March 2012 update – revitalizing Mandarin

2012-03-24

Hi all. I’ve been a bit absent from the land of language learning for a while. I’ve had several other projects on the go and have been generally busy.

Currently I’m working at a new job, where many of my coworkers are native Mandarin speakers. I’m hoping to revitalize my Mandarin skills over the next little while.

My first step is to do lots of listening, to revive the “natural” feeling. By this, I mean that I want the language to again feel really familiar, which is a vague feeling I get after having lots of exposure to it. I’m also hoping that lots of listening will reactivate some of the vocabulary that I’ve nearly forgotten.

Next is learning new vocabulary, or relearning words that are well on the way to being forgotten. For this, I’ll be using a parallel text of Harry Potter. I can read through the Chinese half with mouseover translation for some of the words, and use the corresponding English paragraph to confirm that I have the right overall meaning for the sentences and paragraphs.

Since there are some really basic words that I’ve forgotten, I’ll be delaying my speaking practice for another week or two, but then I hope to start saying more simple things. My coworkers are not used to speaking with non-native speakers, so when they hear that my accent and pronunciation are pretty decent then they just charge straight ahead with a highly technical conversation relating to work. I’m not really at the level where I can discuss embedded Linux devices and which MTD partition on the flash ROM contains the boot loader, in Chinese 😉

To that end, though, I bet there’s a small subset of vocabulary that I could specifically study in order to catch on to more work-related concepts. I’ve found previously that a lot of these sorts of technical conversations can be mostly understood with only 20-30 new vocab words that get used all the time. Do you want to understand Economics conversations? Go learn just 30 new Economics vocab words, and I suspect you’ll have most of what you need. These things follow the Pareto principle quite well, where 80% of the benefits can be had by doing only the first 20% of the work.

That’s it for now. I’ll try and update soon. Currently my work contract is only for 4 weeks, but I’m hoping it will be extended past that so I can continue being surrounded by Mandarin while getting paid to be there 🙂


Kanji without Heisig

2009-07-30

A bit of a tangent from the usual german content here. I was just reading a post over at Japanese From Zero where akanpanda asks “does anyone know a *non Heisig* way to learn Kanji? Heisig bores me even when I turn it into a game.” For those who are unfamiliar, the Heisig method of learning kanji is to build up from basic characters to complex ones, so that every complex one consists of pieces that are recognizable characters. You have to follow a certain order so that you always get those basic ones before the advanced ones. Here’s my response:

You probably want to find some way to go hardcore on an SRS because that’s the fastest way to fill your brain with reams of data, but it doesn’t have to be through Heisig. The problem i had with Heisig was learning a bunch of boring characters before the ones that i wanted. Instead of that, you could try adding chars as you encounter them in real life. You may not know the parts of them in an awesome way like in the Heisig method, but it’ll be ok. This way each character will mean something to you, and have value, instead of being force-fed.

What i did was go to the library and get an awesome book that i really wanted to read. A good one for me was a book of short sci-fi stories by famous authors like Ray Bradbury and George R.R. Martin, except translated into chinese (which is what i was learning). Then i’d go through one page, and just write down all the chars that i didn’t know. I’d look up each one, and make up an Anki card for it. Then i’d try to read the page, hopefully remembering some of the chars that i just looked up.

Every day i’d do my Anki reps, and add a new page full of the characters i didn’t know. As each day went on, I’d be able to read more and more of the stories, at least by guessing new words according to the Hanzi (aka Kanji) that i encountered. The benefit of this method was that all the characters i added were really valuable to me. They were helping me read more and more pages of the awesome book, instead of just being random boring characters from some predefined method. This way, i kept my motivation up because i wanted to get through more pages of the book, and each progressive page was getting easier and easier.

An important part of motivation is self-direction. The fastest way to hate something is to have someone else force you to do it, or to be spoon-fed. Pick your own direction, and you’ll be able to do it for longer. Also, mix things up a bunch. Never just use one method, or one book. Every time you sit down to work on your project, have a variety of materials in front of you and choose whichever one catches your eye first. When you start to get bored of it, just drop it and look around. Pick up the next one that catches your eye. If you have enough interesting materials in front of you, you can go all day. I did this by getting real books from the library. Sci-fi, or translated novels like “the godfather” (which was funny to try to read in chinese). It’s also good to get something that’s familiar, maybe like Harry Potter if you’re into that.

Good luck!


第一汉语博客条目

2009-03-11

到目前,我还没用汉语写过博客,但我现在觉得这是很好学习汉语很好的方法。我需要会说中文的人来纠正我的写作,这是去lang-8那样的网站的原因之一。如果我帮别的人学英语,别人就会帮我学中文。我喜欢那种网站,人们能容易地利用他们的常用技能帮别人。我只花几分钟修改,就能令很多人高兴。