I’ve been browsing around on this forum regularly for the last three months or so but never got around to posting anything yet. So this is my first one, and I’d like to raise a topic that I’m sure a lot of you are concerned with. But let me introduce myself first. I’ve been studying Chinese at a university for two academic years now, and I have been putting insane amounts of extra time in gathering material on my own and cramming it with my SRS (Anki). You could say I guess that I am at an upper-intermediate level now, which, according to my own personal definition means I can have a decent conversation with a Chinese person without too much interruptions to ask what it is their saying, and I am able to understand, with a dictionary that is (I recommend NCIKU and MDBG), almost everything that there is to read. My vocabulary is still limited, I’d say 5,000 words or so (I can only write some 1,500 characters though), so there are some massive gaps in my knowledge still, but I can also surprise people by talking about Russian roulette and the Dynastic cycle of Chinese history-writing. Anyway, let’s cut to the chase.
I always expected I would be fluent in Chinese within two years. It’s now beginning to dawn on me that that’s not going to happen. However, I am still in denial about this, and therefore I’ve been putting waaay too much time in studying Chinese alienating my loved ones etc. in order to meet my initial expectations. Time to start thinking of a learning strategy right? Well I’ve been doing that a lot recently, and I’d like to share with you the things I’ve come up with. I hope you will all do the same thing so we can all benefit from it and get another few steps closer to attaining 100% efficiency in our Chinese learning endeavors.
First I think some credit is due to those folks at antimoon for gaining the wonderful insight of input before output, i.e. read/listen first before speaking and writing. Thanks to them I have been able to define the Chinese language as follows:
The entire body of speech and writing produced up until this moment by those who can be considered to have mastered the Chinese language.
The implication of such definition is that if you haven’t mastered Chinese yet, then whatever you say or write down is per definition not Chinese, unless it is an exact copy of something that does qualify as Chinese. In other words, focus on reading and listening first. I think this is a good general strategy for your first 2,000 hours of study (=approx. 1 year full-time). Of course, it never really hurts to speak, on the contrary, it can help you practice what you’ve learnt, but it can also be frustrating, and you can acquire nasty habits if others do not point out your mistakes. Finally, I assume you all know that an SRS is extremely helpful in this input phase.
My own contributions to this input idea lie mainly in the details of the study process. What I have found is that for Chinese is helps to transcribe speech into characters. For example, listen to any of the advanced or media lessons by Chinesepod (the speech uttered by the hosts), or for more advanced learners, check out the BBC China Real podcast Transcribing is immensely time-consuming and difficult, so I recommend you to push through in the beginning, and have a language partner check your transcripts. Transcribing will improve your listening skills greatly, and you will also generate loads of vocabulary.
Alternatively, or preferably additionally, if you haven’t got much time on your hands at some point, you can use Radio Australia’s news podcasts, which include transcripts, or you can focus on the dialogues in Chinesepod’s advanced lessons, as they are included in the pdfs.
Now, what to do with your transcripts? Recently I have been dealing with them in two phases. In phase one I enter the full sentences of my transcripts in Anki in field A. After that, I use Audacity to cut out the corresponding audio from the mp3 to put into field B. This creates a card that asks you either to listen to audio to see if you understand, or to read a sentence from your transcript to see if yo can read all the characters. I use the third field to enter new vocab items with corresponding translations.
Phase two is executed gradually throughout the reviews of the sentences I’ve entered. I look for collocations, i.e. verb-noun combo’s and short noun phrases or sentences (preferably max. 10 characters.) For example:
I subsequently enter the latter in field A, and a translation in field B. I try to avoid single words, but sometimes collocations are hard to extract. I also avoid cramming full sentences like this because they are impossible to remember completely. The advantage of collocations is that they force you to analyze your sentences in order to indentify them, while at the same time you train yourself to work with larger chucks of Chinese making your speech more advanced and fluent.
This is what I can come up with so far. I will add some new things as soon I anything comes up. I hope it can help you with your study, and I look forward to reading about your learning strategies.
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