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Mandarin: Year 3.7

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 Message 1 of 111
08 December 2012 at 1:10am | IP Logged 
I've lurked here for... a while. I was always afraid a log (or even a personal blog) would look pretty stupid when I inevitably quit this futile project, but some time ago I crossed that threshold of stubbornness where one decides "I've gone this far - there is no way I'm quitting now."

I read irrationale's Mandarin log yesterday, and you know, it was pretty inspiring (even though I think, on my timeline, he fully learned the language while I was still floundering around and slacking off). So in the spirit of maybe helping someone else learn from my path and/or mistakes, I'll start one too. My list of 'what I use' might be useful to someone even though I am sure it will be repeating what other people say.

My wife speaks Mandarin, sort of. It is basically 'family Mandarin'. She cannot read, and has a limited vocabulary largely concentrated around food and family tree trivia. This was the original impetus to learn - sort of a fun easy hobby (ha ha), maybe speak with the relatives more easily (really the grandparents; parents are completely fluent in English), watch crummy movies, etc. That reasoning has long since flown the coop, though, as now I am firmly in the mindset of "I spent how many hours on this? Good god, I am finishing this." I do, however, have a pronunciation coach unavailable to most, and we are constantly trying (and failing) to speak at home.

I started this endeavor by putting my tax dollars to work and 5 years ago signed up for Mandarin 1 at the local community college (for a modest fee, a fair amount of bureaucracy, and quite a bit of schedule shuffling for work).

Despite the apathy of the other students (who mainly appeared to be 1st-year-college-age Cantonese speakers looking for an easy grade, ha ha) and the increasing frustration of the teacher with the fact that few seemed to really be caring about the class, I got out of there with basic pronunciation skills, the ability to sort of read pinyin, and a vocabulary of maybe 50 words. I was not at all confident enough to go into Mandarin 2, because I could feel the words leaving my brain at an amazing pace. I also felt that I had reached the peak of what I was going to learn in a class in this way. There were just too many people jockeying for the teacher's time, and I figured I could just go on from here on my own now that I had a basic grasp of things.

I muddled along with one of those 'word a day' character calendars for a bit - maybe three weeks before I forgot about it. I found some movies dubbed into Chinese and tried to watch them. I found the FSI chinese course, started it, did it for three weeks, and stopped. Things like this would happen on and off for quite a while. I would think 'hey, maybe this'll work', and then do it for a few weeks, then get occupied with something else and forget about it, repeat for four years. I didn't really learn anything during this time.

Around October 2010 I stumbled upon both AJATT and this site. I decided to try the insane immersion method. I discovered chinese radio station on and put on Beijing News Radio for long periods of each day. It sounded like complete gibberish, but what's it hurt, right? I signed up for QQ, and though I was too bashful to actually talk to anyone I got a huge list of contacts for when I am 'ready' (spoiler: still not ready). I let this go for a few months, and nothing really changed other than some really weird dreams where people would talk at me in Chinese and I couldn't tell what they were saying.

It was time to move on to the 'next phase' of AJATT - learning the hanzi. I haaaaated this part of the class, but I was getting desperate. So I ordered the Remembering Simplified Hanzi book, got someone's Anki deck with the filled-in stories for all the blank ones, and started in June 2011. This is what I now consider the actual start of 'learning Mandarin' - so when people ask how long I've been working on it now, I say 18 months.

The pinyin was in this deck and I soon started displaying that on the front of the card (Front: English word, pinyin) because I was having issues with English words that were too similar (joyous vs. joyful, etc.) This wasn't actually teaching me the pinyin but I did eventually realize that, hey, there is a system here. A characters with THIS thing in it is usually BAO or PAO, etc. Though not much use as a learning tool, this was a very powerful motivation to actually learn the damn things.

I did this dutifully, if slowly, until about May of this year. I was probably about 75% through the book at that point, and decided it was time to try and put this stuff to use.

I had a subscription to Chinesepod which I had been sort of using (listening to some random lessons while working, walking, etc) and I read a post on this forum: Ari's Chinesepod method. I decided yes, it was time to be more systematic and this method sounded good, and so I started to download lessons, strip out the dialog part, pick out the 'new' words from the lesson, and make a new deck with those. Since I didn't want to do this every day, I would do it in large batches, so I made a spreadsheet to list which lessons I had entered into Anki, in which order, and how many words were from each lesson.

This is what finally worked, I think. From May of this year until about August, I did this Chinesepod vocabulary accumulation plus the Remembering the Hanzi book (crossing into book 2, it came out at pretty much the exact right time for me, wooo). I built up a pretty good number of words, and was sort of able to muddle my way through some easy chinese readers I got. The grammar was still getting me though, so around August (I think) I decided to combine the AJATT sentence method with the Chinesepod method and made an Anki deck of sentences - the same lessons I had gone over with vocabulary but with the sentences from the dialogs (skipping ones that seemed too short/obvious or repeated from previous dialogs). This upped my reading speed/accuracy of individual characters considerably, though the grammar is (still) giving me headaches.

I added two more Anki decks - random vocabulary from a visual dictionary, starting with animals, and space, and a deck to have unknown words from 'whatever I am currently reading'.

Thanksgiving was a success. I could understand, if not exact words, at least the vague subjects of what people were talking about, even some strangers with odd accents. It was, more importantly, inspiration that I am on the right track and this will eventually succeed.   And my current goal is, next Thankgiving, to be able to 'talk like a person' instead of sitting there trying to understand. One year - it can be done, right?

I am at 1905 characters learned with RTH.
My Chinesepod spreadsheet tells me I am at 1386 words, and 436 sentences.
Random vocabulary from the visual dictionary is another 330 words or so.
New words from the reading is about 180 words.


This runs me between 60-90 minutes per day with reviews/adding new words (that I've entered in the decks already).

Deck 1: Remembering the Hanzi Book 2. I shoot for about 8 characters a day.
Deck 2: Remembering the Hanzi Book 1 review. Nothing to add, of course.
Deck 3: Chinesepod Words. I was doing about 25-30 new words each day, based on how many are in each lesson. I no longer do Newbie lessons, Elementary lessons only have about 4-5 new words, and Intermediate have about 15 or so. So it was usually 2-3 new lessons/day. I have slowed this down a bit to allow the next deck to catch up, though.
Deck 4: Chinesepod Sentences. I do about 20-25 new sentences each day, which usually is about 3 lessons. I am trying to get this one caught up to the same lesson # I am on with the previous deck - it will be a while yet, though.
Deck 5: Visual Dictionary Words. I add 10 a day, in two groups of 5.
Deck 6: Reader Words. I actually just added my last words from my first story. I suppose I will add the unknown words from NPCR to this (see below).

So in total I am adding about 25-40 new words a day here. Over a year that'll be like 7500-10,000 words, yeesh. But it's been sustainable for a couple of months now, so yay.

Currently reading the first story in Graded Chinese Reader 3, on like page 6 or so. Now that I allegedly know all the words in it (from doing Deck 6), I should crank up the pace on this. Note that Reader #3 is easier than #1/#2. I have those waiting in the wings for after this one.

Background: Beijing News Radio, and when that is down, BCC News Radio from Taipei.

Active: I have a ton of stuff recorded from our local Chinese station (ICN). I watch If You Are the One, maybe an episode every other week or so. (I liked Take Me Out better....) It has both English & Hanzi subtitles, and a range of different accents, so that's good. I could probably do more of this, I certainly have enough stuff recorded.

I'm reading the sentences/words aloud from my Anki decks when I do them, so there's that. After all those months of nothing-but-listening, I think my ear is pretty good now, so I can usually correct my mistakes as soon as I hear them. The umlaut-u and xue /yue are my main problems at the moment, but at least I know about them. :P

I have tried speaking along with the Chinesepod recordings of the various sentences. I can't do a fair amount 'live', they're often too fast, so I load them up in Audacity, highlight various parts and do it that way, word by word if I have to. I can do all Newbies, most Elementaries, and a few Intermediates at this point at live speed. Problems with Elementaries are always tongue-twister types at this point. This shadowing is also lagging behind where I am with the words, but it is catching up.

This isn't happening until later.

This is my main (self-identified) issue at this point. I know plenty of words, and I just need to be able to use them. And Mandarin grammar is easy, right? Well, the word order is pretty easy. The fact that subjects/objects/etc get left out all the time really throws my brain for some reason. I am hoping the reading will help this via osmosis, but I am reading REALLY slow because of this. I am not having as much trouble identifying the word breaks as I thought I would, oddly. Just the random jiu, zai, yi xia, de, etc, makes me stop, try and figure out what was going on, and then I forget the rest of the sentence, stuff like that. If I can crack this nut it would go a long way to letting me be able to speak.

So this is the latest addition - I started yesterday reading/working through the New Practical Chinese Reader. I have already determined I can skip chapters 1-4, though I listened to the recordings just for the hell of it (and wow, they like to pronounce their y's, don't they?). Seeing how chapter 5+ looks today.

Edited by proudft on 01 February 2015 at 12:21am

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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
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Studies: Russian

 Message 2 of 111
08 December 2012 at 8:01am | IP Logged 
I rally enjoyed reading your log! Not just because I would like to do Mandarin one day, but also because so
much clicked. I could have written a lot of what you wrote.

I am confident that you will succeed as I hope I will succeed with Russian, and I look forward to following your
log :-)
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Senior Member
United States
Joined 4000 days ago

124 posts - 156 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Mandarin

 Message 3 of 111
08 December 2012 at 8:35am | IP Logged 
Thanks! Motivation is everything, and I think I finally got it and kept it this time.
But just in case I flag a bit, this log might hold me a little accountable. :P

Today, Dec 7. Was very busy (partially from writing a giant post somwehere... oh
right) so did basically my minimums:

1 new Chinesepod lesson of words, 3 catching up of sentences, for updated total lessons
of: words 127 (+1), sentences 82 (+3), shadowing 47 (+0).

The Chinesepod lesson was Intermediate 1992; a Private Money Changer. It features the
one and only 'saying' I know (not sure if it's a real chengyu: 说曹操曹操到). I forget
where I had learned this previously, but it stuck in my head pretty well because it
flows nicely (shuō Cáo Cāo Cáo Cāo dào). Plus it's funny that Chinese has a 'speak of
the devil' equivalent.

10 new words from visual dictionary. I forgot to give the book name before, it is the
Mandarin Chinese Oxford Visual Dictionary, just an inexpensive thing full of pictures
and words next to each one. A big book o' nouns, basically. The pages I have covered
already are: Body (some of these seemed pretty suspect according to my wife, but
whatever, if they are too clinical or whatever, no big deal), Face, Hand, Foot,
Space (planets & stuff), Animals 1-3 (there was also a complaint about the word for
hamster, perhaps that is regional), House (exterior), Entrance, Apartment, and Living

Working through Illnesses now, and after that is Media (tv/radio stuff). I am
basically picking pages at random and whim, figuring I will cover everything that
interests me eventually.

Characters/NCPR are getting done later, in bed. Considering how often I do that,
perhaps I should update this thing in the mornings. :)

Edit: gah, what is with the line breaks? That's what I get for never posting before, I

Edited by proudft on 08 December 2012 at 8:39am

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 Message 4 of 111
08 December 2012 at 11:43am | IP Logged 
Hey Tom. (I think we know each other.)
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Senior Member
United States
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124 posts - 156 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Mandarin

 Message 5 of 111
09 December 2012 at 6:22am | IP Logged 
Hah, I guess we do! I'm entirely unsurprised to find you here!

Last night I went through NCPR chapters 1-7 and noted down all the unknown words (not
very many, really). I added those to my Anki reader deck and did most of them this
morning except for the supplemental stuff at the end of chapter 7. It also looks like
I can start doing actual stuff from the reader around chapter 7 after I do that last
bit, as it breaks into Hanzi and has actual paragraphs to read. The lack of overly
complicated grammer will be refreshing.

Up to 1922 in RTH now. 2 new Chinesepod lessons of words, 3 catching up of sentences,
for updated total lessons of: words 129 (+2), sentences 85 (+3), shadowing 47 (+0).

Chinesepod lessons were both Elementary-level: 2054 Pens and Notebooks, and 2057 Fake
Beggars. I didn't bother to listen to the actual lessons, just the dialogs, because
both were really simple (6 'new' words from each and frankly I could have guessed the
words except for one or two from each). 2054 looked like an explanation of measure
words more than anything else, which reminds me that I should probably add all the
common ones to one of my word lists - I was really tripped up by 件 a couple times in
the a couple places recently, thinking it was a noun or something. My stock of
prepared Chinesepod lessons to do is down to about 18, so I'm good for a week or so I
think and no need to imminently add to that.

Still on Illnesses in the visual dictionary.

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Senior Member
United States
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124 posts - 156 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Mandarin

 Message 6 of 111
11 December 2012 at 7:38am | IP Logged 
All caught up/read/listened through NCPR chapter 7. Spent some time talking to myself
with the dialogues in the book, and though they are super easy review at this point,
it's warm up for further chapters. The first snippet of reading material in 7 was nice
and simple, just introduction of characters and their fields of study.

Chinesepod lessons 1935, 2010, 2013 done for words, and caught up more on sentences,
for updated total of words 133 (+3), sentences 91 (+6), shadowing 47 (+0).

1935: Intermediate, the Snail Maiden. This was kinda neat, it was a fairy tale instead
of the usual dialog. Some guy finds a snail in his field, brings it home to keep as a
pet, and it is actually a magic lady who cooks him food and eventually marries him.
You know, the usual. I already had learned 蜗牛 for snail from the visual dictionary,
but this story uses 田螺. Perhaps a particular kind of snail.

2010: Elementary, Hostel Curfew and 2013 Do You Live Alone? are more of that easy level
where I can read/understand it ok, know virtually all of the vocabulary, but am just
throwing it in the pile to listen & shadow & if it's that easy, why not. I certainly
can't do them from memory, so there is still stuff to internalize from this level.

Have moved on to Media in the visual dictionary and time to ponder what will be after
that. Leaning towards musical instruments at the moment.

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Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: English*
Studies: Mandarin

 Message 7 of 111
12 December 2012 at 10:55am | IP Logged 
I searched around on the forum and figured out my line break issue, don't use Chrome, problem solved. Also went back and fixed links to resources in my first post now that they will not be ruined by messed-up line breaks, and added links to the posts by my heroes irrationale and Ari. :)

Kinda late, so real quick: one more Intermediate chinesepod lesson down along with the usual catching up of sentences, and I previewed chapters 8 & 9 of the NPCR and entered the unknown words from them, all, like, five of them. I also added the characters' names (Ding Libo, etc) after mispronouncing poor Ding's name repeatedly as Lǐbó instead of Lìbō.

I'm not real picky about entering random words like that into decks, since I should learn the characters/pronunciations anyway. Similarly, I entered all the musical instruments into the visual dictionary Anki deck for after the Media pages. The instruments look like they use a bunch of random probably-rare characters (like the animals did), but you never know when you'll run into these things, so may as well learn 'em!

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Studies: Mandarin

 Message 8 of 111
15 December 2012 at 1:57am | IP Logged 
Remembering the Hanzi: Some old stuff all synced up and I had some horrendously long reviews in the last couple of days, boo. Up to 1951.

Chinesepod: Completed lessons as of yesterday: words 137, sentences 97, shadowing 55. 12 prepared lessons remaining. The upcoming one I'm looking forward to is 573, the Drug Dealer. Not the usual officeplace/mealtime words in that one!

Visual Dictionary: Finished with media, on to music stuff. The word for orchestra cracks me up - 乐队, literally 'music team'. There are a few transliterations in the instruments, but not as many as I would have thought. My instrument, however, is one of them: 萨克斯管!

Graded Chinese Reader 3: Forging forward a few pages each night before falling asleep. Up to page 10. It's still basically introducing characters. Story ends on page 39, it better start moving faster!

NPCR: Finished lessons 8 & 9, time to add more words from the Anki deck for the next couple. I finally committed the yi tone rules to memory, sort of embarrassing that I never had. I think this often tends to be explained in a more complicated fashion than it should be: just treat it like bu unless it is at the end of a sentence or being used as a number.

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