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A realistic plan for learning Mandarin?

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rdearman
Senior Member
United Kingdom
rdearman.orgRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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881 posts - 1812 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, French, Mandarin

 
 Message 1 of 21
17 July 2014 at 11:15pm | IP Logged 
I want to ask a question of people who've taught themselves Mandarin. I am considering challenging myself to learn Mandarin in 2 years, 2 months and 2 days. I would start sometime next month and end on my 51st Birthday. So the question is; given the plan below, is it possible for me to learn to read/write/speak at a C1 level in Mandarin (even a low C1)? Is the plan realistic? Are there things I've forgotten? What adaptions would you make to this plan to assure me of success? Have I not given myself enough time?

-- The plan --

2-3 hours per day for phase 1.
4-5 hours per day for phase 2.

1st Phase (six months - nine months)
Listening:
- Listen to Pimsleur Mandarin. I have all of the CD's
- Listen to all the FSI.

Writing:
- TYS beginners chinese script.
- Use the book "Reading & Writing Chinese" to learn the first 2000 most used characters. I would hand write these.

Course Books:
- Colloquial Chinese (PC T'ung & DE Pollard)
- Chinese for today (Beijing Languages Institute)
- Chinese Language Learning for Foreigners
- TYS Chinese


2nd Phase (remaining time)
Listening:
- News, movies, TV, other native materials.
- Tutoring and language exchange

Writing:
- Language exchange
- Writing additional characters for memorisation.

Other:
- I have ordered a lot of native material, graded readers.
- Read as much native material as possible.
- Do a super challenge of 100 books & 100 films.

----------
2 persons have voted this message useful



Cabaire
Senior Member
Germany
Joined 3792 days ago

725 posts - 1351 votes 

 
 Message 2 of 21
17 July 2014 at 11:59pm | IP Logged 
If you devote 250*2,5h + 550*4,5h = around 3100 hours to Chinese, this should be sufficient time for a low C1, if you use your two years effectively.
But to say "I will study every day" is easier said than done. Life is used to come up with unforseeable interuptions...
1 person has voted this message useful



rdearman
Senior Member
United Kingdom
rdearman.orgRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 3429 days ago

881 posts - 1812 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, French, Mandarin

 
 Message 3 of 21
18 July 2014 at 12:47am | IP Logged 
Cabaire wrote:
If you devote 250*2,5h + 550*4,5h = around 3100 hours to Chinese, this should be sufficient time for a low C1, if you use your two years effectively. But to say "I will study every day" is easier said than done. Life is used to come up with unforseeable interuptions...


When I did my initial calculations, using the FSI estimate of 2222 hours for an average learner I hoped it would be sufficient. As you rightly point out the plan gives me 3100 hours of learning time, so I've got a "fudge factor" of 878 hours so that I can take a couple of "life hits".

I'm hoping to tail off on the French & Italian at the same time I'm ramping up the Mandarin. At the moment I'm hitting 3-5 hours per day on a regular basis on those languages in Films & Books so all things being equal I should be able to maintain that schedule.

Other than time constraints is this plan workable? I don't have anyone local I can use for language exchange or tutoring, so this is a problem. But hopefully not insurmountable?
1 person has voted this message useful



chokofingrz
Pentaglot
Senior Member
England
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241 posts - 430 votes 
Speaks: English*, French, Spanish, German, Italian
Studies: Russian, Japanese, Catalan, Luxembourgish

 
 Message 4 of 21
18 July 2014 at 12:53am | IP Logged 
How much time are you planning to spend in China?
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holly heels
Groupie
United States
Joined 2079 days ago

47 posts - 107 votes 
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 5 of 21
18 July 2014 at 1:07am | IP Logged 
I don't know how many people have "taught themselves Mandarin", in other words, reached a good level entirely thru distance learning, but I have done that in the sense that I am someone who much of the time can present a fair illusion of a fluent speaker of the language, even with native speakers, and I have only occasionally relied on a tutor.

You mentioned acquiring "reading", "writing", and "listening" skills in your plan , but not "speaking", which for me, has come the most naturally, and most quickly.   

After studying Mandarin for 5 months in the USA a native Mandarin speaker tutor said that my spoken Mandarin was better than her American student, who had actually lived in China and studied Mandarin there for one year.

But my understanding level of Mandarin still lags way behind my speaking level....

I will give you 2 examples, one of success, and one of failure, based on recent current events, which I listened to thru Mandarin radio news, based on the World Cup football matches.

Sports fans please forgive me for using these examples, I'm not trying to annoy anyone, I'm just trying to use specific examples.

Here is the sample Mandarin sentence from last week, which I understood and confirmed thru Google while at work in my cubicle.

"Germany is seeking its fourth World Cup championship, and its first since 1990".

This could be a difficult sentence for a non-native, as it is said extremely fast and includes proper names and numbers, but I understood it perfectly.

Now what I didn't understand completely was the news bitlet about the Uruguayan player who was protesting a decision based on his play in the match against Italy, wher he was punished/suspended for something, but I couldn't actually figure out what it was. I learned later what the reason was thru American news.

So, my understanding level is often good, but not consistently good. I go out of my way to listen to news and commentary that I don't know much about.

If I watch a TV show that I can easily understand, I don't pat myself on the back, I just look for a TV show that is more difficult to understand.

It actually helps my understanding quite a bit to look at the Mandarin subtitles on TV. Looking at each character one-by-one actually kind of dissects the word salad into concrete syllables, even if I can't read every character.

I have an artistic bent and enjoy writing the characters, but I can't get too hung up on them, because for me speaking and understanding is way more important.

I have been studying for 4 years, and if I could do it all over again, I might have just spent the first year learning 5 new characters a day, and mastering the tones along with them, but I was too impatient to start speaking long sentences.

Might not be a good plan to have a set number of hours for Phase I and Phase II, because it assumes steady progress, and you may have to review a lot more material than you initially thought.

All those programs you mentioned are probably excellent, but I used Mandarin Chinese-Learning Through Conversation, vols. I and II, written by 2 Mainland professors, and not one Chinese has ever criticized my tones or said they can't understand me. Sometimes they switch to English when I can't understand them completely, but they can always understand me.

The best non-Asian Mandarin speakers, in my opinion, have not "taught themselves", had the benefit of living in Taiwan, for example, usually with native speaker spouses, for example, as I have watched them on the show "WTO", a game show with mostly non-natives, and I have to say I speak better than most of the non-Asians, and I am a non-Asian, but their comprehension level is better than mine.

But the Japanese, Koreans, Thais, etc. blow almost all the non-Asians away when it comes to dexterity in the language.

So you might be able to converse really well in Mandarin in 18 months, but it may take another 2 years to bring everything else up to speed where you are in command of native content. I only do native content at this point.

So 2 years would't be realistic for me.




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shk00design
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 2637 days ago

747 posts - 1122 votes 
Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin
Studies: French

 
 Message 6 of 21
18 July 2014 at 8:56am | IP Logged 
Personally I have an advantage over some people because of my Cantonese background. The 2 Chinese
"dialects" are grammatically similar so the words that are different between the 2 can (in most case) be
substituted directly.

Some examples:
冇 “without” => 没有
唔系 “no" => 不是
系唔系? becomes the question "is it?" => 是不是?
咁樣 "like this" => 这样
唔系咁樣 “it's not like this" => 不是这样

What I did was that every time I'd encounter a word /phrase in Cantonese as indicated on the left, I'd
substitute with the appropriate Mandarin word / phrase on the right.

Right now I'm getting into French on my own. I took French in high school ages ago. Although I'd
normally
take notes in English but this time I've decided to use Mandarin for recording notes so that I won't lose
it
while I'm building my French:

Rien => 没有
Ce n'est pas => 不是
Ce n'est pas comme ça => 不是这样
N'est pas? => 是不是?

The issues you have to resolve:
1. Whether to start with Tradition characters (common in Taiwan & Hong Kong) or Simplified used in
Mainland China.
2. Get around some of the shortened expressions like "奥林匹克运动会" for Olympic Games shortened to

运会. A lot of Chinese expressions are shortened so sometimes you have to think a bit to figure out
what
was said.
3. 4-character proverbs or 成语. There are a few hundred of these and they are listed in a 成语 guide like
a
Thesaurus in English. Even a native Chinese speaker may not know every single proverb in the
language. These are commonly used in conversations and especially in TV news broadcasts and
documentaries. School children who study Mandarin in places like Singapore will devote many classes
learning half-dozen of these 4-character proverbs. Some examples:
到此為止 (this is the end usually said at the end of a radio / news broadcast), 不倫不類 (neither here nor
there), 出人頭地 (someone who becomes successful).
5. Mastering tones: there are 5 total including neutral such as "e" in men (們), rising such as "á" in ná
(拿),
long such as "ī" in jīng (京), curve such as "ě" in běi (北), falling such as "è" in èr (二).

6. Expressions used in Taiwan vs. Mainland China. I can name a few of these off my head:
自行车 = 腳踏車 (bicycle)
航天员 = 太空人 (astronaut)
空调 = 冷氣 (air conditioning)
出租车 = 計程車 (taxi)
冲凉 = 洗澡 (the first term for take a bath is common in Singapore and interchangeable with the second.
The second term is only used in Taiwan & China)
洗手间 = 盥洗室 (WC)


The next question do you need to spend time abroad? Different people would give you different
answers.
According to Moses McCormick the polyglot from the US, he mastered Mandarin & Cantonese to an
upper-
intermediate level on his own before he got married to a Taiwanese wife and travelled there only a few
years later. I've been to Taiwan and spent 3 months there on a summer exchange program before.

The people who succeeded and failed:
Based on my personal observation, a friend with a Cantonese background took Mandarin lessons for 6
months and quit. It's a typical case of someone who doesn't watch TV shows in Mandarin, listen to the
radio.

The 2 singers from Nigeria who became fluent in Chinese: 郝歌 & his younger brother 好弟 from Nigeria.
They would often describe themselves as: 黑人兄弟 (Black brothers). The older 郝歌 tried to start a
singing
career unsuccessfully in the UK & the US, then moved to Beijing, China following the advice of someone
from the Nigerian embassy. At first he would only sing in English but after a few months found that his
Chinese audience all left. And he spent nearly 1 year with a tutor to learn Chinese songs while
improving
his Mandarin on the side. The younger brother 好弟 had a similar experience and went back to Africa for
a
while. After his return to China he spent hundreds of hours learning old Classic Chinese songs and the
appropriate hand gestures when singing. In 8 months he appeared on 星光大道 singing contest and won
a
prize.

What about written Chinese? On stage their Mandarin is very close to the native level but with an accent
like people from southern China instead of the Beijing accent with a lot of "er" sound at the end of
words.
They learned Chinese phonetically with Pinyin. Their fluency is very much a conversation level but tend
to
get around writing characters by typing with the English alphabet (Pinyin).

Finally Moses McCormick the polyglot. How did he do it? He would find native speakers and get into a
conversation easily. Sometimes he would exchange phone numbers with a Mandarin-speaker who
wanted
to learn English and exchange languages. Some of the time he would spend online in chatrooms
communicating with other native speakers.

Basically he would start a language by learning "cognates" or words that look similar in both languages.
Between English & French you'd find a half-dozen such as:
The table = Le table
The restaurant = Le restaurant
The letter = La lettre

What about Chinese? For Cantonese-speakers, taking up Mandarin isn't an issue but for an English
speaker
there aren't many similar words to lean on except a half-dozen foreign loan words and place names.
The
other challenge is getting the tones right.

For learning I found a few programs from Singapore with both English & Chinese captions / subtitles
simultaneously. There is a program available on YouTube: "Say it! 好好说, 慢慢讲" from Channel 8 in
Singapore. A man wanted to improve his Chinese while a lady wanted to improve her English. You get
dialogue going in both languages.

If you spend at least 1h/day, every day, you are going to get somewhere. Even if you are just starting
with
a few words & phrases in the beginning, watching a show with subtitles isn't a bad idea just to get your
ears trained to listening to the language.

Personally in 8 months I watched 3 TV drama series in 20 episodes each. Out of 9 movies only 2 of
them were in English, the other 7 in Mandarin. And for news broadcast I'd pick up half and hour in
Mandarin and the other half an hour in English. On the Internet you'd find half-dozen TV shows, drama
series in Mandarin from China, Taiwan or Singapore with / without Chinese captions or English
subtitles.

Edited by shk00design on 18 July 2014 at 3:30pm

1 person has voted this message useful



rdearman
Senior Member
United Kingdom
rdearman.orgRegistered users can see my Skype Name
Joined 3429 days ago

881 posts - 1812 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Italian, French, Mandarin

 
 Message 7 of 21
18 July 2014 at 11:25am | IP Logged 
First of all! Wow, thanks for all the great advice so far. Keep it coming. :)

chokofingrz wrote:
How much time are you planning to spend in China?


I don't actually plan on spending any time in China until after I've learned the rudiments of the language. And more likely I will travel to either Taiwan or Singapore. This will obviously give me problems, but I can contact native speakers here in London and I plan to spend a fair amount of time in the latter stage with exchange partners and tutors. I have a friend who is Taiwanese and she has promised me 1-2 weekly lessons.


holly heels wrote:

You mentioned acquiring "reading", "writing", and "listening" skills in your plan , but not "speaking", which for me, has come the most naturally, and most quickly.


Well I figured "speaking" in the first few months will just be parroting back what I'm hearing on the CD's and trying to construct simple sentences to myself. I can't really see me forcing some poor native to listen to a hacked up version of their language. :)

After completing some courses then I would be happier to pay someone to listen to me and correct.

Do you think this is a bad idea? Should I speak more upfront?

holly heels wrote:

I have been studying for 4 years, and if I could do it all over again, I might have just spent the first year learning 5 new characters a day, and mastering the tones along with them, but I was too impatient to start speaking long sentences.


That seems a very sensible suggestion. I'll add that into the plan, but should I do more than 5? After a year 5 per day is only 1825.

holly heels wrote:

Might not be a good plan to have a set number of hours for Phase I and Phase II, because it assumes steady progress, and you may have to review a lot more material than you initially thought.


Well the hours are there mainly to force me to schedule X amount of hours into my daily schedule so that I am working on the language. If I have to spend some of that time reviewing it isn't a problem.


holly heels wrote:

All those programs you mentioned are probably excellent, but I used Mandarin Chinese-Learning Through Conversation, vols. I and II, written by 2 Mainland professors, and not one Chinese has ever criticized my tones or said they can't understand me. Sometimes they switch to English when I can't understand them completely, but they can always understand me.


I'll look for that.

holly heels wrote:

The best non-Asian Mandarin speakers, in my opinion, have not "taught themselves", had the benefit of living in Taiwan, for example, usually with native speaker spouses, for example,


My wife might take exception to me marrying a Chinese woman. I'll probably have to give that a miss.

holly heels wrote:

So you might be able to converse really well in Mandarin in 18 months, but it may take another 2 years to bring everything else up to speed where you are in command of native content. I only do native content at this point.

So 2 years would't be realistic for me.


Yes, that is my fear. Insufficient time. However when given short time-scales I tend to perform better. Like they say: "A goal without a deadline is a wish."

shk00design wrote:

Right now I'm getting into French on my own. I took French in high school ages ago. Although I'd normally take notes in English but this time I've decided to use Mandarin for recording notes so that I won't lose it while I'm building my French:


I'll probably wind up doing that in the opposite direction! :)

shk00design wrote:

The issues you have to resolve:
1. Whether to start with Tradition characters (common in Taiwan & Hong Kong) or Simplified used in
Mainland China.


I've already decided that I'm going to learn traditional characters first. Only because my friend in Taiwan has told me that if I learn those first, learning the simplified characters will be easier later.
[/quote]

shk00design wrote:

The next question do you need to spend time abroad? Different people would give you different answers.


That isn't really an option for me at the moment, especially a long stay away. So I'll have to make do with Native Chinese speakers in England. I've watched some of Moses on YouTube

shk00design wrote:

For learning I found a few programs from Singapore with both English & Chinese captions / subtitles simultaneously. There is a program available on YouTube: "Say it! 好好说, 慢慢讲" from Channel 8 in Singapore. A man wanted to improve his Chinese while a lady wanted to improve her English. You get dialogue going in both languages.


I've seen those and subscribed to that channel. Although the fellow "learning" Mandarin never seems to speak in English, so I'd say he doesn't really need the help. :)

shk00design wrote:

If you spend at least 1h/day, every day, you are going to get somewhere. Even if you are just starting with a few words & phrases in the beginning, watching a show with subtitles isn't a bad idea just to get your ears trained to listening to the language.

Personally in 8 months I watched 3 TV drama series in 20 episodes each. Out of 9 movies only 2 of them were in English, the other 7 in Mandarin. And for news broadcast I'd pick up half and hour in Mandarin and the other half an hour in English. On the Internet you'd find half-dozen TV shows, drama series in Mandarin from China, Taiwan or Singapore with / without Chinese captions or English
subtitles.


I'm planning to get to native materials as quick as I can. I'm already thinking that if Solfrid is still doing the super challenge in 2016, then I'll do that in Mandarin.



1 person has voted this message useful



shk00design
Triglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 2637 days ago

747 posts - 1122 votes 
Speaks: Cantonese*, English, Mandarin
Studies: French

 
 Message 8 of 21
18 July 2014 at 4:32pm | IP Logged 
Issues to consider:

1. Spoken vs. written Chinese: I've observed a number of Chinese expats living in the West (US, Canada,
etc.) being fluent in spoken Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin) but having no ability to write the
characters besides their given Chinese name. They speak Chinese at home as a mother-tongue but can't
read books or newspapers. When ordering in restaurants, they would read the English translation in the
menu when available or ask for common items they have eaten before.
It is totally possible to function with just spoken Chinese. You can learn words & phrases with Pinyin like
Vietnamese without learning Chinese characters. In the long-run you can go further learning the
characters.

2. Pinyin 拼音 vs. Zhuyin 注音 (BPMF used in Taiwan) phonetics: in the beginning the English invented the
Wade-Giles Romanization for foreigners learning Chinese. Pinyin is the Chinese adaptation of W-G. I've
seen a lot of Taiwanese on public transport entering characters into their portable devices with Zhuyin.
In Taiwan they still teach people to use Zhuyin. Electronic devices allow you to use 1 of the character
input methods of your choice for Traditional / Simplified characters. Personally I've learned Zhuyin in
Taiwan but found Pinyin more practical since it uses the 26 letters of the alphabet.

3. Pull-up dictionary: according to Stuart Jay Raj the polyglot fluent in Thai and other languages a
learner should be more than 20s away from a dictionary. With a computer, having a dictionary installed
or access to the Internet to lookup words & phrases would be beneficial.

4. Getting enough exposure to the language: besides TV and radio programs, I've set up my computer
and electronic devices to accept Pinyin. I would enter notes on my electronic calendar in English as well
as characters.
I've gone to Taiwan for a 3-month exchange program before. My travelling companion in the US insisted
that we correspond in Chinese. We would exchange handwritten letters in Chinese until I decided to
start typing my letters. Last year he started typing his letters as well and we eventually switched to
sending Emails.

5. The fallacy of foreign exchange: depending on the duration of stay the people who already achieved a
high level of fluency tend to benefit more. When I was in Taiwan for 1 summer, I noticed the people
who were at an advanced level of Mandarin would speak the language among themselves while the
beginners would speak English to each other. When we went out shopping, beginners in the language
would go out with those who were fluent to do all the translating. Even people who were assigned to
stay with local families ended up no more fluent in Mandarin as before they started the exchange
program. The only benefit for most people was travelling to half-dozen places around the island like
you were on vacation.

6. The politics of Chinese language & culture: while in Taiwan, the language teacher would tell her
students the Chinese communists destroyed Chinese culture by changing the written characters. One
should write in Traditional characters because the Simplified ones are "wrong". On the other hand,
Taiwan only has a few million people compared to the Mainland with over 1B.
Over 60 years after the Chinese civil war ended, places like Taiwan & Hong Kong would not adopt
Simplified characters.

Edited by shk00design on 18 July 2014 at 4:49pm



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