Learning Chinese vocabulary

2011-04-26

So I’m back in my home town of Vancouver now, on the Pacific coast of Canada. Next week I plan to start on the 6 Week Challenge that I mentioned, in which a bunch of people will try their hardest to learn as much Spanish as we can in 6 weeks. Until then, however, I’ll be working on a variety of other projects, several of which will continue throughout the year. One of those projects is to revive and improve my Chinese.

For those who don’t know already, I should explain my history with Chinese. I decided a while ago that because it’s such an important language group in Vancouver, I should learn a Chinese language. Both Mandarin and Cantonese are spoken here in large numbers (with several areas of the city having more native speakers of Chinese languages than of English). I went back to university to participate in a full-time Mandarin immersion course. After doing that for 4 months, I decided to go to China and continue the program for another 7 months. During this time I learned a lot about how to learn languages (and how not to).

In the last 2 years, I’ve been working much more on European languages, and I’ve mostly neglected my Chinese studies, but I’d like to balance this out a bit. In addition to whatever my focus language may be, I’d like to keep up a steady amount of Chinese work so that I can continue to improve.

At this point, I’m just trying to find interesting ways to challenge myself, and to expose myself to the language. One thing I find really helpful for my motivation is to have several physical books to work from. I grab a bunch of my books, and I sit down at a big table and spread the books out. I pick up whichever book looks interesting, and start reading through. If I get tired of it, several other books are waiting for me, so I can just pick up another one.

Currently I’m working through a book that’s meant for studying vocabulary for an HSK (chinese proficiency) exam. It just has a list of words with examples for each, and then some exercises. In order to have some fun with it, I’m just reading whichever words are interesting. I’m not stressing out about memorizing every single word on the page, just getting some exposure.

One of my favourite vocabulary exercises is to jump from word to word, “surfing” the dictionary. I go to my favourite dictionary site for chinese, nciku.com, and I look up any word that I don’t know. It will then show me example sentences for it, and then inside those example sentences I’ll find further words that I don’t know, and I’ll repeat. In this activity, I can use the words in my HSK study book as starting points, and branch off from there.

This is just one of many low-stress activities that I do from time to time to get some exposure to new words. There’s no grades, no “must learn” items, no pressure. I’m just looking around for interesting new words and investigating them. If you stress yourself too much by trying to go one-by-one in order through the entire book, memorizing each one, then you run the risk of turning it into “work” that you start hating, and then your motivation gets killed. By making it into a task of curiousity and exploration, I make it more interesting and remove stress. It’s something I can keep coming back to, and it’s rewarding.

While I’m doing all of this, I have some news radio on in the background, and from time to time I hear a word in there that’s interesting. It keeps me familiar with the sounds of Chinese, and it offers another casual source of interesting items to investigate.

Once the 6WC starts next week, I plan to do something similar with Spanish to get reacquainted with it. I’m just going to browse around for a bit and look at whatever seems interesting, before I move on to reading real books. By keeping it light and fun, I can review a lot of the words I’ve forgotten without getting too tied up in the task of doing them all in order without skipping anything. It doesn’t matter if I do all of them or if I do them in order, only that I keep exposing myself to the language and keep myself interested in it.


6WC: Spanish!

2011-04-16

I’ve decided to join in on a project announced on HTLAL, which is a “6 week challenge” (6WC) in Spanish. Participants are expected to be at a beginner level in Spanish, and we see how much we can accomplish in 6 concentrated weeks, starting on May 1. My previous experience in Spanish consists of one university course that I took in 2002 or so, so I’ve previously studied a bunch of the grammar and basic vocab, but I have a lot of trouble reading real things, and I can’t speak it or understand it when spoken.

The idea of the 6WC is to work hard for 6 weeks to achieve whatever you can. In many cases, the same results can be achieved by lowering your allowed time period, creating some urgency for yourself. We hope to work harder than we normally would, due to this. We’ll also be able to easily sense the “end” of that period (although many of us may continue working afterwards anyway). Having the end in sight can help eliminate that sense of floating where you wonder what you’re doing and for how long.

With a short time limit like this, we also tend to get a lot of people who will join the challenge, since they can afford to spend that short period of time working with us. We plan to use a twitter bot to keep track of our work and create a “high score” sheet for amount of work, which will hopefully offer another type of motivation. We’ll also be making comments about what types of things we’re doing as we study, which will offer inspiration and motivation too.

I think I have some easy stuff in mind to start on, but I’m looking for further suggestions of Spanish authors to read. I’d like to try some poetry by Neruda and Lorca, since I’ve heard there are some parallel versions around, but some interesting novels would be good too.

Currently I’m still in Berlin, staying with some friends. My flight back to Canada is in a few days, and then I have a week to relax until the 6WC starts 🙂


Read More or Die!

2011-04-02

I just signed up for a month-long reading contest called “Read More or Die“, also known as Tadoku. The idea is just to encourage people to read lots and lots in their target language, and to record how many pages they read in a sort of competition with others.

I’ll be reading books in German and Dutch mostly, since that’s easy to fit in with the other stuff I’m doing this month. I’ve been a bit busy lately since I’m preparing to move back to Vancouver, Canada in a couple of weeks. Currently I’m trying to find new homes for my furniture before I have to move out of my apartment.

I’ll be back on the blog soon with some more tips as time permits.