In keeping with my earlier post, I’d like to share this month’s language update. For those of you that are new to my blog – welcome – I am studying Mandarin Chinese and Croatian. I plan to take the HSK test this coming December (minimum of Level 4) and so my focus is on preparing for that over the next several months.
For comparison, you can read about where I was at with my language studies just over a month ago.
My January Language Learning Strategies
Here are some of the changes I’ve made to my language learning methods from previous months:
- More lessons
- More chats with native speakers
- Forcing myself to use it every chance IRL
- Creating scripts for short videos on Instagram
- Accepting mistakes – see you but said what shopkeeper says.
- Practice tests and scores
- #IGLC hosted by Lindsay Does Languages
- Music, movies and games
I am taking two professional, one-hour lessons each week. One for Mandarin and another for Croatian/Serbian. This is my first time taking lessons for a foreign language (unless you count scheduled practice with a relative for German). I don’t know why I initially avoided lessons, but I regret having waited so long to begin. They have been a huge asset to my collection of language learning tools and it is so helpful getting regular, constructive feedback from a native speaker.
I take lessons through iTalki.
More chats with native speakers
In addition to my lessons, I try to arrange a Skype call with a native speaker at least twice a week. Those that I have met through iTalki have been really great. We try to split our conversations into two 30-minute periods where we spend 1/2 in Mandarin and the other in English.
Forcing myself to use the language more often
I shop at a Chinese market so that I can immerse myself in as close to a “native” environment as I can. In the store the announcements are made in Mandarin, most of the other shoppers speak with one another in the language, and a good number of the items in the store are in Mandarin. It’s great for practicing reading ingredients (an important skill if you have a food allergy like me). I also try to speak with the attendants and it has resulted in a few fun moments that only a language learner would get to experience.
When I first started going, any attempts to speak with the attendants resulted in them replying to me in English. “How do you know Chinese?” Even when I insisted on continuing in Mandarin, they would not change languages. Because this happened more often than not, I went through a period where I stood silently while paying for my items. One trip, however, I said “thanks” to the attendant as I began to walk away. He asked me if that was all I knew and I replied to him in Chinese that it wasn’t. Another customer had already arrived and he had to turn his attention to her, so I missed out on an opportunity to speak. I was pretty disappointed, but I decided to make another effort the next time. The woman who worked at the register was incredibly patient with me and even corrected my tones if I was off.
On another trip my father asked me to pick up kimchi. I couldn’t locate it, so I asked a store employee where it was in Mandarin. He was stocking shelves, so he replied without looking at me. I said thanks, and he turned to look at me as I passed. Seeing that I was not a native speaker, he launched into Mandarin, speaking a bit more quickly than I could understand. I started laughing and it in turn made him laugh. Even though I didn’t understand what he had said to me, I guess it was the appropriate response.
My most recent attempt was at the NAMM show, a large music convention held in Anaheim. Vendors and music manufacturers come from all over the world to display their products and services and there are a large number of vendors that visit from China. My father makes handcrafted wood reed and guitar pick cases and there is a company at the show that sells wood inlays. I visit each year to purchase them for him. The two women working at the booth were speaking to each other in Mandarin, so when I walked up I asked (in Chinese) if I could look at the inlays. She nodded and as I searched, she asked me how long I had been studying Mandarin. We spoke for a short time and I asked her for various inlays in various quantities. It ended up that I was able to complete the entire transaction in Mandarin and it was an incredibly motivated moment for me (I found out after that the women were from Korea).
Creating scripts for short videos or Lang-8
I often have conversations with myself in the languages that I am learning. During this monologues, I often stumble into vocabulary or grammar that I do not yet know and I make a mental list in my head. I then look up how to say the things I need and then create a short script so that I can make a video or a longer script to submit as text for correction on Lang-8 (a really great and free way to get help reading/writing in your target language).
When I first started learning other languages I hated the idea of using them until I had them perfect, something that, quite honestly, was never going to happen. They are not my native tongue and I will never be able to speak them as well as I can speak English or French. I can get them close, but they will never be perfect. I can’t even say that my English nor French are perfect. It was something that was hard for me to comes to terms with, but it has allowed me to progress more quickly because I am more willing to use the language and get feedback so that I can improve.
An example of one of my recent mistakes:
I was speaking with one of my language exchange partners and I said “See you” in Mandarin. Apparently the translation I had found was something that shopkeepers say to customers, not something friends say to one another. If I had not been practicing, I would have assumed it was an acceptable way to say “See you” and have continued to study it that way, ingraining it so deeply that it would be difficult to correct later on. The more times you practice something wrong, the harder it will be to change. By using it with a native speaker almost immediately after learning it, I found out it wasn’t the right thing to say and now I know the correct way.
In preparation for the HSK exam, I am trying to get through one level every three months. I am using practice tests to gauge where I am at. I am using this series of books.
Lindsay Does Languages is hosting an awesome Instagram language challenge. The goal is to learn new vocabulary in the language that you’re studying with a daily prompt. It’s a great little community and I’ll certainly be participating next month as well.
Music, Movies and Games
I have a Mandopop playlist in iTunes on my phone, on YouTube (included below) and on Spotify. I listen to one of the three all day at work. I also watch several Taiwanese television series on Hulu.
Lastly, I have started playing Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in Mandarin. Although the games don’t help with my speaking or listening comprehension, they do force me to work on my reading (I need to understand the directions!). It does help that I’ve played the games in English and that I have a vague recollection of what the instructions are in English. I keep a notebook and work on the translations after playing. Yes, I write out each dialogue box in my notebook. It takes forever, but it’s something I love and so it’s easy to work through.
Where I lack
I can say most of the things I’d like in simple sentences. I am a musician. I play sax. I like reading books. Fantasy. Want something to eat? What is that? What are you doing?
But I need (and want) to learn more grammar so I can have more advanced conversations. I find myself wanting to use the past tense and future tense more and more often, yet I lack the ability to do so. It can be quite frustrating but I haven’t really found any great Mandarin grammar resources. If you know of anything, I’d be so grateful if you left a note in the comments.
Because I’ve been learning a ton of words rather quickly, it takes me seeing them 3-5 times before they finally stick. It’s a bit annoying having to learn something more than once, but for now I’ll take it.
That’s it for now! If you’re studying a language, I’d love to hear about your methods and how it’s going for you. Feel free to leave a note in the comments below!