vocab-building exercises for me. I focused a lot on menus. I'm now able to understand around 80% of menu items in local neighbourhood restaurants, i.e. know both the meaning of what the menu item is as well as every character in it and the pronunciation. I've found that I understand significantly fewer of the menu items in higher-end restaurants, both because they have a wider variety of food and because their descriptions are more flowery rather than literal. For most emails and texts I receive now, I usually understand easily with at most a few look-ups. Overall, reading is tiring for me. I can do it, but it's not yet enjoyable. Fwiw, I've been learning both traditional and simplified at the same time. I practise reading texts in both formats. I found it's really not too bad if you start out doing both. The only issue was just to maintain the motivation to keep up on simplified while being surrounded by traditional. Writing I'm able to write emails and text messages with few mistakes, but the correct use of particles (e.g., 啊,哦,喔,恩) is still too complex. For anything more sophisticated than emails and texts, my written skills are still too elementary. For practice, I've been writing an article a week and having a tutor correct. My "grammar" is decent, which is the benefit of no morphological inflections in Chinese. But my written language is too simple, too spoken-form, and too awkward. So many times the tutor tells me that what I write is understandable and nothing wrong with the grammar per se... but that it's just not how a Chinese person would say it. I've realized that after already memorizing a grammar book, there are still countless more syntatic patterns that need to be learned. Give me highly-inflected morphology and free word order any day! ;) Testing The descriptions I wrote above of my level are a more complete assessment than just a one letter ranking, but I know some people who are considering independent study also need to think about testing results when they're planning out if and how to get going, so here's what I found. I signed up for hsk5. I didn't need it for work or study. I just did it for fun, to gauge myself and especially as motivation to keep up with simplified characters despite living in Taiwan. There are tons of great hsk write-ups, I have nothing insightful to add. I'd only emphasize reading speed as being paramount for doing well on the test. I started with sample hsk4 tests after 2 months; I found they were ok, but reading speed was rough. I spent the next 2 months drilling reading speed, but even then it was still the hardest aspect for me in the actual hsk5. Based on my experience, the hsk measurements overestimate language competence. I understand that the test has its uses, but it's a very artificial and limited measure which tests not just language ability, but test-taking skill as well. Real-world language use can be very different. I've seen situations where hsk5 is listed as the requirement for native-environment opportunities in university or a job. Everyone is different, but in my case, I know that I'm just "getting by": I'm not close to being able to consistently participate in an intelligent, adult way in daily life, let alone in an academic or corporate environment. As for CEFR... There's been lots of discussion about hsk-CEFR correspondence. Based on my own experience, I think the Hanban claim that hsk5 corresponds to CEFR C1 is a massive overestimate. It's tricky to apply CEFR to Chinese because the writing presents such different issues and there are no cognates or shared base of vocabulary. Engineering, chemicals, biology, pharmaceuticals, social sciences, philosophy... many words in all those areas are similar in most Indo-European languages and many non Indo-European ones as well, but they're different in Chinese. Names of countries, names of companies, names of current and historical foreign political and business leaders... many of those are also very different in Chinese, and it's a non-trivial amount of work as a beginner to learn enough of all that to understand serious written material. I've found that it's one thing to be able to read articles which are designed for foreigners and mainly use only heavily-restricted vocabulary; it's another to read wide-ranging material written by and for educated, adult natives and "understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation" (CEFR B2) or "understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning." (CEFR C1). So if I hold it strictly to CEFR's actual descriptions for both oral and written skills, then I'm B1. In general, I've found that constant undeserved praise from locals combined with the assessment inflation from Hanban make it easy as a foreigner to overestimate language skill. It's obvious, but passing a test is one thing, using Chinese is another. In the real world, the only thing that matters is your true language skill, not a test grade. Handwriting People differ about whether a foreigner studying Chinese today should learn to write by hand. This forum has some posts about it here, here and here. For me, I learned to write some characters by hand just because I think it's cool in a way that typing them isn't. I can write with certainty from memory 800 characters (I know that exact number because it's the size of my Anki handwriting deck right now). Plus probably another few hundred where I'm less certain. All the other characters I know are recognition only. I found it was a huge benefit to memorize radicals brute force as fast as possible from the beginning, then really understand character composition (I use hanzicraft.com). Knowing them well made it much easier to remember a character than "this squiggly line goes here" or "this looks like a circle and a hand of a man smiling". I'd say that writing by hand helped me learn characters and improve reading speed. I think I "know" those characters I can write from memory more deeply than those I can just recognize. But I don't know if it's really necessary. Knowing character components is important, but I could imagine that it's more efficient to not bother with the mechanical skill of writing. It really takes a huge amount of rote repetition to learn to write by hand. I did it late at night when I was too tired to study more vocab, so I felt that I wasn't taking away time that I could put to more productive study use. Fwiw, everyone tells me my handwriting looks like a 10-year old. That's an improvement, at least - when I started, they told me it looked like a 5-year old Expenses I put all prices here in U.S. dollars. Tutoring Expenses The main expense directly related to learning was tutoring fees. As two reference points: the minimum wage is a bit under $4/hour a local university offers private Chinese tutoring at $15/hour. The rate at which independent tutors initially quoted me ranged from $4 to $16 per hour, with most initial quotes from $5-10. The more experienced/professional tutors usually quoted initial fees toward the high end of the range, but always dropped their rate when they realized how many hours I want to study and that I didn't want them to do any preparation outside "class" hours. The average rate I actually paid tutors over the period worked out to about $5 per hour of actual "class" time. Additionally, many days after "class" I also went with the tutors for lunch or dinner. We always kept talking Chinese. I would pay for the meal but not for their time. Between direct payments to tutors plus all the meals I bought for them, my total tutoring costs over 4 months was about $2200 for 500 hours of one-on-one time. All payments were cash. The grammar book I bought cost $40 overseas. Otherwise, I didn't have any expenses directly related to learning. Living expenses Everyone will find different living situations, but this is just to give some idea of what rough ranges I found as of February, 2014 for someone looking to study Chinese in Taiwan. In Taipei, a room in most shared apartments can be found from around $225 to $400/month plus expenses. An apartment on your own can be any price obviously, but you can figure around $350-600 for a small-ish standard place. Cities outside Taipei are cheaper. Depending on the city, a room in a shared apartment: $150-325, an apartment on your own: $250-$500. Basic meals in neighbourhood restaurants: $2-$5. Nicer local restaurants double that. Higher-end restaurants $20-30. Estimates I've seen on university websites budget $250 for monthly food expenses, which seems reasonable for most students. Phone is about $30/month for unlimited internet use on a month-by-month pre-paid basis, i.e. no contract. Everyone uses the app Line, which has unlimited free chat and calls, so there are usually no per-call or per-sms phone costs beyond internet service (unless you want to buy Line's stickers lol). The phone carriers' internet speed and coverage are very good. Most people now use their phone as a wifi-hotspot, so at-home internet service is unnecessary. In general, I found most other cost-of-living expenses in Taiwan to be cheaper than Western Europe, the US or Australia. Plus, I was studying pretty much all the time, so I wasn't spending much money anyway. Total So in total, I figured about $1100-1400 per month for accommodation, meals, and 125 hours of tutoring. Conclusion I'm just a beginner myself, but I hope some info here from my initial stages might be useful for someone else starting out who's thinking of studying independently and comes across this post. As for me, I can't keep spending 80+ hours per week studying Chinese, it's time to get back to real-life. My conversation skills unfortunately won't progress as much anymore, but I will focus on vocab, more advanced/professional reading, and TV shows. My goal by start next-year is to understand most TV news, enjoy reading a full newspaper and not get a headache, really get into 相声, and - finally - to understand all menu items in restaurants... although I've found that understanding the language on the menu still doesn't always mean I can predict what exactly the restaurant will serve! This is a great forum. In the months I've been studying Chinese, I really have read hundreds (thousands maybe?) of posts on this forum going back 10 years. It's been an incredibly helpful font of information, tips, experiences, and motivation as I learn the language, and I'd like to express my gratitude for an amazing resource.
  2. 39 points
    December 2019: Hi, I'm afraid I'm not buying graded readers anymore and would like to offer this topic to the Chinese-forums community as a whole or some motivated individual in it. If you have any graded readers info, post it in here and ask an admin to edit it in, or another member could take over the first post. --character Important Note: There are many more graded readers mentioned in the posts after this one. Check out all the posts in this topic; don't stop with this first post. --character I started this list for my own use, then realized others might be interested as well. I've added links to forum topics. Assume all round numbers are estimates. DeFrancis: Beginning Chinese Reader (2 volumes), Traditional, 0 to 400 characters, 1012 pages Anki flashcard deck for v1 Grammar Q&A The Herd Boy and the Weaving Maid, Simplified, 283 characters, 42 pages, handwritten, read after BCR ch. 30 The Heartless Husband, Simplified, 342 characters, 69 pages, handwritten, read after BCR ch. 36 The Bookworm, Simplified, 375 characters, 64 pages, handwritten, read after BCR ch. 42 The Poet Li Po, Simplified, 444 characters, 72 pages, handwritten, read after BCR ch. 48 The Student Lovers, Simplified, 443 characters, 60 pages, handwritten, read after BCR ch. 48 Intermediate Chinese Reader (2 volumes), Traditional, 400 to 800 characters, 1427 pages partial vocabulary list The White-Haired Girl, Simplified, 526 characters, 37 pages, handwritten, read after ICR ch. 6 Red Detachment of Women, Simplified, 592 characters, 30 pages, handwritten, read after ICR ch. 12 Episodes from Dream of the Red Chamber, Simplified, 663 characters, 36 pages, handwritten, read after ICR ch. 18 Sun Yat-Sen, Simplified, 743 characters, 40 pages, handwritten, read after ICR ch. 25 Wu Song Kills a Tiger, Simplified, 841 characters, 33 pages, handwritten, read after ICR ch. 30 Advanced Chinese Reader, Traditional, 800 to 1200 characters, 713 pages Forum topic Links to audio files for the Chinese Readers iTunes Reader vocabulary lists Chinese Breeze: I really want to find her..., MP3, Simplified, 300 characters, 57 pages Two children seeking the Joy Bridge, MP3, Simplified, 300 characters, 58 pages Left and Right: the conjoined brothers, MP3, Simplified, 300 characters, 62 pages Wrong, wrong, wrong!, MP3, Simplified, 300 characters, 62 pages Can I dance with you?, MP3, Simplified, 300 characters, 62 pages Whom do you like more, MP3, Simplified, 300 characters, 62 pages Green Phoenix, MP3, Simplified, 500 characters, 68 pages After the Accident, MP3, Simplified, 500 characters, 73 pages An Old Painting, MP3, Simplified, 500 characters, 73 pages If I didn't have you, MP3, Simplified, 500 characters, 77 pages Mother and son, MP3, Simplified, 500 characters, 78 pages Our geese have gone, MP3, Simplified, 500 characters, 72 pages Secrets of a computer company, MP3, Simplified, 500 characters, 76 pages The Moon Sculpture Left Behind, MP3, Simplified, 750 characters, 76 pages The Painted Skin, MP3, Simplified, 750 characters, 87 pages The Third Eye, MP3, Simplified, 750 characters, 78 pages Friends, MP3, Simplified, 750 characters, 88 pages Two Red Shirts, audio online, Simplified, 1100 characters, 110 pages Vick the Good Dog, audio online, Simplified, 1100 characters, 92 pages The Competitor, audio online, Simplified, 1100 characters, 108 pages Beauty and Grace, audio online, Simplified, 1100 characters, 98 pages Forum topic Yale: The Lady in the Painting, CD-ROM, Traditional or Simplified, 300 characters, 139 pages Traditional Chinese Tales, Traditional or Simplified, 600 characters, 170 pages The Magic Ark, Simplified/Pinyin, 700 characters, 161 pages Written Standard Chinese, Volume One: A Beginning Reading Text for Modern Chinese, Traditional/Simplified/Pinyin, 300 characters, 278 pages Written Standard Chinese, Volume Two: A Beginning Reading Text for Modern Chinese, Traditional/Simplified/Pinyin, 600 characters, 268 pages Written Standard Chinese, Volume Three: An Intermediate Reading Text for Modern Chinese, Traditional/Simplified/Pinyin, 1000 characters, 308 pages Written Standard Chinese, Volume Four: An Intermediate Reading Text for Modern Chinese, Traditional/Simplified, 1300 characters, 390 pages Read Chinese, Book One: A Beginning Text In The Chinese Character, Traditional/Simplified, primarily Yale romanization, 300 characters, 236 pages Read Chinese, Book Two: A Beginning Text In The Chinese Character, Traditional/Simplified, primarily Yale romanization, 600 characters, 309 pages Read Chinese, Book Three, Traditional, Yale romanization, 1000 characters Readings in Chinese Literature Series: Tales and Traditions, volume 1, Traditional and Simplified, 1500 words, 230 pages, * ** Tales and Traditions, volume 2, Traditional and Simplified, 1500 words, 270 pages, ** Tales and Traditions, volume 3, Traditional and Simplified, 3500 words, 264 pages Tales and Traditions, volume 4, Traditional and Simplified, 3500 words, 260 pages * Also has Simplified/Pinyin in the back ** Includes English abstracts Sinolingua: Graded Chinese Reader 500 Words, MP3, Simplified/Pinyin, 204 pages Graded Chinese Reader 1500 Words, MP3, Simplified/Pinyin, 337 pages Graded Chinese Reader 2000 Words, MP3, Simplified/Pinyin, 256 pages Graded Chinese Reader 2500 Words, MP3, Simplified/Pinyin, 199 pages (Readers 1-3 are older books probably replaced by the volumes above; be careful to avoid buying the same content twice) Graded Chinese Reader 1, MP3, Simplified/Pinyin, 2000 words, 239 pages Graded Chinese Reader 2, MP3, Simplified/Pinyin, 3000 words, 257 pages Graded Chinese Reader 3, MP3, Simplified/Pinyin, 1000 words, 299 pages Forum topic Included in each book is an insert which can be used to cover the pinyin on the page so one can see only the characters. Rainbow Bridge Graded Chinese Reader (Sinolingua), Simplified, MP3 downloadable, English translation Starter: 150 words, 1000 characters, HSK 1 Bao Zheng and the Case of the Ox's Tongue, 35 pages Cao Chong Weighed an Elephant, 35 pages Cricket, The, 35 pages Flog the Sheepskin, 35 pages Houyi the Divine Archer, 37 pages Identifying the Thief by Touching a Bell, 35 pages Jingwei Tries to Fill Up the Sea, 36 pages Legend of Chinese New Year's Eve, The, 35 pages Legend of Lantern Festival, The, 35 pages Legend of the Dragon Boat Festival, 35 pages Monk Huaibing and the Iron Cows, 36 pages Mr. Dongguo and the Wolf, 35 pages Old Frontiersman Losing His Horse, 35 pages River Snail Girl, 35 pages Ten Brothers, 35 pages Tian Ji and the Horse Racing, 35 pages Ximen Bao, the Governor of Ye, 35 pages Yexian-A Cinderella Story from China, 42 pages Young Girl Versus the Giant Snake, A, 35 pages Level 1: 300 words, 2500 characters, HSK1-2 Assassin and the King, The, 41 pages Gonggong and the Heaven Pillar, 37 pages Magical Lotus Lantern, 41 pages Nuwa, the Goddess of Mankind, 39 pages Tomb of Three Kings, 39 pages Young Man Beneath the Osmanthus Tree, The, 39 pages Level 2: 500 words, 5000 characters, HSK 2-3 Butterfly Lovers, 55 pages Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, The, 42 pages Four Ancient Beauties: Wang Zhaojun, 60 pages Friendship Through Music, 53 pages Hua Mulan, the Lady Warrior, 40 pages Legend of the White Snake, 53 pages Liu Yi the Messenger, 53 pages Zheng He's Voyages to the Western Ocean, 57 pages Zhongqing and Lanzhi, a Chinese Tragedy, 55 pages Level 3: 750, 7500 characters, HSK 3 Courtesan Li Wa, The, 81 pages Voluntary Hardships of King Goujian, 67 pages Level 4: 1000 words, 10000 characters, HSK 3-4 Bad Luck Guys Sea Adventures, 79 pages Romance of the West Chamber, 105 pages Xuanzang's Pilgrimage, 87 pages Level 5: 1500 words, 15000 characters, HSK 4 Level 6: 2500 words, 25000 characters, HSK 5 Vivian Ling: A Reader in Post-Cultural Revolution Chinese Literature, Traditional, 1500+ characters, 530 pages The Independent Reader, Traditional, 2000 characters, 399 pages Brief discussion of her works Mandarin Companion Graded Readers: Breakthrough Level: 150 Charaters In Search of Hua Ma, 150 characters Just Friends ? 150 characters The Misadventures of Zhou Haisheng, 150 characters, Simplified or Traditional My Teacher is a Martian, 150 characters Xiao Ming, Boy Sherlock, 150 characters Level 1: 300 characters Emma, 300 characters, Simplified or Traditional The Secret Garden, Simplified, 300 characters, 61 pages Group read The Monkey's Paw, Simplified, 300 characters, 53 pages The Country of the Blind, Simplified, 300 characters, 58 pages The Ransom of the Red Chief, 300 characters The Sixty Year Dream, Simplified, 300 characters, 58 pages The Prince and the Pauper, 300 characters, Simplified or Traditional Sherlock Holmes and the Red-Headed League, Simplified, 300 characters, 60 pages Level 2: 450 characters Great Expectations Volume 1, Simplified, 450 characters, 70 pages Great Expectations Volume 2, Simplified, 450 characters, 74 pages Journey to the Center of the Earth, 450 characters, Simplified or Traditional Grammar used in the readers Terry T. Waltz: Anna mei banfa, Simplified, 640 words, 108 pages Susan you mafan!, Simplified, 207 characters, 104 pages Josh duyiwuer, Simplified, 417 characters, 104 pages Another list of readers with character counts Books/Short Stories at the 1,000 - 1,500 character level Read About China Simplified, pinyin and English, 89-116 pages each, "HSK Intermediate" Short Stories of Chinese Wisdom 小故事小智慧 Funny Stories 开心故事 China and America 中国与美国 Kungfu Stories 功夫故事 Famous Chinese Women 中国名女人 Modern Chinese Mini-Novels 现代中国小小说 Stories About Chinese Characters 汉字故事
  3. 33 points
    I have been interested in pursuing graduate studies in China since shortly after I first arrived back in 2006. From the time I started researching until I began my first classes in the autumn of 2011, I found there was not a lot of first-hand information available for those curious about pursuing graduate studies on the mainland, especially for non-Chinese-language majors. As such, I’ve written down my experience thus far so that others interested can get some insight. This is a work in progress, and I plan on updating this as I continue with my MA over the next two and a half years. My Background I’m a married, American male in my late twenties. I graduated from an American university with a BA in English and a minor in history back in 2005. My intention has always been to go on and get a PhD (though initially I didn’t think I’d get into history). I wanted to travel a bit before applying to graduate school as I thought it would help make me a stronger candidate. I traveled to Europe where I got TESOL certified and taught English for a year. One thing led to another and I ended up in China in 2006, where I’ve been since. I’ve continued teaching English and I’ve also been involved in teacher training. I hit the ground running with my Chinese studies and achieved a decent conversational level within my first year. I took the HSK for the first time in 2009 and got a 5. I took it again in 2010 and got a 7. Looking back, this is actually very slow progress. Really until 2009 I didn’t do much character study or serious reading. It wasn’t until I committed to the idea of graduate school (2009) that I got serious about characters and reading. Currently, I’m on track to complete my MA in 2014. I hope that in the process I can get some papers published, perhaps give some talks at some conferences (my adviser seems to think having a foreigner speak at some of the conventions he attends would be quite novel), and then move on to do my PhD in the States. I’m majoring in Ancient Chinese History with an emphasis on the Ming and Qing dynasties. China Scholarship Council Scholarship I first heard about the CSC scholarship here on Chinese Forums. I looked into it and decided to apply. The process was quick and easy. I applied from the mainland via the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. At the time when I submitted my application, I was only interested in one school, Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT). I had done some preliminary research online and through CUCAS. While CUCAS wasn’t incredibly helpful, I was able to find enough information between them and HIT’s website to make an informed decision (or so I thought). In the end, I switched schools after HIT informed me they did not have my major. The CSC offices in DC were helpful and prompt in telling me how to change my already-submitted application and filing the new papers. The CSC contacts at the university have been helpful. I’ve been provided with everything promised. The only weird thing is that the scholarship only covers “necessary” books. Perhaps this is different for BA students, but as an MA student none of my books are considered “necessary”. Luckily, all but one of the books I “needed” this first semester was available in electronic format. First Experience with Graduate School in China This is a lengthy aside which I’m providing as an anecdote to attest to the overall disorganization of some institutions. If you’re applying to a university which has established systems for foreign students, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter this type of situation. However, if you’re applying to universities which do not have many foreigners, you’re likely to encounter some level of chaos. I read that one way of making your CSC application stronger was to include an acceptance letter from the university you want to attend. As such, I applied to HIT prior to submitting my application. (In the end it’s a good thing I decided not to go to HIT and instead apply to the university through CSC as the acceptance letter for HIT didn’t come until after the CSC deadline had passed.) I had read on HIT’s English website (I found their Chinese website very unhelpful) that they did indeed have a modern and contemporary history MA program. I also verified this through CUCAS which supposedly contacted a professor there. I wanted to speak directly with a professor at HIT prior to applying to get a feel for the course content, textbooks used (so that I could start reading ahead), class schedule, etc. (this is quite normal for students to do in the States). In the end, I was unable to do so as the contact information I found online lead nowhere, and the professors I attempted to contact did not reply. Despite this, I decided to apply anyway. As the CSC deadline was approaching, I tracked down the person in charge of foreign affairs and asked how to apply. I filled out a form, submitted the materials requested (scan of my passport, transcripts, notarized copy of my BA, etc.), and was told I’d be contacted after everything was processed. Within about a week I was contacted by a professor. She wanted to schedule a meeting to meet with me and let me take an exam to assess my subject knowledge. (Apparently the other students applying for this program had just completed the official 考研 exam, so I was behind the gun.) I arrived about 10 minutes early for the meeting (to make sure I could find the office). The professor was about 15 minutes late. She explained she had written a special exam for me which I could complete using the computer. She had literally scribbled five questions on a napkin. I waited in her office while she typed them up and printed them out. While I don’t recall the exact questions, they were all essay-format questions asking to recall events post-1840. She gave me the exam to complete and then left the office. After I finished the exam I waited around for a bit until a graduate student came and told me the professor wouldn’t return. I handed my answers to a graduate student and left. A few days later the same professor contacted me. She informed me that not only did HIT not have a modern and contemporary history major (which I had not only just applied for, but also took an exam for), but they didn’t even have a history department, which, apparently, the university had just closed. I was told that I should instead study Marxism, because (and this is verbatim) “modern history and Marxism are the same”. I was told that I had passed the exam, and that I was invited to attend an interview with the graduate committee. By this stage, even though I was certain I would not accept an offer with this university, I figured since I had come this far, I might as well attend for the experience. There were seven other students attending the interview. After speaking with a few of them, I learned that not all of them were history majors as undergraduates. One of them didn’t even know what major he was interviewing for (he thought it was for philosophy). Also, upon speaking with some of the current graduate students who were supervising the interview, I learned that even though many of them were about a semester away from graduating, they hadn’t even started their dissertation research; some hadn’t even chosen a topic, and some seemed as though they were just planning on writing a book report. I was the last of the students to be interviewed. While those before me took about 20 minutes each, mine was done in less than five. I was asked if I knew who Bertrand Russell was. I was also asked if I didn’t receive the CSC scholarship if I’d entertain self-funding. I said no because I was neither interested in studying Marxism nor paying the enormous sum of 50,000 RMB for two years’ tuition. Several weeks after the interview, I was contacted by the admissions office informing me I had been accepted. In that time, I had already been accepted to Heilongjiang University, which, so far, has been a much more positive experience than what I experienced at HIT. Registering at HeiDa I received my CSC acceptance package mid-summer. I knew ahead of this I had already been accepted as I contacted the university directly. During the first few days of the semester (note, after the Chinese students had already begun their classes) foreign students began registering—this is relevant because my major classes began the day we were asked to come in to register. (In the end it I only ended up missing one class.) CSC students had different meeting times assigned from the other foreign students (e.g. those who were self-funded or on a different scholarship). Though I met with the academic coordinator for foreign students early and explained to her my situation (i.e. that I had my own apartment, had my visa covered through my employer, etc.), she said I still needed to attend the meetings. However, the meetings were only catered to addressing these issues and making these arrangements (e.g. visa, dorm, etc.), so they were not beneficial at all for me. There have been several other “mandatory” meetings throughout this last semester, none of which I’ve attended as they’ve all been scheduled only a day in advance (so I had no time to rearrange my schedule), and even at times when I had class. Mandatory Proficiency Test All foreign students are required to take a Chinese proficiency test. This seemed a bit odd as one prerequisite for getting into non-Chinese language majors is at least a 6 on the HSK. It was later, when I overheard the admissions coordinator speaking with other students, that I discovered students who failed the exam were required to take additional Chinese language classes at their own expense. While it’s good that the university doesn’t want to place students with a low level in a class in which they’ll clearly struggle, the whole set up seemed more like a money-making opportunity for the university than a measure designed to group students according to their level of fluency. A clear case of this can be found in the only other foreign student in my class (we’re both studying the same major)—a Japanese student in his mid-to-late twenties. He speaks very poorly with no fluency and he has a very difficult time following along in lectures. He’s often asked questions by the professors (because they call on everyone equally) and he is rarely able to respond. Sometimes he just shakes his head. When he must communicate with either the professors or our classmates, he makes everyone write down what they want to say; he also responds by writing. In light of this situation, and also my experienced with HIT's application process, it seems quite obvious that foreign students get much more leeway with admissions criteria than Chinese. Perhaps this is because having a larger foreign student body adds prestige to the university? Changing Majors After several days of going back and forth to the university, I was informed by the admissions office that they also no longer had a contemporary and modern history major. This time, however, I was given many more options than just “Marxism”. The period closest to what I wanted to study was the Ming and Qing era. I was led to the head of the history department who outlined my options, the majors available in the department, and the courses each major focused on. She was very helpful in not only providing a detailed outline, but she also gave me the professional outline of each professor so that I could choose an adviser. I was given the number of my adviser and told I should call him to arrange a meeting. I did just that and we met the next day. Choosing an Advisor My brother-in-law (a year shy of beginning graduate school) had told me that when choosing an advisor, I should take the one I want to study under out to dinner, get him really drunk, and give him a 红包 of at least 1000 RMB. Having been in China for quite some time, this made sense. My wife, however, said this was a bad idea and that no one did this. I even felt a little odd about giving someone money the first time we met. In the end, with the Moon Festival approaching, I decided to go to Makey and splurge on one of the moon-cake sets. I bought the most expensive one they had (about 300 RMB). In typical Chinese style, the box was very ornate. When I met my adviser, we chatted a bit about my academic history, plans for the future, etc. I said lots of nice, flowery and flattering things. Before I left I handed him the moon-cake set. He seemed very happy about that. Upon speaking with my classmates, it doesn’t seem typical to give 红包’s. I’m also pretty sure no one gives gifts either—though I think it’s still a good idea. My Classmates The history department at HeiDa is broken up into different majors. Including me, there are 14 students studying the Ming and Qing dynasties. There are 12 Chinese students (the 13th is the Japanese student I mentioned above). My classmates come from all over China, with only 2 or 3 being local Harbiners. While everyone speaks Mandarin clearly enough, those from further south mumble; some students also speak very quietly. This makes it very difficult for me to follow along in discussions in a classroom with poor acoustics. Often times I can understand the professor perfectly, but not my classmates. Often I have to follow along with just half of the conversation. My advisor has five students from this class under his wing. When we met with him earlier in the semester he asked how many of us had plans to continue studying a PhD. Of the five, I was the only one. The other four seemed more interested in being able to find a job after graduation. The motivation and participation level of my classmates is quite low during lectures. The professor often asks questions which no one answers. Sometimes it’s unclear if they’re just being shy or they don’t know the material. At the beginning of the semester we treated the whole department (six professors all together) to a big meal. During that meal as my classmates were going around the table introducing one another, it seemed few of them were history majors as undergraduates. A couple of them even said the only reason they chose history for their MA was because they didn’t test high enough for what they wanted. Clearly, having classmates who don’t have a strong enough foundation in the course material, aren’t interested in pursuing research, or not even interested in history at all dampens the classroom environment. Close to the end of the semester, we told we would be giving a brief talk on what research we had been doing outside of class for our term papers. On the day we were to give the presentations, I was the only student who had prepared anything. The professor insisted everyone stand and speak—some students simply took their notes from our other class together and read from that. All of my classmates are friendly and easy to get along with, they’re clearly just not very interested in studying. Classes, Professors and Teaching Methodology For the three years of the program (six semesters), we attend classes for three semesters. The first semester includes four classes (two major-related, two not). The two non-major related classes are 马克思主义 and English. Foreign students aren’t required to take Marxism, nor are we required to take English (at least those who come from an English-speaking country). Instead, the Marxism class is substituted with 中国概况 (still not sure exactly what this is) and Chinese language classes. I was told I could defer on scheduling these for another time, so I did. I’ll probably schedule them for the second semester of my second year, which is when I’ll have finished my core classes. For our core classes, or at least for the two we’ve had so far, the teaching methodology is very similar. The professor stands (or sits) at the front of the classroom and lectures from his notes. Occasionally, he’ll ask us questions. The difficulty for me in these classes is that we’re not given material from which to study or prepare. While the professor may give us the topic in advance, the topic is often very broad. While my Chinese level is good enough to follow along and participate in day-to-day language, I struggle when I come across topics which are very specialized. In some cases, not knowing one or two words can make it very difficult to follow along in a lecture, even when the context is understood. In addition, both of the professors I had for this last semester spoke using 书面语—both very formal and flowery, with a lot of 成语 and 文言文. While I did not have much trouble most of the time, there were a few cases where I was completely lost for 10 or so minutes. In most cases the professors will write key words on the board. At first, I struggled to read the handwriting, especially since it was written in 连笔, but as the semester progressed I got better at it. Also, Pleco is an absolute life saver. Having an excellent program and dictionary has made looking up and reviewing vocabulary much easier. Study Load In order to prepare for my classes, I did a lot of reading and self-study prior to the start of the semester. Unfortunately, as I had believed I would be studying modern history, all of my studies revolved around that. Having been flung into a different period altogether, I’ve been at a severe disadvantage. Not only am I not familiar with the main events, but clearly having to understand 文言文 had made things much more difficult to start. I’ve found that it’s always been easier to have a good grasp of the material in L1 (English) prior to studying it in Chinese. This way, if I come across an item I don’t understand in Chinese, having a good foundation in English helps confirm whether or not what I think I’ve read is actually what I’ve read. At the start of the semester, my reading speed was very slow, but as things have progressed I’ve become much faster. Of the three classes I took (one was an elective with my adviser—the only course on modern history the university offers), only one had any assigned reading. For me, the bulk of the semester was spent brushing up on the Ming and Qing period, in particular the specific terminology in Chinese, which never transfers from English. In class, it can often be difficult to follow along, not because I don’t know the material, but because I don’t know the specific phrase used in Chinese. For example, the treaty signed at the end of the first Sino-Japanese war in 1895 is (in English) the treaty of Shimonoseki, but in Chinese it’s 马关条约, which sounds nothing like Shimonoseki. There are a lot of instances like this. Advice for Potential Graduate Students Do as much research on the university and major as you can before you apply. Hunt down professors, former students, speak with office staff, etc. to make sure the university has the program you want. If you fit the criteria, apply for the CSC scholarship. You likely stand a good chance of getting it. If you have a family, or are also working, ensure your Chinese level is already at a very good level. If you have to study too much language in addition to course material, you’ll easily get behind. You’ll need to have very strong reading skills. I’ve attached some examples of what we’ve read this semester. If you can read through these with no problem you’re likely at a level good enough for graduate school. Study formal Chinese (书面语). It will make reading and listening much easier. I recommend this book. I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone has about my experience thus far. I’ll update this post at the end of each semester. Research [Added 01/30/2012] To this point, I have not attended a graduate school in the West, so I'm not familiar with how western institutions instruct, promote, or cultivate research skills in their students. As such, I don't have room for comparison. With my university, a professor provided us with a handout on the first day of classes. It was a double-sided A4 sheet which had broken down the major works for each period/dynasty. The bottom of the second side had just under a dozen websites listed. We were told that by the time we graduate we should have read all of these books (close to a hundred in total). We were also told that when researching a topic or looking for specific works, we should use the websites provided. This was the extent of our "research training". When I asked my adviser about research methods in private, he was helpful in showing me around the campus libraries. He also showed me the same handout mentioned above. For some reason, he's very big on having us search 中国知网 and read theses published by previous students (I'll discuss this site below). Regarding the libraries, while the buildings are relatively modern, the bookshelves are quite bare. I'm not sure if this is because they're moving things over to the new library, or if the available resources are just very scarce. It seems quite a shame that the campus' two enormous libraries are largely bare. In addition, the selections available all seem quite dated. With that said, one section of the library does provide the most recent subscription of a number of academic journals. Yet my adviser, when showing me around this section, only pointed to a couple he said were worth reading. Without much direction, I've had to fend for myself in finding online research tools. As commuting back and forth to the States to visit libraries there is not feasible, the internet has become my best research partner. I won't bother listing here most of the websites written on the handout mentioned above as I found them unintuitive, user-unfriendly, and out-dated (one website hadn't been updated since 2005). Instead, I'd like to share some tools I've found which have been a tremendous help thus far in my research. Google Scholar is probably the most well-known. It's essentially Google for academics. It seems to search major university and journal databases. While Google Scholar is excellent at helping you track down citations and specific works, the links it points you to generally only provide abstracts, and may require payment to access the full site/article. For example, a typical search may point you to an article you want, yet you may be required to be a subscriber to that database or journal in order to view or download the article. With that said, there are many articles available free of charge. Google Books is one of Google Scholar's favorite resources. In most cases, you can view a book's table of contents, introductionary sections, and sometimes the first few pages of each chapter. This is a great way to take a peek into works you may be interested in purchasing/borrowing. 中国知网 is a search engine for Chinese academic journals and online theses databases. The advanced search function does a decent job at finding what you need if you're specific enough, but the engine itself doesn't seem to do a great job at filtering out material completely unrelated to your search criteria. Also, the results are heavy on master's level and doctorate theses. For reasons discussed in this post, these may not be the best sources to gather a good deal of information you need. This is a subscription site. Google Scholar will often point to articles, theses etc. located here. 爱问共享资料 has so far been my saving grace. Whenever I search this website, I feel like a kid in a candy show. There are tons and tons of books, articles, etc. here, most for free. Before I consider purchasing any book from Amazon, I always run a search here first. A lot of material is free to download, however some downloads require "payment" in the form of tokens. You get 20 tokens when you sign up for an account (downloads can cost 1, 2, or 5 tokens). You can earn more tokens by uploading your own material. There doesn't seem to be a system in place to keep you from creating multiple accounts *cough cough*. Finally, something I haven't yet taken advantage of yet, but likely will in the future, is Amazon's Kindle Textbook Rental. Many books available in any type of electronic format can now be "rented" from Amazon for 30 or more days. I believe the initial period is 30 days, with subsequent renting periods requiring additional payment. This looks to be a great idea as rentals can help you save up to 80%. Update: 12/7/11 I completed the second semester of my MA degree at Heilongjiang University July 1. This semester was both challenging and extremely demotivating. As a whole, I’d say I received more headaches than I did education. More on this below. We had five classes this semester, all mandatory and assigned. In other words, we weren’t given any freedom to choose our own courses. (I’m not sure how this compares with MA programs in the West.) Below I’ve included a brief summary of each course along with my reflections. 中国古代史料科学 The presentation of this class as a whole seemed completely useless. The professor, while clearly the most responsible of the bunch (because she actually taught her own classes—more on this below), simply read off a long list of books, the authors, and why these books were important. The class was literally “XYZ is an important book because….. It was written by….. Next, …..” In addition, while we were all Master’s students of the Ming-Qing period, more than three-fourths of the semester was devoted to previous periods. I understand the Chinese mindset that in order to understand one dynasty we must understand those that came before it as each successful dynasty improved on the systems of its predecessors, yet it seemed unnecessary to spend so much time on information that was not pertinent to our research. 明清民族与边疆研究 All of the professors at HLJU have research interests tied to border and minority people’s issues. However, Chinese students don’t choose a university based on finding professors with whom they share common research interests. Instead, they choose the best university which will admit them based on their graduate exam score. As such, graduate students generally adopt the research interests of their professors/advisers. Most of my classmates have chosen border-related research topics because they couldn’t think of one on their own. It appears they’re simply doing work for their advisers. In the case of this course, I feel the topic was too narrowly focused and filled with redundancy. This may not have been the case had the professor chosen to teach the class. Instead, he gave a short introduction to the topic during week one and then assigned topics to us to teach. As we, the students, were responsible for teaching, the professor only attended lectures when convenient for his schedule. He was absent for half, if not more, of the lessons. 明清史专题 This course had the same professor as the one above, with the same format (i.e. students taught the class, not the professor). This topic was much more relevant to us as a whole, but was butchered by poor preparation and a clear lack of enthusiasm for the subject and respect for one’s peers. More on this below. 明清史文化史 This course was really a hodgepodge of topics spanning the Ming-Qing period. This professor taught the first several classes, providing a foundation for the rest of the semester. However, as the professor above, he also ended up assigning topics for us, the students, to teach. He was also absent from several classes, though not as many as the professor above. 明清学术史 For me, this looked to be the most interesting course of the semester. Unfortunately, it was headed by the worst professor. He was hung over on the first day of class. We know, because he told us. He often ate breakfast and smoked in class. What angers me most about this professor is his nerve. He taught the first several classes, only to complain not quite a third through the semester that we weren’t participating enough; perhaps because all of his sources were in classical Chinese, which we all struggled with, he did not provide handouts or assign textbooks, and he also refused to explain the language he cited, stating that it was “too simple” to bother with in class. Before giving up with his own lectures, he whined (really, he whined) that he’s “the best professor in the History department” because he prepares his own materials and actually teachers the classes. He then proceeded to assign topics to us to teach for the remainder of the semester. However, instead of providing feedback on our content, as the professors above did (when they attended class), he played computer games on his laptop. (I actually took a photo of him doing so!) He also commented that he was very happy he wouldn’t have to teach us again. The feeling is mutual. Teaching Methodology As a whole, the approach of assigning topics to students to teach was an epic failure, and for several reasons. First, many of my classmates do not have a background in history (two of them studied accounting). As such, they don’t have the background to go into enough depth for the topics assigned. Many of my classmates simply photocopied books and/or articles and read straight from these materials during their “lessons.” Second, many of my classmates simply do not care about their education. It’s very obvious that they know that regardless of how they perform, they’ll get their degree in the end. Many are simply going through the motions hoping that an advanced degree will help them get a better job. Third, the professors provided a syllabus for us to follow. Ideally, we’d all be able to see what the next week’s topic was so that we could read ahead and prepare to participate in the discussion. However, after the first few student-taught classes, my classmates switched the order and even chose their own topics. As no one ever notified anyone in advance of what their topic was or of what material they were preparing from, it made it impossible to prepare ahead of time. Lastly, my classmates are simply not teachers. Except for me, no one in the class has any teaching experience. As such, no one knew how to write a lesson plan, how to manage the classroom, how to lead a discussion, etc. In other words, no one could teach. Most classmates simply read straight from source material. Only a couple were able to lead discussions in a manner on par with a graduate-level course. CSC Scholarship Everything along this front went well. The only annoyance was that I was often messaged at the very last minute to “come immediately” to sign for my monthly allowance. As I have a number of responsibilities outside of my studies, it was always inconvenient to drop everything to run down to the office. Fortunately, the staff was understanding of my situation, and often allowed me to sign early or a day or two late without consequence. However, CSC wasn’t the only institution which assumed that students have no life outside of the classroom. The history department also made several “demands” for our time, often at the very last minute. I assume this isn’t a problem for most students, as they don’t have jobs and/or families. Workload The workload this semester was very heavy (for me). I made it a point to put a serious amount of effort into preparing for my lessons. I always sourced multiple sources and points of view, brought in handouts and photos when relevant, and made it a point to teach communicatively (much to the chagrin of my classmates, who would prefer to never be called upon to participate or answer questions). On this later point, my discussions were lively when professors were present, but when the professor was not present, I was largely ignored as my classmates text messaged, surfed the net on their phones, or did homework for other classes. (Hypocritically, I often did work for other classes as well when I couldn’t follow a “lecture”, or the content was so dull that I had to find something to justify my time spent in class.) To be fair... There were three classmates who really stood out as putting a lot of time and effort into their lessons (there are twelve of us altogether). They were able to teach without their lesson plan, citing many sources from memory. They were also able to answer most questions that were asked of them without any hesitation. These three really knew their stuff. Aside from the one professor who I clearly didn’t care for, the others are all very nice, very knowledgeable people. If you asked them questions in class, they were always able to answer and provide additional resources. They were also very willing and open to spending extra time with us answering questions outside of class, recommending books, etc. In general, I’m happy with the personality and ability of the professors. What I’m not happy with is the format of "teaching" which was used this semester. I’m confident I would have learned much more had the professors actually taught on their own. After many discussions (again, when they were present), they would often supplement what had been discussed with what they believed was important. These brief talks often proved to be much more valuable than what my classmates presented. Lastly, the professors' absences were largely due to attending conferences in other cities (or so we've been told). What’s to come Next semester we only have three classes. This will be our last semester of classes. The final year and a half of the program is devoted to researching our Master’s thesis. More on that later on in the year. Update: 12.12.25 This was my program’s third semester. It was also the final semester of classes. My Chinese classmates and I had three MA classes. I also had to take two elective classes. The elective classes are taken in place of Marxism and English, which are not required for foreign students. The MA classes were 清代知识分子问题研究, 中国古代社会史研究, and 中国制度史. The electives were 中国概况 (mandatory for all foreign graduate students) and 古代文学. The professor for 清代知识分子问题研究 was one of the same professors we had last semester. We were informed at the end of last semester that the “teaching” style for this class would be identical to that of his other classes; i.e. the students do all of the teaching, and the professor attends class whenever it is convenient for him. I knew immediately that this would be a huge waste of my time (see above). In addition, the language school I work for on the weekends had asked if I was interested in opening an additional class (i.e. more money) during the time slot for which the 清代知识分子问题研究 was scheduled to be. I spoke with the professor, who also happens to be my advisor, about opting out of the class under the pretense that my school needed me to open a new class. He agreed, assigning me three books to read in place of the class. The other two classes were with the professor who taught us 史料学 in the previous semester. My classmates had no qualms at this point of the program about completely ignoring the professor during lectures. Each classmate did their own thing during the lectures; activities which varied from sleeping to playing hand-held game consoles, and from texting to reading books for other classes. The MA classes continued to live up to the low standards I’ve come to expect since beginning the program in September 2011. There were no syllabi, textbooks, or assigned readings. The professor droned on for hours with little response from the students. The core material veered way off track from the Ming-Qing (our major) period and in many cases rehashed material we had heard before in other classes with other professors. The elective classes, however, tell a very different tale. In general, these classes—designed specifically for foreign students—seem to be held to much higher standards than those aimed toward a Chinese-only cohort. To start, the facilities in the foreign student are much better than those for Chinese students. The classrooms are equipped with white boards (instead of chalk boards), computers, speakers, and an overhead projector and project screen. The classrooms in these buildings are also warm and comfortable, whereas the main liberal arts building (where I have my MA classes) was so cold that my feet were always freezing (and this is with two pairs of socks and thick snow boots on. I never took off my hat, scarf or jacket in this building, whereas I could always get comfortable in the foreign students’ building. Faulty equipment in the foreign students’ building was also repaired in a timely manner, whereas the door knob for the room in which my MA classes were held was broken on day 1 of classes this semester (early September), and not fixed until late November. (Students got locked in/out of the classroom on several cases due to this issue.) In addition, the overall organization of the elective classes was much better. Professors presented structured syllabi on the first day and followed them throughout the semester. There were assigned textbooks and readings, the content of which was pertinent to the lectures. The professors taught communicatively, organizing activities which engaged students and required discussion. Students were assessed on the material covered in the texts and lectures. The professors were also well-dressed, punctual, and rarely (if ever) missed or canceled classes. While all foreign, the motivations and approaches to learning of these students varied. Of the three elective classes I’ve taken (I also audited a 近代史 class during my first semester; see above), two have been for BA students and one, the 中国概况, for MA students. The BA classes were preponderantly comprised of Russians, who, in general, I found very disrespectful. They were late, did not pay attention, slept, chatted throughout the lectures, and, again speaking in general, had a very poor level of Chinese. On the other hand, the MA students were a multi-national group, with students hailing from Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Japan. They were all very respectful toward the teacher and each other. They completed assignments and participated in discussions. Of the thirty or so students in this class, more than 90% were Chinese language majors, the others studying economics. Of all these students, however, only one or two had decent oral Chinese. Toward the end of the semester we were all required to teach a short 5-10 minute lesson on a topic of our choice. More often than not, the presenters were unintelligible, and had it not been for their prepared materials (e.g. handouts, power point presentation, etc.), I would have found it near impossible to understand anything they said. I had expected much more from Chinese language majors. Regarding these contrasts, I can give the most allowance to the disparity in facilities. The foreign students’ building caters only to hundreds of students while the Chinese facilities must cater to tens of thousands. Clearly, size and maintenance are issues which contribute to such a disparity. My main concern, and gripe, is that it is very clear that the university is capable of recruiting intelligent and organized professors while also installing systems and courses which adhere to communicative teaching principles. If the university can do so for the foreign student body, why can’t it also do this for the Chinese student body? What the Chinese system lacks, by my estimation, is an overall lack of integrity, responsibility—professional and academic—and passion. Professors’ inability to hold both one’s self and students to high standards of personal and academic excellence, orthopraxy, a pervasive 差不多 attitude, and general apathy is stunting the emergence of what could be a vibrant intellectual community. (This is an idea/mini-thesis I'm working on drafting into a full article, which I'll link to once complete.) What’s next? While we’ve finished classes, or will be over the next two weeks, we still have a year and a half of the program remaining, all of which is classified as dissertation research. Update: 13.4.23 This update is likely to come across as a bit negative as I've been extremely frustrated of late with the school systems and overall complete lack of organization. With classes having been finished last semester, this and following semesters for the next year and a half are devoted to writing our theses. While the curriculum devotes three semesters to research and writing, we're actually only given until early December. The steps are: Semester 4 (mid-April): Thesis proposal and committee review Semester 5 (early December): Committee review of rough draft Semester 6 (very end of the semester; i.e. early July): Committee review of final draft So, in actuality, we have to have the bulk of the writing done by the end of November. Of course, none of this is outlined in the curriculum. Dates are ostensibly scheduled at a whim. It honestly seems like the department says, 好的,到时候了, and then schedules whatever is necessary. This has led to a lot of last-minute scrambling. Each "committee review" is comprised of a panel of five professors. The professors are those which teach the 古代史 curriculum, and who also serve as the advisors for the graduate students. I've had classes with all but one of these professors. I first learned in February that we would be required to submit a written proposal to our advisors sometime in March or April. (My advisor is the one who informed me of this.) I was told that following submission of the written proposal, there would be a defense in front of the committee. I was told that the specific date of the defense had not been scheduled, but that my advisor--he told me this in person--would inform me of the date. I commented that I must know far ahead in advance so that I could take the morning/afternoon off work, to which he replied, "Since you're a special case, you don't need to attend. Just submit the forms and we'll do it individually." Great, I thought. I won't have to miss work (and therefore be docked pay!). Toward the end of March, I received a text message from our 班长 that she had posted some information regarding the paperwork and defense to our QQ group. I replied to her text message promptly informing her (for the 100th time) that my request to join the group had still not been accepted, and I therefore could not access the information she had posted. She said she was busy, but would send the information to me later... which, of course, she never did. I then received another text message (these are all mass texts, which go to all our classmates), the Monday before the defense, notifying me that I was to submit six copies of my proposal in accordance with the department format by that Wednesday. She also informed me that the defense was scheduled for that coming Sunday afternoon. I contacted my advisor, explained that I had not been informed/kept in the loop, and that my day of work had already been scheduled. (I had already scheduled to take off that Saturday morning and afternoon to take the GRE.) I also questioned him about his comment made in February that I would not need to attend the defense. This time, his attitude and tone was very different. I *must* do everything as everyone else was. Period. Okay. Annoying, but okay. This is doable. I got a good friend to cover my afternoon class, which would give m just enough time to sit in front of the committee at 1:30 and then hurry back to work. The 班长 sent me a copy of someone else's paperwork, which I used to format my own. I was told that the only important parts were the bibliography and chapter outline. For the bibliography, the "class leader" told me to 多写点, by which she essentially meant to include a lot of books, even if I wasn't intending to use them. While I was annoyed at having to drop everything I was doing to focus on this, I had spent the past 18 months researching and writing as my advisor had approved my research topic back in the fall of 2011. (This will be important in a minute.) I typed up the report, wrote a rough chapter outline and a bibliography, which included only books I had either read or was planning to use. I submitted this via email to my advisor to review before I passed it along to the "official" channels. My original intent was to research Westernized radicalism, cultural conservatism, and Neo-Confucianism in Chinese students studying abroad in America between 1915 - 1925. As mentioned above, my advisor thought this was a great topic, and so I got started (again, eighteen months ago). As luck would have it, my advisor was singing a different tune when it came down to the deadline. He and a classmate "edited" my original chapter outline, putting the focus more on statistical data (e.g. where students studied, numbers of students, where they were from, what their majors were, etc.) and less on their thinking. My whole argument was that these students were far from being strictly conservative, as prior scholarship has stereotyped them as. Whereas previous scholars focused on a narrative history of these students, I wanted to focus on their thinking. The new outline was essentially a recapitulation of what other scholars have already written; that is, a narrative account of this group of students. In addition, I was told to add more books to my bibliography. I responded that I didn't have time between then and Wednesday to read the amount which they wanted me to add. I was told just reading the back cover/abstract would be sufficient for including it as a referenced work. I reiterated my original intention, and with a few of my own changes, I managed to reconcile the two directions. I submitted this to the official channels, and waited for Sunday. As mentioned above, we each submitted six copies of our proposal the Wednesday prior to the defense. These were supposedly going to the professors so that they could look over them in advance, make notes, suggestions, etc. As we sat in the conference room that Sunday afternoon waiting for the professors to arrive, a classmate brought in the stack of our thesis, all unmarked. Then the professors arrived, they were handed out. It was very clear they had not looked at anyone's proposals; likely with the exception of their advisees'. I was the first one to be called up. I was asked to give a brief summary of my main points, why I had chosen this topic, and what made it special. I responded to this prompt briefly. As I was talking, however, I noticed only two professors listening. Two were flipping through reading my proposal, and the professor who played solitaire in class while we taught was, surprise surprise, playing on some mobile device. He did this the entire time I spoke, stopping only to tell me the same thing he told me at the end of last semester--that my thesis 没有任何新意. The others only commented on the topic, and not at all on the content. I was asked to explain the chapter outline, which I did. I was then told that my topic was too broad. (This is because the "editing" done by my advisor and classmate made it very broad.) The original topic was 从签订二十一条至五卅惨案,中国留美学生在美的过激主义,保守主义与新儒家思想, which was changed to ershi shiji chuqi zhongguo liumei xuesheng sixiang yanjiu.* I was also told that a topic such as 思想 was too complicated and broad, and that I shouldn't attempt to tackle it, to which I rebutted that I had a very narrow scope to focus my research, which I had already begun. In the end, the committee completely disregarded the idea of me doing anything related to 思想 and instead wanted to guide me toward the more narrative nature of previous publications. I listened to their suggestions, made notes, and left once they had finished with me. Okay, all done, I thought. I'll continue on with my research as I had already been doing for quite some time. No. I wouldn't. My advisor called me a few days later to ask how the revisions were going. Revisions? I asked. Apparently I had to not only do exactly what the committee had "recommended," but I had to write exactly I had outlined in the proposal; nothing more, and nothing less. And, of course, my advisor sent me a newly "edited" proposal, which scotched all elements of 思想, radicalism, etc., and instead was, in addition to the statistical data, now included sub-chapters such as "clothes and food," none of which was in accord with my original topic or chapter outline. I was also going to be required to sign a form which stated I would not deviate from the "agreed upon" outline. When I commented to my advisor that this research had already been done, he asked me if my specific newly "edited" topic (now ershishiji chuqi zhongguo liumei xuesheng yanjiu*) came up when searched in 知网 or other publication-search websites. When I responded it did not, he said, "Well, then, there's no problem." "But, Professor, this has already been done in English," I replied. "Then your translation will be unique to China!" Barf. *I've changed this from characters to pinyin as I don't want a professor or classmate searching this topic and then coming across this post, which, in some regards, does not reflect glowingly upon my experience thus far. The most frustrating aspect of all of this is that the department is being so inflexible with my topic. I'm not sure how graduate programs in the States are, but I'd assume that you'd start out with something broad which would be refined as you did more research and worked with the primary sources. I don't understand how students are supposed to start with a chapter outline and write to that before they've even looked at a primary source. What's looking to be the most likely case is that my topic has been the target of censorship. My advisor is a card-carrying member of the CCP (he has a plaque on his desk), and the classmate which helped "revise" my topic and chapter outline has taken the 国务院 exam in the last year, so that may mean he's on track for membership as well. If this is the case, that I'm being censored, then it's clear that the university/Party allows no leeway whatsoever in research topics which may stray from the political narrative. Reading List Below is a list of some books I've read/been reading over the last year and a half. I'd recommend all of these, some more than others. As my current project is centered around early Republican intellectual history, many books are tied to those topics. I'll add to this list as I come across new books, or remember one's I've read before. The Search for Modern China, Jonathan Spence The Cambridge History of China, Volumes 9 - 12 China's Last Empire, William Rowe China's Republic, Diana Lary China in Transformation: 1900-1949, by Colin Mackerras Awakening China: Politics, Culture, and Class in the Nationalist Revolution, John Fitzgerald China in War and Revolution, 1895-1949, Peter Zarrow A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial China, Benjamin Elman From Philosophy to Philology: Intellectual and Social Aspects of Change in Late Imperial China, Benjamin Elman Confucian China and Its Modern Fate, Joseph Levenson Liang Ch'i Ch'ao And The Mind Of Modern China, Joseph Levenson Hu Shih and the Chinese Renaissance: Liberalism in the Chinese Revolution, 1917-1937, Jerome B. Grieder Sun Yat-sen, by Marie-Claire Bergere The True Story of Lu Xun, David E. Pollard The Chinese Enlightenment: Intellectuals and the Legacy of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, Vera Schwarcz The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China, Chow Tse-tsung Updated: 14/5/30 Mission Accomplished! (knock on wood) I have to knock on wood because it seems that every time I've "finished", something else crops up. The past month or so has been a bit chaotic. The chaos stems mostly from all of the last-minute issues which occur. For example, after handing in the "final" copy of my thesis on March 27 (my advisor told me that this had to be a perfect copy as it was the copy which would be evaluated by the independent committee recommending us for the final thesis defense) I was contacted at 4 pm on April 16 (on my way out the door to pick up my son from kindergarten) by my advisor telling me that the formatting for thesis wasn't the "official" formatting. I inquired what the specific problem was so as to fix it, and he told me he couldn't tell me (because he didn't know) and that I should contact a classmate. Three classmates later, I learned that none of my classmates had formatted their own thesis, and that they had all paid someone to do so. Well, with thirty minutes to the deadline, I got in contact with said person and forked over 180 RMB to have him reformat my thesis. This incident is really a microcosm for the entire three years I've spent in the Master's program here at HeiDa (e.g. the system is disorganized, no one has all the facts, everyone is informed at the last minute of certain deadlines, etc., and the egregious fact that professors don't read what their students write--my professor clearly had at least three weeks time to review my thesis and notice the formatting wasn't correct). Another case in point attesting to the latter: Our "thesis defense" was this past Monday. Each student prepared a 2 - 7 minute self-introduction/thesis overview. The committee, made up of our professors, then provided comments. It was evident from the comments provided by the committee that no one on the committee had given more than a passing glance at any of the theses. One professor even said during my defense, "I've just received this, so I haven't had time to review it." Another professor, after glancing at my table of contents, commented that my thesis didn't contain enough commentary on how the group in question viewed America, when, AS IS CLEAR FROM THE TABLE OF CONTENTS, I DEVOTE AN ENTIRE CHAPTER TO DISCUSSING THIS ISSUE. Another had nothing more to say than, "good topic choice." Additionally, my thesis had no fewer than two dozen errors (in the Chinese translation), which I only caught after reviewing it for the umpteenth time (my fault, obviously). However, my advisor, who I had expected would review my thesis in its entirety, didn't note even one of these errors, including an incredibly obvious one in the second paragraph of my abstract ON PAGE 2 of the paper. I believe the biggest source of frustration from this experience stems from expectations. I had high expectations for the university, professors, and my classmates going in. I also had expected that high expectations would be held for me. In the end, however, it seems that even Chinese academia abides by the 差不多 attitude which I've come to loathe in my eight years in China. The silver lining here is that this experience has taught me that no matter where I go the only person who will consistently hold me to high expectations is myself, and that it's my responsibility to ensure that I hold myself to a high moral, professional, and academic standard. Negatives aside, this experience has been more positive than negative. The structure of the program provided motivation to learn about my field in depth. Attending lectures and reading genuine Chinese sources has improved my Chinese, especially within an academic context. The process of researching and writing a thesis in two languages (~42,000 English, 60,000 Chinese) has been an invaluable professional experience. Additionally, as I've completed this through the CSC scholarship program, I haven't had to pay for anything. In fact, the stipend alone provided over the last three years has amounted to approximately US$10,000, which has all gone into savings. Most importantly, I believe that it was this experience which led to me being accepted into a one of my top-choice PhD programs in the States with guaranteed funding for at least five years. As having the opportunity to pursue a PhD at a top school in the US has been my ultimate goal since leaving the States in 2005, I'm pleased that my accomplishments here in China have been validated by an American authority, and I now have an opportunity to continue to pursue my dream and passion with highly motivated individuals within a challenging and rigorous intellectual community. 晚明史.pdf 变迁之神:南宋时期的民间信仰 【美】韩森.pdf
  4. 33 points
    I've been working a lot recently on improving my accent in Chinese. I wanted to share what I've found and get feedback and ideas from everyone. I want to focus specifically in this post on the practical issues I've come across in producing natural-sounding tones. --- --- --- I've been shadowing the speech of native speakers. I use TV shows and documentaries a bit, but my main source until now has been people I record myself. In the last few months, I've been having around 30 hours each week of in-person conversation. Private tutors are a third to half of that; the rest comes from random people I meet in cafes, restaurants and internet. I've been recording the conversations. Afterwards, I go through the recordings, drill new vocab and constructions, and analyse their speech. I pick out interesting sentences, snip them out, and then practice mimicking each sentence hundreds to thousands of times. It's a well-known idea I've seen called shadowing, mimicking, imitating, merging, echoing. It's a really powerful technique. I've read several posters here report great success using it with Chinese. The idea is to work on each little part of a sentence in extreme detail until it's right, move on and do the same with the each successive part of the sentence, then put it all together until you perfectly match every aspect of the original recording. Do this with one sentence, then another sentence, then another sentence, over and over and over, thousands of times. Gradually the language's speech patterns become internalized and your speech becomes significantly more natural. I've done it before with other languages. My experience is that it can seem boring and brute-force, and it requires a steady and pretty obsessive long-term commitment, but it really works: it's very effective at internalizing natural, native-sounding speech patterns. It's also the main and best way I've found to massively improve and internalize non-pronunciation components of language like grammar patterns, word choice, etc. I record my shadowing and listen to myself. But my ability to perceive small variations in Chinese speech is not precise enough so I use the computer to analyse and try to get the graphs of my speech to exactly match theirs. I started using (mainly) Praat and (less so) SpeakGoodChinese. Praat especially has been a great help. I've found it's a bit of an art sometimes to get analysis of Chinese which is practical for improving one's own speech, so I've worked a lot at getting a good set-up for Chinese. Regarding tones specifically, the visual feedback from tone graphs has really helped me progress; otherwise I'd just be flying blind about very subtle differences. I also play for the people I meet both the speech of other native speakers of different backgrounds, as well as speech from foreigners speaking Chinese, then listen to native speakers' comments describing the accent. By comparing their descriptions of the speech with the computer tone graphs, I've gotten a better feel for native speakers' perceptions. I've found that their perception of speech isn't always what I would guess based on the computer's acoustic analysis, so listening to their descriptions has helped me align my own perception to better match theirs. It's also helped me to start to understand a little the complexities of the sociological/cultural associations different people make with different ways of speaking. Fwiw, this whole exercise just leaves me more in awe of the human language ability. The level of detail which the average native speaker I meet can hear and describe is phenomenal. Knowing how precise are their perceptions really motivates me to keep improving. Recording conversations and working on mimicking native Chinese speakers' speech in this way has done wonders for my Chinese skills in non-pronunciation areas. But for pronunciation, I found that shadowing full sentences was not working for me as well as I wanted. The level of the sentences was not too difficult in non-pronunciation terms: I was able to both understand the native speakers' sentences at normal conversation speed and create similar, understandable ones myself. But I found that the lexical tones of Chinese were really hindering my progress at using this technique to improve my accent. The problem for me is that a Chinese tone incorporates BOTH lexical information AND all the other functions that non-tonal language intonation has. Chinese is the first tonal language I've studied. When I analysed my own speech, I found that my non-tonal brain was great at mimicking the features of Chinese which also exist in non-tonal languages like the speed, syllable timing, changes in loudness, and overall rhythm/flow. But the tones of my individual syllables were rarely natural in pitch/contour. I found two types of fundamental problems related to producing tones: - For about 10% of words, in my mind I thought I was producing a tone correctly, but the actual tone I produced was lexically flat-out wrong or was not clear enough. E.g., I know a syllable should be 2nd tone, I truly "felt" that I'm saying 2nd tone... but what I actually produced ended up in reality as kinda-sorta 3rd tonish, kinda-sorta 2nd tonish. When I said a word slowly or there was enough context, native speakers could figure it out, but in normal speech or in my shadowing practice, I was often just flat-out wrong. - In another 50% of words, I found issues where my tones were "lexically accurate" in the sense that they were good enough to be understood, but they were not good enough to be natural-sounding. It made my speech weird, and besides being a bad accent, the weirdness often gave people the wrong impression of my mood, attitude, emphasis, etc. I had fallen into the trap of thinking that I'd already mostly gotten my tones "right" and could move on to "higher" pronunciation issues of overall intonation, rhythm and stress. I was already having long conversations in Chinese and native speakers understood what I said with seemingly no problem. I also did little tests saying characters in isolation, so that there was no context to rely on, and native speakers could also correctly understood what I said with no problem. So I thought I was fine. It's really obvious in hindsight, but it turns out I was stupidly making the assumption that a tone is either "right" or "wrong". But of course that's not the case: it's a continuum from "utterly incomprehensible" to "high level native". My speech was comprehensible in lexical terms, and I was gaining "fluency" in the sense of speaking more smoothly... but it was "fluency" in my own weird language, conveying moods, emphasis and impressions I don't want. And since I couldn't hear the differences, I wasn't correcting myself, and all my speaking and shadowing practice was reinforcing and fossilizing these understandable-but-weird tones. Everyone's goals are different, but in my case I think it's a really fun challenge to improve my pronunciation as much as possible. So I went back to scratch to work on getting my basic tones to match the real-world tones which native Chinese speakers produce in spontaneous speech. The topic of "real-world tones" opens up a huge number of complicated linguistic and social issues and has really given me more insight about the culture, history and language. But for this post, I'm just focused as much as possible specifically on ideas and questions about the practical issue of accent improvement as a foreign learner. English intonation as a proxy for Chinese tones Textbooks use the moods of English intonation to describe Chinese tones: 2nd tone = English questioning, 4th tone = English scolding, etc. It's an obvious observation, but I've realized that English tones to indicate mood are definitely not the same as Chinese lexical tones. As a first approximation, English tones get you in the right area, so I understand why it's easier just to teach it this way. The concept of Chinese lexical tones is so hard for non-tonal speakers that getting close at all is often good enough. And it's so hard for learners to hear the details of Chinese tones that English "mood tones" are what we often think we're hearing anyway. But when I analysed my own tones speaking English, I found they are vastly different than Chinese tones in every way: pitch range, contour/shape, change in loudness, everything. And importantly, the same "mood" in English has quite different tone variations based on the subtleties of what the speaker wants to express, so it's hard to even know which exact English "mood" to say in order to get a Chinese tone. For example, the graph below shows the tone when I say "really?" 5 different times. Each time is a question, but each has a different mood that every native English speaker would very easily perceive. I only did 5 examples, but I could have done a dozen more variations, each with its own nuance. The 5 below are roughly in order of increasing incredulity, but each has its own shade of exasperation, frustration, positive surprise, negative surprise: The graph below shows the same tones juxtaposed against a Chinese speaker with similar vocal range to me saying the word 无聊 wúliáo in a natural conversation [My speech is the blue line on white background; the native speaker is the orange line on black background. The scale is the same in both.]: There are resemblances between some of my English "really?" tones and the Chinese 2nd tone, but the differences are big. Even if I can remember and reproduce which exact mix of emotion in an English question word represents the best proxy for a Chinese 2nd tone, I still found that the differences in pitch and contour are so big that Chinese speakers instantly hear it as weird. Starting point, ending point, contour... all different. And that's before tackling the issue that Chinese tones themselves vary in pitch and contour based on emphasis, mood, etc. I learned 4th tone as being similar to "scolding, commanding". But at least in my own English speech, I found the same problem of determining which exact English emotion I'm supposed to say to approximate Chinese 4th tone. Here are 5 variations of me saying "No!" in a harsh scolding tone. The second and fourth are the closest to a feeling of "really angry and commanding": This is very basic stuff, but for me at my basic levels it really was a revelation to see on the computer the differences which Chinese speakers were hearing. Musical tones I have no musical ability at all. I'm not "tone deaf"; truly tone-deaf people have trouble hearing emotional prosody in their native language (interesting research here on this effect). But I can't exaggerate how bad my singing is. I found this is a major problem in trying to mimic the lexical tones of native Chinese speakers. So I used the computer to measure my vocal range in normal English speech and the vocal range of Chinese speakers who have more or less my voice register. Based on that, I plotted out where in my register a normal 1st tone should be, where a normal 4th tone must start, where 2nd tone starts and ends, the bottom of 3rd tone. Then I did voice training by using a computer piano to drill myself to sing that tone. The process I used was to have the computer replicate the tone-only of native speakers' real-world tone contours. I used all the 2-syllable tone combos. From the conversations I'd recorded, I picked out several samples of each tone combo from several different native speakers. My idea was to get used both to inter-speaker variance in how different speakers' produce the same tone, and to intra-speaker variance in how the same speaker produces the same tone in different ways at different times. The computer played them as tones only, i.e. not as words but just as a musical tone. Then I tried to sing along with them as exactly as possible. Over and over and over. I found that hearing it as a musical tone only, without words attached to it, helped a lot. (It also helped that I could listen to and then analyse the same tone/tone-combo hundreds of times in a row, day after day; no native speaker would have enough patience and concentration to bear with me through that lol). I didn't say any words, just sang an "ah" along with the music. My idea was to really try to gain an understanding of where my pitch levels are, to get the physical ability to instantly match many different contours and pitch levels of the same tone combo, and to get the intuitive "feel" for it mentally and acoustically. Using the pitch-analysis software to record and analyse myself, it took a few hours each day for about 4 weeks to reach the point that I can get very close to matching the right pitches and contours on my own without using the virtual piano. I'd imagine this was much harder both in time and effort for me than it would be for learners who are more musical... or who can at least sing a tune lol. I'd be curious how other learners have dealt with this issue. In particular, have you found that music/singing background significantly help in both hearing and producing natural-sounding real-world tones? Fwiw, there's an interesting effect described here that native speakers of tonal languages are significantly better at recognizing music tones without reference notes ("perfect pitch"). All this tone work showed me why! Specific issues I encountered in saying words: Initials I found that in many Chinese syllables which begin with consonants, I made a pitch change which was very short in time but very large in pitch. Here's a graph my pronunciation of 天 tiān. As my tongue and mouth start to form the initial "t", my pitch is very high, then somewhere as the "t" is ending and the vowel is starting, I very quickly settle into whatever pitch it should be. In this case, it's about .015 seconds from the high tone until it settles in to the main pitch. Not enough that I noticed when listening to my own speech, but enough that Chinese speakers easily notice. Chinese speakers don't produce perfectly smooth textbook graphs in real speech, and I actually observed this same effect in native speakers' speech. But their version was very different than what I was producing. Mine was longer in duration, greater in pitch variation, and occurred more frequently. Because of the feeling of a drop in pitch from high-to-low at the start of the word, people told me that it gives a 3rd-tone flavor to 2nd-tones that can occasionally cause understanding issues. With 1st tones, it sometimes gives a 4th-tone flavor, sometimes doesn't cause any understanding issues, but in any case definitely is odd. 3rd and 4th tones aren't affected as much because they're supposed to have an initial drop, but my drop was way too much and sounded weird. Most of the cases I found were like this tian example, dropping from a very high pitch down to the tone of the word. In a few cases, it was the opposite, rising from a low pitch up to the tone of the word. I don't know why it was occurring. Any ideas? I can think of a lot of reasons which come from English and Chinese pronunciation differences. Some of the cases could have been voicing effects on the preceding and following vowels, but a lot of the cases I found didn't seem to have anything to do with that. It seems it also varied based on the pitch of both of the preceding and following tones as well as the pitch/intonation of the overall sentence. I really don't know. To fix it, I found it useful to play a steady 1st tone on my virtual tuning fork and repeat all the Chinese initials at that steady pitch, then move on to repeat all initials to match the tuning fork set at starting levels for standard 2nd, 3rd and 4th tones. I found it helped to concentrate on creating a mental feeling of having the tone "in place" before I start to say the consonant. Middle I found that I had a break in the middle of some syllables. It occurred occasionally but regularly. 2nd and 4th tones were the most affected, 1st and 3rd less frequently. It was a 0.01 second non-continuous gap that I had no idea I was doing. Here's an example in a 2nd tone I tried to say in a conversation: It wasn't an artifact of recording. Native speakers immediately heard it. It didn't cause any understanding issues because the tone was still very clear lexically... but they all said it was just odd-sounding. I might've kept doing this forever if I hadn't found it, but it was relatively easy to fix once I realized the problem. I focused on maintaining a tone throughout each syllable and not "accidentally" letting my voice pause. I'm still not sure what was behind this. Any ideas or similar experiences? Finals I had a very noticeable tendency to drop the pitch in the final instant of many syllables. This was unrelated to the tone of the following syllable; it occurred before any other tone or at the end of phrases. Here's an example in a 2nd tone: It wasn't an artifact of recording. I couldn't hear it, but native speakers did. Depending on the word and context, it could occasionally cause problems in understanding the word, but usually it was just perceived as weird. What seemed to be happening is that I was linking my volume and my pitch: as I was "turning down the volume" as I finished saying a syllable, I was also reducing the pitch. The only fix for this was just practice, using the feedback from seeing the graph on the computer to teach myself to "turn off" the volume of the syllable while still maintaining the correct ending pitch. 1st tone I had huge problems keeping the 1st tone flat and stable. Here's an example from my speech: Sometimes it caused understanding problems, but surprisingly often it could be understood even without context. But it was a big part of the bad accent which native speakers heard. The stability was my biggest 1st tone problem, but I also had in my 1st tone the problems described above with big pitch drops in the initial and non-continuous gaps in the middle of the vowel. The fix for all this was practice with the virtual piano tuning fork work described above, drilling myself to maintain a stable and continuous tone from start to finish. I was amazed at how bad I was at first. I imagine it's because of my horrendous singing ability and other people wouldn't have such an issue, but it really was difficult for me to keep a stable tone at first. It took several practice sessions on 1st tone specifically every day for about 4 weeks until I finally got it completely under control. One other issue I found in trying to match the real-world 1st tones I recorded is the pitch. When I started studying Chinese, everything I read emphasizes that the 1st tone is at the top of the vocal range. So I was really trying to sing it way up there. Turns out that in my case, I was way too high in pitch. The first tone varies its pitch depending on the overall sentence, but it's rarely as high as I was making it. I found 3 issues behind my too-high 1st tones: - I consistently overestimated how high the 1st tone was in native speakers' speech. I thought they were saying a 1st tone at a much higher (relative) pitch than they actually were, and in shadowing them, I was producing my misperception of their pitch rather than mimicking the actual reality. I found some research indicating that English speakers learning Chinese tend to hear only the pitch level of a Chinese tone and tend to miss its contour, so perhaps my over-focus on pitch level made me hear it as higher than the actual frequency? - When I started Chinese, I had read a lot of research that English speakers learning Mandarin have a narrower pitch range than native speakers. So I think I overcompensated for this tendency by using an extremely wide pitch range, particularly making my high tones very high. - I'm living in Taiwan and want to speak Taiwan Mandarin. I'd love to get ideas on this issue as I'm not nearly advanced enough to really analyse this well, but from what I've found it seems Taiwan Mandarin tones are often lower in pitch and have a narrower pitch range than mainland standard Chinese. I found this myself when analysing conversations I recorded. I've also found that when mimicking mainlanders' speech, Taiwanese massively increase their normal pitch range, particularly raising the pitch of their first tone and the starting point of their 4th tone (they also exaggerate the retroflex consonants and erhuayin). All the learning resources I used when I started studying are mainland standard Chinese, including my first introduction to tones, and it seemed I was still using this mainland tonal range/height despite being constantly exposed to Taiwan Mandarin. Taiwanese told me that lowering the height of my high tones really made my speech more normal-sounding and less stressed-out. 2nd tone My biggest self-misperception was in my 2nd tone. I often thought I was saying a 2nd tone, but it didn't rise at all and was mis-understood as a 3rd tone. The problem depends a lot on the following syllable. Words with 2nd-1st tone combos were always completely wrong, e.g., 聊天 always ended up sounding like liǎotiān. 2nd-3rd combos often were often unclear as well. 2nd-2nd and 2nd-4th never had problems. I couldn't hear the difference at all in my own speech. When I listened to my shadowing of native speakers, it sounded right... but every native speaker told me I was wrong. With the help of the computer, I found my problem was in the relationship between loudness and pitch. [i'm using loudness and pitch to mean the psychological measures of how we perceive physical properties of sound: loudness the measure of how we perceive amplitude, pitch the measure of how we interpret frequency.] The speech of the native speakers' 2nd tone which I was trying to shadow sharply rose in frequency and rose a bit in amplitude, but my non-tonal brain was mimicking a tone rising a lot in amplitude and not changing at all in frequency. My brain was tricking me that I was producing correct pitch and loudness, but native speakers (accurately) heard what I produced as a low, flat pitch with a big increase in loudness, which to them corresponds to a 3rd tone said really loud. Self misperception is really tricky to fix. I practised a lot with the computer piano playing the tone-only replication of the exact contour of speakers' 2nd tone, particularly the 2nd-1st combo. It wasn't too hard to train myself to hear the pitch changes in both native speakers and in the computer piano. But it was a lot of work to fix my own speech. When practising, I found that I really, really believed that I was saying a nicely-shaped 2nd tone contour, but every time I looked at the graph of what I tried to say, there was no rise in frequency (pitch) and only a rise in amplitude (loudness). It was such a psychological block that I even thought it was a computer glitch and I tried to "repair" my computer. But my computer wasn't wrong about my 2nd tone; the reality was that I really couldn't get it up. The computer was essential in fixing this. Without the accurate visual feedback, I would definitely have fossilized and spent the rest of my life saying 聊天 as liǎotiān, utterly convinced that I was spot-on. When I finally was able to consistently get clear, rising 2nd tones, I then found that the contour was still not right. I had the general idea that in normal-speed speech, one individual tone is said too quickly to really hear much more than its basic shape, i.e. steadily rising from low to high. But I underestimated humans' language ability. Even in very fast speech, native speakers can perceive very subtle variations in contour. This affected me in all the tones, but I found my biggest contour differences were 2nd tones. Even after I finally was producing a rising tone that was always understood as 2nd tone, native speakers still found it weird. My rises were not the same shapes as theirs, and they heard it. I found 2nd tone pitch and contour in a word varies significantly based on what the tone is of the other syllable in a word. For example, below is a graph of the word 经常 jīngcháng. A native speaker said it in a normal sentence; the word is slightly emphasized in the sentence. In shadowing the sentence, my timing was spot-on the same as the native speaker, and I was finally getting a clear rising 2nd tone. But my 2nd tone contour and pitch was off. There's absolutely no problem for native speakers to understand, but I was told it just sounds very "uncomfortable". [My speech is the blue line on white background; the native speaker is the orange line on black background. The scale is the same.]: The fix was just more work with the computer tone-only to get my 2nd-tone contours to exactly match native-speakers'. 4th tone My issue with 4th tone was the pitch range. I made a tone which started very, very high and dropped to a very-low position. As described with the 1st tone above, I found that (at least in Taiwan Mandarin) the actual tones of native speakers in normal speech are lower and the range narrower than what I was saying. The graph below shows the 4th tone I was saying compared to that of a native speaker with a voice range very similar to mine [My speech is the blue line on white background; the native speaker is the orange line on black background. The scale is the same.]: I was shadowing a sentence of his speech. When I played for several native speakers the recording of his sentence and of mine, they all said he sounded natural but I sounded stressed. They all indicated this one syllable in the graph above as the reason. Their reaction was eye-opening for me. This one syllable is a duration of .08 sec in the middle of a 5 second sentence. My tone was "correct", in that every speaker told me it was easily understandable, no chance of misunderstanding. But every person who heard it correctly identified it as starting higher, ending lower, and being faster than the same syllable said by the native speaker. There is a lot of variation in 4th tones depending on speaker and context, so I practised many different types so I could both hear and produce the right shapes. One case I found particularly interesting was 4th-4th words. There's a smooth elegance to a native saying a 4th-4th combo that I didn't have. I was shadowing a sentence with the word 世界 shìjiè. The graph below shows the discrepancy between my tone and the native speaker [My speech is the blue line on white background; the native speaker is the orange line on black background. The scale is the same. ]: Here's a different native speaker I recorded. I was very lucky that I happened to get a clean recording of this speaker saying the same word 外面 wàimiàn two times less than 30 seconds apart. Here's a juxtaposition of the two utterances. According to native speakers who listened to the recording, the second instance emphasizes the word more, but both are natural and neither has a stressed or over-exaggerated feeling: Once I realized all these 4th-tone problems, I worked a lot with singing the computer tones to be able to produce the right contours and levels. The benefit of the 4th-tone improvement specifically was instant: several people told me that it made my speech sound significantly more natural. Neutral tone I've found neutral tones to be particularly complicated and I'd love to get any ideas from others. Taiwan Mandarin has significantly fewer neutral tones than mainland standard Chinese, but it still has them and they occur quite frequently. I've found an enormous range of how the neutral tone is expressed. It depends on the previous tone, obviously, but I've found that it also depends on the following tone. Sometimes it seems like a 3rd tone. Sometimes it's something totally different. And it's not always consistent among different speakers or even within the same speaker's own speech. I really worked on the real-world examples I have of different combinations of {preceding tone-neutral tone-following tone}. At first it seemed to me that the neutral tone often is just a quick sound a bit more towards the centre than the ending of the previous tone. In other words, following a 1st and 2nd tone, I made the neutral tone down a bit from the ending point of the previous tone; following a 3rd and 4th tone, I made it up a bit. That seems to be what I've found from analysing what I've recorded. But sometimes I've found the neutral tone is as slow as a full syllable, sometimes it's a lot lower than I would guess it should be, sometimes it's like a quick tone with a dip and rise at the end, sometimes following a 2nd tone it seems to be a short high-tone. And sentence-ending neutral-tone particles seem to have their own separate properties. Even when I closely shadow a native speaker and the acoustic analysis of my speech closely matches that of the native speaker, people sometimes tell me my neutral tone still sounds slightly weird. But the explanations they give of why it sounds weird are different: I've been told to make it higher, lower, rising, falling, faster, shorter... all for the same recording. So, sometimes I'm right, sometimes I'm off, but I can't figure out why. It's the only tone I've found where a very close computer match to native speaker's speech still doesn't always sound right to people. I thought that it could be the variance among speakers based on background, gender, the local dialect usage and influence, etc. Or it could be there's something I'm messing up somewhere that's not captured in the acoustic analysis? Or that I'm misreading the analysis? I've read research on this topic and understand that it's very a complicated issue which touches on a host of related areas. I have lots of graphs I could post of what I've recorded, but since they've gotten me nowhere, I thought to just ask what the experience of other learners here has been. Nasalization This isn't directly a tone issue per se, but for me it seems very tied up with tones so I'm including it here. I found I had quite large problems with my vowels and sonorants being perceived as over-nasalized. Descriptions I heard from different people included "nasalized", "stuffed up", "speaking with a cold", and "speaking from the back of the mouth instead of the front". I knew that English nasalizes vowels which come before (and sometimes after) nasal consonants. But I never realized that some English speakers can have partial nasalization of MOST vowels and sonorants even when not near nasal consonants (i.e., vela lowered throughout the whole sentence rather than just at nasal vowels and consonants). The degree of nasalization seems to depend on the speaker's dialect/background and his tone of voice. I've found from testing myself that: a) I at least partially nasalize at least 75% of English vowels and sonorants not adjacent to nasal consonants; b) I strongly nasalize any vowels adjacent to nasal consonants; c) I massively nasalize a vowel or sonorant if it carries any emotion (questioning, scolding, excitement, etc). What this means for Chinese is that since EVERY syllable carries a tone, I subconsciously end up nasalizing many vowels. It becomes even more strong for 2nd tone and 4th tone. I don't know if it's because they actually resemble English emotional tones, or simply because I initially learned them as "question tone" and "scolding tone" and I still carry that over subconsciously. And I really massively over-nasalize Chinese vowels adjacent to nasal consonants. Chinese speakers very clearly hear my over-nasalization. Even in words which are supposed to be nasalized (e.g., chéng), people tell me that my vowel is nasalized too much, too soon. I found it interesting that several people have used the same hand motion to describe their perception of the correct sound as one that starts at the bottom front part of the mouth, slowly travels along the bottom of the mouth and then at the very end rises up to the back upper part of the mouth and nose. They describe my sound as already starting in the back upper part of the mouth and then instantly going way up into the nose. It's been very hard for me to not nasalize while saying a rising or falling tone. I couldn't hear it at all at first; gradually, with huge amounts of practice, I can now hear it and have started being able to eliminate it. All my vowel-pronunciation problems seem to be connected to this issue: eliminating the nasalization very much improves native speakers' perception of my accent. I haven't found much discussion about this issue, but I think I must be missing it somewhere. I found academic research about nasalization in English and (separately) research on nasalization in Chinese, but nothing about how English-speakers nasalize in Chinese. I mentioned the issue in a post here when I was starting to explore it (at the time I thought it was limited to just 2nd tone), but no one on the forum seemed to have similar problems. I also found a post about front of the mouth vowels vs. back of the mouth vowels mentioned in this thread on the forum; I'd be curious if realmayo and heifeng think that it's the same issue I'm describing here. I also think that it might be part of the accent I hear in Chinese speakers' English vowels. As heifeng puts it in the thread above, Chinese speaking English sound like they "really spit things out from the front of their mouths which to native English speakers sounds a bit harsh sometimes." To test if this actually is the same effect, I worked a bit with a Chinese speaker on her English pronunciation. We found that nasalizing her vowels a bit reduced this sense of harsh spiting from the front of the mouth and significantly improved my perception of her accent. On the other hand, I found the exact opposite advice on the internet for Chinese learning English. For example, here it tells Chinese speaking English to "avoid nasal sounds, i.e., speaking through your nose. English sounds are more towards the front of the mouth and not in the nasal cavity." Fwiw, Chinese native speakers have pointed out this nasalization issue when listening to recordings I've played for them of other foreigners speaking Chinese. I was surprised that even some foreigners who speak what I consider very advanced-Chinese were said to contain this over-nasalization. Could this be an effect related to Taiwan specifically? All the people I speak with know Taiwanese and use it to varying extents. The local Taiwanese language has nasality vowel contrasts. And there's lots of investigation of Taiwan Mandarin speakers' production and changing of syllable-final -n and -ng. I really don't know how all this would affect speakers' perception of nasality in Mandarin. Any ideas? Unexpected tone changes I know real-world tones will be different than textbook cases; that's the whole point of why I've been training with real-world tones and not the citational forms where people just say a single word. Real-world tones are fascinating to study. It's been really interesting see how tones vary in pitch and contour based on emphasis, mood, preceding and following tones, etc. And there are funny cases like 一个人, which I've seen as yígerén, yìgerén and yīgerén (i.e, 一 pronounced in 2nd, 4th, and 1st tones). But I've found cases where the tone contours themselves are really far off from what's expected. I know there are lot of complex linguistic and social effects going on here, and it's more advanced than where I'm at, so I thought to just mention this and see if anyone has any thoughts as it specifically relates to improving the accent as a foreign learner. The biggest surprise is that I've found many examples of a dipping 2nd tone. It seems similar to the traditional textbook description of 3rd tone (2-1-3) or even just a falling tone with a slight rise (2-1-1.5). Some speakers never do it, while some speakers do it regularly. In a few examples where I've found this, I've practised shadowing the speaker's sentence including the unexpected 2nd tone contour, and then played the recording of my sentence for other native speakers. They tell me it sounds natural. Here's an example from a recording of a 40's Taiwan woman. In a normal sentence in spontaneous speech, she said 生活 shēnghuó several times. The huó has a definitely unexpected contour. Below is a graph of one of them. The next word she said in this case is 会 huì; I included that in the graph to give you a good perspective on her huó. Fwiw, when I played recording of her speech for other Taiwanese, they all agreed that this particular woman has what's considered (in Taiwan) extremely "standard" Mandarin. Another unusual tone contour is a sharp falling 3rd tone. There's lots of advice even in introductory pronunciation guides that the 3rd tone in normal speech doesn't have any rise at the end (particularly in Taiwan), so I expected that. I did find that it usually appears as a flat low tone. But I often find examples where it appears as a falling tone similar to a lower-pitched 4th tone. The graph below is a nice example because it shows a 3rd tone followed by a 4th tone. It is the word 武器 wǔqì said by a Taiwan 30-ish man. It's from a conversation I recorded; when I play the sentence for other people, native speakers tell me they perceive it as said in a normal way, no particular stress or emphasis, and that the pronunciation sounds correct. Here's a graph of a different speaker. He said the phrase 我别无选择 wǒ biéwú xuǎnzé. He said the same phrase at 2 different times in the same conversation, so it gives the nice chance to compare and confirm that the contour of his 3rd tone on xuǎn really is shaped like this and not an artifact. I played the recording for other native speakers, everyone told me that both times he said it, it sounds perfectly normal. Interestingly, people believe they're hearing a textbook-3rd tone, and are quite surprised when they see the graph showing a falling tone. When they then listen again, they do hear the falling tone...but still say it has a "3rd tone feeling". ---- ---- ---- I've spent a huge amount of time in the last 2 months just on these very fine points of pronunciation and intonation. It's definitely made me ask myself whether it's really worth it, especially as I was mostly understandable already before starting this. How much is good enough? How much does it really matter? How do I even really know how native speakers perceive my speech? Pronunciation work isn't perfectly correlated to overall language level. It's possible to be very advanced but with strong foreign accent, or not-so-advanced but with great accent. How much improvement comes from pronunciation work specifically and how much comes through immersion, use and advancement in overall language skills? I found that immersion and extensive shadowing work was not improving my accent, specifically on the individual tone level, as much as I wanted... but is it worth sacrificing work on other aspects of the language (e.g., my rate of acquisition of new vocab and characters has definitely dropped) for marginally smaller and smaller accent improvement? I'd be interested how other learners here think about these issues. For me, it's that the process is really enjoyable. I'll never make it to near-native level, but I really like the challenge of trying to improve my pronunciation as much as possible. It's incredibly frustrating, but in a good way: the pleasure for me is in surmounting the obstacles little by little, and with each step gaining deeper appreciation for the subtlety and beauty of the language. The technology also makes it fun. I like that I can literally "see" my progress by comparing the acoustic analysis of my speech over time. It's a huge problem to get honest evaluations of accent from people directly, so there's a real sense of satisfaction to actually know objectively as a fact that I've made good progress in my speech. For sentences which I've massively practised shadowing, I'm now able to say them pretty naturally and native-sounding. I'm very conscious of how hard it is to get honest evaluations of my own speech from people, so to test if I'm good enough, I've done this a few times: Record myself. Alter the voice so it's not obviously me. Throw that recording into a group of recordings I collected of both native speakers and of foreigners at various levels of Chinese ability saying different things. Then play a game of asking people to identify who's foreigner and who's native. It's not a perfect scientific experiment, but it seems good enough to give me confidence that I'm doing these massively-practised sentences well. Now my next step is to smooth out my pronunciation in normal conversation, i.e., non-shadowed speech. I posted a sample on this forum; as 陳德聰 points out, my speech tones and pronunciation are now pretty spot-on, but my overall speech sounds citational and stilted. When I analyse recordings I've made of conversations, I find that all my tones and pronunciation are also usually pretty consistently good now even in long conversations. My speed of speech is decent for short sentences, but slows down too much in longer back-to-back sentences. My big hurdle now is prosodic phrasing: I'm not at the level yet to be able to also build in overall smooth sentence intonation, flow between phrases, downdrift and tone resetting, etc... hence, stilted. I'd love any suggestions people have for dealing with this next step. Ideas I've had: - One issue I've realized thanks to 陳德聰 is that I shouldn't limit the source of sentences I shadow only to conversations I have with native speakers. I use them because they're natural and spontaneous and, for me personally, it's just more fun and motivating to use people I've met as my models. But I've realized that a huge part of their speech is explaining concepts to me, so their style is explanatory or citational. Plus even if they're not doing it consciously, it's clear that they speak in slightly unnatural ways to me sometimes because I'm a foreigner learning Chinese. So I figured I need to expand the range of sources to shadow. I'm adding in speech I pull from talk-shows now to try to get more native-to-native spontaneous speech to use in shadowing exercises. It's not as interesting or motivating for me as local speech I record myself, but it seems the easiest source of native-to-native spontaneous speech. - My prosody isn't great for questions. I don't have Chinese question intonation internalized, and English intonation patterns really creep in. So last week I went through conversation recordings I have and pulled out a few dozen questions which native speakers asked. I've found different intonation patterns depend on the question type, e.g., verb-不-verb, 吗 questions, indirect questions, etc. So I divided them by question type, and have started shadowing each question-type group separately. - I'm also shadowing heavily over-dramatized speech to try to correctly internalize how stress and emotion is expressed. I set up a meeting with a radio DJ who has a phenomenal voice expression, and he recorded for me some monologues, first in normal voice and then over-dramatized. Hearing/seeing the same speech done at normal voice and then in a over-dramatized manner has really helped me pinpoint differences and begin to internalize it. I still can't mimic well his or actors' patterns of emotional speech, but I'm getting a little better at it. ---- ---- ---- As I've started to understand better through computer analysis and my own pronunciation work what's involved, I've really gained a massive respect for those learners, including on this forum, who've started Chinese as adults and have achieved near-native natural-sounding speech in long, free-flowing conversation (i.e., not pre-memorized, pre-practised speech). It's related to overall Chinese skill obviously, but there are many separate issues involved which demand a lot of separate work. It's especially impressive when native speakers judge the foreigner's speech as not just being a native-speaker with a different regional accent, but as being the same accent as the local region. Considered by locals to match the local accent: it's really a phenomenal achievement. [Edit: added additional graphs]
  5. 31 points
    Roddy asked me to do a write-up on MTC now that I've finished my first term here, so here it is. Hopefully it will be helpful, because there really is a dearth of good information on the internet about studying Chinese in Taiwan, and I believe MTC is the biggest Chinese school in the country. Most of the info out there comes from two sources: Forumosa.com, which mainly consists of people bitching about living in Taiwan and about how terrible it is to learn Chinese here (I can assure you, it is not); and random blogs with pretty scattered information, mostly written by people who come here for a summer in between semesters at college. Maybe this will go some way toward filling in the gaps and providing some useful information for people who are actually serious about learning the language. So you have an idea of where I'm coming from, I am a 26 year-old, married (not to a Taiwanese) American guy who started self-studying Chinese as a very part-time hobby in college. Eventually, after a few starts and stops, my interest in the language developed further and I decided to go to grad school for Chinese studies, most likely specializing in something related to Early China (Han dynasty and earlier). My perspective will of course be different from an English teacher who is at MTC because their Taiwanese spouse said so, or an overseas Chinese whose parents forced them to come, or a college kid here on a year abroad, etc. I was here on a scholarship (which I highly recommend applying for, as it seems pretty easy to get from what I can tell), but since it was only for one term, it no longer applies. This will be a long post, but I've broken it up into sections so it will be easy to find a certain topic. So let's get started. Registration and Orientation Registration was pretty much the same as at any similar school, from what I gather. You're shuffled through a huge line where you're handed a bunch of info and not told much, and then you pay your money, are given a number, and sit down in a big lecture hall. Thoroughly bewildered (and likely still jet-lagged), you wait for your number to be called, then sit with a Chinese teacher who quickly evaluates your Chinese speaking and listening ability. She then writes down which placement test you should take (unless she already can tell you need to start at the beginning), and you're put into a computer room where you take a placement test with audio and written components. Note: if you don't read Chinese, you'll likely be put into the beginning course, unless your speaking is good enough to be placed with the overseas Chinese students. I've only known of this happening to one student. There is a booth set up where you can buy a SIM card for your phone if you haven't yet. I recommend getting one at the airport when you arrive, if you can, but this is a convenient second option if your Chinese isn't up to the task of walking into a Taiwan Mobile store and getting a card. Note that without an ARC you can't get on a contract, so it's pre-paid only. Most of your communication will likely be done via SMS, so it can easily work out to be cheaper than a plan anyway. A few days later you have orientation, where they explain how the school works, take you on a tour, give you your schedule, and give you an opportunity to buy your textbooks at a slightly discounted price (10% or 15% off, I can't remember). The tour is done in groups of 10 or so, divided based on native language. At my orientation, there were tour groups for English, Spanish, Russian, French, and German speakers, even though the first part of orientation was only in English, Spanish, and Chinese. My tour group consisted of one Brit, four Dutch, one Belgian, and three Americans. After the tour, the give you your schedule. This is when you find out the result of your placement test. Then you're taken to the booth with the textbooks, where you can show your schedule to the employees and they will give you the book you need. If you test into a lesson other than lesson 1 in your book and you're in the intensive course, buy the next book up also if you want to take advantage of the discount now. I'm not clear on how quickly the regular course goes, but I'm really of the opinion that you should take the intensive course if you can anyway (more on this later). Be aware that you can find used books at stores near the school, but if you're like me and prefer clean pages to write all over, this is the best time to buy it new. I believe the discount extends through the first several days of class as well. Course Information There are two types of courses at MTC: regular and intensive. Regular courses meet for 2 hours per weekday, intensive 3. However, since you're required to have 15 hours of class per week in order for your visa to remain valid, regular students are required to take 5 hours of "supplementary" courses per week, which I'll talk about first. They're divided into three types. Library time counts for up to three hours per day of supplementary coursework (you'll find that most Taiwanese laws are written with grey ink), as does listening lab or video lab time, so it's feasible for your supplementary hours to consist only of "study hall". Speaking of video lab, they apparently have a huge selection of Taiwanese, Mainland, and dubbed foreign films and TV shows that you can watch at your own pace. I've not been to the video lab, so this is just what I've heard. Otherwise, there are free, large group courses and smaller, paid courses that count as supplementary. An example of a large group course is "Practical Chinese for Everyday Situations" (that might not be the real title, I can't remember), where the teacher gives handouts with really useful info on things like night market food or popular day trip spots, complete with where to go, what to do there, what bus to take, etc. I've heard good things, but have never been to the course. There's also a "Singing in Chinese" class where you learn pop songs, which is popular with the KTV-loving Japanese students, and a "Chinese Movies" class where you just sit and watch a movie. The small, paid supplementary classes consist of things like erhu, calligraphy, kung fu, Chinese cooking, and even beginners' Taiwanese courses. There is a course called "Learning Chinese from Chinese Medicine" that I've heard is excellent, but it apparently fills up very quickly. On to the real courses. Whether you're in the regular or intensive course, you will be placed into one of 9 levels. The lower levels are divided into sub-levels, though once you get to Level 6 there are no more sub-levels, presumably because there aren't enough students at the upper levels to justify splitting them further. Level one is, obviously, straight beginner. Level 9 is either News Broadcasts or advanced Classical Chinese courses. At the lower levels, the overseas Chinese who can already speak are generally placed into different courses than everyone else so they can focus on reading and writing. I know hardly anything about that, so I'll stick to the laowai side of things here. Whether you're in the regular or intensive course, the materials are the same, but the pace is different. Up through Level 5, there's a pretty standard progression that nearly everyone follows. I've heard that after Level 4 some people are able to skip right into Level 6, but that depends on how you do on your "finals". Here is the standard progression through Level 5: Level 1 - Practical Audio-Visual Chinese I Level 2 - Practical Audio-Visual Chinese II Level 3 - Practical Audio-Visual Chinese III Level 4 - Practical Audio-Visual Chinese IV Level 5 - Far East Everyday Chinese III Level 5 - Practical Audio-Visual Chinese V Technically, Far East Books I, IIA, and IIB are offered as alternatives to PAVC, but in practice it's not really done. Of course, theoretically, if you really want to use these books and can find a few other students who do too, you can request the class and they will provide it for you. There is an alternate book for Level 4 called Taiwan Today. I have a copy, and it is excellent, but I haven't seen it on the schedule this term or last. I'd recommend using it (and the Far East books) as supplementary material and just stick to PAVC, which is actually quite good when combined with a good teacher. Also, for Level 5 there are alternatives to Far East III and PAVC V, such as Radio Dramas, Chinese Folktales, or Business Chinese Conversation I. Students taking these classes aren't unheard of, but generally the path above is followed. Note: the nominal standard is to take both Far East III and PAVC V, in that order, but in practice I believe few people take PAVC V, and I've heard it's by far the worst of the PAVC series. For reference, by the end of PAVC Book 4, you will have learned nearly 5000 vocab words and 2000 characters. In reality though, you will have been exposed to far more, because most teachers will throw tons of extra vocab on the board for you to learn if you so choose. It isn't required, but it's a great idea, even if you only learn it passively. I learned nearly 2500 vocab words total in my first term because I learned almost every extra word she taught. Learning the extra vocab should also go a long way toward testing out of Level 5, too. After Level 5, your options open up, though there is still usually one course that is much more common than the others at each level. You can take Classical Chinese courses starting at Level 7 (though there is a Level 5 Classical course that is almost never offered), or you can continue with the modern Chinese courses. The courses obviously become more specialized in the higher levels, so you can choose according to your interests (academic, business, news, etc.). Here are the most commonly offered higher-level courses in modern Chinese, with an asterisk next to the most common: Level 6 - Business Chinese Conversation II *Level 6 - Learning Chinese with Newspaper I Level 6 - Listening Practice (Intermediate-Advanced Level) Level 7 - Learning Chinese with Newspaper II Level 7 - Learning Chinese with Newspaper III *Level 7 - Thought and Society Level 7 - News & Views Level 7 - Selected Financial News Level 7 - The Independent Reader Level 8 - Selected Articles from Various Journals Level 8 - Contemporary Short Stories from Taiwan Apparently not many students continue past Level 7, because I've seen very few Level 8 classes per term. There are some interesting-sounding classes at Level 8 though, like Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Literature (one class for Poetry & Prose, one for Short Stories), A Reader in Post-Cultural Revolution Chinese Literature, Contemporary Social Problems, etc. The only modern Chinese class at Level 9 is Taiwan TV News Broadcast, and I haven't seen it offered either term. I have a feeling that these higher courses are more likely to be offered in the summer term when grad students come for refresher courses, but I'm not sure. As for Classical Chinese, theoretically they offer quite a selection, but in practice I've only seen one class actually on the schedule (Romance of the Three Kingdoms). Again, if you can find a few friends (4 total people I think is the requirement) who want to take Classical Chinese with you, you can request the course and the administration will make it happen. In fact, even if there's something not on the official course offering that you and a few friends want to take (only at the advanced level, I believe, since at the lower levels everyone's needs are more similar), they will make it happen. They also offer one-on-one courses, which I will probably have to resort to for my Classical Chinese courses next year, but oh well. Maybe I can arouse enough interest in Classical Chinese among my classmates by bringing it up as often as I do and there will be a few people who want to study it with me, but I doubt it. Anyway, the course offerings are as follows. Level 7 has courses like Shadick's "A First Course in Literary Chinese" or "Senior High School Chinese Reader". You can also take a course on the Four Books or one called simply "Classical Chinese", which may be 王力's 古代漢語 (the name of the class is the same as the book, but I'm not sure if that's the actual textbook used). At Level 8 you have "Advanced Literary Chinese", "300 Tang Poems", "300 Song Poems", "Chinese Literary History", and even "Dream of the Red Chamber" and "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". Level 9 has courses like 古文觀止, 史記, 老子, 莊子, etc. I assume all this means that there is someone at MTC who can teach these courses, but who generally teaches modern courses unless there are enough students interested. As far as regular (普通班) vs. intensive (密集班), I'd again recommend the intensive option if you can. Intensive courses are offered for all the "standard" Level 1-5 classes, and for Newspaper Reading I in Level 6. They may offer it for other courses if there is enough student interest, I don't know. The easiest way to ensure that you are in a class with more serious students is to take the intensive course. You will still have a few students here and there who are lazy, but they are very much the exception. The intensive course move quickly, and you will fall behind easily if you don't do your homework, but you also improve quickly. Students who come with zero Chinese are able to function with things like asking directions, ordering food, and making simple conversation by the end of one term. By the end of Level 2 (middle of your second term if you're intensive and started at zero), day-to-day life is pretty easy. So it's quick.But don't believe them when they tell you it takes 4 hours of homework and studying per day to keep up. It's more like 2 hours, although sometimes you will need more time. If you feel yo've been put into the wrong class, or if you want to switch teachers, change to intensive from regular or vice-versa, you have the option to switch classes in the first week. It's pretty easy to find out which teachers are good, especially after you've been here a full term and know other people at your level. My teacher at the beginning of this term was really overzealous with the busy work, so I asked around and switched teachers. My new teacher also likes homework, but it's useful homework, so I don't mind. Classes/Teachers The day after orientation is the first day of class. Get to the building early, because the lobby gets extremely crowded with people waiting for the elevator just before class starts. The wait can get absurd and make you late. Courses start at 20 minutes past and end at 10 minutes past, so somewhere in the middle of the hour is best if you don't want to wait. The wait is less severe if you have afternoon class. Regular courses have no more than 10 people, and intensive courses no more than 8. The higher levels tend to have fewer students. Students literally come from all over the world. I have friends from America, Canada, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, Korea, Russia, Poland, Panama, Honduras, Mongolia, and Spain. There are a really high number of Japanese students though, I've noticed. They (stereotype warning) tend to be more studious than most Westerners, and I've found both through my own experience and through talking to others than classes with a higher proportion of Asian students tend to be harder-working and as a result have more dramatic improvement in their Chinese skills. On the other side, having everyone in your class come from a different country makes for really interesting discussion. Teachers range from awful to wonderful here, much like any school. I haven't heard a lot of complaints though, which must be a good thing. My teacher last term also teaches at ICLP, and she was really fantastic. My teacher this term does not, but she's also really great. My original teacher (whose class I switched from) is apparently really well-known in CSL academic circles, but she was awful. She would mock students in front of the class when we made mistakes, seriously. You have 5 class days I believe to switch, so if you get a bad teacher, switch immediately. After 5 days, the office won't do anything about it no matter how much you beg. I feel the need to reiterate this: if you're not willing to work hard, don't come here. MTC is not as intensive as ICLP, but you do have to study hard to be successful here. Most of the complaints I've heard about how awful MTC supposedly is comes from people who seem to expect to be spoonfed the language by the teacher without putting in any effort outside of class. There are schools in Taiwan that are suitable for this type of learner. They take a year, or even longer, to go through each PAVC book, as opposed to 3 months (more or less) in the intensive program at MTC. If that sounds more your speed, apply at one of those schools. You'll almost certainly save money, and be much happier. Social Life No matter what, try to make friends with your classmates. This sounds obvious, but apparently it's not the norm. My teacher last term was really excited that we all became such good friends. This gave us the opportunity to do more exploring and see things we might not have heard of otherwise. I got to do some really cool, fun stuff last term because my classmates suggested it. It gave me a chance to get outside Taipei a few times and practice my Chinese on people who aren't used to dealing with foreigners, which was really good. Not only that, but you'll also likely be forced to speak Chinese while with friends, because it will likely be the only common language among you. This has been the case with my friends last term and this term, and it makes for good practice time. You (or at least I) feel comfortable making mistakes around them, and they have no qualms about correcting you because you're all learning, so it's really great for gaining comfort with speaking, and for practice with explaining your way around a word you don't know. I had to explain what crack cocaine was (don't ask), in Chinese, to a girl who didn't speak any English, and neither of us knew any drug-related vocabulary in Chinese. That was great practice. There are tons of places around NTNU to eat, drink, meet people, etc. Really great restaurants in the area, with food from all over the world. There are lots of nightclubs all around Taipei, but that isn't really my scene so I can't comment much on that. If you're a fan of beer, you can find a really great selection of Belgian beer at various places all aroud town, and it's cheaper than in the US (Chimay at a restaurant for NT$150? Yes please!). Not much of a pub scene it doesn't seem, but there are a few good places to sit and chat over a few beers, play pool, whatever. The Scotch selection is also pretty good, and generally a good bit cheaper than in the US. You can drink in public here, so a great (and very Taiwanese) way to hang out is to load up on booze at 7Eleven or wherever and then sit out in a park with some friends and have a few drinks. Living in Taipei Life in Taipei is great. There's tons of great food any pretty much any price level, public transportation is convenient, efficient, clean, and affordable (and expanding), there are great musuems around town, etc. The National Palace Museum is really amazing, with nearly 700,000 artefacts and works of art. There are tons of places nearby to go for day trips on the weekends, or for longer when you have a few days off. The Taipei area has really great hot springs, hiking, biking, etc. Night markets are fun for trying all sorts of snacks, buying cheap clothes, people watching, whatever. As far as food, Taiwanese cuisine is really tasty, convenient (there are stands and small restaurants every alley), and cheap. There's nothing particularly outstanding about the everyday food here, but it's good. What makes food here great is the street food. Snacks (baozi, jiaozi, shaobing, youtiao, Taiwanese "hamburgers", sausages, sushi, roasted chestnuts, sweet potatoes to go, eggs cooked any number of ways, ice cream, "crepes" stuffed with fresh fruit, tons of fruit stands, etc.) are serious business here. As are sweet drinks. Bubble tea is a Taiwanese invention, and you can not go more than a block without seeing a bubble tea place. If you can make juice out of something, you can probably get it to go here. If it can be mixed with milk, tea, or fruit juice, someone has probably done it. And it will usually run you about US$1 for a big cup to go, with as much or as little sugar and ice as you want. There is a huge selection of international food, too. There are French and German bakeries (if you like French pastries, there's a place run by an MOF recipient). Restaurants include Italian, Korean, Japanese (really good Japanese), Russian, American, Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian, Greek, Levantine, etc. That's just walking distance from my apartment. I've had burgers here that I'd put up against some of the best burgers I've had in the US. Brunch is a popular thing here now, and there are places all over town where you can get American or European style breakfast food at any time of the day (or even night). There are even a few places that serve a full English breakfast. In Taipei, you will hear Taiwanese and Hakka on occasion, but pretty much everyone speaks Mandarin (the MRT has announcements in all three languages plus English). Further south you will hear less Mandarin and more Taiwanese. Many people here speak passable English, particularly younger people, but I've not yet found myself in a situation where someone wouldn't speak Chinese with me. I hear people complain all the time about how the locals will just jump at every opportunity to practice their English on a foreign face, but this is not the case. Most people here don't want to have to speak English because they're embarrassed (usually without cause) about their English ability. However, every time I've heard someone complain about this and had the opportunity to hear that person's Chinese, the reason for their frustration has been made blindingly obvious. If your pronunciation sucks, people here would rather speak English with you than have to hear your toneless, foreign-accented Chinese. That's hard to take for some people, but I've found it to be the truth. So if you often find yourself frustrated that people here won't speak Chinese to you, take that as a sign that you need to work on your pronunciation. My pronunciation is not native-like by any means, but it's pretty good, and I find that people really prefer to speak Chinese with me no matter where I go or how good the person's English is. Even my landlady, a native Taiwanese who could be mistaken for a Taiwanese-American, now communicates with me in Chinese, though we originally communicated in English. Conclusion That about wraps it up. If there's anything you want to know, please post here and I'll answer if I can. Hopefully this will be helpful if you're thinking about coming to MTC or Taiwan! Edit: I posted about this at my blog to point people here, and got a comment from someone called ichigo with some additional information. He says: #1) Let’s say you start the term w/lesson 1 in PAVC 4 and you’re taking the intensive course. You’ll finish 14 lessons (entire book) vs 10 lessons (regular) in a term. #2) Both intensive and regular take a ‘final’. The regular one will include writing, speaking, and is based on textbook material which you have been studying during the term. The intensive ‘final’ is a timed 100 question final. It’s 50 questions listening comprehension and 50 questions reading comprehension. For the listening, you have 5s to pick and answer before it moves on to the next question. No you can’t go backwards. For the reading, you can manage your own time and skip forward and/or go backwards. Assuming #1, you’ll need 75 to pass. If you get 85+, you can skip to lesson 5 of FarEast 3. If you get 90+, you can choose FarEast 3 Lesson 5 or PAVC 5. Those are your choices… 3) PAVC 5 is an excellent book. However, it’s definitely different than the first 4 books in the series. Just like there is a difficulty gap between PAVC 2 and 3, there is an even larger gap from PAVC 4 to 5. If you haven’t already, find one and take a look. It’s loaded w/成語 and 俗語 and much more complicated grammar patterns. These reasons combined result in many students choosing to avoid it because they don’t think it’s going to help w/their spoken Chinese and/or they are just lazy. 4) By the time you get to the level of PAVC 5, the number of students drops dramatically. Take a look at how many FarEast 3 classes there are and then at the number of PAVC 5 or higher classes. BIG drop off. 5) Japanese students are the most numerous. If I had to guess, I’d say Koreans were second. Sounds about right to me, except that the difference in the number of classes at each level will differ with each term, with a general trend of decreasing the higher you go (of course). This term, for instance, the drop off is much more drastic between PAVC 4 and Far East 3 than there is between the latter and PAVC 5. The last part of his/her point 3 is important. Many people are here mainly to develop spoken Chinese skills, and so they feel a false sense of having "mastered" Chinese once they're able to make conversation comfortably about a range of topics, or once they can take care of day-to-day necessities without the frustration that can sometimes accompany these efforts at lower levels. Most people don't care about being able to read Classical Chinese or scholarly articles, or even newspapers, and so they quit taking classes once they reach a comfortable level. This seems to be right around Level 5 and 6 at MTC. Above that are the more professional, academic, literary, formal, etc. courses. Level 7's Thought and Society is the course after which I've heard many people at both MTC and ICLP say they felt able to pick up a newspaper and make sense of it, or be able to read most non-specialist things and understand most of it. I don't know if that's the case or not, but I'd be willing to bet that simply making it through that course without going out of your way to study other material along the way (including plenty of native material) will not do the trick. Most of the aforementioned people were ICLP students, so you know that before Thought and Society they studied three textbooks per term at least. In other words, they worked extremely hard to get to that point by the end of that course.
  6. 30 points
    Basically, in my opinion it involves doing a ton of boring and hard work, with lots of drilling and repetition, things which I know have kind of fallen out of favour in language learning circles, and I used to feel much the same way - until I started doing it and seeing positive results from it. The vexing part is actually just making the decision to bite the bullet and do the grunt work. My thoughts on improving various different skills below: Reading and listening More on listening Speaking Reading speed Vocab acquisition Memorising characters Reducing reliance on SRS
  7. 29 points
    We got back to the UK And it was a crazy journey. First off, massive respect to the UK foreign office and local constituents for representing us, they managed to get a coach arranged only one day before the last flight out of Wuhan, which drove around 700km to pick up 4 British nationals in the far reaches of Hubei province and take us to the airport in time for the flight. I had completely given up hope, but was amazed to receive a phonecall only days ago saying there was a chance they had found a government driver that would be able to come find us. And he did. sort of. as is always the case in China, the smaller the town, the less contact with state and central government there is, and this was no different. when the coach arrived at the exit to come into our town, the police refused the driver entry point blank, saying he didn't have the right papers to enter the town. If we wanted to get on the coach, we had to come to them and walk across the ETC area by foot. okay. how do we get to him? there were three police checkpoints to get through, and the only thing the police would accept was their 枝江通行證 (turned out to be a torn in half A4 sheet with the above characters on it and a stamp…). I showed them all the embassy papers, the official notices from the provincial and city governments, but they just weren't good enough. I even called the foreign office, and was again told 'don't you have any guanxi?' In the end, it took over 2 hours, 5 pages of forms, 9 official stamps, a visit to the hospital and two government bureaus and a long argument between a yichang official and a zhijiang official who refused to stamp the final form (even though zhijiang falls under the jurisdiction of yichang). Seemed like noone wanted to be held responsible for letting us go... But more interestingly, this ordeal required us to run all across town to different departments, and it was our first time out of the house in three weeks. Cant really describe how eerie and quite frankly scary the place looked: familiar busy streets completely deserted, police cars driving around slowly, blaring messages to cover your face and stay indoors at all times, the hospital had people screaming hysterically at the entrances and (not even joking) doctors running inside with boxes with blood slopping down the side (i can only hope it was emergency blood transfusions). Nobody about except police and military, and the occasional government car. No word of a lie, it looked and felt like something straight out of I Am Legend or 28 Days Later. I really wanted to take pictures and videos, but all the police were not looking like they were in the mood for such antics. Once we finally left the city it was as expected: completely empty motorway for 3 hours. Only one month ago I day on the very same stretch of road in gridlock. Empty fields too. The whole province really is a ghost town. And it was so sad to see, because for me, Hubei is China. We made it to the airport after many police checkpoints and temperature checks, to find hundreds of passengers from a number of countries all trying to get onto three different flights leaving at the same time. It was one massive queue that lead into a single health check area. If your temperature didn't make the cut you couldn't get on the plane - found out later two of the Brits on our flight weren't allowed on and were sent back to Wuhan because their temperatures were checked five times and 1/5 times their readings were slightly above average. Terrible feeling. All in all, queued in a room full of facemasks and hazmats for about 7 hours. But thankfully for us we made it out, through the storm in the uk at the moment and landed in galeforce headwinds at a military base in the uk (scariest landing of my life). We are now in quarantine. Phew, cant believe it. As for family back in Zhijiang, we are happy we managed to get out for our own sakes, but also as it is two less mouths to feed over the next few weeks, which will make things a bit easier for the rest (still six mouths to feed all in one house now we've gone). The hoarding has already begun in many cities, and I know rations-style food distribution started in some of the 小區 near us started today. The local university has been converted into a quarantine centre, where student bunks are now hospital beds. Online classes also began today. A friend can't return home, as while they were outing buying food, someone in their building got diagnosed with the virus and now the whole block has been quarantined. People are saying infection rates are dropping, but at street level, I can say from first hand witness, the state of things near the centre of the outbreak is pretty dire to say the least… Cant believe I'm in the UK writing this right now, surreal. Just been swabbed for the virus, have to wait 48 hours for the result. Wish me luck!
  8. 29 points
    In my own experience memorising words and characters at this level is essential if you ever want to see improvements in your Chinese. Otherwise you'll just coast by on existing skills, and get stuck in the rut of always only being able to read 95%. At this stage, learning by osmosis is useful, but also full of pitfalls because many words that you think you can guess the pronunciation/meaning of, you actually find out later that you were wrong (秀才识字识半边 and all). Also, don't worry about words you think are too uncommon that they'll never appear in other novels. At the beginning of the year, I decided I wanted to really focus on my reading, and since then I've gone through about 14 novels (it's amazing how much spare time you have when not reading the forums ). I'm constantly surprised at how words I thought I'd never see again continue to pop up over and over, both in the same novel and in others. It always makes me happy and gives me a sense of accomplishment when I see a word I learnt in one novel appearing somewhere else. To begin with, personally I think the most important thing to do is develop a reading habit. You need to make it so that reading is not a chore. Despite previously already being able to read quite well, I found that reading for extended periods of time (1/2 an hour or more) was always painful and it was easy for me to get distracted. Since starting to make an active effort to change this, it took about 4 novels before reading for long periods (1/2 an hour or longer) became pleasurable and not just something I was forcing myself to do. It probably took a further 4 novels after that to get to a point where I could be engrossed enough in a book that I wouldn't notice that 3-4 hours had passed. In order to accomplish this, you need set yourself a target of reading at least 1/2 an hour a day and stick to it no matter what. Whatever happens you need to make the time for this, and you need to keep at it every day in order for it to become a habit. At the beginning it will be painful and slow, but it will get easier the more you do it, especially as you will be learning new words as you go and this in turn will make future reading easier and so on. Please bear in mind that any memorising of words/characters needs to be outside this 1/2 hour. That is, don't spend 10 minutes reading and 20 minutes looking up words, you need to make sure you're putting in the reading time. Realistically speaking, this means you may need to set aside at least an hour a day - 1/2 an hour for reading, and another 1/2 hour for learning new words and revising. Something like Pleco is an essential tool for this sort of activity, because it allows you to look up words quickly as you are reading and add them to a list for later revision. This means you have minimal interruption when reading, the ability to understand what you've just read, and the ability to then revise newly encountered words at a later point in time. If you don't have Pleco, underlining new words with a pencil is also a good way to achieve a similar thing, although going back and looking up those new words is more laborious. When doing this there are two things you should pay attention to. Firstly, you need to be reading things of the appropriate level. If you start reading something and there are too many new words it will mean constant interruption to the reading process, which will make things less enjoyable, and also give you the feeling that you are making no improvements. If on the other hand you pick something that is more suited to your level the opposite will be true. Case in point, at the beginning of the year, the first book I started reading was 金庸's 书剑恩仇录. Although I could read it, there were too many unknown words per page to strike a comfortable balance between reading and learning new words (see below about quotas). It's not that I couldn't have read it, but more that I wanted to focus my time more on reading than on learning new words, and so 10-15 pages in, I put it aside in favour of something easier. Fast forward 9 months, 10 books and some 2 million characters later, I picked it up again and this time was able to breeze through it. This was partly because I was now much more comfortable reading for extended periods of time and partly because I'd already encountered many of the words that were previously new to me in those other novels, but spread out over time and so the frequency of new words was greatly reduced. It was really good to do something like this because it provided great positive feedback showing me the progress I'd made over the year. This then leads in to the second thing to pay attention to, and that is to set yourself a sustainable quota of new words to learn on a given day. For me, I've found that this is 5-10 words a day (with a word sometimes containing more than 1 new character). I could learn more, but then I'd find I'd be spending more of my time learning and revising new words than on reading, which is not something I want to do (I prefer to get the revising through more reading). When doing this, you'll then need to prioritise which new words will fill up your quota, and which words you can leave to another day. Don't worry that you might be missing out on learning important/useful ones by not learning all the new ones at once. The important ones will keep showing up in other places so they'll fit in a later day's quota. The less-useful ones wont repeat and are therefore probably not worth your time learning. I tend to prioritise in the following order: 1) Names of people/places - These take top priority for me because in a given novel the names will be repeated often enough that it should be quite trivial to keep them in memory. Common characters used in names/surnames will also continue to pop up in different variations in both the same novel and others, plus in newspaper articles or anywhere else you might expect to find a name, so they're always useful in that respect. I typically don't place too much emphasis on learning the meaning of the rarer characters used in names, more just the pronunciation. Also of note, is that it's worth looking up the pronunciation of surnames even for characters you think you know, because quite often the pronunciation of a character when used as a surname is different from the pronunciation you might be more familiar with e.g. 单 Shàn, 曾 Zēng, etc. 2) Words that look suspiciously like words I already know how to pronounce. At higher levels, I've found more often than not that less-common words containing parts of characters I already know typically contain different pronunciations to what I'd expect e.g. a couple off the top of my head 倩 qiàn, 栉 zhì, 耿 gěng. If you don't make sure to learn the correct pronunciation, you'll fall in to the trap of guessing the incorrect pronunciation and then start to reinforce that mistake each time you see the character, which will make it that much more difficult to correct later. 3) Words that I've seen previously, but that I didn't learn because I'd already filled up my quota for the day. Logic dictates that these words are more common (at least in the context of whatever I'm reading at the time) and therefore more likely to be worth learning ahead of others. 4) Other new words. When learning words, in general I'll read the meaning to get an understanding, and then relate it back to the part of the novel where I read it. I typically won't spend much time trying to memorise the meaning. If the word is useful it will continue to come up in other places and that will help reinforce the meaning through context. In terms of memorisation, I'll really only focus on the pronunciation. Anyway, this is now starting to get a little long so I’ll finish off by saying the most important part to all of the above is perseverance, and making sure you keep reading a little bit every day. You can memorise all the characters you like, but it’s not much good if you find you can’t then read more than one or two pages of Chinese without getting tired/distracted and switching to some other activity. You can use tools like "Don't Break the Chain", or my own 100% to provide motivation and keep track of progress.
  9. 25 points
    Hi guys! I haven't been terribly active on Chinese Forums, but I've been lurking since way back. The amount of good stuff posted here is a little overwhelming, frankly. I occasionally see links to Sinosplice here, and I'm always happy to see that, but today I'd like to announce the release of a major project of mine which I've been working on for over a year, and I'm very excited to finally be releasing. It's called the AllSet Learning Chinese Grammar Wiki, and it's pretty much what it sounds like. The project began as an internal resource for AllSet Learning. It became quickly apparent to me that you can't mix and match various study materials like we do for our clients unless you have some kind of over-arcing framework for tracking acquisition of vocabulary and grammar patterns. The Grammar Wiki is my solution to the grammar part of this issue. But in developing this resource, I realized that there's no single resource on the entire internet which does a good, comprehensive job of covering the grammar of Mandarin Chinese. There are some decent books, and users of this forum do a great job clarifying various grammar patterns, but I believe there's still room for a Chinese grammar resource with greater cohesion (like what Wikipedia has). Creating a resource for an entire language's grammar has been a massive undertaking, and so I've gotten a good start on it over the past year with the help of some excellent reference books and four especially hard-working interns (including the famous "East Asia Student"). We've done it as a wiki not to open it up to anonymous edits, but to make it easier for interested parties to get involved, and because I think what Wikipedia is doing is very much the same thing that's still needed for Chinese grammar (on a smaller, more niche scale). The Grammar Wiki content belongs to AllSet Learning, but it's freely available to all through a Creative Commons license. I'm really hoping that learners all over the world will find it useful, and that some of them will even want to give back to the project by serving as an editor. In fact, I'm thinking of all the places for volunteer editors to come from, Chinese Forums is definitely the most likely! This is the first "public-facing" project we've done at AllSet Learning, and I'm looking forward to talking to users about what they like, what most urgently needs improvement, etc. I know we still have a lot of work left to do, but I think we're off to a decent start. The wiki link is: http://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/ And our blog post which more thoroughly explains the wiki's structure and features is: http://www.allsetlearning.com/news/introducing-the-allset-learning-chinese-grammar-wiki/ I'll definitely be back here to answer questions. Happy Year of the Dragon!
  10. 25 points
    Hi. I just want to write a little about studying Chinese independently and that it's possible to really progress rapidly even independently and not in a program. I don't know what's best for everyone, I don't want to seem like I know what's good for you and I really don't want to seem like I'm a bragging and arrogant idiot. I really like to study foreign languages and cultures, but I know I'm young and I'm not language genius. But I was encouraged by Roddy to post something, I actually didn't want to at first but he's right that maybe it could help motivate to other people. I studied Chinese in Europe for 1 semester, then I came to Asia. I went into a program with other foreigners. It has good reputation, but I wasn't happy. It wasn't bad, many people learn Chinese well in that program and other ones just like it. But I was frustrated by lots of things. The speed was very slow because the class had to progress at the rate of the slowest group of people in the class. The teaching style was very fixed and reminded me of doing government forms because everything had to be completed according to many rules and nothing could be done quickly to move forward to the next thing even if you have already finished previous part. I made progress in vocabulary and characters because I memorized many words. But even living in the country, I wasn't getting better at speaking, only at doing the class exercises. I became depressed when I realized that even though I was good in the course, I could understand almost nothing of basic conversations I heard between some native speakers on a bus. I became even more upset when I realized I was good at reading class exercises but that they're very controlled for foreign students and I couldn't understand the full meaning of almost anything written by and for native speakers in the real world. I also really didn't like that pronunciation isn't so important in the program. It's just too much work for the teacher to correct every tone mistake from every student, so the teacher accepts bad pronunciation and then the foreigners' pronunciation even was sounding more normal to me than the Chinese of native speakers, which is crazy. Of course I tried to meet native speakers and talk in real places with them, but my level wasn't good enough to talk to native speakers very long. But because I couldn't talk to the native speakers, I wasn't getting better at talking. An endless negative spiral with only a very slow way out, so frustrating! The program seemed like safety, but bad safety, because I decided that regarding foreign language conversation skills, only my English was improving because of talking with my foreign classmates. But I didn't go to Asia to improve my English, this is so silly! I know that Chinese is hard and it takes time to learn well. I know that thousands of foreigners have done programs like this and became good level speakers. But I'm impatient and I don't want to wait so long to achieve a good level. I also thought that there are many foreigners who quit Chinese exactly because it's frustrating to make progress so slowly. I realized that in fact, many foreigners even who go to the programs in Asia quit at not very high levels, and I worried I would be also fed up and quit and never speak well. I talked to people and researched what to do. I thought a lot about homestay. I really like the idea. Very good for improving language rapidly if you are in the right situation. I saw some stories of foreigners who went from zero to HSK 5 in less than a year (here's one boy's story, I know that school has teachers who write on this forum). So I was going to do homestay, but at the end I decided that living situation wasn't comfortable for me. I wanted to be independent. Also I wanted a cheaper way. I read a lot about how to study independently and I discovered a post on this forum here about it. That post was so helpful. Basically, I used that as a guide to hold my hand and I studied independently in this way since spring. If you're thinking about studying independently, I want to tell you that it's possible and that it worked for me. I don't kid you, it really works. It's really scary at first to make your own path, but it really made me not just much better at Chinese, but much more self-confident in life overall. Also it was much more enjoyable and very much cheaper. So I went on my own and I hired tutors to help me who weren't professional language teachers. I really laugh when I write that last sentence above. Because there is so much in that sentence which was crazy for me when I started. Going alone to create and walk on my own path is crazy. Of course I hadn't told many people what I was going to do because they all told me how stupid it is, also my family didn't tell until after a month because that would have been nightmare of negativity. Also, I know there are many important businessmen who work in China and write on this forum, but for me, being a boss and finding and hiring people was crazy. I had never hired someone in my life. I felt like an actress pretending so much at first that I know what I'm doing when I talked with people about salary and conditions, but it became much easier with experience. I also worried a little about not having teachers who have professional language skills, but in my experience I have seen that professional languages teachers even in great programs can be good or bad, it depends more on the person and less on the institution and experience. Maybe for advanced studies, translation, and linguistics, the experience of the teacher is more important. But for my level, I just wanted people to talk to me and help me and correct me, so if the person is an educated native speaker who is nice and patient, that's enough. There are so many very good internet resources in many languages to learn Chinese, so I wanted lots of practice, I don't need lectures about grammar from someone. (Also, I don't need to worry if my university at home will recognize the study, so that gave me freedom. If you need to be in official program because of your university, then it could be harder for you to be independent.). Regarding getting tutors for independent study, I agree mostly with the advice in that post on this forum about independent study. I thought it would be hard to find, but the most important thing I can tell you is that it's really, really easy to find tutors when you're in the country. I had 8 main tutors in the last 6 months, plus lots of other half-tutors. It's nice to have many tutors so it doesn't become boring with just 2 or 3 always the same people. Also, I liked to talk about same topic with many people, because it reinforced the same vocabulary, gave me different opinions, and showed me how quickly I was progressing. I met with tutors for 2-4 hours each day. I paid people about 5 US dollars per hour of working, but they all spent much more time talking to me than what I paid them so my average price per hour was probably 3-4. My experience is that university students are the best. They are fun, smart, many free-time hours, good at focusing on all little mistakes, patient about correcting me. They also think fast and the lesson goes fast. Older people are more difficult. 30 year old people is actually still ok, but I found that 34 is maximum limit, after that they are more slow and every point is talked about so much I become bored. Maybe the problem is because they are not professional teacher, but they feel so much responsibility to teach me well so they think there is pressure and become slow-thinking. I don't know. Everyone different, but that is my experience this year. About my level, I really am proud of how good my Chinese has become now. Normal communication with native speakers is easy. I understand most of TV and movies as long as it's not specialized vocabulary or slang or regional accents. Last month, I read a novel in Chinese from start to end!! ) I can't say it was easy, but I am in happy shock that I actually understood the book and was able to have conversations with people about it in a deep way. Recently I have seen some foreigners who in the spring were at my level, and it's incredible how much more advanced I am now. The difference is so clear in the real world. They struggle to have deep communication with native speakers who are not teachers, they can't read different things quickly or completely, they don't understand TV shows, their accent is much worse, even I hear how many tone problems they have. There's no comparison really. I know this will sound arrogant, I'm sorry and it's not my character to boast. But I decided to tell this because it's important to know this for people who are nervous to leave a program and study independently that it really is possible to do much better. I think at beginning and intermediate levels, it really is no comparison even for the same amount of study time. In independent study with personal tutor, every hour is personal lesson with a native speaker. It really makes you work much harder because you know that there's no place to escape and there's no hope that other students will save you if they sound just as stupid as you. The expectations are very high because the standard is native speaker perfection, and that is very big motivation. For me, that is great. I like that my motivation is to communicate with native speakers, rather than to do well on tests for foreigners. You only hear native speaker accents and you only model native speaker grammar. I also find the tutors without experience really care very much about my progress because I'm the only person they have ever taught. They do so much for me, they really push me, they give me much extra help all the time, even when we don't meet. For many of my tutors, I'm the first foreign person which they ever have conversation, so they also are very interested in culture topics and that's also why they spend so much extra time with me. It's also much more pleasant than a program with others. If you spend many hours over many months talking face to face with a tutor, you get to know the characteristics of each person. That really is one of my biggest pleasures this year. I find many times surprise that we are similar in how we look at friends and family issues and even have the same taste in such things as art and fashion. I like the depth of each person and it is very exciting to see how similar we are despite that we are coming from very different cultures. Independent study has been very good for me, but I know it's not for everyone. I hope this can help you learn more to see what it is and if it is for you. But no matter how or where or with whom you study, the most important factor is you. If you are motivated and work hard every day consistently, you will make good progress. There's no way to cheat that truth. So many people on the internet say they learned fluent Chinese in a few months, but when I see videos, they speak horribly. There is no way to reach high levels but to work really hard, spend many hours studying every day. So no matter if you are in a great program, or study independently, or just sit around and talk to friends, I really believe your hard work is the most important key to success. In my case, independent study was the best way, but no matter what, the key is consistent hard work over time. I hope that reading this someone else who was scared will now feel a little bit more confident to study independently also! :D
  11. 25 points
    I took one year of Chinese during graduate school and studied on my own (using NPCR 3 and part of 4) for about two years. Around last winter, I decided that I was tired of my slow progress and wanted to immerse myself in a Chinese speaking environment as well as study Chinese. I accepted the invitation of a friend and went to Taipei in January for two weeks to check out the city and meet my future Chinese language teacher. The trip went quite well, so I decided to bite the bullet and plan for living in Taiwan for two and a half months. One thing I should mention about myself before I continue - I'm a deaf young male who teaches chemistry, so I have summers off, and, because of my being a teacher, I was able to do this in the first place. Because I'm deaf and have no latent spoken language ability, I had very little interest in speaking and listening skills, and wanted to focus exclusively on reading and writing skills. Last year, in the fall, I contacted several programs in mainland China and in Taiwan asking them what kind of classes they held during the summer, to see if I could get around the listening/speaking requirements in a Chinese language program. I generally received negative responses, mostly because their curriculum was integrated - so there were no 口语 classes I could skip or anything like that. The ICLP also responded in the negative, but offered to email their teachers to see if one would be willing to teach me on an one-on-one basis. A few days later, I received an email from one of the ICLP teachers, and over the course of a couple of months, we discussed my goals and eventually arranged a meeting while I was there in January. That January meeting was quite challenging for me, because my prospective teacher and I corresponded for three hours, all in traditional Chinese, on paper and pen, discussing different things - my Chinese study history, what I'd been doing in Taiwan, my goals for the Chinese language, what I expected from the class, tuition, course texts - basically making arrangements for me to take Chinese during the summer under her. It was quite overwhelming because this was the first serious conversation I had ever had in Chinese for so long. It was also quite exciting, because this was exactly what I wanted - to finally acquire the skills to be able to interact with people (albeit in a written form). So, spring semester came and went, and I went to Taiwan in late May. I applied for, and got, a 60-day multi-entry tourist visa, and took (and passed) the HSK level 3 test during this time. When I arrived in Taiwan, I didn't start my classes until about a week and half into my Taiwan stay as my teacher had finals during that time, and I still had to get settled, get over jetlag, etc. Once classes started, we had about eight weeks of classes minus a few days here and there for travel (for me!). We ended up deciding on 今日台湾, which is a decent text. We basically met every weekday for two hours in a coffee shop (丹堤咖啡, if you were curious), and went over the material over a cup of tea. My teacher gave me what I felt was a lot of homework - about 2-3 hours a day on average - but I was grateful for it as it was great practice for my Chinese expression skills. The teacher was very good at forcing me to use my Chinese actively rather than just read Chinese texts and "listen" to her write in Chinese. We always corresponded using pen and paper, and I have three full notebooks filled with our correspondence over the eight weeks that we had classes together. The format for our lessons varied, but with each chapter, the teacher would assign me the following exercises: Vocabulary list questions - basically two questions per vocabulary item. Since each chapter has around 50 vocabulary items, this amounts to about 100 questions that I had to answer. These were not easy questions for me to answer either - questions like 「你认为家庭对人的重要性是什么?」or 「拿美国跟非洲的乡下比,有什么差别?」were quite common. Since there were so many questions, we usually spent a day or two just going through my answers and discussing my grammatical errors or unfamiliar words in questions. Textbook exercises - this included the grammar and vocabulary exercises. This was generally not that time-consuming, but some of the grammar points inspired much discussion and comparative examples. A discussion of the textbook passage - the teacher would quiz me on my retention of the textbook passage content and vocabulary. I don't think it was that useful, because it basically amounted to me memorizing the text and key vocabulary/phrases, but there were a couple of interesting discussions that stemmed from the textbook. A review sheet bringing together the grammar and vocabulary, that had three parts. First, there was a set of questions to answer followed by a grammatical pattern that I had to use in my answer - I felt this was very restrictive, but it still reinforced my understanding (or lack thereof) of the grammar point in question. Second, there was a question that required a short paragraph and incorporation of five or six vocabulary items - also very restrictive as I often felt that I had to shoehorn in one or two of the vocabulary items. Third, there was a 300 character essay that I had to write following a prompt. A 500-600 character essay assignment where I had to respond to some sort of prompt. There was one occasion where my teacher and I had completely different mental images of what the essay question was about, which led to an interesting conversation. I began the summer session doing these by writing my answers by hand, but towards the end, I used my computer to input my answers. I still did a good deal of writing by hand during class, and I think that really cemented my learning how to read/write characters - as well as read a native Chinese speaker's handwriting. We would sometimes laugh together as I tried to decipher one or two of my Chinese teacher's handwritten characters, and I have to say that I got sick of writing 台灣 or 喜歡 pretty fast because there are just so many strokes to write each time >_< So, with this much work, it took us about a week to get through each chapter. The teacher said that we would probably be able to finish the whole book in the eight weeks alotted, but we only got halfway through it by the end. I honestly have no idea how ICLP or MTC teachers can find the time to give feedback on students' work, given how much homework the students are given, and the number of students per class. Maybe my teacher and I could have covered the material more quickly if we could communicate orally, as writing is a pretty slow process, I dunno. I was very satisfied with the quality of my education in Taiwan and would choose her again as my teacher, without hesitation. So what did I do besides attend class and do homework? I interacted quite a bit with the deaf Taiwanese community - and for those of you who are curious, Taiwanese Sign Language is pretty much unintelligible to an American Sign Language user, as sign languages are not universal. I learned a fair bit of Taiwanese Sign Language, but confess that I chatted much more with people who had studied abroad in the US or learned American Sign Language at one point, just because it was so much easier to communicate with them. I would have taken a Taiwanese Sign Language class if I could, as there are quite a few classes offered throughout Taipei, but most conflicted with my classes, unfortunately. Right now, I can understand the basic gist of Taiwanese Sign Language, but I can only communicate very simple things about myself - family, occupation, that kind of thing. I also taught American Sign Language to a group of deaf Taiwanese. Taipei's largest association of the deaf offers one American Sign Language class in three levels - beginning, intermediate, and advanced, with the first two taught by Taiwanese deaf people who had gone to the US to study abroad for a number of years and returned to Taiwan for work. I was offered the opportunity to teach the advanced class this summer, and I accepted. It was fun, but it was also a lot of hard work, as the students' levels were so varied. I definitely know what a language teacher feels like, in some ways. It was also a huge time sink to prepare for and then teach two 2-hour classes a week, since I had already made a big commitment to studying Chinese. I don't regret it though. One thing that was interesting, though - if a student didn't know how to say something in American Sign Language, they would often replace that concept with the equivalent in Taiwanese Sign Language, so I had no way of knowing if they signed it incorrectly or if they used their native sign language. I also did some travelling - I went to Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung, as well as visited Jiufen, Sun Moon Lake, and a couple of other landmarks. Some of these trips were made with deaf Taiwanese friends, so I had a real insider's perspective on these landmarks. I also made the Kaohsiung trip by joining a group of 40 deaf Taiwanese two weeks after I arrived in Taiwan - that was a very interesting experience, to say the least, since I had a practically nonexistent knowledge of their sign language and they didn't know any English or American Sign Language either. One last thing. Apparently, to the deaf Taiwanese there, a deaf foreigner coming to Taiwan to study Chinese was interesting enough to broadcast on TV. So, I was featured on a daily news program produced by deaf Taiwanese that is broadcast in Taiwan every morning at 8 am. You can see my one-minute-long news article here: - I'm the first story of that news clip. All of my comments are in American Sign Language, and the reporter himself knew ASL, so he was able to directly translate my remarks into Chinese subtitles. I still cringe at how I looked at that time, but I think no one likes to see themselves on camera ;)I think that's everything - I would gladly do it again, and am thinking about possibly going back next summer. I already miss Taipei tremendously - the people, the food, the culture - but do not miss the language barrier or the summer heat. We'll see how things work out next year
  12. 24 points
    Yep, ten years ago today, in a 1600Y a month one-bedroom apartment with lino and fluorescent lights (in the BEDROOM) situated next door to Beijing's meteorology bureau I flicked the switch to turn on an entirely empty new-fangled thing called an Internet forum. And ten years later, after quite a few changes and a lot more consistency, it's still here. But now it's full of people and information. Some of the people have been around more or less as long as the site itself. Like I said last year, the idea of attempting to even start to thank everyone by name is intimidating. And oddly, everyone always tries to thank me, as if I do anything but pay the server fees and opinionate. So raise an imaginary glass to the site and all who've contributed to it. And see you in 2023.
  13. 24 points
    If you would like to be able to read a newspaper and listen to the news, here is what you have to do. 1) Read newspapers. 2) Listen to the news. It's both that simple and that difficult. What you should be doing everyday: Find a newspaper (either buy a paper version, or visit one online). Find an article/several articles that look interesting to you. Read through the article, highlighting/underlining any words that you don't know. Stop when you get to about 10 words (note this is words, not necessarily characters, e.g. if you don't know either of the characters in the word 嫌疑, it counts as one word, not two). Look these words up in a dictionary/add them to a flashcard program/write them down in a notebook. etc. Re-read the article again, and keep re-reading it until you don't need to stop and think what all the underlined words mean (you may need to read it several times). You can keep reading past the 10 underlined words if you like, but really only concentrate on learning those 10 words. It's important to go at a sustainable pace otherwise you'll burn out. You're not trying to learn as many words as you can in a single day, rather you're trying to go at a pace you can maintain over a long period, with time then acting as a multiplier. Think of it as a marathon rather than a sprint. Find a news podcast that has transcripts (e.g. 锵锵三人行 - transcripts for each episode appear in the sidebar to the right of the video player). Listen through the podcast/part of the podcast without looking at the transcript. Go through the transcript, doing the same thing you did for the newspaper articles. Listen to the podcast again. Load the podcast into an audio editor such as Audacity Highlight small portions of the podcast that you have difficulty following (maybe a sentence or two at a time). Listen to the small portion over and over until you can follow it. Repeat for the rest of the podcast. Adjust all of the above to the amount of new vocabulary you can reasonably handle a day without burning out (10 words from the newspaper + 10 from the news podcast = 20 new words a day). Repeat every day. Use a tool such as http://dontbreakthechain.com or my own 100% to keep track of progress. If you do this every day for a year, I guarantee you will be able to read newspapers and listen to the news (20 words x 365 days = 7,300 new words, on top of everything you know already). You'll probably start to notice real progress after about a month. Three months in you'll be amazed at how much progress you've made. Basically, if you want to learn a certain skill, you should practice that skill. The difficult part comes in doing it everyday.
  14. 23 points
    Hi everyone, Finally, finally, finally!!! The long wait is over. I finally got my CSC admit notice today, at NUAA. Yes, it's really worth the wait. I am shaking with joy. As I have received such good news, I know there's great news for those who are still waiting. This calls for celebration......YAAYYY!!!
  15. 23 points
    Why watch? TV series are one of the best ways to improve your listening skills and vocabulary. While many of them are rather poor, there are some true gems out there, and you can watch and download most of them on the internet. Based on our majestic Grand First Episode Project, this thread will give you the most important information you need to jump right into it. Most of the threads linked here will have summaries and vocabulary lists with translations to help you through the first episode, and often there are English subtitles and discussion. All of these will help you follow and understand better. What do I watch? The following series were all highly rated by the posters here. If you're looking for high-quality shows, you won't go wrong with one of the following: Sci-Fi / Fantasy 魔幻手机 A solid favourite among posters here, this hodgepodge of robot girls, Journey to the West, magic mobile phones and time travelling is one of the most entertaining ways to learn Chinese. Action / Spies 潜伏 This 1940's undercover story features a very intricate plot, great acting, and dark, subdued humour. Historical 雍正王朝 Extremely challenging in terms of language, but a very accurate and beautifully filmed portrayal of the reign of the 雍正 emperor during the Qing dynasty. 走向共和 A vivid portrayal of the last days of the Qing and the events that led to the creation of the Republic. Many memorable performances. Kung Fu / Wuxia 射雕英雄传 One of the most beloved wuxia stories ever told, in several popular versions. 天龙八部 Perhaps 张级中's best, a beautifully shot story featuring a very complex and intriguing plot. Comedy 武林外传 If you can follow the language and all cultural references in this wuxia-styled sitcom, you'll definitely enjoy the contagious hilarity of it all. Transcripts attached. 爱情公寓 Essentially "Friends in Shanghai", this is one is actually funny. Lots of culturally loaded references useful for learning about modern China. Drama 空镜子 An absolutely magnificent drama about the lives of two sisters in Beijing. A very touching and expertly filmed series. Suitable for Beginners 家有儿女 This omnipresent sitcom will not change your life, but it consists of relatively simple, short episodes that are entertaining enough. Transcripts attached. 奋斗 A thoroughly watchable youth soap opera that might be challenging for beginners, but features loads of useful situations and vocabulary, with explanations and transcripts. Basically, perfect study material. Of course, there are many other shows we've covered, and many of them are very entertaining. If you'd like to look for something closer to your tastes, please look through the following
  16. 22 points
    Bolded resources are especially useful. If you are a new learner, start there. This is an attempt at updating the previous list while also consolidating it. All but a few of these are resources I have personally used and found crucial to my learning at different points. This list is curated to cut down on the time you need to spend checking finding good resources. For an extensive list of resources, see Hacking Chinese and search through an enormous catalogue of properly tagged resources and guides or Mandarin Weekly for a list of online feeds and newsletters about Chinese. If you think any suggestion could be replaced with a better resource or if another resource should be added, please post and explain why you think so. And a note on studying: When learning a language, it is important to combine extensive methods with intensive methods. Extensive methods rely on consuming a lot of relatively easily understood content and focusing on the general gist rather than nuance. When studying extensively, use context to learn new words or just quickly look them up and move on. In contrast, intensive studying methods rely on understanding the nuance and depth of the content. When studying intensively, take the time to learn the new words, replay or re-read the content many times, and analyze the logical structure. Language Courses: Hello Chinese - Duolingo-like phone app for Chinese learners with a handwriting function like Skritter and voice recognition[free] Ninchanese - Gamified learning. Great for character memorization and has 5 worlds that go through HSK 5ish. Strong and supportive learning communitee . [free-$$] Pimsleur - Audio-based mandarin Chinese course. Wordlist [$22-$550 but look for frequent discounts] EdX Beginner Chinese - Part 1 and Part 2 [free] Coursera Beginner Chinese- Part 1 and Part 2 [free] EdX Intermediate Chinese - [free] EdX Business Chinese (intermediate level) - [free] For advanced learners, simply enroll in a content course that is taught in Chinese. Good luck! Textbooks New Practical Chinese Reader - progressively teaches reading, writing and listening. Often recommended on these forums. Dictionaries Popup Dictionaries for Browsers: Google Chrome: Zhongwen: A Chinese-English Popup Dictionary [free] Mozilla Firefox: Perapera Chinese [free] Safari: Frill [free] Online Dictionaries: YellowBridge Chinese English Dictionary - Overall dictionary [free] Jukuu - example sentences dictionary with statistical breakdown [free] Offline Dictionaries: Wenlin - (Mac/Win) worth getting used to user-interface [100$ with frequent 50% off deals] Pleco - (iOS/Android) nothing comparable. It does everything. If you're are committed to Chinese, then get the professional pack. [free - $100's] Built-in-dictionary - (MacOS) Grammar Chinese Grammar Wiki - Excelent grammar explanations [free] Oxford’s Elementary Chinese Grammar Course - Self-teach yourself the basics. [free] Tones Hacking Chinese - A comprehensive explanation and guide to pinyin [free] Tone Trainer online exercises to develop an ear for single tones [free] SpeakGoodChinese (program for training tone pronunciation, see discussion) [free?] Listening Material ChinesePod - An enormous library of podcats [free/$$] Chinese Learn Online - Leveled podcasts that systematically progress in difficulty Glossika Method - Shadow audio recordings to simultaneously improve listening, speaking, and grammar. [Wide range of $] 爱奇艺 - Start with kids shows (喜羊羊与灰太狼) and work up to teens (降世神通) and finally, adult content (欢乐颂). [free] Reading Material (For an extensive list of options and levels, see Graded readers, by the numbers (character/words, page count) The Chairman's Bao - Graded reader-esque news with recordings. [80$/year] Just Learn Chinese - Online graded readers with audio. Beginner to advanced. [free] Graded Readers - Search Amazon for Chinese Breeze (includes audio files) or Mandarin Companion (captivating stories for adults) and DeFrancis (free with traditional character). [free-$15ish] Chinese Text Analyser - Analyze a text for difficulty and known words, also has a built in dictionary which makes using it as a text reader simple. [$10ish?] Flashcards/Vocabulary Memrise - Gamified vocabulary study. Use pre-made lists or create your own. [free] Anki - Less user friendly but superior SRS algorithm. Read the guide and use the forums. Learn how to use this application. Shared decks for Chinese [free on MacOS, Windows, Android, but $10 and iOS] Pleco - Read the user guide. Their notecards can do a lot. Study by drawing characters, selecting pinyin, and other ways. SRS is mediocre but a major update is expected soon. Writing Characters The Minimum Requirements - A guide to writing technically correct characters [free] Inkstone Practice writing via this phone app [$5] Hanzi Grids - customizable and printable grids to practice writing characters [free, $10 one time for additional features] Online Language Partners HelloTalk - phone app for finding language partners [free] Test Prep (HSK) Official Website - Link directly to info about HSK tests. Also search for "Hanban."
  17. 22 points
    Over the last two years I have been at East China Normal University in Shanghai studying International Chinese Education. A lot of people on these forums recently have started coming with questions regarding whether or not it is worthwhile to get a master’s degree in China and what are the pros/cons. If there are any topics that you wish I'd have included, please let me know and I'll add it. I hope others will also follow suite and share their experiences of getting a master’s degree from Chinese universities. Two years is a lot of time and I’ve experienced a lot while I’ve been here. It’s not all been good but I’ve also achieve the goals I had originally set out to achieve. Before starting my degree I had one primary goal: improve my Chinese language ability. Next to that, and the reason I decided on the degree I did (汉语国际教育) is it meant staying in the field of education. I was hoping that even if I didn’t end up teaching Chinese, the knowledge I learned and the skills I gained would stick with me in teaching English. OVERVIEW The degree itself is interesting. It is not Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, but rather aims to prepare Chinese students to go to Confucius institutes and teach Chinese. As such, all of my Chinese classmates are currently working at CI’s all around the world teaching Chinese. The course work is a hybrid of language teaching and culture classes, with the idea that “International Chinese Education” (as opposed to TECL/TECL/TCSOL) has culture as a more core component. For non-Chinese people, it is a two-year (专术) degree. The first year is classes, while the second year is internship, research, and thesis writing. Chinese students and non-Chinese students are divided into separate classes, while a few (think 2 or 3) of the classes are taken together. This is in large part because the needs are very different. Many of the Chinese student’s classes focus on English language learning and understanding the process of learning Chinese whereas the non-Chinese students’ classes focus on Chinese language learning as much as language teaching. Chinese students are expected to already have a solid foundation of linguistics and Chinese language and culture knowledge before beginning. This degree is not focused on research or academics. It is a degree specifically geared toward preparing students to enter the classroom and teach Chinese. COURSEWORK Courses are all condensed into the first year. There were roughly 10 classes per semester. Each class had its homework and the whole year was very intense. The full list of courses is: 1. 论文写作 (focused on how to format a Chinese thesis as well as how to decide on a research topic) 2. 汉语国际教育导论 (nothing worthwhile to say about this one) 3. 当代中国 (Chinese language class focusing on Chinese history and news) 4. 教学设计 (how to plan a class) 5. 跨文化交际与文化传播 (how culture is disseminated) 6. 文化项目 (how to plan a cultural event and assess its success) 7. 汉语语言学 (basic linguistics with a focus on Chinese) 8. 课堂管理 (classroom management which involved a lot of case studies) 9. 跨文化交际 (theories behind cultural communication) 10. 高级汉语 (two semesters, normal Chinese class) 11. 中国民俗 (Chinese traditions and holidays and things like that) 12. 口才艺术 (pronunciation class taught by a 播音员) 13. 教学技术 (teaching skills which broke up the process of teaching a class into very clear segments and talked about how to plan a class to account for all components) 14. 汉语教学教材与资源 (how to design your own textbooks) 15. 教学要素 (looked at commonly taught things like how to teach 把字句 or stroke order) 16. 汉字文化 (the history of Chinese characters) 17. 文化课(太极拳、油画、书法、民族舞)(two semesters) Overall, I felt that a lot of the content was redundant or not well covered. The earlier problems were discussed with the teachers and they made a very strong effort to better communicate with each other and make sure classes didn’t repeat the same information. It got better and props to the department for taking the constructive criticism so well. The latter problem, with material not being covered very well, was largely a consequence of how little basic knowledge most students in the class had about teaching methodology or grammar or etc. The bar to get in was just too low in my opinion, and as a result, it felt more like a year of undergrad coursework. This was utterly disappointing to me. If you are considering this degree to better prepare you to teach Chinese, I would recommend going someplace else. At the very least, do not do this degree at ECNU but rather do the linguistics degree which will not separate out Chinese and non-Chinese students, and as a result demand much more from the students. TEACHING As for the teachers themselves. It was a mixed bag. There were no teachers that everyone was agreement as a bad teacher. So it is important to recognize the below as my opinion. Some teachers knew there content extremely well and were able to pair it up with successful teaching methods. In other words, they practiced what they preached. Unfortunately, this was the minority. I found most teachers taught in stark contrast to the dos and don’ts being taught. Some of the classes had great content but it was delivered very poorly, and I got far more from just ignoring the teaching and reading on my own. Still yet other classes were an utter waste of time. Classes were mostly taught in the teacher-speaks-you-listen way, despite a constant drilling from various classes that teaching this way is ineffective. This was paired with many homework assignments that seems to do little from an education standpoint. What I did like was that few classes used paper tests and most all required papers. This was good practice for writing a thesis and altogether I wrote something like 10 papers, each in excess of 2000 characters, some longer that 5000 characters. THESIS The most fruitful part of this whole process was writing my own thesis in Chinese. The thesis has a 30000-character requirement. Mine ended up at 35,000 which, included the appendix, graphs and everything, amounted to 80 pages. The process was: During the first semester all students determine which direction they want to study (culture or language) and were randomly assigned a thesis advisor (Not according to your area of interest, which meant even if your area of interest was exactly what one teacher is researching, you were still very unlikely to get paired. Very frustrating.). During the second semester, most thesis advisors had some way of encouraging students to deepen their understanding of their chosen direction. Some had bi-weekly study groups in which students choose papers to read and analyze together, while others require you to collect a list of all relevant papers to your topic. Each advisor had their own method, while some were completely hands-off. Those students all struggled. Some students, despite immense effort, only managed to get a few phrases of feedback during the whole one-and-a-half-year process from their “advisor.” My personal experience was that when I asked another advisor a question since a paper they wrote was part of my thesis, my thesis advisor at the time got furious (apparently she had beef with the other advisor) and demanded I change thesis advisors. It was all a very childish affair. Once your topic was clarified and before the end of the second semester, all students had to present their topic to a panel that would decide whether or not it was do-able. This involved explaining how you would go about your research and why it was of value to pursue. If your idea passed the panel, the next step was to begin research. All students were expected to find an internship for their third semester (no formal help was provided from the school in finding these internships) during which all were expected to do their research. My research focused on vocabulary acquisition and several motivational factors and their effect on vocabulary retention over several time periods. It’s worth noting that at this point, we still had no idea what the precise timeline was for when we turned in our thesis. In, roughly, late December, it was announced we needed to turn in our first full draft by the end of January. This was in stark contrast to the estimated early-March deadline. Many students resorted to less-than-kosher methods (directly paying someone to write their whole thesis, plagiarism, and what-not) to deal with the short deadline as many could not begin writing until they had collected their data from their internship or were too busy with the internship to have any time to write. I literally spent one month at my apartment writing and adopted a cat to cope with the stress. Great decision. My orange tabby Charlie is an angel. After turning in the first draft, each new deadline was announced in bit by bit: second draft with all parts completed, then a final draft which was used for the pre-defense in early March, and a week after the pre-defense all were to turn in their final draft. The final draft went through a “复制比检测” to check to make sure <10% of all content was similar to any other document in their system. It seems to work as at least one student who succumbed to easier options had a copy rate in excess of 30%. That student now has three months to re-write their thesis. Lastly, student draw lots for 盲审 in which papers are given to a blind-panel for review (though your status as an overseas student is noted). The last part, and the part I have not yet taken part in, is the proper defense of the thesis in May. However, I have been told that should the department let you pass the pre-defense, you are most likely going to pass the actual defense. My understanding is also that since our thesis is not uploaded to 知网, which is to say it is not to be seen by any outside of the school, standards are much lower than for, say, a student in the linguistics program. MISC Students in the master’s degree program stay with the other international students in the same dorms which have two students per dorm with a shared bathroom on each floor. The rooms are simple though quite big as they are designed for Chinese-style dorms with two sets of bunks per room. The services provided from the International Student Services office were top notch. Every step of the way, from registering to moving of campus, was well explained. They provided plenty of help and were always available to answer questions of WeChat. Big props to that whole team. If you like taking part in school events like fashion shows and singing competitions, they organize plenty of these as well. University life is great since ECNU is next to the biggest shopping mall in Shanghai as well as a massive park with a large pond (though many call it a lake). There is no shortage of food options with plenty of restaurants and three separate canteens on campus, which also include halal areas, western-style areas, and a slightly fancier area outside of the normal Chinese canteens. The campus itself is also comfortable (Zhongshan campus) with plenty of nature and a little steam running through the middle. CONCLUSION Simply put, if your goal is to improve your Chinese language ability, this is a really good degree to go for at ECNU. Your coursework will demand reading increasing amounts of Chinese content and climax in writing 30,000 Chinese characters. However, the burden of improving your Chinese is on you (be prepared to include 300 RMB/week for a tutor in your budget). On the other hand, if you sincerely want to become a great Chinese teacher, this program is not for you. It falls short it two major ways: 1) bar of entry is too low and as such content difficult is reduced to match the needs of most students. 2) Academic rigor is desperately lacking. Students often get away with plagiarism and very low-quality work. The result is a degree that doesn’t hold much credibility. If you are looking to teach Chinese, make sure to enroll in a program that does not separate out the international students and applies the same standards to all students. Chinese students were all held to a much high standard and I think that is better. If you do this, then make sure you are already at a “strong” HSK 6 before entering the program, otherwise you’ll be spending too much time on language learning and not enough time on mastering the content that will enable you to become a great Chinese teacher.
  18. 22 points
    Today marks the 9th anniversary of this fine site's foundation. While I am not one for big celebrations, it would be remiss of me not to note the date, and give a thank you to everyone who has contributed over the years. Attempting to thank everyone by name would of course be a futile effort. So I thought I'd thank by name everyone who registered in our first year, and has visited over the last 12 months - that is, has been active to some degree for pretty much the lifetime of the forum. But there were two pages of us, and I wasn't typing out all those names. So I looked at post counts - but what of new members who haven't had time to rack up a high post count? Reputation figures? That's only been running a few years, members from way back wouldn't show up. So I gave up on names. Here's to you, the unknown poster. It isn't the biggest site on the Internet. Lord knows I'll admit it isn't always the best run. Sure as hell ain't the prettiest. But I'm kind of fond of it anyway.
  19. 21 points
    Hi, I'm a Singaporean Chinese with a really complicated background. My mother's 1st generation Singapore Chinese, my dad's Indonesian Chinese, but did university in the US, and has a lot of American/Western views. I can't comment on the dating thing, because in that aspect, I've not been in your shoes, but the way your mother treats you is actually very common amongst the Chinese community, especially the very typical, traditional Chinese community. Love is never shown the way it is in Western society, and that's the way it is. In a way it is almost taken for granted. The back-biting and two-faced-ness, the high drama and theatrics are also very typical of some traditional Chinese women. My mother is very similar in that, and that is something my father, my sister, and myself hate about my mother. The way your mother's gone to extremes in dealing with your decision to date & marry a black guy is also very typical when a child does something that she is uncomfortable with, that she feels will 1) make her lose face, 2) be a really bad decision for her child, 3) have massive repercussions on the family, and is 4) something that is completely beyond her ken. I know, because I've been there. My story is a little different from yours, but my mother's reactions have been uniformly the same. When I was 21 and in college, I decided to leave college housing and share an apartment with one of my college friends. It was cheaper, I would have regular access to a kitchen, and I would at least get away from campus and have my own room. My mother flipped out, and by that I mean, there was screaming, yelling, accusations of how I was breaking her heart, I would regret it for the rest of my life, how dare I put her (and her entire family) through this, etc. etc. At that time, I had an internship and was staying with my parents for the summer. She basically summed up hours of screaming with the following ultimatum: call my friend and tell her I wouldn't be staying with her, or get kicked out of my parents' house. I moved out 4 hours later. Thereafter, she disowned me (again). It doesn't hurt any less than the first time. I was a wreck that whole year. It. Sucked. Balls. I don't even know how I graduated and actually got a degree. My dad and sister were supportive of me, so at least I had that (and I think you do too, with your dad and your siblings). Still, I look back, and I know that that was one of the best decisions I made in my life. I learned that I wasn't dependent on my parents for anything. I learned that I could stand on my own two feet. And I learned I could handle myself (not necessarily well, but good enough) in situations that were emotionally stressful. I learned a lot that year, and I'd also chosen to make a life decision that has affected me even today. First of all, whether or not your mother truly loves you or not is not something I can say. I know she cares at least a little about you, or there would not be any of this drama and nonsense. It could well be that she cares more about losing face than anything, but you can't control that. However, you are doing something that is completely beyond her ken. Chinese people have horrific racism against black people, largely through American media, misinformation, etc. Recognize that your mother is acting out through utter ignorance and a sense of losing control over you. It's not pretty, but there it is. Recognize that in Chinese culture, parents have a huge say over who their children marry, and she probably expected that, but you're not following the script. Recognize, too, that in this situation, you are better informed than she is. You know: 1. That your boyfriend is a wonderful person that you've been with for years now. 2. Your boyfriend's family is wonderful and they love you. 3. Not all black people are out to rape, pillage, murder, and/or otherwise cause the apocalypse. Finally, also recognize the following: this decision is something that you, and not her, are going to have to live with for the rest of your life. It is up to you to be the better person. Make your decision, and stand firm, and stand up to her. Treat her politely and with courtesy. Treat her like you would any other person in a normal situation, recognizing what her shortcomings are, but always know your decision and own it, whether it turns out for the better or for the worse. When you do get married, and the world hasn't ended, and your boyfriend (or well, I guess husband at that point) is there treating you well and being successful and amazing, chances are, she will come around. My mother did. I've since realized that the high drama is usually done in situation where she feels like she's out of control, and where if something goes wrong, she can't step in and set things right. She does very poorly in situations she does not understand, and in situations where she has no control. My mother went crazy (again) when I told her a few years later that I was going to quit my high-paying, stable job to run off to China. I was slightly younger than you at that time, and I quite firmly told her I wasn't asking her permission to go, I was merely informing her that she might like to know that I would be in China in a few months so she wouldn't worry. Now, my mother is proud of what I have achieved, and has conveniently forgotten that she did not want me to go. She talks about how she was 100% supportive etc. etc. We've ignored the fact that she once told me that if my parents were to divorce, I would be the cause. I was ten. We've ignored the fact that she's disowned me. Twice. I love my mother, but sometimes, I don't much like her. Be firm, and show that you are in control. It might help for her to meet your boyfriend (understanding of course, that she's probably going to hate him on sight and/or be pleasant to his face, but nasty behind his back). And no matter what, remember that the crazy comes out in situations where she is not in control, and in situations where she is exceedingly ignorant. This is the way some people react in those situations. You can't change her, because you can't change her culture or background. Unpacking her idiosyncrasies is something you will be doing for a lifetime. Reframe her crazy into something you can handle. One thing that has helped me is to sit and focus on the worst thing that could possibly happen. So for example, if I were to go to my mother to tell her that I was in your situation and marrying a guy she didn't like even though she'd never met him, what would be the absolute worst thing that could happen? 1. She'd disown me. Again. 2. She won't show up to the wedding... Then think of what you can do to alleviate it and/or handle it. 1. She's disowned me before, and I'm still here and doing just fine. It'll suck, but at least my boyfriend/husband will be there and supportive. 2. Well, that's her loss really, and whether she's there or not won't affect the fact that I'm marrying the guy I love... At the end of the day, it's not really anything that you can't handle. You have to understand that your current situation is a result of a lot of cultural differences, and you're seeing it from a largely Western/British perspective. You'll may never agree with how your mother is handling things, but she's been too long in a culture where her reaction is one of a series that is considered Situation: Normal. She may never change, but you can change how you deal with her and how you handle her. Just don't let her behaviour turn you cynical and bitter. I was very bitter and very cynical for a long, long time. It isn't worth it. Happiness in the face of Crazy is infinitely more rewarding.
  20. 21 points
    Years ago, I was eating in a Korean restaurant in London with my language exchange partner. Decided to practice a little bit of mandarin. When it came to paying the bill the waitress came and chatted to us. She was from China, and explained she had been eavesdropping on our conversation, but couldn't initially work out what language we were speaking, after a while she realised it was mandarin, but due to the speed of talking, she assumed I had developmental issues, and my language partner was my carer. I took that as a win, a native speaker, assuming I was developmentally challenged native speaker!
  21. 21 points
    This post sums up what I've been doing with movies recently. It's been very helpful for me, so I thought it might be worth posting. I first started using movies to improve my Chinese a few months ago. Before that, it was too frustrating because my comprehension was too low for it not to feel like work. For some reason, I don't mind work if it's a textbook. Those are supposed to be work, after all. But when it's something normally done for pleasure like a movie or novel, I prefer my comprehension to be high enough that I can focus on the content or story rather than the language. Then my tutor assigned a movie for me to watch so we could discuss it at our next meeting. What's more, she gave me a copy with no subtitles. So I watched it, and followed the basic story, but there were a lot of parts I didn't get. Determined not to be defeated by a sappy movie (it was 那些年,我們一起追的女孩), I put it on my phone and watched it a few more times. I also ripped the audio using Handbrake, so I could listen to it even when I didn't have time to watch. I downloaded subtitles (I don't remember where I found them, but this site is great for finding subs), and started going through the movie one chunk at a time, looking up all the words I didn't know so I'd understand everything. If you do sentence flashcards, having the subtitle file makes it easy to copy/paste into Anki or whatever you use. Then I listened to each chunk over and over until I understood everything easily. I ended up memorizing big chunks of the movie in the process, much the same as you do when you're a kid and watch the same few movies dozens of times. There were a few spots where I couldn't seem to make what I was hearing match up with what was on the page due to the speaker slurring sounds together, so I made individual mp3 files those sentences using Audacity. I put each one on repeat and said the sentence aloud in unison with the recording until I could say it just like the speaker. A side effect of this step was that I am now able to understand lazy native speakers much better than before. This method is the best way I know of to improve your pronunciation and intonation, and I'd recommend giving it a shot. It's called "chorusing," and is different from shadowing in that you speak short chunks (a sentence or so) in unison with the recording, whereas shadowing is done with longer passages, trailing behind the speaker a bit. With chorusing, you can hear where you differ from the recording in real time, and since you're repeating the same few seconds of audio over and over, you can adjust your own pronunciation as you go, until you have it just right. OK, so I only did all this with the first 45 minutes or so of the movie before I got bored with the movie. But with that portion of the movie I went all out, printing the subtitles and making notes all over them, asking my tutor about parts I couldn't figure out, listening to each chunk of the movie dozens of times over, shadowing, chorusing, etc. The whole process took a few weeks, maybe an hour per day. I noticed a big difference in my listening in everyday life after the whole thing was over. It was like my brain had to do less processing in order for me to understand what I was hearing. I don't know to describe it other than saying there used to be a sort of wall between sound and comprehension, and the wall has come down now, or at least it's much less noticeable. My accent became more authentic as a result of the chorusing practice (before, I had only done it with textbook recordings). Of course, I also learned new ways of saying things, along with some 髒話, and learned some about Taiwanese culture. But the main thing was that the process turned incomprehensible input into comprehensible input, and then drilled it into my head. But perhaps the biggest thing was that other movies and TV shows became much more accessible after doing this. For a long time I had focused on reading more than anything else, so my listening and speaking lagged behind. This process helped my speaking some because of the chorusing and unintentional memorization that occurred, but it helped tremendously with listening, to the point that now I think I'm better at listening than anything else. So, this process allowed me to use other movies and TV shows much more easily, because I can generally just watch now and get almost all of it. The parts I don't get, I can iron out using these techniques, but it's much less intensive than the first time around. I can generally just enjoy the movie, and just pick out a few parts that need work. I generally spend a lot of time in cafes either working or studying, so I bring a movie or two with me to play in the background. I find that doing this keeps my brain in "Chinese mode," which is hard for me to do while I'm translating because I easily slip into English mode. So that's the other thing I do with movies, is to keep an "immersion environment" going, even though I live in Taiwan. Because eavesdropping gets old, and is generally much less interesting and varied. I find that aural input is much more effective than reading in maintaining the "din in the head" that Stephen Krashen and others have talked about as being very important to language acquisition. This matches up with my experience, that having this involuntary Chinese chatter going on in my head correlates highly with increased fluency, confidence, and willingness to speak as opposed to trepidation. Having a movie playing in the background has proven to be extremely helpful as far as all that goes, so I've been watching a bunch of movies over and over lately (I'm currently on a 讓子彈飛 kick). Anyway, this post isn't as organized as I was hoping, but maybe it will be helpful. This stuff has made a huge impact on my Chinese, so hopefully someone else will find it useful too. Really, you can do this with any kind of audio content, especially if you have a transcript, but I find it much more enjoyable, and therefore more effective, to do it with movies. If you have more ideas that have worked for you, please share them!
  22. 21 points
    Before taking the New HSK level 5 exam I searched all over looking for details about it that would help me prepare, especially after I found out that I would be taking the exam on the computer (网考). Though I did find the most helpful information on this website, it was difficult to find everything I wanted. This post is a summary of what I would have wanted to know before I took the test. First some background information. This was my first time to take an HSK exam. I took the exam in a smaller city in China on April 14, 2012. Before the exam I took 15 practice tests at home and also studied a few books about the HSK. General information The day before the exam there was a mock exam at the testing center to help those taking the exam get used to the computer based format. I found it very helpful to participate in this. You don't really need pencils and an eraser for the computer exam, but I brought them anyway and then asked for scratch paper before the exam, which they gave me. I used the scratch paper to mark difficult questions that I wanted to return to later. The computer format allows you jump instantly to any question (for the current portion of the exam) by clicking the question number on the list at the left of the screen. You can also easily change any answer as many times as you want. For each portion of the exam, the time counts down at the top of the screen, so you don't need to worry about not having a watch or a clock available. Listening The listening portion of the exam was very similar in difficulty to the practice exams available on the Hanban website. Some questions were so similar I almost felt like I had done them before. The four answer choices appear on the screen when the question number is spoken. You can only see the choices for the current question in part one. In part two, all of the answer choices are shown if there is more than one question for a particular dialog or passage. A blue progress bar at the top of the screen shows how much time you have left to answer the question. The screen automatically goes to the next answer set if you run out of time. Don't worry if you didn't have a chance to click your answer, though. There are 5 minutes at the end of the listening portion for you to go back. Just make a quick note of the question number on your scratch paper so that you can remember which one it was. Don't get distracted from listening to the beginning of the next dialog, though. One disadvantage of taking the exam on the computer is that you can't begin reading the answers to the next question if you finish one question early (except for passages with multiple questions). So I recommend when you are practicing with paper based exams beforehand that you refrain from looking at the next answer set until the woman says the number of the next dialog. I tried a lot of different strategies for the listening portion when I was preparing for the exam. Some worked well and some didn't. I recommend looking over the answers briefly before the listening passage begins. Try to determine what the question is going to be. That will give you a lot more focus when you are actually listening. If there is time before they start speaking then try to read at least one full answer. However, as soon as they start speaking, put your whole attention on what they are saying. You can still let your eyes rove over the answers, but your concentration has to be on what they are saying. I found that for short answer sets (2-4 characters) I could (and should) mark my answer or possible answer at the same time that the speakers were talking. If I didn't do this, it was easy to miss small but critical details. For longer answers I found that if I tried to read them at the same time, then I missed questions because I was concentrating too hard on reading. But if I focused on overall comprehension, I found that I usually had time to read and choose the correct answer after the question was asked. If you space off for even a moment you can miss a critical detail. I found two things that helped me to stay engaged in the dialog or passage. One was to use face and hand motions relating to the content of the passage to help me interact with what was being talked about. If you are too introverted to do that at the testing center (like me), then another one is to use your scratch paper to doodle about what is being talked about. Like I said, you have five minutes at the end of the listening section to go back and check/change your answers. I would use that whole time. Even though you can't replay the audio, you can reread your answers and make sure that you didn't misread them earlier or accidentally click the wrong one. Reading I found the reading portion to be a just little bit harder than I was expecting after doing the practice exams from the Hanban website. The reading portion is 45 minutes long. I mention that because some of the books I was using said it was 40 minutes while the Hanban site said 45 minutes. It's still not a bad idea to pace yourself to 40 minutes, though, and then use the extra five minutes to go back and check your answers to the difficult questions. For part one (fill in the blank), I think the best strategy is to look at the answers, then read the context before and after the blank. As long as you know the meaning of the words you can usually fill in the blank by only reading one or two sentences. For most of the questions you don't need to waist your time reading the whole passage. And believe me, you need every extra second you can get. For part two (short passage), I found the best strategy was to read the whole paragraph first as quickly as I could (just a little bit slower than skimming) while still maintaining some comprehension. My goal was to grasp the main idea but not necessarily every detail. Doing this I could often pick out the right answer or at least dismiss some wrong answers. Sometimes I had to return to the paragraph to look for details. Sometimes I had to just make my best guess and then make a note of the question number on my scratch paper and hope that I would have enough time at the end to come back and read it more carefully. For part three (long passage), the best strategy by far was to read the question first, note the key words, and then go back and scan the passage for the key words. After finding them, reading the context usually gave the correct answer. The questions were almost always asked in the same order as the passage content. Answers to questions about the main meaning of the passage can usually be found in the last sentence. Writing Here is where the main advantage of taking the computer exam is. I firmly believe that people should know how write characters by hand, but I admit that it was really nice to be able to use a pinyin input editor. This gave me a lot more time to compose my answers. It also allowed me to edit and rearrange after I was already done with my draft. That wasn't possible when I practiced writing on paper. I recommend that you use a computer when practicing this portion (but only if your exam is going to be computer based, of course). There were a large number of Chinese input editor choices on the computer I used. I chose the Sohu editor. If you can't remember how to write a character but you know the pinyin, then write a longer word or even a whole phrase and the right characters are usually automatically displayed. Some difficult punctuation marks to make are (、) the backslash key, (·) the tilde key, and (……) Shift+6. For part one, you just drag and drop the sentence fragments into the correct order. As long as you know the grammar, it is fast and painless. For part two, question one (80-word essay using the five given words), the best advice I found was to form a sentence linking all five words logically. Then expand each part of the sentence by adding descriptions, linking grammar, and so on. For part two, question two (80-word essay about a picture), the most basic good advice I was given was to first write a simple sentence describing the main point of the picture. Then expand that sentence by adding details, background, ideas, and so on. Preparation Tips For long term preparation, I recommend reading extensively in Chinese on many different topics. Specific topics that may be extra helpful are Chinese culture, famous history stories and legends, stories behind proverbs, and modern social concerns like population, pollution, and environmental protection. For listening, I recommend watching Chinese TV or serial dramas, clips on Youku, and listening to the radio. I liked the serial drama 《租个女友回家过年》 for both its interesting storyline and its culturally content. Or just check what modern TV dramas have high popularity rankings on Youku, Xunlei, or whatever your favorite site is. Keeping a topical daily Chinese diary would also be a good practice. I really, really recommend the Anki app for practicing vocabulary. If my Android phone did nothing other than Anki, it still would have been worth the price I paid for the phone. The app for Android is free and whatever it costs for Apple phones I'm sure it's worth it. I downloaded the 5000-word HSK level 6 list for Anki and after learning that, there were very few words I didn't know in the entire HSK 5 exam (which only supposedly requires 2500 words). I also memorized some flowery language and proverbs to describe a variety of situations. It paid off in the writing section. For short term practice, I recommend the following books: 新HSK考试辅导教程(5级) from 高等教育出版社 It has some good advice and also lots of good practice, including writing samples. 21天征服新HSK六级写作 Yes, this is for level 6 writing, but the whole first unit is about level 5 and that alone was worth the price of the book. Very well written. Besides, I can still use it if I take level 6 some day. Then a book with extra practice exams is helpful, too. I used 新HSK模拟试题集·五级 by Sinolingua. Their mock tests were significantly harder than the actual tests, but that has its benefits, too. These books and more are all readily available on Amazon.cn if you are in China. Well, this is a long post, but I wish someone else had written it before I took the exam. I hope you may find it helpful yourself.
  23. 21 points
    A chinese friend of my wifes rang up on the phone. At that time I was lying on the bed reading a book, my wife was lying beside me doing the same. I answered the phone and said. Yes she is here, you can talk to her. "Wo zai ta shangbian". Actually I meant to say "wo zai ta SHEN bian" So the meaning came out as "I am on top of her" instead of "I am beside her".
  24. 20 points
    I've been meaning to write something like this for some time, as a complement to Wushijiao's earlier advice for beginners. A few weeks ago there was a small rash of 'where do I start' topics, so I actually started writing it, and today the Internet wasn't working for a few hours, so I finished it. Feel free to pull it to pieces and suggest changes, but as it's already up against the 1,000 word limit you can't put anything new in without taking something else out. Assumptions I’m aiming to give solid, generally applicable advice for the new student of Chinese, in one thousand words. I’m assuming you are not enrolled on a full-time course, have not done any significant language learning before, and aim to reach general fluency and competency. Not everyone will agree with my advice. A course A structured course to follow is essential. Currently that means a paper-and-ink textbook, and the associated audio and video resources. Online and CD-ROM courses aren’t there yet, although they may make sound supplementary materials. Which actual course is less important – that will depend on what is available, what you like the look of, costs, etc. Some sound options: a. Integrated Chinese b. New Practical Chinese Reader c. Chinese Made Easier Follow one of these carefully and you can avoid the trap of focusing on what you find easier or enjoy, and as a result developing imbalances across the four core skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) or letting either grammar or vocabulary fall too far behind. Supplement with other resources, but never forget that structured backbone. Teachers and Tutors An evening class, private tutor (online or off), instant messaging buddy or willing Chinese-speaking friend is an excellent way to practice and build confidence. But be aware that native speakers are not necessarily able to teach, and may find it difficult to provide explanations – ask any English speaker if the ‘th’ in ‘thumb’ is voiced or unvoiced, or the difference between ‘I’ve seen it’ and ‘I saw it’. Chinese people often assume Chinese is virtually impossible for foreigners and hence heap praise on minor error-ridden achievements. Accept no compliment without criticism – insist on knowing what your most intrusive fault is, as there will surely be one. Pronunciation Bad pronunciation habits are more easily acquired than lost, so don’t acquire them. You’re going to be reliant on pinyin for quite some time, so learn it early and often. Remember pinyin letters do not have the same pronunciation they do in your native language – the pinyin wǒmen is not the English women. Listen intently and repeatedly to the audio for your course, and use Audacity or a similar tool to record yourself and compare. If you have any time with a tutor or native speaker, spend the bulk on pronunciation and speaking. Tones are often taught poorly or not at all by teachers and textbooks. But a student of Chinese cannot overlook the tones any more than a student of English cn ovrlk vwls. Do not ‘worry about them later’; you will not ‘pick them up over time’. You probably won’t produce tones accurately in conversation at first, but work from recognition to production in single syllables, to words, to sentences. Make sure you know the tones for every item of vocabulary you learn - if you don’t know the tones you don’t know the word. Further reading It’s like playing the guitar or tennis – frequent, repetitive practice is key. Characters Characters are the most visibly different aspect of Chinese, and it’s easy to get hung up on them. Don’t obsess about how many characters you know, or how many you need to know – put words first. You will need to learn to at least recognize characters. You may decide early on that you will not learn to write by hand - fine, you can get by with pinyin input on computers and mobiles. But not learning characters at all leaves you illiterate and devoid of study resources past the most basic of levels. You’ll need to decide whether to study simplified or traditional characters. The usual choice will be simplified but if you have a good textbook which uses traditional, plan to spend lots of time in Taiwan, or just think they look better, learning traditional is fine. Once you’ve learnt one set, the other is well within reach. Methods for learning characters range from brute force with flashcards and repetitive writing to the use of elaborate mnemonics. In any case, an understanding of the components that characters are made up of is essential. Vocabulary Use flashcards. You can make your own out of card, buy them, or use electronic flashcards on your computer, phone or PDA. Look at products such as Anki, ZDT and Pleco. Opinions on whether your flashcards should feature characters, words or sentences differ, but everyone agrees you should have them. Technology Make full use of technology. Flashcard programs simplify the grunt work of vocabulary learning. Podcasts and an mp3 player automatically delivers you daily listening material. A pop-up dictionary decodes that problematic sentence. Even the least computer-savvy learner will profit on time invested figuring these tools out. Don’t over-rely on electronic aids. You can't copy and paste an argument with a policeman into an online translator. Practice If you’re a movie buff, watch Chinese movies or TV. You’ll need subtitles, but picking out words and sentences is a huge confidence boost and eventually the subtitles get turned off (or swopped for Chinese ones). Bookworms should obtain a set of graded readers to use until they can start simpler authentic texts. Chatterboxes can find people to chat with over Skype. Chinese music, video games – it’s all out there. Initially authentic Chinese materials will seem inaccessible, but seek out the simpler ones and keep plugging away. You’ll get there, and it’ll feel great. Spend Money You can learn Chinese for free, but money spent may save you time and errors. Textbooks, a good dictionary, tutors. It’s still cheaper than golf, and much less pointless. Discipline Be rigorous. You’re not just self-studying, you’re self-teaching. It’s your job to make sure you complete the exercises at the end of every chapter, revise those words from three weeks ago, check the grammar in the passage you wrote, pull yourself up on pronunciation, find explanations for the stuff you don’t understand. Doing all that yourself isn’t simple - that’s why we’re here. But if you don’t care how good your Chinese is, your Chinese won’t be any good.
  25. 20 points
    As I've been a member of this amazing forum since 2004 and now ten years later married my Cantonese guy, Roddy asked me to write a post about my wedding. Ten years ago I was already interested in Chinese even though I started having lessons in 2008. After studying Chinese on the side for three semesters at my university, I got a chance to come to China. Long story short, I've been living in Guangzhou for four years and three months, met my husband in December 2013 2012 and married him this Spring. In China the first step is to get legally married which involves a lot of paper work, luckily I was visiting home before the big day so I could handle my papers in Finland. I needed a single certificate which needed three different stamps/seals: first one from Local Register Offices in Finland that gave me the certificate, second from the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Finland and the last one from the Chinese Embassy in Helsinki. With my fancy single certificate and my husband's ID card [ Edit: and hukou of course] we arrived to the marriage office in Guangzhou on Valentine's day. I had already translated my papers from English to Chinese at the very same office, which only took half an hour, so we were ready to get married. The ceremony was very nice, perhaps a Valentine's day special, and included a lof of photo shooting offered by the marriage office. Later we could purcharce a memory book with nine photos inside. For the Chinese getting your marriage certificates is just getting the legal paperwork done, nothing that special. But for me it was our real wedding day and I surprised my husband with a luxurious hotel room in Westin. Even a bigger day, the next step of getting married, was to have our wedding banquet and a part in the beginning of May. All the Chinese signs told as that 2nd of May would be a terrible day to get married, especially this year. We had a death in the extended family which means you shouldn't get married during the same year. And according to the Chinese calendar that day after May Day was very very unlucky. But my family already had the tickets so there was no changing the schedule. At first my parents-in-law adviced us just to have a small party by our selves, but in the end they ended up inviting 140 guests to our wedding banquet! And no one reminded us on that day how unlucky it was by the calendar. Because of all the changes in the plans and the fact that we were from different countries and cultures, our wedding day was very special. First we had the tea ceremony at home, pouring tea from a Finnish design tea pot. Then it was time for the Chinese wedding banquet at noon, which usually happens at the evening! I didn't wear the traditional 龙凤袍 bride attaire, but wore a red qipao 旗袍 instead. After the Chinese wedding we head to an apartment hotel to start our Finnish party. We had Western buffet, Western music, Western wedding games and I wore a beautiful white wedding gown. We only invited 35 people to attend the party and I was so happy to see that my husband's family stayed later than they have originally planned. It was great to offer them a completely different exprience. There would be a million things I could share with you about getting married to a Chinese guy, planning an international wedding to spending my days with my Cantonese husband. You can find out more about the wedding on my blog, atm still at the first page. See my signature below. If anyone has any questions or stories or expriences to share about Chinese weddings, please continue the discussion here
  26. 20 points
    Right, there's now no way this can't go viral. I wonder if buzzfeed.com.cn is still available... I was sitting in a London cafe the other day next to a middle-aged businessguy getting a Chinese lesson from his teacher. Frankly it wasn't very good. I was seriously considering having a word with him and pointing this out, but I left before the teacher did. Here's some of what was wrong. 1) No pronunciation correction at all Oh, you have an affidavit from 汉办 that your pronunciation is perfect? Even your tones, huh? Yeah, well they hand those out with cereal boxes. Unless you're a miracle, your pronunciation is going to need constant and incremental work. Even if you can speak flawlessly, you'll slip under pressure and you need called out on those slips. Not intrusively, not interrupting you while you struggle with a new construction, but you need to be made aware of it. This guy had obviously been allowed to coast too long with 'good enough for teacher' pronunciation. Minimum you want to be told what's wrong ("Your zh- sound is off"). Ideally you want to be told why ("you're starting the second tone too high"). 2) You're having trouble with this sentence? Here, let me help you with that... T: What are you going to do tomorrow? S: ... T: I... S: I... T: am... S: am... T: going... S: going... T: swimming? S: swimming! T: Very good! Maybe acceptable with a new construction you're not sure how to put together. For almost every utterance? Without putting together the whole thing yourself at the end? Naughty teacher. If you're not producing fluid Chinese under your own steam, something's wrong. Maybe the class is above your level, or maybe you've never actually been made to do it, so you can't do it. 3) Say yes, then we'll move on. This is one of my favorites T: Understand? S: Yes You cannot rely on people telling you they understand something. They might just think they understand. T: Where I come from summer is very dry. Dry, do you understand? S: Yes. [thinks dry means hot] versus T: Where I come from summer is very dry. What's the opposite of dry? S: Cold? T: No, dry means there isn't much rain. S: Ah, wet! This is a nasty one, as you end up with both teacher and student acting like progress is being made. And maybe it is, neither of you actually know. 4) Teacher talking time There shouldn't be so much of it. Explanations and instructions should be clear and concise. Yes, listening to a native speaker is valuable, but that's why BLCU invented the cassette tape. Being a beginner doesn't mean you can't talk, it just means you need to talk repetitively, about a limited range of topics. We call this practice. 5) Constant praise "Very good" when you've done something very good is useful information. "Very good" at the end of every utterance you make is utterly devoid of any value whatsoever. She might as well be coughing. "Good, but a little faster next time". "Grammar was perfect, but what happens with two third tones?" "Ok, but we learned a word last week that would be better, can you remember it?" If you want unconditional love, hire a puppy. 6) If you aren't exhausted, it isn't working This is not to suggest you should be walking out of class and collapsing. Not every class, at least. But language learning means an almost constant process of doing things you aren't good at, that you need to concentrate on, and that's hard. It also involves risking making mistakes and pushing yourself to do things the hard way. And that's hard too. If you're finishing your lesson feeling refreshed and ready for the rest of the day - are you being pushed hard enough? Are you pushing yourself hard enough. How does your body feel after a work-out? Your brain can feel like that too. Obviously you can't be working all-out, all the time. A good teacher will be aware of where your energy levels are, how enthused you are, and respond accordingly. If you're fading and frustrated after a discouraging listening piece maybe you'll get some easy vocab review. But if the listening piece was actually pretty easy and you're pleased with yourself, maybe she'll start discussing the contents with you and push hard on your speaking standards. 7) Teacher, you're the only one who understands me. It's important to have a soul-mate in life. Someone who gets you. Someone who finishes your sentences, who knows what you're trying to say before you've even figured out what to say, thus saving you the tedious task of saying it. This person should not be your Chinese teacher. Your Chinese teacher is used to hearing people mangle Chinese. She is getting paid to sit there and is therefore infinitely patient. She knows all the words you know and can probably have a good guess at what you're trying to say. She adores you. You are her unique Chinese-learning snowflake. But what about the rest of the world? Do you find yourself getting blank looks and confusion when you say things you're sure your teacher would understand? Then we have a problem. At some point you're going to have to jump in the taxi of a taxi-driver who's having a bad day; persuade a visa clerk with a migraine to help you; or ask a favour of your boss as he rushes out the office. You are not their unique Chinese-learning snowflake. You are one more demand, and you cannot rely on patience and understanding (ok, actually you often can, which is testament to the fascination of Chinese people with foreigners who learn their language. But let's do them a favour and not expect it of them) This is not to say that patience and understanding are not to be fostered in the Chinese teacher. But do not let yourself be molly-coddled. Require rigor also. 8.) Incorrect Corrections It's correct to be incorrect. Like I said above, learning a language is hard, you'll often be working at the edge of your abilities, and as such you'll often trip up. Words will fall out in the wrong order. A pronunciation error you thought your tongue had licked will reappear. You'll become very familiar with a feeling of "Oh, I knew that was wrong." You do need to be made aware of these. But when it's something you've studied before, you shouldn't get corrected. You should be made to correct. A raised eyebrow, a small cough, a stern expression - your teacher should have some way to indicate that you've just gone wrong, and you're going to need to think quickly, figure out what it is, and get it right. This is infinitely more effective that being told what you've done wrong and moving on. You end up taking responsibility for your own language. If you struggle to do so, you should get hints and, without too much delay, the answer. Some mistakes can be overlooked, as you're concentrating on something else. But if something's worth correcting, and you should be able to correct it yourself, you should get the first shot at it. In classroom situations, the student who made the error should get first shot, then it should be thrown open to the class, and only finally should the teacher explain, if still necessary. That's all I can think of. Others? Do you recognise your teacher? Or even yourself? And go on, everyone, tweet this on Facebook.
  27. 20 points
    Hi everyone, After a semester here I decided to quit (despite receiving CSC scholarship), because it's really just too painful of an experience to continue. For the sake of all future translators or people that want to go to SISU for MIT (masters in interpreting/translation), I want to shed light on this program so I can save potential translators from abroad some very precious time. Pros: -All teachers are Chinese -98% of your classamtes are Chinese -Program is crazy hard, so if you can keep up with teachers or perform as well as Chinese students you are automatically amazing and should go work for the UN -Teachers are famous (UN interpreters, etc)--problem is they never teach classes -Somehow this school is UN and EU approved. This school is very chummy with the EU, so you'll get pretty 厉害 people like the Director of Interpretering and Translating Board at the EU come to your school and give a speech about how you should 努力. You'll also get some top notch interpreters from the EU come and give speeches--but like I mentioned above, they never teach you. You might see them once a year/semester. -This school is EU/UN approved, so if you were to graduate from here I think the degree does have merit. Cons: -School will not tell you when semester starts or ends -Cannot choose classes and have no idea what classes you will take -Class schedule changes EVERY WEEK (yes, you heard me, they send you a new schedule every weekend so it's impossible to plan an internship or do anything else...) and... -The teachers change every class (the same teacher teach the same class? Wow, call me crazy but I thought it was helpful for students to get to know the teachers...(I guess that's too hard for this school to do) -Besides the interpreting classes, the other classes are a complete waste of time. -Classes are only 3 times a week for 2 hours each time. So you will have 6 hours of class a week, the rest of your time is supposed to be studying, but... -There is no homework -There are no tests -There is no textbook -One test at the end of the semester, but there is no pass/fail or evaluation so you will never know how good/bad you did -Chinese students are nuts, speak perfect English and can already do high level consecutive interpreting--get ready to compete with study robots that literally study English from 8 AM to 11 PM everyday. Not exaggerating. (Of course, keeping up with the Chinese students is one form of motivation, I suppose) -90% of classes are taught by Ph.D students that are terrible, terrible teachers and probably 25-26 years old -I'm sure you can tell by now, but there's no set curriculum--basically you interpret a random speech every class and the other Chinese students tell you how bad you suck when you finish making a fool of yourself in front of the entire class. You get used to 丢脸 on a daily basis after the first 3 days of class -Ph.D teachers make students do research work for her--it is mandatory (they tried to force us to teach English to other SISU students and do transcription for her thesis paper) -Teachers never smile, talk to you, or make any kind of action showing they care about your overall education or well-being--which, of course, is probably normal in China but very different from what I experienced at Tsinghua during my language studies program. Dorms: -It's free so I can't complain, but after living in downtown Shanghai last year this switch was pretty rough. The dorm here is basically a hotel and you have to share it with another person. Dealing with listed cons above and coming back to a roommate and living in a room the size of a Japanese business hotel has made me want to jump out the window more times than I can count. Result: IF YOU ARE PURSUING MIT TRANSLATION OR INTERPRETATION DO NOT GO TO SISU (Shanghai International Studies University). I heard at Beijing University and BLCU they actually have structured, organized courses with tests/homework included like a regular school. At the least, they probably provide a textbook in which you can self-study, as opposed to just randomly finding speeches on the internet and wondering how you should self study. I did some job hunting and a famous company wants to hire me as a Japanese/Chinese/English interpreter... I hate to say that I'm distraught about whether to stay at the school or not, but after this first semester of suffering, the thought of staying another 2 years and dealing with this crap is simply unbearable. I plan on going to the Monterey Institute in a few years where I'll have structued class and high quality education. In China, you really do get what you pay for. It's really obvious to see that teaching is their 'part time job' and they don't enjoy it. Teachers in SISU's MIT program really don't care about you. BUT if you self study and push yourself really hard to keep up with the Chinese students, you will definitely graduate to be something amazing. But also, keep in mind, when you're looking for jobs after graduation the Chinese students are also the same (and they're very young, 24 when graduating) and they are mind-blowingly good at what they do. I'm sorry, in the west we didn't undergo the torturous education they have here so we simply can't compare with them. After graduation the only hope of getting an interpreting job in China with a high salary is, well, not getting a job in China. After the degree, going back to your home country and being an interpreter will probably be lucrative, mostly because you're not competing with your crazy classmates that can simultaneously interpret the statistics of China's labor cost report at the blink of an eye with no error--for them to go to the EU or US and get hired would be extremely difficult. So. I just want to warn all those people that were considering SISU. Spending 2.5 years to get a masters in interpretation here, to me, just isn't worth it. SISU is famous for being THE BEST translation/interpreting school in China, but I think that was 20 years ago. It's really gone downhill, and I can't stress enough how you should just stray very, very far from this place.
  28. 20 points
    Recently, I've been thinking about how my perception has changed since I started learning Chinese. I found that many things turned out differently than I expected. I'm also looking at fixing up some weaknesses and thinking about how to structure my studying in the coming year. Perhaps others can share their experiences too (or disagree with my conclusions), here are mine. At the moment, I am reading 水浒传 and it is difficult, but modern books are typically not a problem. I am watching 爱情公寓 without subtitles and typically try to squeeze in some every day, which is not a problem in terms of listening. However, I don't consider myself fluent, as Chinese doesn't flow the way I'm expecting it to, and the way my other languages do. Anyway, there are some observations I've made along the way.1) Characters are really not that hard. The writing system is considered the most difficult aspect of Chinese by pretty much everyone who starts learning, and also by many people who have mastered Chinese. I used to dread learning them, and it was hard going, but looking back, I think that this aspect is overrated. In my experience, it takes about 2 years to cover the 3500 characters you need using an SRS program and reading as much as you can. After the two years, I kept reading and doing flashcards for another year, and then I dropped it. I found that as long as you keep reading, you don't forget them. So it's about 2 years of your life, and you're done. I don't remember the last time when I found characters to be an impediment to enjoying Chinese like I used to at the very beginning. Yes, I have to look up a character (sometimes even common ones) from time to time, but not much more often than in other languages (I'm ignoring 水浒 here for obvious reasons). In a way, it's a litmus test for whether you are going to succeed, because it requires continuous effort over a long span of time, just like every other aspect of Chinese. 2) Pronunciation is trickier than I thought. Chinese pronunciation is deceptively easy in the beginning -- even the tones, which are usually introduced in isolation. But they have a life of their own when mixed with sentence prosody, tone sandhi, and the neutral tone. I've been listening to slowed-down recordings of professional actors, and there are whole words which turn into some strange unclassifiable neutral-tone weirdness that makes the whole sentence sound natural. If I read it outloud, even if I hit all the tones right (that's a big if), it still comes out sounding decidedly foreign. Tone sandhi gets me very often. I will start speaking, then make a tiny stop after 有 or 很 or 一 or some other typical sandhi culprit, and then say something that would have affected that character's tone sandhi. Happens all the time. I guess that I'm thinking about sentences in terms of words, whereas a more natural approach (for Chinese) would be to think in much larger blocks. I believe that the key is in learning longer phrases. There are phrases that come out naturally because I've heard and said them many times and I'm all proud, and then the next word sounds like it was spoken by a poorly trained gremlin. This must be the direction I should be moving in. In general, I find it fascinating how you can pronounce everything right and still sound totally foreign, without being able to pinpoint it. I also find it fascinating how little it improves with time unless you target it specifically. I found other languages much easier in this regard. Of course, for many people this is not a major issue, but I have some kind of unhealthy obsession with sounding close to native. 3) Listening comprehension is also trickier than I thought. In contrast to characters, most people out there seem to claim that understanding spoken Chinese is easy -- especially beginners. My experience has been the exact opposite, learning to understand Chinese is a tedious process. I blame two things for it: The first on is the (relative) lack of stress. I find that most European languages "click" after a very basic vocabulary is obtained (1000 words or so) because each word is stressed exactly once, which is a very strong clue about where the words begin and end (many European languages have well-behaved stress falling on certain syllables with clear exceptions). This lack of stress makes figuring out where one word begins and the other one ends very difficult. Another issue is the lack of morphological clues (-ar is usually the ending of a verb in Spanish, -aste is the ending of a verb, etc). They make the grammar more complex, but they also help you when listening. Unless you have a decent vocabulary, a word could begin anywhere and end anywhere in a Chinese sentence, and it could be anything. I found it very difficult to get through this, but lots of listening and learning vocabulary slowly paid off. Another related problem is the relative shortness of Chinese words. A typical European word is longer. Chinese disambiguates by using tones, but I found it difficult to perceive this information consciously at high speeds, I was ONLY listening to the initials and finals -- which are not reliable in everyday speech. Only lots of listening helped here. 4) I'm still not sure about the role of passive and active learning. So far, most of my learning has been passive -- listening, reading, etc. I have found that it has improved my passive skills tremendously, but it doesn't really transfer to active knowledge, such as speaking or writing. This is pretty obvious, actually. But at the same time, I have avoided jumping in head-first and trying to do everything from the first day. I still think that this was the right decision, that you need to develop an ear for the language and a natural feeling for how to use it, before you shoot yourself in the leg with bad habits that take years to correct. Julien Gaudfroy wrote something similar, and who am I to disagree. But, due to learning outside of China and not having stable conversation partners regularly, I have found that I have neglected the active part too much. I think that some of it's my fault, as I've become too proud to make mistakes over the years -- I should have gone where it hurts more often. But I'm trying to fix it, by instituting Chinese Saturdays and going back to Audacity for some pronunciation and langdu torture. Still, I don't know what the best ratio is. It should be more active than what I have been doing, but more passive than some internet bloggers are preaching. 5) There are no shortcuts. No, really. Everything I skipped came back to haunt me later. I still think that being selective about when to do what is very useful. For example, I have found that waiting with chengyu did not hurt me, as the vocab and character language made learning them easier. On the other hand, ignoring langdu didn't do me any good, and might have harmed my pronunciation for years. One thing that I have found is that it is useful to work on several skills in parallel, and to move between them as weaknesses surface. Once again, I have found that this took more conscious planning than European languages, where things simply fell into place after a while. But I still don't know the best way to organise learning is. I guess that there is no perfect optimal programme. Anyway, this is probably obvious to many people here, but I have found that my thinking has changed on all these points since starting to learn Chinese.
  29. 20 points
    If you want to see an improvement in reading speed and recognition, then you should practice those things. These things might come naturally over time, but I don't see any harm in giving them a little push if that's what you want. To improve my reading speed, what I do is select a passage of text - this can be anything from 100 characters to a few thousand characters. Make sure it is something that is at your Chinese level. Nothing slows reading down like not understanding something. Go over the passage slowly, making sure you understand the meaning of every word and sentence, looking up and learning the ones you don't know - obviously you want to keep this to a minimum, hence the importance of selecting the right text. If you find the text is above your level, then you need to find a different passage. Now get a stopwatch (most mobile phones have them). Time yourself reading the same passage again at your normal reading speed. Calculate your reading speed in characters per minute (cpm = characters / seconds * 60). Let's say it came out to 100 cpm. Set yourself a target goal of 110 cpm and now read the same passage again but purposefully try to read it faster. Note any places that you got stuck on, or slowed you down and go over them closely until you are sure that they won't slow you down the next time. Repeat the process until you can read the passage at your target speed. Once you can do that, switch to a new passage of text and repeat the process. Once you can reach your target level on a new passage of text the first time you read it, set your target higher (say 120 cpm), and begin everything again. The keys to this are: *Selecting material at the right level - doing this sort of exercise is not about learning new words/characters, it's about improving the reading speed of things you already know. You don't want to be bogged down by unfamiliar words and sentence structures, so choosing the right material is key. *Timing yourself - having empirical evidence about your current reading speed is vital to helping you set realistic targets. It also helps show you the progress you are making, which can be a useful motivational tool when you find this sort of repetitive process bores you to tears. *Set small, easy to obtain targets for improvement - 10% increases in speed are usually quite easy to reach. This adds up quite quickly, and after regular practice, you'll find that you've doubled your reading speed. *Keep using new material - this shows that your actual reading speed is improving, rather than you just being familiar with the same passage of text. *Regular practice - You're better off doing 20 mins a day everyday, rather than 3 hours once a week - use something like 100% (which I developed) to help track and monitor progress. To give you a gauge for the kind of speeds you should be looking at reaching, a native speaker on average typically reads anywhere from 300-700 cpm. For the old HSK Advanced, you needed to be reading at around 200-250 cpm just to be able to read all the questions. For the new HSK6 you need to be reading at around 170 cpm just to be able to read everything.
  30. 19 points
    Hi everyone ! just received a good news from the embassy in my country this afternoon, my admission documents has reached their office ! I hope you will get a good news too !
  31. 19 points
    (Tip: Click on the photos and they will enlarge.) Fish-flavored eggplant is iconic here in China’s southwest, second only to a desk-top plaster bust of Chairman Mao. A store on the corner has an assortment of the latter, in various sizes and colors. You can even buy one that is unfinished, and paint it at home. Shopping for supper this morning at the wet market, I decided just for fun to tell most of the vendors I was planning to make yuxiang qiezi 鱼香茄子 at home this evening. It turned out to be a real conversation starter. The guy selling large scallions 大葱 told me his wife’s mother always put in a little bit of prickly ash, huajiao 花椒 because she was originally from Sichuan. “Good idea; I’ll try that too.” The lady selling fresh pork told me not to buy it too lean. “The fat adds flavor to a dish like yuxiang qiezi.” We settled on a piece of fresh pork that was about 30% fat and 70% lean. She washed it and ground it for me in her stainless steel machine. The woman at the stand which sold cucumbers 黄瓜 and eggplant (qieqi 茄子) recommended three long skinny ones instead of two larger stout ones. Her theory was that the skin adds a desirable slightly bitter note to the otherwise bland flavor of that vegetable. She told me when she makes yuxiang qiezi at home, she always puts in a tomato. Partly for color and partly for its acidic tang. “Thanks, I’ll try that tonight.” “Let me know how it comes out.” My nearest wet market is rich in local seasonings, ranging from the simple to the exotic. Lots of the items are pickled as well as being just plain hot. A quick walk through the aisles would provide an easy answer to the question of what kind of food is popular in these parts. One would have to conclude that Kunming likes highly seasoned food. Doesn’t necessarily have to be hot, but it needs to be bursting with flavor. Bland won’t cut it here in Yunnan like it might in coastal Guangdong. I explained my quest to one of the many vendors of sauces. She pointed me to a tub of her best dark spicy doubanjiang 辣豆瓣酱 and even offered me a taste with a disposable chopstick. She said it had more of a fermented flavor than the other two in her stock. Some of the peppers had been roasted before being ground and there was something special about the kinds of bean which were used. It is typically made with broad beans and soy beans, but this had dark beans as well. All in all, she thought it was “richer and more mellow,” thus better suited to yuxiang qiezi than the bright, fiery young pepper sauces in the adjacent containers. I bought 2 Yuan worth, about a third of a cup. If you are lucky and willing, that’s how it goes at the wet market. You not only buy your fresh produce and seasonings, but you get the benefit of friendly consultations along the way. Doubanjiang is a magic ingredient which has been called “the soul of Sichuan cuisine” by experts. But it is wildly popular in Yunnan and Guizhou as well. If you aren’t near a Chinese neighborhood wet market, you can buy it in jars at a grocery store 超市。 One last stop for some ginger and garlic. These are usually sold together by the same person. That guy has rough dirty nails, presumably from digging around in the earth, planting and harvesting his crops. The nail on his left pinkie finger must be almost an inch long, like a Qing Dynasty royal. It would be elegant if better maintained. He always scrunches up his nose and visibly flinches at my terrible accent. It’s a standing joke by now and we laugh together, since we both know his accent is worse than mine; he’s a dialect speaker 95% of the time. Told him I was making yuxiang qiezi and he dramatically rolled his eyes up in his head, as though invoking some culinary deity. I expected to hear an old countryside tale, but he just smiled and said, 好吃,好吃,好吃。 Got a ride home in one of the three-wheel gas-powered scooters that hangs around the gate, today’s answer to the rickshaw. 三轮摩托车。They are typically driven by retired guys with gray hair and raggedy caps. Today there was no problem, but last time my favorite driver refused to take me. Today he apologized and explained that it was because the cop at the main intersection had been on a rampage, handing out tickets to unlicensed vehicles like his. That particular cop is well known because he’s actually retired and works that corner free-lance on his own time to supplement his pension. He was once a minor hero and got injured in the line of duty, something to do with his left lower leg. He chains a collection basket to the nearest lamp pole and has a cardboard placard above it with highlights from his life story scribbled long-hand. He wears most of a uniform, albeit not freshly laundered, but always has one pants leg rolled up to the knee so passersby can see his scars. People put 5 Mao or 1 Yuan notes into his collection basket. I usually go with the 5 Mao option, and he usually salutes. Now he has stopped collecting fines and he’s Mister Goodcop again, helping old ladies cross the street and shepherding children. The week before this one, when my favorite driver had been afraid of the route, he referred me with a gesture to another guy across the alley. That bootleg driver had a similar three-wheel cart, but insisted on charging me an extra 5 Yuan because he could still venture where the others could not. I paid it because my arms were full of heavy produce, including a dozen fresh free-range eggs, and the sun was hot overhead. After we navigated the perilous “toll corner” without being accosted, he confided that the authorities usually gave him a pass because he was crippled. 我是残疾人,咯。He pointed with what seemed like pride to the aluminum crutches that assured him safe passage. We both smiled, with lots remaining unsaid. Now for the actual cooking. Why, you may wonder, does yuxiang qiezi 鱼香茄子 have such a misleading name since no fish are involved? How can fish-flavored eggplant make any sense? Well, it turns out that this method of seasoning originated in Sichuan when they cooked home-style fish. Using pickled chilies and fermented beans, plus ginger, garlic, and spring onions, together with a sweet and sour dimension, eventually came to mean something was "fish flavored." Yuxiang rousi 鱼香肉丝 is another such regional favorite, made with pork slivers instead of eggplant. Again, it contains no fish. Remember to put the rice on before doing anything else, at the start of your prep work. It's time for that now. I also pre-soak white rice for 15 minutes to make the grains softer. First order of business is to get the meat ready. By the way, it’s easy enough to make a meatless version by just leaving it out. Might add some green or yellow bell peppers in that case. Mix the ground pork with some corn starch or equivalent, usually called xiaofen 小粉 or dianfen 淀粉, and a little Shaoxing cooking wine 绍兴酒。The starch powder pictured here is made from cassava. Since ground meat doesn’t require much in the way of tenderizing, you only need a teaspoon or so of the xiaofen and a tablespoon or so of the wine. Stir it all together so it can marinate. Should not be soupy wet or it won’t fry well. Looks like this after mixing. Now prepare the aromatics. In this case that means mincing a couple large cloves of garlic and a thumb of ginger. Peeling the ginger can be a chore, and I use the sharp edge of a spoon to make it go faster. Hold the ginger in one hand, and pull the spoon towards yourself with the other. Scrape the peel away instead of trying to cut it away. (Couldn't illustrate it properly since that would require three hands.) You notice the whole prickly ash in the spoon just above, next to the ginger and garlic. It is huajiao 花椒。This is a quintessential Sichuan spice that makes the tongue a little bit numb; imparts a distinctive “mouth feel” 口感。Even though it is sometimes referred to as Sichuan peppercorn, it actually is a member of the citrus family; a seed, complete with its husk; not a pepper at all. Here’s a closer look. It is used in Sichuan cooking for its crunch as well as for its flavor. If you find it too crunchy, however, you can crush it in a small bowl with the back of a spoon. I use between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of it, depending on who is coming to dinner. Next, clean the spring onions 大葱。 Let me show you an easy way to do that. They always come with some soil on the root ends. Don’t try to wash them, because that makes a big mess. Instead, just peel down the outer layers and snap off the tip. I do it over the sink. Slice the white part into segments 3 or 4 cm long, and cut these again once or twice lengthwise. I use one spring onion per eggplant; less if they are real big. Make a sauce of two tablespoons each of light soy sauce, aged vinegar, and Shaoxing wine. Plus one teaspoon of sesame seed oil. I prefer the dark kind because it has more sesame flavor. Add a teaspoon of sugar and half teaspoon of MSG if you use it. Omit adding extra salt, since several other ingredients are salty, especially the doubanjiang. This sauce you have just made is sometimes referred to as “fish flavor sauce.” Wash and rough chop one tomato. If you cut it too small it will just “disappear” during the cooking. You want it to add highlights of color. Your rice will now be about ready so it’s time to finish the prep work and move to the stove. You have saved the eggplant until last. Slice off the husk at the stem end, but don’t waste much flesh. 不要浪费。 Today I cut the eggplant on a rotating bias since each one was small. Sometimes I cut it into sticks or slices. Sometimes I leave it whole, scored with deep cross-hatched serrations. . If you cut up the eggplant immediately before cooking, it won’t have time to turn brown. But if, for whatever reason, it will need to stand longer, immerse the cut sections in cold salted water. Weigh them down with something and squeeze out the water before using. Now pre-cook the ground meat and scoop it out of the wok or skillet. No seasoning needed and it doesn't need to brown; just needs to lose its pink color. Reserve it off to one side in a bowl. (The Chinese term for "reserve" in this context is 备用。) Add a little more oil and put in the garlic, ginger, and huajiao. Sauté them in oil over medium heat until they begin to release their aroma, but don’t let them cook long enough to get brown. Add the duobanjiang 豆瓣酱 and stir it around. Unlike the ginger and garlic, it doesn’t really need to cook; the goal is just to make a rich, flavor-infused oil. I use a scant tablespoon for each eggplant. Add the eggplant and mix it well with the oil, using a ladle 勺子 or a spatula 锅铲 to gently press down as you stir. Add the tomatoes and then return the pre-cooked meat to the wok. The meat has been resting in a bowl so most of the fat has collected in the bottom. Leave that part behind by spooning the meat out of the bowl instead of just pouring the whole thing. Add the “fish flavor” sauce from its bowl and stir well. It is quickly absorbed. Now in go the spring onions. They are always last. Stir for a minute or so and serve. Steamed rice on the side. You now have a pretty good one-dish meal; an easy bachelor supper, or a decent dinner for two with the addition of a soup and a salad. If you order yuxiang qiezi in a restaurant, it will often come out swimming in oil. Some of the most famous traditional recipes even call for deep-frying the eggplant. Doing it at home means you can make it a bit healthier, but it will never qualify as “lean cuisine.” I sometimes make it by steaming the eggplant a few minutes before a very light frying; toss everything in the wok mainly to blend flavors. If you can talk yuxiang qiezi with Chinese people that you meet, perhaps while sharing a compartment on the slow train from Lijiang to Guiyang, they will know you are not just another lazy tourist in search of the nearest McDonald’s. Even if you never make it at home, simply asking “Where can you find decent yuxiang qiezi around here?” goes a long way in starting a casual connection and passing the time. You will instantly be promoted half a notch in their minds, since they will realize you have some respect for Chinese food culture and at least a little knowledge of how important things like that are. Yuxiang qiezi can serve as a cultural bridge and as they unwrap their bundle of train-travel goodies, I guarantee you will be offered an orange or two.
  32. 18 points
    I recently completed 300 lessons on italki.com with my Chinese teacher, and it's been suggested that I write something up. I'll try to focus on lessons learned, as in: things I would do differently if starting again. Background When I started learning Chinese in Feb 2017 it was more or less from zero. I knew nihao and xiexie, and I could recognise a few Hanzi thanks to the beginner's level Japanese I've done twice in F2F evening classes. That was it. My motivation for learning was partly because I was living in Singapore at the time (and therefore seeing Chinese written on signs everywhere, so I was curious), and partly because I love learning languages, and Chinese to me always seemed like one of the great challenges to have a go at. I also had a vague idea about moving to China to work for a while, like many of us I guess. I knew I wanted to learn 1:1 online rather than having F2F classes, because I really enjoy the flexibility. I studied Hindi with a teacher on Skype when I lived in India and that had worked really well. I'd also done plenty of evening classes over the years and been dissatisfied with the rigidity of once-a-week, 10 weeks in a semester, and having to travel to a school somewhere to study after a tiring day at work. With 1:1 classes I appreciate being able to dictate my own pace, and with online I like the flexibility of being able to move classes around, re-scheduling to suit my situation when necessary. italki.com is useful like this as it basically acts a scheduling system for your lessons. I always keep going with classes even when I'm travelling or on holiday, so long as I have a decent Internet connection. Getting Started I went to italki.com, found a teacher with 5-star reviews and good qualifications, and we had a 30-minute trial lesson. It went very well, so we started having one-hour lessons once a week using Zoom or Skype... we've switched back and forth for various technical reasons over the years (and even used WeChat once I think although it doesn't support screen sharing). I like my teacher a lot — we're still together after more than 3 years — but in retrospect once a week wasn't enough to begin with, particularly in retaining vocabulary. We studied using pinyin and I made steady but slow progress for the first 6 months, using the Integrated Chinese textbooks to start with. (I was working a full-time job at this point btw.) After 6 months we decided it was time to move onto Hanzi, and shortly after that — around September — I decided to go for the December HSK 2 exam as a short-term objective. So we switched from the Integrated Chinese series to the HSK 2 Standard Course textbook and workbook, and eventually to the HSK 2 practice exams in the 3-4 weeks before the actual exam. HSK and HSKK I did the paper-based version of the HSK 2 exam in Singapore in Dec 2017. Sitting in a classroom surrounded by 10-year old schoolkids was a bit weird! My thinking was that going for Level 2 first would give me experience of the exam format, and something to aim for that wasn't too daunting. I scored 92% for listening and 99% for reading. Round about then I discovered these forums and started getting more motivated and more excited about what might lie ahead. 😎 I had lesson #65 a year to the day since I started, so that was an average of 1.25 per week in the first year, and by this point we'd done 5 lessons in the HSK 3 textbook out of a total of 20. We switched up a gear and I began having lessons 2-3 times a week, and conscientiously doing homework, both of which I found made a lot of difference with retention of material. My teacher is fond of this quote, which seems very apt: 学如逆水行舟,不进则退。 Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back. We finished the HSK 3 textbook in June 2018 and then moved onto exam preparation for HSK 3 and HSKK 初级 beginner level. I registered to do both the exams in Shanghai in July as part of a holiday in China — my first visit. (If ever you want to ruin the first few days of your holiday, just try spending them sitting in a hotel room doing mock exams!) This was also my first experience of doing the HSK on computer rather than the paper test, and I found it harder and slower to read the Hanzi as they were pretty low-resolution in a poor quality font. I wrote up the experience in detail on this thread: HSK 3 "internet-based test" — report. In the end my HSK 3 score was Listening: 88, Reading: 74, Writing: 92, total 254 (pass mark is 180, 60%). On reflection, I wish I had spent more time preparing for the reading section, because you have to be able to read very quickly, and it’s useful to have some tactics for answering certain kinds of questions, such as skimming the ones that are asking you “in general, what is this text about?”. For example I could have done more mock tests, but just the reading section against a timer. The HSKK beginner level exam was pretty painless and in fact I was the only person in the room, so it was very relaxed. I scored 78/100 (the pass mark is 60). Next we started the HSK 4 textbooks (two volumes) and I plodded along with those; meanwhile I also registered for the HSKK 中极 intermediate exam in Singapore in Dec 2018. We did some oral preparation for that in lessons in the weeks before. In the end this exam was a bit of a disaster, mainly due to the very noisy set-up in the room (as I described in another post) and I could barely hear what was going on. I only scored 53/100 for this (the pass mark again is 60). I left Singapore in Dec 2018, and 2019 was meant to be a "gap year" although it didn't really turn out that way. I continued with my online lessons though, apart from a 4-week break when I studied CELTA intensively. From May to December I ended up in Beijing teaching English to Chinese schoolkids, and obviously living in China for the first time made a big difference to my studies. Certainly by the time I was about to leave Beijing in December 2019 I felt like something was starting to "click" in terms of listening because I was just hearing Mandarin spoken a lot of the time, including from Chinese work colleagues and students. In April 2020 we finished the second HSK 4 textbook (4下) shortly after completing 300 lessons, after around 3 years and 2 months in total, and originally the aim would then have been to move into exam preparation mode. But meanwhile most of the world had become locked-down due to COVID-19 and exams were cancelled. So in the interim we've recently shifted to working on listening and speaking again, using photos as stimulus material and some bits of HSKK 中级 tests. So far this year we'd been doing 2 lessons a week as I was trying to save money, but I'm going to move it back up to 3 per week again now. I'd like to do the HSK 4 exam this year (2020) but this will probably be in China and I've no idea when I'll finally get back there. Lesson Formats Generally we follow a lesson format set by the teacher, although whenever there's something specific I want to work on, like revising certain aspects of grammar or pronunciation we'll switch to those for a while. My teacher always gives a full 60 minute lesson — no mean feat if you have back-to-back classes. We usually begin each lesson with a 5-10 minute chat about what I've been doing since the last lesson, talking about the weather or current affairs etc. I know some folk really don't like this, but I find it a good warm-up exercise... apart from anything else, I usually prepare some vocab for it which is useful since it's usually non-HSK vocab but directly relevant to my everyday life, so it fills a certain gap. After the chat we move onto the textbook or workbook. Mostly we've been working through the HSK Standard Course textbooks chapter by chapter, and each chapter has a set structure: Some new words and discussion of topic area for the chapter Dialogues and texts, with new words at the side Grammar points, examples and exercises For the dialogues and texts we'll go through the new words and then I'll try to read the text out loud. Typically then I'll read again but with the teacher reading first and me repeating, so we can focus on tones and sentence structure. Then my teacher will ask me a few questions to test comprehension, often leading into a broader discussion, asking my opinions etc., followed by some discussion of main grammar points. Finally we'll discuss any problems or questions I might have. For the grammar and exercises we'll work through the material together, skipping some stuff that's meant to be group-work. I've been pretty happy with this approach... it's good to have a structure to work with and I like the way that the new vocabulary is introduced in chunks in each chapter. We've also used the HSK Standard Course workbooks, in a fairly ad hoc way for HSK 3 but by HSK 4 we had settled on a pretty solid routine whereby after finishing each chapter in the textbook we would do the corresponding reading and writing exercises in the workbook. These are like cut-down versions of the HSK exam, but only using the vocab that has been introduced up to that point, chapter by chapter, so I've found they work very well. At HSK 3 level we did some of the listening exercises from the workbook, with the teacher reading out the text, but we didn't bother doing this for HSK 4... since the workbook comes with audio I can do this on my own when I finally start to prepare for the HSK 4 exam. The other lesson formats we've had have been preparation for the HSK or HSKK exam, which in the earlier days was going through the mock papers, but I soon moved onto doing these against the clock in my own time, and then making a note of any problems so we could discuss them in the next class. Tools and Resources I've found that the tools and resources I've used have changed over time. When I first started to learn Hanzi I began using the Skritter app and was focused on trying to learn radicals. I don't know how or where I came across this recommendation ("learn radicals first"), but in the end I decided it was pointless, especially learning their names. For me it was more important to be learning words. I ended up with a little poster stuck up in the kitchen with radicals and variants on it, and rather than trying to "learn" them I found it more useful just to browse this from time to time, while cooking for example, and to go and look at it when I noticed a certain radical was cropping up. Actually I think what made a lot more difference to me was thinking about components and how phonetic-semantic characters work. If I'm working on a laptop I often use MDBG.net or HanziCraft to look up a new character and break it down into components to help me understand what's going on, and to see if there's a pronunciation "clue" in there. I also use the ZhongWen pop-up dictionary extension for Chrome all the time, and that hooks very nicely into MDBG and Chinese Grammar Wiki. I liked Skritter — the method for learning tones is interesting — but I found that when using this app it was just taking me too long to learn the HSK vocabulary for the level I was at. Plus, my attitude to handwriting has always been that it's not essential and that I will come to it eventually. So in the end I cancelled my subscription. When I was working towards HSK 3 I was using memrise.com a lot, via the browser on my laptop rather than the app. I built my own multi-level deck for studying the vocab, organised in the order they're presented in the textbook, testing by audio. I built my own because there's one for HSK 2 which I had found useful. What eventually turned me off memrise is that it was full of mistakes and missing audio, one of the downsides of user-generated content. Plus I moved more to using apps on my phone for learning on the go, and I didn't like the memrise app. (Memrise seems to have changed a lot since then.) Eventually I moved onto using the StickyStudy app for vocab, and I hacked my own decks (available here) so I had one for each chapter in the HSK 4 textbooks. Again I found it better to break things down a bit — a single deck with 600 cards in it is harder to manage. Recently I was curious about Tofulearn after hearing good things here so I started using that as well, including using it briefly to go back to learning handwriting for HSK1 level, "for fun". Currently I'm mainly using Tofulearn on my iPad, drilling the HSK 4 vocab... it doesn't work well on my iPhone as I have the text set to be quite large (accessibility settings) and it doesn't fit on the screen properly. But on the iPad it just seems to hit the sweet spot for me. I hadn't really dug into it much until recently, but it also allows you to drill down into components, similar characters and so on. Since I've now finished the textbooks and covered all the vocab, the order of presentation doesn't matter any more — but in Tofulearn the 600 word deck is broken down into sets of 50 cards, so you can practice a smaller subset if you want. One thing I've found really useful and important with all these tools is being able to hear native-speaker audio (not synthesised text-to-speech) when I'm learning the Hanzi... this has helped me a lot with recalling tones, to the extent that I can subvocalise or "hear in my mind's ear" what many of these words sound like in the recordings. Of course there's also an enormous amount of content out there even just on youtube. I enjoyed watching the free ChinesePod videos from the "Fiona and Constance era" — I really liked the way they presented the Qing Wen series, especially when I was starting out and I needed some solid explanations of things like the differences between 的 - 得 - 地. I also found the XM Mandarin youtube channel to have a lot of useful videos relating to understanding and preparing for HSK and HSKK exams. Xiao Min's voice is very clear and well-recorded... I used some of her vocabulary playlists when I needed to revise but wanted a change or was feeling tired. Alan Davies @hskalan did some great analysis and clustering of HSK vocab along with visualisations at hskhsk.com which I've had fun with... things get a bit unwieldy at HSK 4 but looking at the common characters in HSK1-3 is really interesting and helped me consolidate my understanding quite a bit. I've tried creating my own visualisations using Gephi and the source files which is interesting but a but tricky. Finally of course there's Pleco, which I use every day. I've tried using the flashcards feature for revision but found it a bit basic compared to StickyStudy. Apart from that it's one of the best apps I've ever used for anything. Graded readers is one area I've not managed to get into properly yet... I read The Monkey's Paw last year and the story was a bit simplistic, but it's nice to be able to read an actual book. I have a graded reader sitting on Pleco too which I've not started yet (Legend of the White Snake), and again on the iPad it seems like it hits the sweet spot in terms of presentation and function, although I do find the mix of hyperlinks and underlined text too cluttered... it would be nice to be able to turn this off. Well that was a couple of hours of brain-dump on a Saturday lunchtime. I hope it's useful to someone. Edit: My teacher and I recently decided on a book we can use next to help me consolidate grammar and improve speaking/listening, given that HSK exams have been suspended during the C-19 lockdown. See this other thread.
  33. 18 points
    Hey ABC, if you don't know yet, there is a chance of snow in Dallas for the next couple of days. The TV weather report is saying travel is not recommended. (Just what you want to hear...) Yes, you are right, that's not what I was hoping to hear. Got to DFW (Dallas) last night from Los Angeles. Good flight. But this pilgrim is weary. Feels like I've been on the road forever. Lost my large checked suitcase somewhere along the way. Filed a "lost baggage" report. Chances are it's back in Hong Kong. Have rented a car, and in a couple hours will drive home. Should be able to lay my head on my own pillow tonight. A big thank you to all of you here on the forum who have been pulling for me to make it!
  34. 18 points
    I took the HSK 5 last weekend in Lanzhou on December 4th, 2016. To my surprise, I found the study process to get ready for the exam both rewarding and educational. Quantitatively, I learned 400 new words (over 50 hours of Anki), completed seven practice exams, and studied roughly three to four hours per day for the month prior to the exam. I say it was a surprise that it was rewarding and educational because prior to the exam I had always written it off as a test that more-so tests my ability to take a test rather than my Chinese ability. I did, however, spend a significant time just learning how to take the test. At times, this was frustrating. I hated having to learn to skim for answers rather than read and be tested on my comprehension -- but not I'm finding my reading speed is faster and I can more easily skim a text, which is a valuable skill in and of itself. I also hated some of the logic in the questions, like two people discussing living together, one male and one female, which obviously implied they weren't friends but lovers. And yet, looking back, that is the same logic I see my students employ, regularly. The writing section, though, was likely my favorite. It was the biggest challenge, but it finally gave me a reason to practice writing. Being somewhat of a writer in English, it was a skill I'd never manage to transfer to this new language. I still haven't, but now I'm one step closer. I liked the first writing part where I needed to reorganize the words because it forced me to recognize the many errors in my current Chinese grammar, mostly the placement of simple words that I thought I had down, already. I also learned several new grammar patterns from them. The second part that had me look at pictures and write about 80 characters was challenging for a whole other reason--restricting my writing to a mere 80 characters. Previously, teachers had always applauded me for writing extra, but a side-effect of this has been that I was not economical in my word usage, nor was I very clear in my logic. I supplemented both with extra phrases and paragraphs, asking my reader to pull my meaning out of the extra content. The 80-character limit demanded I think fully through from beginning to end. Furthermore, the part that provided me with several words for which I needed to create a full idea with, in 80 characters, give or take, pushed me to take the time to actually practice writing sentences with the grammar patterns I know but never use. Previously, I would do the whole "I know it when I see or hear it, therefore I know it" fallacy. The wake-up call was when 即使 was one of the words, a word I considered I knew and quickly found I didn't. The fear of that happening on the test pushed me to practice writing sentences with all the different grammar patterns I learned. Though, my girlfriend is very tired of correcting my sentences, now. In order to learn the vocabulary, I put the HSK vocab list into Chinese Text Analyser and went through the whole list. If I had even a moment's doubt, I would not mark it as known. Then I exported all words up to HSK5 that I didn't know and put them in Anki. Then, after filling in the blanks with Pinyin Toolkit, I would study them religiously (40 new and all reviews). I would choose less sleep over missing a day. When I ran into a word I really didn’t know, then I’d add a sentence from Jukuu, Zhonga, or Pleco. The process of finding the sentence(s) helped deepen my understanding of the word. I’d also aim for a sentence that included a good grammar pattern or another word I wanted to practice. When I studied them, I always wrote down the word and sometimes I’d also write down the sentence. Even better was if I could remember the sentence before I even flipped the card. Having stock sentences for a lot of vocabulary helped me a lot on the writing part. Throughout the month, I studied a practice test once a week or so. This was a constant reminder that I wasn’t perfect and there was still a lot to be learned. I didn’t do what many friends did and try to learn any words they didn’t know on the practice test. Instead, I just stuck to learning the 400 I’d already added to Anki (it’s good to have limits). I finished learning all the new words one week before the test. I did this intentionally and had set my daily, new-words limit accordingly. I spent the last week doing as many practice tests as time allowed. The last tool I used was Audacity. I put the audio file for the listening section in it and “Truncated Silence” (under the effect menu) to remove the pauses. I also cut out the intro. Then I put them on my phone and listened to them whenever I had time. I’d also try to repeat what the man said whenever he spoke. During the practice tests, I scored a pretty consistent 37ish/45 for both the listening and reading sections. I would always write question marks next to questions I wasn’t sure about when I wrote the answers. This let me know that the spots where I “felt” confused at were often where I was actually confused. The feedback loop was helpful and helped teach me to gauge my own knowledge. Based on that, I’m confident that I did better than any practice test I took. Lastly, I decided on the written form. The audio section was played over a loudspeaker in the whole room. No headphones. But, the test booklet included all three sections. So, once we were done with the listening section, during the 5-minute break to ensure all boxes were filled in, I could move on to the reading section. Additionally, after I finished the writing section early, I could go back to the reading section and double check some answers that I marked. All this said and done, while I went into the HSK 5 test prep process as a skeptic, I'm leaving as a believer. I recognize that it does have its failures, but preparing for it was a boon for my Chinese. It pushed me to study more and recognize the holes in my current Chinese ability, while simultaneously motivating me to fill them. My biggest take-away, though, was that the HSK should not be my sole goal. I will continue reading, studying and living the language and after maybe another year I will switch into HSK-mode and focus on learning the HSK 6 vocabulary and grammar. EDIT: The book I used that includes answer keys, explanations for every question, transcripts for the audio sections, and a sample answer to every essay question https://world.tmall.com/item/524202182648.htm#detail? The links I used for HSK test info http://www.chinesetest.cn/goKdInfoOrPlan.do?zhou=1&guo=1&kdname_name=%E5%85%B0%E5%A4%A7&kdType=0&xm=0&km=0&yf=0 http://www.china.org.cn/english/MATERIAL/105469.htm http://confuciusinstitute.asu.edu/files/application/HSK.pdf http://www.chineseathome.com/index.php?option=com_content&id=355%3Ahsk-idioms-list&catid=66%3Ahsk&Itemid=202〈=en https://www.umb.edu/confucius/tests/hskk
  35. 18 points
    When learning Chinese, one of the most useful things you can do to improve your listening ability is drilling sentences. This means you repeat the same sentences, spoken by native speakers, over and over. Your goal is to understand every word that is spoken in the sentence. Typically, one does this by finding an audio file with the text spoken (e.g. an audiobook, or podcast) then find the transcript. Typically, you would load the audio file into an application such as Audacity, select each sentence manually, match it up manually with the transcript and repeat it. While this is OK, it requires a lot of mousing around to select audio fragments and match them up with the text. And if you want to go back to an earlier sentence and drill it some more, you need to find it again and re-select it again. And then if you would like to export these sentences to another tool (e.g. Anki) with the audio, it requires selecting, then extracting the files for each segment of text, and copy pasting the sentences into your tool. It’s pretty slow going and you spend a lot of time not listening to Chinese but playing with tools. Recently I found the application “WorkAudioBook” at http://workaudiobook.com/ by a developer called Sergey Povalyaev which is designed as an audio player for language learners. I was pretty excited to find it because it makes it very easy to do listening practice, and can additionally be used as a tool to create subtitles that match the timing of audio very easily. This application is free for PC (and I think Android but I don’t have an Android device so can’t confirm). I have no relationship with the developer but I am very impressed by him! WorkAudioBook will load an MP3 and automatically segment it up into sentences based on short silences that occur between sentences. You can then load a text document with the transcript and simply highlight the text that corresponds to each spoken sentence, and press a button. WorkAudioBook will then mark that timing of the audio sentence with that text (recording the start and end time), just like subtitles on a movie (if you have ever looked at an SRT subtitle file it’s just start timing plus end timing + text). So, first time round you can listen to a sentence, mark the text that corresponds to that sentence. Go through the audio until you’ve matched up and studied a bunch of sentences. The after that, you can drill yourself by listening to the sentences. If you think you understand the sentence, you can check your answer by revealing the “subtitles” that correspond to that sentence. You can mark sentences as easy, medium and hard depending on how easy you find it to listen and understand. New vocabulary can be marked and exported to Anki. Even more interesting for me, if you go through a whole audio file and mark all the sentences, you can export all your timings as an SRT file. An Example Walkthrough Here’s an example. Let’s consider how to use this tool to practice listening by using an example passage from Slow Chinese. There is very good documentation for WorkAudioBook on the website (http://workaudiobook.com/) so I’ll just explain the steps and you can check the website for details. First download the WorkAudioBook application on PC. Let's try the very first podcast from Slow Chinese series, about the Dragonboat festival: http://www.slow-chinese.com/podcast/1-duan-wu-jie/ Download the MP3 file and load it into WorkAudioBook. Open the subtitle editor and “edit” it. Insert the title “端午节” and then transcript below which starts with “中国农历的五月五日是一个重要的节日”… Turn off edit mode so you can start marking the sentences. Press space to play the first segment of sound. It’s into music so we want to skip through for a bit until we get to the good stuff. Press the fast forward button (Alt-Right Arrow key also works) a few times until you get to the first sentence. The first sentence is端午节. Because of the intro music it doesn’t quite detect this sentence starting neatly at 25-27 second so you might want to just select it yourself (doesn’t really matter it’s just a bit neater). You should stop the auto playback (press stop button). Then select 端午节 in the subtitles text, and press “N” (or press the Play Next button). This will mark the audio sequence for 端午节 as the 25-27 seconds mark. Then the next segment audio selected is “中国农历的五月五日” so select that text, press stop, and press N (Play Next) again. The next segment is “是一个重要的节日,叫做端午节”, stop and press N. Continue like this – trim or expand the audio a little if it doesn’t quite detect the sentences well or if you would prefer longer/shorter audio fragments. It’s often useful to use the next red line in the audio as the likely next best stopping point. If you make a mistake just delete the subtitle using the Del button (this won’t delete the text, just the marking of start and end timings). There are handy shortcuts for advancing through the text to the next punctuation mark (press H). Once finished marking all the text (takes a few minutes) you are ready to drill. Go back to the start and you can either walk through the audio (fast forward, reverse) or you can select sentences in the text and it will jump to the right audio for that sentence. Drill away – try to understand the sentences, look up words you don’t know, even try shadowing the sentence by saying it exactly as said. I’ve also used this tool to transcribe text (if I don’t have a transcript, I make one) and I’ve used it to match up transcripts with TV show dialogs. Notes that for TV/Movies it’s a bit harder as the sentence endings are harder for the software to find as there is a lot more background noise. There isn’t currently a record feature (would be even better for shadowing), although the developer says he’s considering developing one. Advanced: Make an SRT file and use Subs2SRS to make Anki sentence cards Now, what I like to do with sentence is put them into Anki, and “cloze” words. So I get the audio + hanzi into a card, and then I mark particular words I want to learn, and drill them in SRS (this is often called MCD – massive/micro cloze deletion). Actually what I really really like is having a sentence “bank” of hundreds (indeed, thousands) of cards that are ready made, and then select which cards I want to learn next based on what vocabulary I am prioritizing. So this tool is really useful for this purpose because I can take an audio file, mark the sentences according to the transcript, the export a SRT (subtitle) file. To do this press the Import button (I know, a bit strange to press import in order to export but that’s how it’s done). After exporting an SRT I can load both the MP3 and the SRT into Subs2SRS (you just need to tell Subs2SRS to look for All Files to find an MP3 file as it’s usually looking for a video file type but it’s perfectly happy with MP3 once you select it). Turn off the “video snapshots” option and you are ready to make Anki cards (check out the Subs2SRS documentation for details). Using this I made 100 Anki cards for Glossika’s Business Chinese audio files in about 15 minutes. I plan to make all the rest over the weekend. If you have English translations you could also match up the English with the sentences and make a second SRT file, then put that into Subs2SRS to make bilingual cards. To get pinyin I think it’s easier to use one of the Chinese plugins for anki that auto generates Pinyin. Summary In summary, WorkAudioBook is a really cool tool for drilling audio. It probably works best for audio books (you need the audio + the full book) or podcasts (you need the MP3 and the transcript). Even if you don’t have a transcript you could just use it to repeat sentences from any source with sentence breaks. The developer really seems to be focused on learning English via audio books but it works perfectly fine with Chinese text too. You can also use it for movies/TV (you’d have to strip out the MP3 audio from the file) but the sentence detection might not be optimal given background noise, so it might take a bit longer. If you already have an SRT file that matches the audio it could be super quick (but in my experience it’s hard to get a good match, so you might need to mess around with timings using other tools). For your pleasure, I've attached the SRT file for the Slow Chinese article (I wanted to attached the Anki file but internet connection is not cooperating today so I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader). Hope you find this information useful, happy studying! Slow_Chinese_1.srt
  36. 18 points
    Imron suggested that I post a write-up listing the Chinese books I've read up to now, how, in which order and with approximate difficulty ratings. Here's a very long post about my experience, for what it's worth. As a disclaimer, please note that I *can't* read Chinese literature fluently. I can't just open a book and start reading. It remains difficult, sometimes impossible. If I start a novel, I'm never sure I'll be able to make it to the end (one thing you won't see in the list below is the list of books I started and could not finish). Though the parts I can read without a dictionary slowly tend to become longer, I still need to look up words on most pages, in particular toward the beginning of the book. Most of the 珠穆朗玛峰 is still beyond my grasp. There, you're warned. The background I like reading, and reading is the only one of the four language skills in which I've been able to make noticeable and encouraging progress these last few years. The fact that I've been reading some Chinese prose and learning some Chinese words practically every day for years is certainly the single most important factor contributing to this. On the other hand, my speaking skills barely deserve an A2, and if my pathetic listening skills do progress, it's at such a slow pace that I'll be dead long before I am able to understand the introductory remarks of a 锵锵三人行 episode. In fact, even though learning characters looks like a scary challenge when you start studying Chinese, reading may be the easiest of the four skills to acquire when you're learning outside China, i.e. in a non-immersive environment: you're in contro l of the content and the pace, you have plenty of time to decipher and reread, look up words and study them if you so wish, after the fact or even beforehand if you prefer to do some preparation work. The Plan Also, my reading endeavour is the only aspect of learning Chinese where things are more or less going according to plan, albeit ever so slowly. The reading plan went like this: text books readers abridged versions/comics/books for kids/translated novels (already read in another language) native material, starting with authors/genres that have been described as easier in this forum or for which there are explanations in this forum. Of course, there's been some overlap. In fact, I've continued reading readers and abridged versions even after I'd started to read native material, either because I was tired or I wanted more extensive input, or as a preparation for something else. For instance I read an abridged version of Ba Jin's 家 as a preparation to read the original version; I recently read abridged versions of 三國演義 and 水浒传 because, for obvious reasons, I'm unable to read the original books; I read DeFrancis's textbooks and readers because I wanted to teach myself traditional characters. More specific comments for each level: Readers: I read everything I could find at the time, right from my first year of study, mainly the Chinese Breeze series (all books of level 1 and 2, plus the one level 3 book that existed at the time) and the first three books of the "Sinolingua Graded Chinese Reader" series. The popular Mandarin Companion Graded Readers did not exist at the time. Here's a mega list of resources I wish had existed when I most needed it. Kid material: I've not used a lot of kid material because (1) books for children are surprisingly hard; most of them are written for kids that already speak and understand the language fluently; (2) I'm just not interested. Translations: I've kept the use of translations to a minimum: the reason why I'm learning Chinese in the first place is not just the language, it's the culture. Reading The Old Man and the Sea (I read part of it) or Harry Potter (I read two episodes) or the Gospel (I read some extracts) in Chinese is ok, it will be easier than 老舍 or 鲁迅, and it may teach you some interesting language, but you will learn nothing about China. I much prefer reading some Chinese equivalent, though it's not always easy to find. Comics: I do like comics but haven't found something I really liked in Chinese. The few comics I read were translated from Japanese and… see previous paragraph about translations. Abridged versions: I used that resource extensively and I wish there were many more such books. I read all four books published in the Abridged Chinese Classic Series (three by Ba Jin and one by Qian Zhongshu), etc. Another way of making things easier is to choose novels that were discussed on this very forum. There's a wealth of collective knowledge around here. In the list below, I added several links to interesting posts and threads about books. The method There was some gradation also in the tools I've used. Around 2011-2012, I badly wanted to teach myself to read the news in Chinese. For several months, I used Google news like this and a tool called Learning With Texts to that effect. LWT is a little bit hard to set up but extremely useful and versatile to teach yourself to read Chinese. As a surprising number of Chinese literary texts are available online (though scanning glitches are quite frequent), I've also used e-readers on Android, mostly Pleco. I don't have to explain why, it's the Swiss army knife of Chinese learners. Of course using e-readers makes looking up vocab and storing unknown words for later study a breeze. However, I realised that, in my case, it encouraged my natural laziness, as looking up the same word a dozen times on an e-reader is still much easier than learning it properly… I could probably use Imron's CTA, which was designed from the ground up to avoid that. In fact I probably *should* be using CTA. Unfortunately, most of my reading happens during commuting or at lunch time, i.e. away from my computer. I can only use my phone, so CTA is mostly out of the picture. Anyway, as I was becoming more and more aware of my vocab laziness problem, I made a conscious decision to revert to paper, at least in part, which makes reading slower and harder, but also (in my case) more productive, as looking up the same word more than twice quickly gets irritating. I also use a Kindle, not only because e-ink is easy on the eyes, but also because I only have a ZH-ZH dictionary and selecting characters on the e-ink screen is hard: as looking up words takes some effort, hence it's an incentive to properly learn your vocab. Finally, I've been using the method suggested by Imron : the first ten Chinese words or so I look up on any given day while reading or getting some other form of input are added to Pleco lists for later study. After that, I keep on reading but the words I look up are not saved. If they are important, they will come up again anyway, sooner or later. Though I didn't plan to do that in the beginning, I tend to delete my SRS queue every few months, when the review queue starts to get unwieldy. The annotated list = 2012 = After many readers, and apart from a few translated comics (哆啦A梦 and名侦探柯南) and lots and lots of snippets of news, the first "real" literary text I read was a short story called 遍地白花 (written by 刘庆邦), which I chose because I'd read an abridged version in the Sinolingua Graded Chinese Reader. I intended to read more such stories in their full version, but never did it. That year, I also read: Saint-Exupéry: 小王子 (link in Librairie Le Phénix). Translated from French. I own a bilingual edition. Not that I would need it: I read the original several times and know it almost by heart. Keep it simple. 哈利•波特与魔法石, translated from English of course. I'd read it before in French, probably in English too, seen the movie, etc. Again, keep it simple. 王强: 圈子圈套 I: I started that one because it was advertised on this very forum as beginner-friendly. In fact, it was much too hard for me at that stage, but I managed to read it to the end, somehow. BTW, I've tried twice to read episode II but never managed to get past page 40… 余华: 许三观卖血记. Yu Hua deserves his reputation of being relatively easy to read. Not to mention that his books are good, though often harsh. I knew I'd probably like it, because I'd read a translation of his 兄弟 before. I'd bought a translation to help me if need be, but I never used it. 余华's 活着, for the same reasons. See this thread. Zhao Benfu's 天下无贼: a wonderful novella I wanted to read because I'd seen the movie, so I thought I would know the plot. Turned out that the movie is quite different from the novella. The novella is even better. I read it more than once. = 2013 = 王小波's 黄金时代: I started it because, again, it was advertised by Roddy as "not too challenging". In fact I struggled to read it, but liked it very much. I read it again a few months later. Having noticed that reading novels took me a looong time, I thought that, maybe, I was not ready yet to tackle full length novels. So I decided to devote the rest of the year to shorter texts, and so I read a dozen short stories, mainly coming from the site chinese-shortstories.com. However, in a way, reading short stories is harder, because, with each new novel, you have to get used to a new vocab, style, names, etc. But as they are shorter, it's easier to really concentrate on the text. If anyone's interested, I read 赵本夫 《天下无贼》 and 《七个和一个》; 余华 《我没有自己的名字》; 裘山山 《下午茶》; 西西 《像我这样的一个女子》; 萧红 《手》; 阿城 《炊烟》 (a horrifying 1-pager; run, read it); 曹寇 《挖下去就是美国》; 北北 《总之还要住下去》; 赵树理 《小二黑结婚》. I also read some ancient tales like 《孟姜女》etc. Then I delved into a series of abridged versions (Abridged Chinese Classic Series). If you can stand the interlinear pinyin, they are good books. At that stage, I could almost read them extensively: 巴金 《家》. I knew I would want to read the original version one day, so I took this as a preparation exercise. 巴金《春》 巴金 《秋》 钱锺书《围城》 After that, I thought, maybe now I'm ready to try a novel again and I started 老舍's 《猫城记》, because I like sci-fi and the subject was intriguing. I did read it from the first to the last page, but I remember it was very hard and that many parts were opaque. In addition, I thought the book was often boring, which does not help. = 2014 = So I reverted to something easier: 哈利·波特与密室, which I'd read in English and/or French before. For the reasons explained above, I did not want too many translations, I wanted the real stuff, so I asked for suggestions about teenager Chinese literature on this forum and started to read 张牧野's 鬼吹灯, and it was fun. Refer to that thread for comments. I also kept reading a few short stories and readers. For instance "People Education Press readers for 3rd graders". But, much to my amazement, that "3rd grader" level prose felt more complicated than 鬼吹灯. Maybe it was just because it was also much more boring. I wanted to go on exploring young adult fiction, so I read 万灵节之死 , by 璇儿. I could read it quite fast. The language is accessible for intermediate learners and the story is engrossing, although there's a sense of déjà vu to it, with a group of people stranded in a very remote, derelict power station and dying one after the other, in some horrible way. I tried to read another novel by 璇儿 (天方夜谭) but found it much less interesting and stopped in the middle. These novels are available online here. Gu Long's "流星•蝴蝶•剑". I started that one because it was advertised, on Hacking Chinese, as an “easy” introduction to wuxia. Turns out it was true. See this post and this thread. By the way, this was the first novel I read entirely on paper. 三毛's《撒哈拉的故事》. Again, this book is often considered as an "easy one". Hm… I found it was quite hard, compared with what I'd read before. But, from a literary point of view, it's good, and quite original - Chinese authors do not talk much about their experience in foreign countries (as far as I know). So I read it with pleasure. = 2015 = First I read a handful of folk tales (from 中国民间故事) and of Sci-Fi short stories by 张系国. As I had loved 鬼吹灯, I thought I should try 盗墓笔记 in the same vein. The difficulty level was about the same… … but I liked 鬼吹灯 better (more whacky, less hollywoodesque), so I went on to read 鬼吹灯, part 2. Still in the YA fiction subgenre, I read 病毒 by 蔡駿 (available on kanunu). It's a thriller featuring a mysterious suicide-inducing web page that has something to do with ancient imperial tombs. Plain language, except some parts with imitations of wenyan. And finally, a classic, 家, by 巴金 (see this thread). Again, this book is often presented as relatively easy. Nonetheless, reading the abridged version before certainly helps. = 2016 = 路遥's 《平凡的世界》. I started it because it was highly recommended by Imron (here). And, yes, it's a very very good book. The only thing is that it took me 3 months to read it, so I hesitated to embark on a 9-month trip to read all three books in the series. But vol. 2 and 3 are on my shelf, and I'll probably read them some day. You'll learn many many interesting things about modern China. There's a certain amount of vocabulary related to the politics of the time and rural life. Other than that, it's fairly accessible. Yu Hua's 没有一条道路是重复的. In fact, I stopped reading that book when the ending was in sight, but it's worth mentioning it because the first half of the book is fairly easy while the second half consists of interesting, but much more complicated short essays about literature. If you want an introduction to this style of prose, that book might interest you. I wanted to teach myself traditional characters so I read vol. 1 and part of vol. 2 of DeFrancis' readers. Lots and lots of beautifully handwritten texts. 林良's 雨天的心晴, which is a 散文, i.e. a collection of essays. That was my first book in traditional characters. As I said here, it's a good book for intermediate learners because it includes very short texts (one page), most of which are written in a very plain language. Each text is followed by a one-page comment by another writer, which often amounts to repeating/summarizing what's in the short story. 三國演義 - 百花改寫版 I (traditional characters). The first part of an abridged version of the classic "Three Kingdoms". Again, this may be a gentle introduction towards a (very long term) objective: being able to read the real stuff. I had to look up quite a lot of words concerning old weapons, war stratagems and the feudal society, but it was worth it as this book is not only thrilling in itself, it's also one of the foundation stones of Chinese culture. = 2017 = 古龙: 金鹏王朝 (traditional characters). My second wuxia novel. Slightly harder than "流星•蝴蝶•剑", I'd say. Also, there's the added difficulty that the plot is really really intricate. I read half of it on my Kindle in late 2016, stopped, and restarted on paper in 2017 while taking notes in the (vain) hope I could understand the details of the plot. I posted some comments in this thread. 三國演義 - 百花改寫版 II (traditional characters). Second part. 水浒传 - 教育部语文新课标必读丛书 (simplified characters). Again, an abridged version of one of the four classics. I'd read the full version in French before. As it's an abridged version, I thought it was written for kids. And yet, it was only at my third of fourth attempt that I managed to read it. Even if the book is abridged, it still full of proper names, words related to martial arts, ancient China, etc. Having read 2 wuxia novels and an abridged version of the 三國 probably helped. It's likely that, in the future, I'll try to find abridged version of 西游记 and 红楼梦. Unfortunately, I doubt there's an abridged version of the 5th classic (金瓶梅) as it contains quite a lot of naughty scenes (I've read it in translation already). 莫言:师傅越来越幽默 (simplified characters). See my comments here. It's a short novel/novella about a model worker who, one month before retiring, is sacked when his old factory goes bankrupt and closes. Guess how he will earn a living and try to adapt to a fast modernising China? Two days ago, I started reading a collection of short stories by 莫言 called 白狗秋千架. The first short story (春夜雨霏霏) is fascinating, it reminds me of Buzzati's Il deserto dei Tartari. But I haven't finished yet that first story. One more thing: I have the impression that I'm just starting to appreciate the style of the author I'm reading, which is a welcome development. Damnit, this post is horribly verbose, let's stop here, abruptly, at least I hope someone will find it useful.
  37. 18 points
    Or why would you? The number of foreign folk I know from China who are still there is dwindling. People who might once have looked like being confirmed lifers are upping sticks and moving home, or starting again elsewhere. I think there are interesting conversations to have here, so I'm starting this one. I quit back in late 2010. When I left I wasn't saying I was never going to live in China again, but that I was going to go and live somewhere else for a while and see if I missed it. There's no way I can point at one reason for deciding to leave. Visas were a big hassle (no wife, no company, no job, no university - hello, Mr Dodgy Visa Agent) and becoming more expensive. Even when you'd sorted out one visa, it wasn't long before you were worrying about the next. It's not a particularly enjoyable way to live, and I wouldn't do it again. Cost of living was going up, especially if like me any of your income was USD/GBP. In 2007 a £1000 income would give you maybe CNY15,000. Skip to post-Global Financial Apocalypse 2009 and you're looking at less than CNY10,000. Add in inflation, particularly in rents, and things start to feel a lot less cheap. Still affordable, mind. Quality of life wasn't, I felt, keeping up with the cost of it. I'm not sure how much this is due to actual changes - did Beijing get more polluted between my first year and my last, or did I just notice it more due to all the media attention? Was the city more crowded, or did I just get older and more jaded, and hence less inclined to joyfully accept the scrums as all part of living in China? Either way, I felt a sneaking suspicion I might be better off elsewhere. You can buy your way out of some of that hassle with taxis and expensive restaurants and nicer apartments, but... do you want to? I think another factor might have been that I was just kind of finished. I'd spent over a decade in China, across four different cities, and had gone from teaching six-year-olds English to quite happily freelancing as, variously, translator, copywriter, websiter. The next progression might have been a cushy company job, or starting my own company, but neither appealed at the time (or all that much now).While China undoubtedly had a lot of stuff to offer me, it wasn't anything I particularly wanted at that point. I was also curious to see what moving back was like. You hear tell of people who can never go home, maybe I wanted to see if I could and survive (the answer is yes, but that's a tale for another day). So do I miss it? Yes, but not enough to want to go and live there again, yet at least. The right job or opportunity might tempt me, but I'm not actively looking for that job or opportunity. But oh, that one restaurant, or the evening light in a quiet hutong. The clack of the chess pieces. The whistle of the pigeons. Ah, now where did I put that Kleenex... Would be interesting to hear from some other long-timers. Kdavid I know has said he's on his way home. Imron's location is no longer 北京. Gato, anonymoose and msittig are as far as I know all still settled in Shanghai (maybe it is, after all, better). And those setting out on what may be long-term stays - you lucky beggars, you - what are you planning? Do you see yourself leaving, and if not, what might change your mind?
  38. 18 points
    I was reading the thread about people's experience in Beijing and I also got thinking about my times in China. I never really spent much time in Beijing, or any major cities. I generally spend my time in much smaller places. Not many people have commented in this thread. I don't know if it's because most people haven't been to small towns or villages in China or if they aren't interested. Earlier this year I was in China for the Spring Festival for the first time. I'd heard stories about how busy it was but actually it wasn't as bad as I thought. I even managed to get a 床鋪 train ticket! I've had the cheaper train carriages before and I just can't sleep/rest crowded onto those seats so I always travel luxury. It was a bit harder to find a place to put my bags this time: As my bag was quite heavy I had a really hard time stacking it away. The worst part was that it fell off and hit a little girl on the head. I was actually a bit worried because I know when you are a lone foreigner and "causing trouble" things can quickly get violent. Luckily I managed to smooth it over and the girl was okay after she had a bit of cry. In the end I also gave up my bed for the two little girls so they could have a sleep - They were actually a family of 5 trying to use two beds in my cabin - and probably why it was hard to find a place to put my bag away! In the end however I got talking to them and everyone else in the cabin. I think train travel is a quintessential part of the Chinese experience. So many short stories you read are about people on trains. And it's the one place where you can sit down and have long conversations with locals who would otherwise not have time or be too shy. And a good range of people, old and young. The sensory feelings of train travel are always stuck in my mind. The constant smell of pee and cigarette smoke coming from the overused toilet, the floor covered in 瓜子, all the old farmers and migrant workers storing and yelling (I can never understand anything in their dialects except for the constant "你娘的!"), and the noise of the train tracks themselves. I've noticed this time an increasing amount of hostility towards foreigners. Originally it was just people in the cities who often seem to think I'm a wealthy and immoral playboy coming to take all of China's women. I can see how this perception is widespread in cities like Beijing or Shanghai. But this attitude I see now has come down to the countryside. People were constantly asking me if I was in China to find a Chinese wife. Indeed quite often it was the first question I was asked. I thought it strange as this was never on the list of questions people would usually ask me when we first met in my previous travels. I asked people on the train what they thought of foreigners and they'd give a few list of complements. But then I'd say "do you think foreigners are arrogant? Do you think foreigners are unreliable?" And they'd all heartily agree and divulge much more about what they were really thinking. After 2 days I got to village I've been to before. It's incredible how quickly things change in the countryside (just like the cities I guess). Things that were new this year: 3 households had wifi, they'd replaced their own dirt road with a new concrete one, and more and more old houses were being knocked down: Some of the old houses around the villages are quite old and beautiful. They're almost forts designed to keep bandits away. But now most people are moving out of them into new houses, leaving just a few old ladies who can't afford new houses. While the old houses are interesting to look at the new ones are much better for the villagers. They have more light, are far less damp, require less maintenance, and the villagers themselves feel proud to have new houses. As many of them have lived and worked in city factories they're acutely aware of how much city dwellers look down on them. Now that many of the villagers have finally built their new houses (after 10 years of grinding away in coastal city factories) they feel like to move up to the next wrung on the social ladder they need to get car (the ultimate prestige symbol in the village). In the village there is a butcher who has a small truck to drive the cattle to and from the market. All the other villagers are now practising to drive using his truck in preparation for when they get their own car. One guy crashed into his neighbours' roof. Village life is quiet, and when something "happens', everyone comes to gather around and have a look! Because the village has a butcher you also get lots of fresh meat. Spending some time here you realise how much of the animal we in the West just throw a away. Maybe up to 80% of the animal is just turned into dog food or something. In the village you get to try all sorts of things - all the organs, all the appendages, etc. They really enjoy cooking all the bones too as they believe they get the power of the animal from the bone marrow (and eating animals brains give you intellectual strength too). One of the things I love most about village life is how much I feel like I'm at home in Australia (where I live a kind of semi-rural life). In addition to the peace and quiet and being able to hear birds, I love that you can literally just walk for hours through all the villages, walk through everyone's farms. The sense of there being private property and that there is something you can trespass on just doesn't exist. Sure, if you start using someone's plot of farm land or step on their vegetables they'll get angry. But no one comes and yells at you to get off their land. I love that you can often just go into a strangers house and "ci ca" (吃茶 - love saying eat tea!) The village world is so small that people don't really understand the concept of being a "foreigner". I'm largely just treated as if I'm from another province. When people ask me about "你們那邊" they'll ask me things like if I have cattle, peanuts, and where do I have my hukou. I tried to tell people that I wash my clothes in a machine. They were confused, but more than that, worried that it sounds like it'd just tear my clothes apart. You should always wash your clothes by hand. As a part of the growing prosperity in the villages, and as a part of being more connected to major cities, new less savoury opportunities to make money are arising. I never saw any drug labs myself, but the government appears to be running a large campaign against meth labs, posting these signs all over the villages. I don't think they'd do this without reason: And this kind of sums up the dichotomies of the countryside. On one hand it can be really bucolic, on the other hand, very messy. Due to the enormous amount of government corruption, particularly outside major cities where party control is much weaker, things like garbage disposal don't operate very efficiently (this time I did see some more bins on the highway from the villages, more than last time, but not enough). This means everything is still being put into the river. Unless you live right next to a mountain your water supply is going to be heavily polluted. On the other hand, because the countryside isn't a permanent construction site like the cities are, the lack of dust and air pollution plus the existence of greenery makes for some amazing scenes. Because it was the New Year the whole village went up the mountain next to sweep their ancestors graves and have a cigarette and drink some 白酒 with their ancestors' ghosts. On the way we had a cross a little stream. We didn't have enough gumboots so we had to "ferry" people across, with some people just going bare footed. A farmer actually carried me across the river! It was pretty funny. Everyone was laughing. Anyway, once we across the river, just a small walk through some jungle/forest and we got to the ancestor's tomb built in a cave in the side of the mountain. The 風水 of this was amazing. This view is from the entrance of the tomb overlooking the village: Oh and random photo. There was a big smouldering rubbish dump to stream where everyone had been dumping all their New Year rubbish. Amongst the rubbish was a homeless man just sitting in it. It felt really weird. I mean there are thousands of homeless people here. But to see the same thing in this setting was strange. I guess there really is no way for families or the government to look after such people. The highway near the village had all been dug up but not resurfaced. I'm not sure why. Probably again a combination of corruption, lack of funds, and bureaucratic inertia that plagues the countryside. As for the New Year itself, it was incredible. The amount of festivities really makes Christmas seem like a joke in comparison. For a week or so we did nothing but drink, eat, and set off fireworks. I'm really grateful I'm a man too. At this time of year Chinese women's lives become very difficult. They spend all day and all night preparing food for the next meal. The men will kill and prepare the animals, but the bulk of the work - washing vegetables, chopping veges, washing dishes, cooking, cleaning the house, looking after the children etc falls into the women's hands. And these tasks take a long time in the village. The men on the other hand largely just sit around smoking and gambling. I don't think I've ever had so much alcohol I had did in the village. Every meal - including breakfast - we did shots of 白酒. An auntie told me "it's okay to get drunk, we're at home!" This is the kind of attitude I like! I mistakenly thought that the firecrackers/fireworks would just be a small once-off thing at midnight on the new year. I didn't realise that it would go all day all night for a week. I don't even know how they managed to manufacture so many explosives. On the 3rd day of the new year holiday I went up a small hill and took this photo of the village below (you can see lots of the new houses here). It sounded like I was in Syria, and looked like it too: The other interesting thing about CNY is all the rituals this village had. As I mentioned before ancestor worship plays a huge part in everything. Besides going to all the ancestors graves in the mountains, many ceremonies will happen in each village's 祠堂. You would have weddings, 乔迁 celebrations, and of course lots of animal sacrifices (I was told northern China doesn't have 祠堂's). These usually involved killing some chickens - rarely something bigger like a pig - then draining its blood and putting it on yellow paper. Then you'll 烧香, add some cigarettes, some alcohol, and possibly even a pirated pornography CD/magazine (at the smaller shrines in the forest where there are less kids). Later on a large candle (well 3 this time) are lit in the 祠堂. Another village auntie gave me a long complaint at the 祠堂 candles. She told me that when a boy is born they put up a big candle that can burn for days in the shrine. When a girl is born they don't do anything in the shrine. Okay I've typed a lot. That's enough I think.
  39. 18 points
    I'm a semi-pro "Hoklologist", if You will. I started learning Hokkien as a very young adult. Today, many plateaus later, I speak it at a near-native level. I was on the engines looking for a "Grammar of Hokkien" type of PDF in English — since new things pop up sometimes — and happened across this thread and felt I had to jump in and comment, either for the benefit of the OP or whoever else might happen across this thread. Now, a list of things to keep in mind: 1. B1 in Taiwanese Hokkien in just a few months is very ambitious. (I wonder if the OP made it?) The language is tough on adult learners. However, there is one class of speedy adult learner in Taiwan at present: Vietnamese people. There was also a class of speedy adult learners in the mid 20th century: native speakers of coastal SE Chinese languages such as Teochew and Hokchiu (Foochow). Coincidental? I think not. 1A. The dialects (emphasis on the plural) of Hokkien spoken in M'sia and Singapore are easier for adult learners, for reasons I can get into if anybody's interested. BTW Amoy Hokkien is just like Taiwanese. But the Hokkien spoken in most of the rest of Hokkienland (southern Hokkien, or Fujian in Mandarin) can be pretty different, lexically and phonologically. 1B. The connection between Vietnamese and Hokkien may seem cryptic. I started on Vietnamese when I was already conversational in Hokkien. I was surprised to recognize a lot of Hokkien-esque words, structures and semantics in it. Strangely, my Hokkien improved a lot while I was living in Vietnam and never speaking it. I'd say Hokkien is intermediate in many ways between Vietnamese and Mandarin. I came to Hokkien with a strong Mandophone background. The Vietnamese helped "balance out" the Mandarin. Another way to see it is that Vietnamese is structurally very close to Classical Chinese. Another way to see it is that Vietnamese, Hokkien and Classical Chinese are all part of the Mainland SE Asia Sprachbund, whereas Mandarin (at least the kind most of us know) has grown away from it over the centuries. 2. Hokkien is way different from both Mandarin and Cantonese. This caught me off guard back in the day. The concept of "the Chinese dialects" is deeply ingrained in the minds of Chinese as well as non-Chinese people. For the most part, the concept fits reality pretty well. If we take the languages of people who identify as Chinese, for the most part they're very close to each other when it comes to grammar and lexicon. Ninety % or more of the "Han" part of China is (was) covered by Chinese languages that use(d) pretty much the same structures and the same words with apparently very similar semantics. Learn one and the rest are child's play. Even "white collar" Cantonese is deeply similar to Mandarin in spite of the surface differences. BUT ... there is that less than 10% of the map that's covered by wildly divergent languages. And Hokkien is part of that. Other big-name players are Teochew and Hoisan. 2A. Armed with the assumption that Hokkien and Mandarin were just different-sounding versions of each other, I jumped into my Hokkien learning by "mapping" Mandarin to Hokkien phrase by phrase and trying to pass that off as Hokkien. I was doing the same with Cantonese at the same time. Cantonese speakers found my Cantarin quite acceptable, but Hokkien speakers would just look at me all weird and say (usually in Mandarin) something like, "Wait. You don't speak Hokkien, do You? Why don't You just speak Mandarin?" Sometimes they were pretty hostile, but While mileage would most likely vary. The weirdness went away as my Hokkien became more idiomatic. With Cantonese, though, the "community" allowed me to fake it the whole time till I made it. With Hokkien, I had to "make it" first behind the scenes and resurface as a finished product. 2B. To recap: a good base in Mandarin will help w/ Hokkien (or Japanese or almost any mainland E/SE Asian language), but not nearly as much as You'd probably expect. The grammatical, lexical and semantic "divergence" (historically, probably better understood as a "lack of convergence") between Hokkien and Mandarin goes way beyond what most learners would expect. (However, Hokkien and Cantonese semantics seem to line up very well, so someone w/ a good base in Cantonese has that in their favor.) 3. A lot of the difficulty in learning Hokkien springs from the lack of good learning materials. Quantity seems to breed quality over time, but Hokkien learning materials are pretty sparse compared to what You'd find for, say, Thai or Korean or even Cantonese. 3A. Beyond this, a lot of newer materials made in the last 30 or 40 years seem to approach Hokkien not on its own terms but rather as "a dialect of Chinese" and therefore some kind of retro offshoot of Mandarin, as if that makes any sense. This is OK for getting to know the aspects of Hokkien that are Mandarin-like, but You end up not seeing the aspects of Hokkien that are not. This is also a problem in newer materials for Cantonese. 3B. On another level — and older materials also have this problem somewhat — Hokkien learning materials focus too much on nouns and verbs, and too little on grammar, morphology (which supposedly doesn't exist), grammatical words like kā and hō͘ and sian and kiàn, sentence particles, etc. ​3C. With the exception of very old materials, Hokkien learning materials tend to do a poor job of accounting for dialect variation and lower registers. Expressions like "thong sèkài" (THE WHOLE WORLD) or "thōng hó" (BEST) will not be found in any Hokkien textbook. The reasons for this are probably too complex to get into casually. It's not just that they leave out low-frequency usages. A lot of high-frequency usages get left out too. As a rule, the better a word or structure corresponds to something in Mandarin, the more likely it is to show up in textbooks and dictionaries. And vice versa. 4. Another tough aspect of learning Hokkien is the sociolinguistics of it. The ecology of Hokkien took some big hits starting in the 1960s, when nationalism swept through Southeast Asia. (Not that colonialism was good.) Then, in the 70s and 80s, the Republic of China government and then Singapore legislated to push Hokkien — the majority language in both places — out of middle class public life. In the 90s, officials moved to enforce the speaking of Mandarin in all public contexts (and mass media) in Hokkienland itself (in China) while flooding the cities with non-Hokkien-speaking migrant workers. Today, heritage speakers are often not native speakers, and native speakers even up to the age of 60 often speak Hokkien poorly. Educated urban folks under 50 are most likely to speak Hokkien badly. Unfortunately for the future of Hokkien, uneducated and rural folks (understandably) want to be like those educated urban folks in almost every way. And unfortunately for most polyglot would-be Hoklophones, the Hokkien speakers we tend to have access to are educated urban folks under 50 who mostly speak a shallow, watered-down version of Hokkien and only use it in a narrow range of contexts. 4B. This is a challenge in terms of access, but it also helps kill learner motivation. 5. I'll close, if this can be called that, by recommending the Maryknoll textbooks, Books 1, 2 & 3. That is basically how Taiwanese Hokkien is spoken today by people whose primary language is Hokkien, not Mandarin. The Harvard text seems quite good as well. The Bodman text is good too, but not Taiwan-oriented. 5A. The Maryknoll dictionary, on the other hand, is bookish and very limited. You're better served using the ENGLISH-AMOY dictionaries from 100 years ago, found online here: http://minhakka.ling.sinica.edu.tw/bkg/chong-su-tian.php?gi_gian=eng. 5B. The Glossika program is poorly executed. Most of the sentences are not idiomatic (i.e. not how an everyday Hokkien speaker would say it), and a large number of the sentences are flat-out wrong. The lapse is truly bizarre given that Glossika Spanish seemed so professionally done. My guess would be that Campbell put the Hokkien program together himself based on his extensive knowledge of Mandarin, then hired an educated urban native Hokkien speaker with very (apparently, very) limited Hokkien as a consultant. B/c of the ecology, any Hokkien learner (or speaker) may encounter speakers of such corrupted Hokkien in real life at some point. But there is no point in starting out this way. Even today there are still young people in Taiwan — mostly working-class kids — who speak deep, idiomatic Hokkien. So let's not kid ourselves: Mandarized Hokkien is not the new Hokkien. 5C. If You like the massive input approach (and I do) and You know either Mandarin or Japanese, You can use these materials put together by a gentleman from outside Amoy: http://hokkienese.com/?p=715 Best wishes to everyone in their Hokkien-learning and Hoklological endeavors.
  40. 18 points
    Well my Chinese learning journey started in 1984. I am very keen on embroidery and other crafts. I wanted to embroider a Chinese dragon with some Chinese characters on my denim jacket. Much like a tattoo this would take time and effort and be "permanent" and visible to the rest of the world. Like getting a tattoo I did not want to have wrong characters forever emblazoned on my jacket. In 1984 there was no internet and no Chinese forums to come in and ask is this right? So I enrolled in my local University evening classes and using the Book and tapes Getting by in Chinese by the BBC I embarked on my epic journey (not that i knew that then). After the first 3 months I was very interested in this "Chinese thing" and after 6 months i was hooked. i have never looked back and have enjoyed the last 30 years of learning Chinese. i have met some very interesting people and been to some interesting places, sadly because of my health I will never be able to travel to china, nothing too terrible but just bad enough to stop it being possible. As can be seen from my post in the popular "shelfies thread" I have amassed a lot of books. Also lots of electronic learning aids. I put off doing my jacket for many years as the more i learned, the more I learned how much I don't know. Finally about 5 years ago I started it and finally finished it about 2 years ago, I have attended University classes, private classes and self study. I have achieved a University stage 2a diploma. Not sure what this is equivalent to, but I did it just to find what I had achieved and how far i had progressed on my own. Now I enjoy practicing writing characters, working on my grammar and improving my vocabulary. For anyone starting to learn Chinese i wish you the best, and remember it is very rewarding, although it may not be apparent to start with, you will find it gets better with time This forum has a lot to offer the new learner and the more advanced, they say it is the friendliest Chinese forum around and that is just what I found, a bunch of good people willing to give you their time and knowledge to help us all learn Chinese. Just for the record and to finish this post off the way it started I have posted a picture of the jacket that started it all for me
  41. 18 points
    Living in China is like one of those adventure/RPG games. "I'm stuck. I've finished most of the quests in Beijing, found the map to the visa office by talking to the old guy in the park, installed the VPN by using a computer at the office to download the software, and then contacted the friend in Shanghai on a banned social network. But since I submitted my documents for the visa, and now I need to go to Shanghai, I'm stuck -- I can't travel. I used the shouji to take a photo of my passport but it's not accepted. Is it something to do with getting a driver's license? Has anybody ever done that? I can't figure out how to pass the test... Really need some help!" -> "When you submit the documents, ask for a receipt and you can travel on that. " -> -> "Only works for trains. Submit 4 pictures instead of 3 - then you get a special receipt that allows air travel. Of course you could use the train... but only if you have cash" -> -> -> "I already submitted the documents! I don't have cash I'm playing as American and I start with a Gold Amex card but not allowed to use cash, so I guess I need to buy a flight. Now what do I do?" -> -> -> -> "You need to reload a saved game or you'll fail the mission. You did save, right?" "I'm still stuck in the Tea Shop in Wangfujing. Everytime I follow them for tea, and all is going so well, but if they don't accept my credit card and I don't have 2000 RMB how do i pay for this pot of tea? Any help? I try to use the bluff option but it says they don't believe me" -> "Credit card.. you must be playing as an American -- you can't use bluff to pretend to be poor. They nerfed US players because you get the american express card in your starting inventory. You need to use the intimidate option, but lots of guys will show up so be ready for a fight scene!" "Started a new game and now I am stuck in Hong Kong. All the FAQs say I can renew my visa here but it doesn't seem to work. What am I doing wrong? I am playing as Australian is this the problem?" -> "You might have a British passport too, try sending it by courier from London?" -> "No, they patched the Hong Kong visa thing in the July update after the 100 days crackdown expansion set was released. You need to apply in Sydney now. But try visiting the rugby while in Hong Kong there's a great cut scene that only works for Aussies". "Help I just started playing but I think there's something wrong with my installation, I skipped the tutorial, selected HSK5 difficulty and went straight into the local study adventure. Now the text is all in funny characters and I can't understand the voice acting, is there a driver issue?" -> Haha! Wait to you get to the classical poem stage! -> -> No no... the hard bit is when you have to access the computer system.. using Canjie. Took me a week figure that one out. -> No driver issue, this is normal at that difficulty. Maybe better to start again on an easier stage? -> -> Select the "I don't want to learn characters" option, and start in Sanlitun. It's like sandbox mode. After you've maxed out your guanxi, baijiu, zhongnanhai and queue cutting skills, you can work on the language skill tree. But it's kind of optional to the game. -> -> -> I did that. Just kept doing missions in Sanlitun until I got bored of the game. -> You should only start on HSK5 if you are transferring an experienced character from Live in Taiwan. Otherwise you'll be way underpowered. (No offense intended to my US friends they just keep showing up here trying to pay for everything with an Amex card and stiffing me with the bill :-) ).
  42. 18 points
    Not sure if this is entirely relevant, and please feel free to downvote / moderate this post out of existence if not, but given the reliance of both this site and the Chinese learning community in general on user-generated content (online lessons, flashcard lists, CC-CEDICT, etc), and the fact that a lot of people here have firsthand experience with what happens when you give governments the power to arbitrarily block websites, it seems reasonably topical anyway. The US Congress is dangerously close to passing a law called the Stop Online Piracy Act (similar Senate version is called the PROTECT IP Act) that would give the government the ability to totally cut off access to websites that infringe US copyrights; not simply by taking the site down (which wouldn't work in foreign countries where the US has no jurisdiction) but by cutting off DNS requests at the ISP level. They'd also ban tools designed to circumvent that block, and for good measure they'd give ISPs (many of which own, or are in bed with, large media companies) the right to block infringing websites themselves without going through any legal channels. This wouldn't be exactly the same as the Great Firewall since the US' network topology is very different - it would be impossible to route all US internet traffic through a single government-controlled choke point - but it would have essentially the same effect, and would result in an equally "broken"-seeming internet. The even scarier part of the bill, however, is that it also gives copyright holders the ability to skip the legal process and go directly to the payment processors and ad networks that a website uses and demand that they cut it off. Under the current enforcement system (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), as long as you promptly take down infringing content from your website after you're notified about it, you're protected from liability for having hosted it. So your only real duty as a website owner is to promptly deal with those notices. Under the new bill, however, you're forced to be more proactive, because simply not doing enough to check for / ban infringing content is potential grounds enough to get you cut off from your payment processors / ad networks. And even if you're not based in the US, chances are that the ad network you're using is, so you're still vulnerable. Speaking as someone who myself has to deal with piracy on a regular basis (I've personally sent out a few hundred DMCA takedown notices) and who this bill is ostensibly designed to help, I think it goes way, way too far; even for our copyright-dependent business, the potential danger far exceeds the benefit. Personally I'm most worried about this in the context of vocabulary lists - the copyright status of those has never been well-established, and while I'm sure anybody hosting them would happily take them down if a publisher were to contact them and ask that they do so, we're now in a situation where Skritter, or Flashcard Exchange, or Anki, or Nciku, or even for that matter a discussion forum that occasionally hosts flashcard lists could be taken offline if a publisher suddenly decides that those lists are violating their copyrights. In fact, having such a big stick may encourage companies responsible for important vocabulary lists to become more aggressive in demanding license fees - who's to say that Hanban, for example, won't suddenly decide that anybody hosting an HSK vocabulary list should have to pay them royalties? So it's a very scary bill, and one that could have far-reaching effects even outside of the US. And I know that between American residents and expats-with-US-citizenship there are a lot of people on this forum who have the ability to call or write to their members of congress and ask them to oppose it, so I'm posting here in the hopes that you will - emailing your opinion unfortunately doesn't seem to count for much, but if you've got a few spare minutes to look up their office number and VoIP them it'll really help the cause. Thanks for reading,
  43. 17 points
    This, folks, is the quality of marketing at commonapp.cn.
  44. 17 points
    Ok, so maybe I'm over-selling this slightly by saying mould-breaking, but let me explain. Although I've been focusing on improving my reading of late, I always like to keep a TV show on the go to improve my 口语. Looking at the list of top-rated shows on youku led me to watching 敢爱 (which had an average score of 9.5 at the time of writing). Unfortunately, after watching just a few episodes it became clear that it was just your usual bog-standard, run of the mill Chinese family drama. I'll briefly summarize the plot (stop me if you've heard it before): young, freshly graduated couple, full of hope and dreams, go to the big city to begin they're adult lives. It's made clear that the young man is a great guy: handsome, intelligent, ambitious, honest, loyal and great to his girlfriend, just the kind of man that anyone would be delighted for their daughter to marry, right? Wrong! When the girl's parents find out there follows the usual awkward meeting where the mother (who is an absolute harpy of course) brutally interrogates the man about his financial and family background. After some resistance from the girlfriend (just to show the audience that she's a nice girl and worth fighting for), the young man pathetically agrees to spend every waking moment saving to buy a house and a car to prove his worth. What's even more ridiculous about this one is that the harpy mother gives him a 1 year time limit, which means that the unemployed, newly graduated lad with zero experience has to save enough money in one year to buy an car and apartment in Shanghai, or else break up with her daughter. Luckily our hero has a 富二代 best friend (don't they all!), who might just have the connections to help him achieve this mission impossible. I don't think I need to watch all 30 45 minute episodes to know how this story is going to pan out. Ok, rant over ;-) . So why do I like 男人不醉? 1) No harpy mothers. Instead it focuses on the lives of a handful of young people living a modern life in the big city. 2) Just 20 episodes lasting 20-30 minutes each, so no huge time commitment necessary 3) Higher than usual production values and better acting 4) The slightly cinematic "short-movie" feel to each episode. Each one usually just focuses on a single storyline and features just two or three characters. For example episode 8 is pretty much just 3 characters chatting in a coffee shop (it's more interesting than it sounds). 5) Intelligent writing. As each episode is short and tends to stick to a single storyline, so not every single development in the story is acted out on screen. Instead the writers expect the viewers to fill in the gaps themselves. Also the way plot lines develop is a bit different from your usual Chinese show. Take episode 3 for example (one of my favourites so far). It's the story of a married man, his wife and his 小三. Although a common theme in Chinese dramas, the way it's handled here is a bit more clever and sophisticated. 6) Good for beginners. I know that one thing that tripped me up when I first started watching TV shows was when the action suddenly moved from an everyday scene to a business meeting or hospital. Suddenly you'd be inundated with technical or business vocab which you couldn't follow. Most of the scenes here take place in bars, coffee shops, KTV, so the language used is very 口语. I'll be providing a vocab list for each episode. http://www.youku.com/show_page/id_zbb0fc2de810e11e4abda.html
  45. 17 points
    Pu’er tea 普洱茶 is distinctive and delicious, but if you are new to Chinese tea, this is probably not the best place to start. It’s less easily approachable than reds and greens. It’s not the easiest tea to make well or the easiest tea to like. In particular, I would urge you to consider Dian Hong 点红茶 as a “first tea.” Get to know Dian Hong, and then return to Pu’er. I realize not everyone will agree with that subjective bit of advice. Brewing Pu’er tea 普洱茶 requires a little bit of equipment and technique in order to bring out its unique flavor and let it shine. I’ll take you through a basic step-by-step “how to” before discussing specific types of Pu'er in much detail. Wanted to just jump right in, instead of dancing around what could easily become too big a subject. If you have been following the main Chinese Tea thread, you will already have seen some discussion of Pu’er, starting at about post #50, on page 3. Some good information there. http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48538-chinese-tea-%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E8%8C%B6/page-3 One can find internet discussions that contain so much arcane detail as to be off-putting if you are just starting out. I will do my best to keep this introduction simple. We can come back later together and flesh it out. Today I just wanted to get started; so please forgive me if this is kind of sketchy and skeletal. Please feel free to add to it or make corrections. To brew Pu’er tea, you need two things for sure; and these you cannot do without. Namely, the tea and a teapot. A gaiwan doesn’t allow steeping at high enough temperatures most of the time. These tea pots are small; a Pu’er pot will easily sit in the palm of your hand. First time you see one, you might think it’s just a toy. The ones pictured above are from Jianshui 建水in SE Yunnan. But the most famous ones are from Yixing 宜兴 in Jiangsu. They come in different colors, tan and reddish brown being the most common, but the actual material is none-the-less usually referred to as 紫砂 or purple clay. These two below are Yixing pots. Every dogmatic assertion seems to have at least one exception. And the exception to what I just said about requiring a pot is that you can make an enjoyable cup of Pu’er tea using the “grandpa method” described in other threads. This one: (Post #15.) http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48541-how-to-make-green-tea-that-isnt-bitter/ And also here: (Post #3.) http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/48661-dian-hong-%E6%BB%87%E7%BA%A2%E8%8C%B6-yunnans-simplest-tea/ But lets agree that one should ideally have a small clay pot. Then we can move on and talk a little about the tea. The one I’m using today is a ripe Pu’er, 熟茶, with a deep, rich, mellow flavor. It’s relatively expensive (about 300 Yuan) and is sold in small bricks 砖茶 that weigh 250 grams. Pu’er that is older than 2008 will usually just say “陈年” instead of having an exact production year and date. All Pu’er tea will have an embedded label 内飞 as well as identifying information on the wrapper. More commonly, Pu’er tea is sold in round cakes 茶饼 that weigh 375 grams. They look like this one, shown below. Some of these will be ripe Pu’er, and they are identified as such on the label. They will say 熟茶。Other cakes are raw or 生茶 and will be marked that way. At times the label just says something similar in different words, which can be a little confusing. This one is an example of that, since it says “云南大叶种茶叶晒请毛茶” – which verbatim means “large-leaf variety tea, shai qing mao cha.” It is "mao cha" (semi-finished) that has just undergone rapid firing 杀青 in a large wok and compressing into cakes. It has not had a long fermentation process and will taste fairly close to the way it did shortly after being picked. Pu’er cakes always have a hollow on one side where a twist knot was made in the muslin bag used during the pressing phase of production. More about that later. The process of how these unique cakes are made is interesting and worth more ink another day. First order of business is to use a spade-pointed tool (茶刀 or 茶针) to flake off some of the dry tea. You pry up some of the cake or brick and kind of peel it away; don’t slice it or cut it with scissors. This allows the preservation of slightly longer leaves or leaf fragments. If you don’t have one of these tools, it’s fine to improvise with a non-sharp table knife. People who drink Pu'er a lot also usually have a shapely purpose-built dish to hold the pried-loose tea leaves before putting them in the pot instead of just using a saucer or small dish. I'll probably wind up buying one before long. (Hate to gather too much gear; small apartment; not much storage space.) How much tea to use? Enough to fill the bottom third or so of your teapot after it has steeped and expanded. It can be difficult to judge by eye initially when it’s dry. Furthermore, it will vary according to how tightly packed the tea leaves happen to be in the cake or brick. Rule of thumb is to use more than you think you need; then next time use less if it was too much. That’s the prep. We are now at the "Boil some water" stage. Will stop here and continue in another post about actually brewing it so this one doesn’t get unmanageably long.
  46. 17 points
    It has been requested that I write a topic based on the language learning pursuits of mandarin speaking mormon missionaries. In this particular post, I hope to explore the daily life, efforts, and methods missionaries employ to improve their language ability, with some background into how they get started in the first place. 1) An Introduction into "LDS" Missionary Work At the age of 18 for males or 19 for females, members in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Commonly known as the LDS or Mormon Church) may choose to serve a 2 year or 18 month service mission. The LDS Church has over 400 mission areas active around the world, with around 83,000 full-time missionaries currently in service. The materials of the Church are published in 189 languages. The majority of those languages are also spoken and represented by Church missionaries. 2) The Application Process The missionary journey begins with an application, which is accessed online. As part of the application, the prospective missionary is asked a few questions about language ability: As you can see from the snapshot of my old application filled out some time ago, you are asked to list what experience you have with different languages, as well as how interested you are in learning a new language, and how successful you feel you would be at doing so. 3) Receiving Your Mission Call The first big day is when you receive your mission call in the post. It comes relatively by surprise, without warning. The envelope is large and blank. It's a common joke amongst youth in the church that you can guess from the postage size listed on the stamp whether or not you'll be serving a foreign or domestic mission. As you can probably tell, there is quite a bit of anticipation at this stage. 2 years of your life hangs on the words enclosed within the envelope you currently hold in your shaking hands. It's a common tradition to open the envelope in front of family and friends, reading aloud its contents, and enjoy the surprise at finding out where you'll live and what language you'll speak for the next two years of your life. Here is a video of when I opened my own mission call: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1JDVXI9JAI 4) Entering the Training Center Flash forward a few months, and you find yourself entering the Missionary Training Center (MTC). You're rushed to your bedroom, where you quickly stash your suitcases. Within 15 minutes of stepping onto the MTC Campus, you are entering the door of the classroom where you will be learning Mandarin Chinese for the next 9 weeks. You are greeted by one of your teachers (you have two, plus multiple "class resources" who periodically visit and work with struggling missionaries 1 on 1). Your teacher shares a critical similarity with you - just a few years earlier, they served a Mandarin Speaking Mission. Now they're advanced in the language, and expert at what it takes to learn it efficiently and effectively. As you enter the room, they greet you in Mandarin. They continue to speak to you in Chinese, and you look blankly around the room hoping for a hint as to what is going on. You notice a chalk board, computer, and 8-12 student desks aligned in a semi-circle. One of those desks has your english name on it. Under that name is a Chinese surname, printed in pinyin, You set your stuff down at the desk - the teacher has not ceased to talk away at you in Chinese. He or She directs your attention to the chalkboard. On the board are written many sentences in English, with pinyin translations underneath. You've never learned to read pinyin, but it doesn't matter because you can tell by the teachers gesturing that he is pronouncing it out for you. He gestures for you to repeat after him. He makes you say the same sentence 10 times. He speeds his voice up, slows it down, exaggerates his tones. You're then encouraged to repeat the sentence to the other missionaries who will make up your class (called a "district). You have stilted conversations with one another, leaning on the teachers guidance, as you say hello, offer your name, ask after theirs, and introduce what city you are from dozens of times, with 5 different missionaries. You aren't immediately trained to read pinyin. You are simply shown it, and given the teachers audio example to match it. In what feels like seconds, an hour has passed by. You suddenly realize you just spent 60 minutes speaking Chinese. There's a special sort of tension and excitement in the air. You all sound like idiots, but its fun, exotic, and most importantly - you've already started to progress. You break for a meal, and then return to the classroom as the routine repeats, this time using example sentences from learning materials you were given upon arrival. You take notes furiously, and try to soak up what you can. You're told you will be teaching a full blown lesson in two days time. You get ready to dig in... The teachers refuse to speak english with you in class for the first week to two weeks. Everything is Chinese, and when english is necessary, it is written down on the board accompanied by a translation, not spoken aloud. They're excellent guides. You progress quickly, and time starts to fly by. Grammar principles are introduced methodically, as you gradually work on completing a book filled with 80 grammar principles considered to be the "core" of the mandarin language. Each of those principles are accompanied by at least 5 example sentences, each of which have a direct relevance to real life situations you might encounter as a missionary. You find yourself using those same example sentences in practice teaching situations twice daily. Almost everything you're directed to learn has direct relevance. You are encouraged to avoid wasting time learning things you won't actually have a use for in the beginning. A couple weeks pass, and the teachers/resources begin speaking more english. They begin explaining in detail various study methods and habits that can assist you in learning the language. There is a huge emphasis placed on effective planning. Each missionary is directed to make a "Language Study Plan," which are frequently reviewed by the teachers and discussed with the missionaries to determine how efficient they are. You are encouraged to "SYL" - Speak Your Language. That means Chinese all the time, even when surrounded by missionaries in the MTC learning a different language. The missionaries that internalize this principle quickly pull ahead in their language ability. By week 5, some missionaries will speak with great confidence about subjects they are familiar with. Their tones and pronunciation, while still slightly halting, are surprisingly standard and without distracting flaw. Not all missionaries reach this level of capacity, but the best ones often take extra time to support those who are struggling. The "districts" often bond quite closely together. They support one another, and set goals to determine how they can become more effective at learning the language as a cohesive unit. These goals usually include set times to only speak chinese, or to review recently studied principles, or to quiz one another out of our personal flashcard decks. The goals these districts set are monitored by one another. Not by the teachers. You push your friends to be their best, and they push you back. 9 weeks flash by. Some of the more exceptional missionaries have reached an intermediate level of Chinese (again, only when discussing topics widely broached by others). Your time is up, and you say goodbye to the 9 other young men who have become your best friends. The next morning, they'll be flying off to different countries around the world. My district was compromised of individuals who would go on to serve in France, Canada, New York, Singapore, Australia, and the UK (All chinese speaking). Other common destinations were California, Virginia, Washington D.C., New Zealand, Scotland, UK (North and South), Taiwan and Hong Kong (this list is not entirely comprehensive). 5) Arriving in the Field You arrive in the field after a long plane ride. You're picked up from the airport and taken to meet the Mission President, the man who is responsible for the organization and administration of the mission. He interviews you, and determines a suitable companion with whom you will spend the next 3 months. This is a pivotal moment. Your new companion will be your "trainer." He will show you the ropes of missionary work. More importantly, he'll be responsible for showing you how to learn the language without the crutch of a training center and the constant attention of teachers. My trainer was a native from Zhejiang China. His english was quite good (he'd spent over a year in England at that point). We met, unpacked my things, and sat down for a moment to meet one another. He immediately spoke with me in Mandarin, asking questions about my background, goals for the mission, desire to come out and serve - he was assessing my language capacity. It wasn't as great as I thought it was - I quickly realized I was unaccustomed to the various accents of a native Chinese speaker. But he was patient, willing to repeat himself, and good at explaining how I could rephrase what I was saying to be more naturally chinese. Not all trainers are this good. They are just young missionaries, only a year older then you if that. But they're experience has seasoned them reasonably well. They know what it takes to get good at the language, and they remember their own struggles in starting out just months before you. An hour later, you're on the street. You immediately stop a Chinese person. Your trainer introduces himself, then looks at you, waiting. Nervous, you say what you can - perhaps fumbling slightly. It's nerve racking, but highly rewarding when you realize much of what you learned can be used now in a real life situation, to communicate with a real person. And so mission life begins. Most of your days are filled with finding and teaching, all in chinese. You speak with your trainer, and consecutive future companions - all in chinese. You spend an hour a day specifically studying the language, and steal every spare minute you can to squeeze extra study time in. When you don't know a word, you write it down. You ask your companion about it. If he isn't native and he doesn't know it, you learn it together. You learn to rely on your companion. The least effective way to learn the language is to do so completely on your own. With a native companion, or even another foreign learner accompanying you day in and day out, your collective capacity is immense. You test one another, push one another, support one another. Comfort one another when you suffer language frustrations, and rejoice when you succeed and make noticeable progress. 6) Basic Principles of Learning the Language Many of the basic principles learned in the MTC are applied throughout the rest of your mission. You plan regularly, and revise that plan constantly to ensure your being effective. I myself have reached out to the forums in the past to discuss how I could use my time effectively. That post can be found here: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/42481-a-unique-environment-of-study-how-to-be-most-effective/?p=319663 You are also provided with a missionary manual called "Preach My Gospel." It contains information on every aspect of missionary life, including a chapter called "How Can I Better Learn My Mission Language." Here is a link to that specific chapter: https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-can-i-better-learn-my-mission-language?lang=eng Some highlights from that chapter: I also highly recommend looking at the section on "Language Study Plans," which I have found to be incredibly useful. 7) Some Comments on the General Life of a Mandarin Missionary I have really loved the experience of serving as a Missionary. Serving in the UK, almost everybody I teach are Chinese Overseas Students. We are of a similar age, and as a result can relate to each other surprisingly well despite such large cultural differences and backgrounds. Teaching that particular demographic, I am exposed to very "non-textbook," colloquial chinese. Because I serve in an English speaking country, the chinese individuals I'm exposed to come from all different parts of China. The South, Central, North, Taiwan, Singapore, BBC's, ABC's... I've been exposed to countless accents and ways of speaking, and slowly learned to distinguish and even replicate them. It's incredible to see the progress I've made. Just over one year ago, I could only say 你好。 Now, I have reached a level of colloquial fluency that is relatively surprising. I speak at between a B2 and C1 level. I also am quite comfortable reading and digesting native content. The thing I'm most grateful for: The new friends. I've made incredible friends on my mission. I've met chinese people from such individual walks of life, and I've been given a chance to embrace their culture and language, and hopefully share with them some of my own culture and background in return. Equipped with tools like WeChat, I spend the majority of my day in contact and chatting with Chinese people, slowly assimilating myself into their cultural practices. I truly feel I've developed a love for the people that I consider to be life changing. The majority of my friends are now Chinese. The language I now speak, think, and dream in is now Chinese. 95% of my meals are now Chinese food, often cooked with friends that I've met and taught on my mission. Here is a blog we've made that details some of the experiences the chinese people that converted to the church had, from their own perspective: http://preachingtodragons.com/ Just a few pictures from my experience (I would upload more, but there's hundreds just like this and its hard to narrow down which ones to share... waaayy too much hotpot ) That is about all I have to post for now... I plan on doing a follow post after people have had a chance to read this, digest it, and ask some relevant questions. I hope this has been at least mildly intriguing for you! -戴睿
  47. 17 points
    I think you're taking this too personally. You took a huge leap when moving across the globe to a completely new country. It turns out that the course is not what they promised, and that you got cheated a few times because you look foreign. Everybody would be upset by this, but how can it be that there is nothing positive about the whole experience at all?I had a similar experience with a course once, which was supposed to be taught in English, but wasn't. The whole thing was a hodge-podge, professors didn't like that programme they were forced to teach, half of the stuff I was promised was blatantly made up, and I passed on a much better course because of that one. The first time I went shopping, I didn't have enough money (not familiar with the currency) and got lots of crap from a grumpy old hag standing behind me, without being able to even reply. The taxi driver was bitching about not getting a tip, and it rained for 3 weeks straight. This was not in China, but a similar situation to yours. I was upset about it at the time (I still am, years later), but I made the best of it, learned the language, got the degree and enjoyed everything the country had to offer. Met my current partner while studying. We're still together, 14 years later, and I have to say that it was more than worth it in the end. It took my life in a new, unexpected direction, I learned Chinese, visited China, ended up travelling the world due to the overseas experience that made me more independent, confident, and capable of improvising. If you manage to laugh at the situation and then see it as an adventure, it might end up transforming your life into something better too, who knows. I've been ripped off by taxi drivers in so many places. People have tried to cheat me out of money countless times in dozens of countries (and sometimes succeeded). It happens. You're upset, but in the end, it's just a learning experience, there is no lasting damage -- you didn't get hurt or killed. My friends have been robbed so many times in Europe that I've lost count. The police make a note, then send you away. It's the way things go, life is like that, next time you'll be more careful. Today is the first day of the Harbin ice festival, one of the biggest and most amazing in the world. It's something very few Venezuelans will ever see or experience. You can do something awesome today, something you will remember your entire life. Go there and have a blast.
  48. 17 points
    Hey everyone I just came across this article written by two members of the FSI. Truly a fascinating read, particuarly points 4 and 10. Here's a copy-paste of some interesting bits Lesson 1. Mature adults can learn a foreign language well enough through intensive language study to do things in the language (almost) as well as native speakers. Diane Larsen-Freeman (1991) has quoted Patsy Lightbown as estimating that young children spend 12,000 to 15,000 hours learning their native languages. At FSI, adult students in a forty-four-week language program spend 1,100 hours in training to achieve a highly significant proficiency level in a new language. They can do this because they have learned how to learn.3 Sridhar (1994), and others have pointed out, mainstream second-language acquisition (SLA) researchers have the “fundamental misconception”—the term is Kachru’s—that the target of foreign language learning is “the idealized native speaker’s competence” (Sridhar 1994:801) or “to use [the language] in the same way as monolingual native speakers” (Kachru 1994:797). Once we identify a more pragmatic goal than “native-like” accent or competence, we can perhaps clarify what we mean by adult language learning—and make it appear more like the learning of other complex skills (McLaughlin 1987). Lesson 2. “Language-learning aptitude” varies among individuals and affects their classroom learning success (but at least some aspects of aptitude can be learned). Lesson 3. There is no “one right way” to teach (or learn) languages, nor is there a single “right” syllabus. Lesson 4. Time on task and the intensity of the learning experience appear crucial. Language learning is not an effortless endeavor for adults (or for children, for that matter). For the great majority of adult learners, learning a language rapidly to a high level requires a great deal of memorization, analysis, practice to build automaticity, and, of course, functional and meaningful language use. Learning as quickly as possible to speak and understand a language automatically and effectively in a variety of situations and for a range of purposes requires intensive exposure to and interaction with that language. At FSI, we have found that it requires at least four class hours a day—usually more—for five days a week, plus three or more additional hours a day of independent study. Learning a language also cannot be done in a short time. The length of time it takes to learn a language well depends to a great extent on similarities between the new language and other languages that the learner may know well. The time necessary for a beginning learner to develop professional proficiency in each language— proven again and again over a half century of language teaching—cannot be shortened appreciably Focused practice of some kind, including “drills,” appears necessary for almost all language learners to develop confidence and automatic language use Despite what some published research has indicated, for example Brecht, Davidson, and Ginsberg (1993), our experience is that in-country immersion is most effective where the learner is at higher levels of proficiency. There is no substitute for simply spending time using the language. Segalowitz and his colleagues have pointed out how crucial to reading ability is the simple fact of doing a lot of reading (e.g., Favreau and Segalowitz 1982). Our experience at FSI indicates unequivocally that the amount of time spent in reading, listening to, and interacting in the language has a close relationship to the learner’s ability to use that language professionally. Lesson 5. Learners’ existing knowledge about language affects their Learning It appears increasingly clear at FSI that such knowledge helps many learners to be able to progress faster and more surely, and that lack of that knowledge can slow them down. Such concepts may include basic ideas like subject, predicate, preposition, or sentence, but also more language-specific concepts like tone, aspect, palatalization, declension, topicalization, and so on. Knowing such concepts increases the accessibility of such resources as reference grammars, textbooks, and dictionaries, and also serves an important purpose in making adult learners aware of types of language phenomena to watch for Lesson 6. A learner’s prior experience with learning (languages or other skills) also affects classroom learning. If learners already have learned a foreign language to a high level, that is a great advantage in learning another language, regardless of whether or not it is related to the first, but if they do not know how to learn a language in a classroom, that is a disadvantage. Lesson 7. The importance of “automaticity” in building learner skill and confidence in speaking and reading a language is more important than has been recognized by the SLA field over the last two decades SLA – Second Language Acquisition Although techniques associated with audiolingual methodology have been in disrepute since the 1960s and early 1970s, the fact remains that many of our students desire occasional pattern practice. Pattern practice—drill—is a technique that continues to be useful for FSI learners, when used in concert with the various communicative, experiential, and task-based approaches. The importance of promoting automaticity is true for reading as well as speaking. Adults need to read considerable amounts of “easy” material in order to build up stamina and to automatize processing skills…..Without some degree of automatic processing capability, reading becomes a painful decoding process, leaving the reader with little cognitive energy available for understanding and interpretation. Lesson 8. Learners may not learn a linguistic form until they are “ready,” but FSI’s experience indicates that teachers and a well designed course can help learners become ready earlier Lesson 9. A supportive, collaborative, responsive learning environment, with a rich variety of authentic and teacher-made resources, is very important in fostering effective learning. Madeline Ehrman (1998a) has observed that end-of-training comments from students after six to ten months of intensive training at FSI typically mention their teachers as the factor that contributed most to their success in learning. The consistency of such comments is striking…..To accomplish this, Ehrman points out that even the very best adult learners need support, feedback, and mentoring at times from their teachers. The teachers’ abilities to empathize, help the students manage their feelings and expectations, and tune interventions appropriately to the emotional and developmental state of the learners are key factors in many successful learning outcomes. Lesson 10. Conversation, which on the surface appears to be one of the most basic forms of communication, is actually one of the hardest to master Yet of all the tasks graduates carry out at post in the foreign language—articulating policy, conducting interviews, managing offices and local staff—ordinary conversation is the one area of language use in which they unanimously claim to experience the most difficulty, noting specifically problems in following the threads of conversations in multigroup settings. Many officers report that they would much rather give a speech or conduct an interview than be the only nonnative surrounded by native speakers at a social engagement such as a dinner party or reception (Kaplan 1997). Interestingly, such reports appear to fly in the face of some of the assumptions of the language proficiency level descriptions of the Interagency Language Roundtable and ACTFL, which relegate “extensive but casual social conversation” to a relatively low-level speaking skill while raising professional language use and certain institutionalized forms of talk to a higher level. Conclusion Informally, we have observed in the languages that we have worked with that an individual departing for post following training with a borderline professional proficiency (or lower) is very likely to experience attrition. An individual with a strong professional proficiency (S-3 or S-3_) will maintain or improve proficiency, and with advanced professional proficiency (S- 3_ or S-4) will almost certainly continue to improve --------------------------------------- I feel that currently with all the online resources and programs (and persons) claiming to teach languages in a very short time or to make it an 'effortless' process, the FSI's perspective is both eye-opening and, frankly, really encouraging, considering that their servicemen and women are able to eventually grasp their target languge to a functionally native level
  49. 17 points
    How do I choose a show suitable for my level? Difficulty ranking for all the shows covered so far: 1 - 士兵突击: Upper intermediate (non-standard accent) - VST 2 - 空镜子: Lower intermediate (Beijing accent) - VS 3 - 武林外传: Very advanced (cultural references, classical language, fast) - T 4 - 微笑Pasta: Lower Intermediate (traditional subtitles, Taiwanese accent) - SE 5 - 神探狄仁杰: Upper intermediate (classical language, chengyu) - V 6 - 我爱我家: Advanced (Beijing accent, fast, cadre language) - VT 7 - 落地请开手机: Lower intermediate (some gangster-speak) - VS 8 - 魔幻手机: Intermediate (but with references to 西游记) - VS 9 - 家有儿女: Lower Intermediate (but a wide range of topics, often new vocab) - VST 10 - 康乾盛世秘史: Lower intermediate (with some English and Italian) - S 11 - 奋斗: Intermediate (colloquial Beijing speech) - VST 12 - 好想好想谈恋爱: Upper intermediate (fast, colloquial) - VT 13 - 暗算: Upper Intermediate (military/political vocab) - VS 14 - 编辑部的故事: Advanced (no subtitles, colloquial) - S 15 - 中国式离婚: Intermediate - VS 16 - 北京人在纽约: Lower intermediate (but no subtitles) 17 - 金婚: Lower intermediate - VS 18 - 狼毒花: Lower intermediate - VS 19 - 5号特工组: Intermediate - VS 20 - 美味关系: Lower intermediate (Taiwanese accent, trad. subtitles) - VSE 21 - 狂花凋落: Intermediate (but the first 10 minutes are hard) -VS 22 - 天龙八部: Upper intermediate (wuxia, some classical phrasing) - VSE 23 - 上海灘: Lower Intermediate (trad. subtitles) - S 24 - 孽子: Lower Intermediate (trad. subtitles) - S 25 - 亮剑: Advanced (heaps of military/political vocab) - VS 26 - 雍正王朝: Very advanced (imperial/historical language, complex plot) - VS 27 - 双面胶: Intermediate (Shanghainese accent, some Shanghainese dialect, fast) - VS 28 - 醉侠张三: Intermediate (mostly simple, but with some classical-style language) - VS 29 - 走向共和: Upper Intermediate (political language, chengyu) - V 30 - 少年包青天 Advanced (classical language, chengyu) - VS 31 - 花樣少年少女 Elementary (traditional subtitles) - VSE 32 - 大明王朝 1566 Advanced (imperial/historical language, complex plot) - VS 33 - 意難忘 Lower Intermediate - VS 34 - 笑傲江湖 Intermediate - VS 35 - 皆大歡喜 Advanced (chengyu, older vocab, unclear) - VS 36 - 与青春有关的日子 Upper Intermediate - VS 37 - 野蠻奶奶大戰戈師奶 Intermediate (dubbed, trad. subtitles) - VSE 38 - 丑女无敌 Lower Intermediate - S 39 - 子夜 Intermediate - S 40 - 锁春记 Lower Intermediate - S 41 - 我们俩的婚姻 Upper Intermediate - S 42 - 射雕英雄传 Upper Intermediate (wuxia, no subtitles) - S 43 - 倾城之恋 Intermediate - V 44 - 雾都魅影 Intermediate - S 45 - 秘密图纸 Intermediate - VS 46 - 大生活 Upper Intermediate (simple vocab, strong accent, bad sound quality) - S 47 - 俞净意公遇灶神记 Lower Intermediate (classical language in later episodes) - S 48 - 我的青春谁做主 - Intermediate (colloquial Beijing speech) - SE 49 - 局中局 Elementary - VS 50 - 潜伏 - Advanced (spy/political vocab, complex plot) - VS 51 - 我们的八十年代 Intermediate - VS 52 - 蓝色档案 - n/a 53 - 软弱 - Intermediate - VS 54 - 特警出击 - Intermediate - VS 55 - 惡作劇之吻 - Intermediate - VSE 56 - 迷雾 - n/a - VS 57 - 狙击手 - n/a - S 58 - 白色巨塔 - Intermediate - VS 59 - 家 - Lower Intermediate - VS 60 - 痞子英雄 - Intermediate - VSE 61 - 我是一棵小草 - n/a - VS 62 - 神雕侠侣 - Upper Intermediate (generally OK, but with some bookish/rare words and phrases) - VSE 63 - 给我一只烟 - Upper Intermediate (some chengyu, colloquial) - VS 64 - 重案六组 - Intermediate - VS 65 - 长恨歌 - n/a - VS 66 - 蜗居 - Upper Intermediate - S 67 - 东方朔 - Intermediate - VS 68 - 雾里看花 - Upper Intermediate - VS 69 - 倚天屠龙记 - Upper Intermediate - VE 70 - 愛情公寓 - Upper Intermediate (lots of modern vocab, slang and chengyu) - SE 71 - 就想賴著妳 - Lower Intermediate (Taiwanese accent, trad. subtitles) - VSE 72 - 红楼梦 73 - 血色浪漫 74 - 茶馆 - - VS 75 - 毛骗 76 - 换换爱 - - SE 77 - 大明宫词 78 - 防火墙5788 - Intermediate (Beijing accent, some colloquialisms and business language) - VS 79 - 和空姐一起的日子 - Lower Intermediate - S 80 - 婆婆来了 - Lower Intermediate (some mild northern rural accent) - S 81 - 手机 - - S 82 - 美人心计 - Intermediate (mostly easy, but with some Han-dynasty vocabulary and some formal language) 83 - 家的N次方 - Intermediate (Beijing accent) - S 84 - 黎明之前 - Upper Intermediate (some military and political terminology and chengyu) - S 85 - 孔雀翎 - Intermediate (Wuxia jargon) - S 86 - 螳螂 - Upper Intermediate - VS 87 - 步步惊心 - Advanced (Qing court language)- E 88 - 男人帮 - Intermediate (word play) - 89 - 铁血警魂 - Advanced - 90 - AA制生活 - Lower Intermediate (Beijing accent) - VS 91 - 后宫甄嬛传 - Advanced (Qing court language) - 92 - 北京爱情故事 - - 93 - 夫妻那些事 - - 94 - 现场铁证 - - 95 - 朱元璋 - - 96 - 红蝎子 - - These are just suggestions, feel free to correct. Rough guideline: - Elementary - stuff for people who have a grasp of everyday vocabulary - Lower Intermediate: simple, clear and basic vocab - Intermediate: more slang, specialised vocab - Upper Intermediate: chengyu, specialised vocab, often fast and unclear speech - Advanced: Fast, colloquial, slang, dialects and/or classical language, requires a high-level skill - Very Advanced: You need near-native skills to make sense of this V = Vocabulary list available S = Plot summary available T = Transcript available (or a subtitle file) E = English subtitles available
  50. 17 points
    I work with a woman who's name is Guo Jia - the same as 'country' or 'nation', apart from the tones which I'm lousy at anyway. One day someone came into the office while she was out, pointed at the empty desk and asked who it belonged to. In best revolutionary fashion I replied 'The desk belongs to the nation' Roddy
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