Well, we’re nearly halfway through the month of August which means it’s time for my monthly language update!
My August 2014 Language Learning Strategies
In the past, I tried to study multiple languages at once. I’ve more recently decided to focus on one language at a time so that they get the attention they deserve.
This month I found myself experimenting with a lot of new resources for language learning, many of which you can find here (for Mandarin).
Although I played around with a few different resources, most of my time and energy went into a few specific tools, so I’ll talk about them here.
Conversations with… Myself
I’ve been avoiding Skype and conversing with native speakers because I haven’t had the greatest experience speaking with natives. Even though I’m much farther along than I was a few months ago, it’s still left me feeling a bit hesitant in regards to speaking with others. Instead, I’ve been constructing conversations with myself in Mandarin, replacing the words I don’t yet know with French and making a mental note to look them up later.
Even though it probably isn’t as helpful as speaking with a native speaker, it has given me a pretty good idea of what vocabulary is relevant to me personally, and hopefully, I’ll be able to use it soon in a conversation. With someone else.
Action item: Stop being so timid and talk to another person.
Here’s a video I created as part of Speak from Day 1:
Reading, Translating and Building Comprehension
I studied Arabic in school, but only for a semester. Chinese is the first language with a different writing system that I’ve really pursued on my own. And it’s work. It’s not impossible, but it’s definitely a challenge.
When I first picked up the Mandarin version of A Game of Thrones in Taiwan, I honestly could not tell one character from another. I wondered how I would ever pick them out. It’s probably part of the reason I put off learning to read and write until a month or two into learning the language.
I use Memrise and flashcards to memorize different characters, and while I could remember their meanings on a one-by-one basis, I was intimated by the very idea of recognizing a single one in the context of a larger text. Turns out that fear was unfounded. I have no problem picking out the characters I know.
My vocabulary is still pretty limited, so I haven’t worked my way up to A Game of Thrones yet, but it’s there for motivation and “one day.” Instead, I’ve been focusing on a few children’s books I picked up in Chinatown.
Doing this I’ve noticed a few things:
- There are a lot of words I still don’t know (or for which I don’t know the character);
- I sometimes recognize a character but can’t recall what it means;
- I read the translations of the characters rather than the Chinese meanings of them (oups);
- and I don’t have any problem picking out the ones I’ve learned when I see them whether or not I remember their meanings.
Reading another writing system isn’t so intimidating after all!
Because children’s books tend to be quite short (about one or two sentences per page), I write copy them into my notebook and then translate from there. I first try to write the word in pinyin immediately below and then translate the word into English below that. By doing it in this order, I’m hoping to better relate the Chinese words to the character (since I’m still picking out the English translation first).
Action item: Try to read Chinese in Chinese and not in English (although this might be a little bit advanced for me at this stage, but it’s something to work towards). Continue to work at building my vocabulary.
Even though I live in French- and English-speaking environments, I try to immerse myself in Chinese as much as possible. I love visiting our local Chinese market where even the announcements are in Mandarin. I find myself lingering in the aisles longer than I usually would just to surround myself with the language.
I also started watching a few different Chinese shows and movies. One of my favorite movies right now is Love. I also watch the tv show “My Queen” even though I find the lead character a bit annoying and “Palace,” a show about a history fanatic who gets transported back in time. I’ve picked up quite a bit of vocabulary this way.
I’ve also found that watching American movies with Mandarin dialogue are great for picking up “bite-size” conversations – for this, I had fun translating conversations from “Rush Hour,” “Shanghai Noon” and “The Karate Kid” for M.
And, of course, immersion wouldn’t be complete without music! I’ve been listening to quite a bit of music lately and have even made a playlist on Spotify which I’ve included below.
Action item: Keep watching movies and listening to music. Look up the lyrics to the songs I most like and memorize them.
A Summary of This Month
If I’m totally honest, I didn’t dedicate as much time to learning Chinese as I would have liked. I was probably too focused on finishing up my Summer Reading Challenge and so my language studies suffered in consequence. I’m hoping to get back on track in September and get over my fear of conversing with others.
I’ve been pretty focused on learning new vocabulary and haven’t really been putting it into context so I’m not sure just how well I will retain it all.
My experience learning Mandarin has been completely different from Italian or German (for example). Because I speak English and French, I could often pick out the meanings of unfamiliar words in the latter two languages, relying on the similarities between the languages I already knew and the languages I was learning. I can’t do that with Mandarin. I’m starting from zero with Mandarin and so it’s taking a bit more time than what I’m used to.
But that’s okay.
I love the learning the process and I feel the reward of it more greatly when I understand conversations or texts because I had to work so much harder to get there. It’s definitely a great way to stay motivated and keep making progress.
Eventually I’ll get to the point where my speaking and reading skills better align with the vocabulary I’ve worked at memorizing and the words will no longer be a series of out-of-context words. Until then, I just need to keep working at it. Chipping away at it little by little.
If you’ve been learning a language, how are you doing this month? What are some of the ways you’ve approached it?