Language Learning Strategies & Update | July 2014 Language Resources

Early this month I mentioned that I wanted to do a language update as part of my Weekly Wishes since it’s been so long since I’ve done one (read 7 months). I did go through a period where I didn’t do much studying or practice – it was completely sporadic – and I feel quite horribly about it, but I’m glad to share that I’m back on track and hopefully making some progress.

Towards the end of last year I announced that I am focusing on learning Mandarin this year. It took me a bit longer to turn my attention from Croatian, a language I really enjoyed learning and felt some attachment for, to a language I was entirely unfamiliar and unsure of learning. I was between Japanese and Chinese for this year but I ended up leaning towards Chinese because I thought it might be more useful than Japanese even though my personal preference was towards the language I did not pick.

If you’re considering learning a new language, I really don’t advise choosing a language for the reason that I did this past year because it makes learning it very difficult.

The good news is, that all has changed for me in recent weeks.

My July Language Learning Strategies

When I first began studying Mandarin, it was difficult because the sounds and tones were so completely unfamiliar. I couldn’t quite pick it up on my own and I didn’t have anyone to practice with. I was trying to do it on my own and avoiding learning to read and write as long as possible. It was a very slow and ineffective way to go about it.

But then I had my first in-person conversation, the opportunity to try out my abilities in Taiwan, and I also discovered FluentU where I could listen to the Chinese versions of songs that I knew. Through a combination of all of these things, my desire to learn the language began to grow, motivating me to work at it, study, and learn not only pinyin, but Simplified Chinese as well.

This inspired me to start looking for other resources that increased my interest in not only the language, but the culture, something I think is critical in language learning. Each time I began to recognize a new character when looking at a wall of text and each time I was able to pick out a word in either a movie or real life contexts, I grew more excited about learning the language.

I still am likely not able to hold a long conversation in Chinese, but each day my vocabulary is growing and I’m learning to recognize more symbols. Each day that my abilities improve motivates me to continue moving in a forward direction.

I’m not hoping to learn the language “quick.” I prefer to study and work on it on a way that will stick so I’m using a diverse collection of resources and methods to come at it from all angles. It ensures that I’m more likely to retain what I learn even if I sometimes feel like I’m starting over each and every day.

So here’s what I am currently using to study Chinese and a general look at my language study schedule.

Learning a Language the Slow Way

1. Pimsleur – Each morning I try to complete one Pimsleur lesson. Sometimes this lesson is a repeat from the day before (I usually have to do them twice to retain the new vocabulary and feel comfortable moving on). This is just to work on my listening/speaking skills, but it hasn’t done much to really help me with conversation. From Pimsleur alone I’ve really only learned how to ask for directions (although I wouldn’t understand the response), order a beer (啤酒), count, pay for things if I don’t feel they are too expensive (太贵了), and ask a friend if they would like to get something to eat with me. Check out Pimsleur Mandarin.

2. Chinese with Mike – I don’t remember how I came across Mike 老师’s Chinese lessons, but I am so grateful that I did. Around lunch time I sit down and try to work through anywhere between 1 and 5 lessons (depending on if I already know the material or if it’s new). His lessons are primarily speaking/comprehension, although he does include the pinyin spellings of words. My only complaint is that he stands in front of the board too often and if I don’t write down the vocabulary fast enough, I have to continually rewind and pause the videos. If you’re learning Chinese, you should definitely check out his lessons. They’re highly entertaining. Check out Chinese with Mike.

3. Yoyo Chinese – If I’m looking for something a little different than Chinese with Mike, I do lessons with Yoyo Chinese. These are also video lessons that come with supplemental resource sheets, but Yang Yang’s approach is slightly different than Mike’s. Her lessons are a little more serious, and she has a great series called “Chinese on the Street,” where you get to hear Mandarin spoken out in the real world rather than it being solely in a classroom-like setting. I also like that she includes both the Simplified Chinese and Pinyin spellings of the vocabulary in each  lesson. Check out YoYo Chinese.

4. Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook – This was a gift from my parents for Christmas and it has become one of my most used resources. In addition to using it for general reference, I use it to learn the Simplified Chinese symbols for the material I learn via Chinese with Mike and Pimsleur. I’ve found it incredibly helpful because it adds one more level of active involvement for me with Chinese. Once I’ve learnt the pinyin spelling, and have heard the pronunciation, I can then extend my knowledge by learning the Simplified Chinese form of the words I’m using. Grab the Lonely Planet Mandarin Phrasebook & Dictionary.

5. Assimil – I only recently starting using this book this weekend, but it’s great practice for both comprehension and reading/writing. I’m only a couple lessons in but I used Assimil for Croatian and have found it to be a great resource. Check out Assimil Chinese with Ease.

Other tools of the trade? Two colors of highlighters (one for cultural information and another for words). A small but many-paged notebook for lots and lots of practice. You can also check out my Mandarin Language Learning Resources here.

As for the other languages I’m learning, German, Italian, and Croatian, they are all on standby for the time being. I’m giving 100% of my energy to learning Mandarin.

What about you? Are you studying another language? What resources have you found helpful?

This post was created as part of Treasure Tromp’s linkup Treat Yo’ Self Thursday

Tips for Language Learning | Eurolinguiste

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  • Wow that’s awesome you’re learning Mandarin (I think one of the hardest language because of all the memorization) and I’m so impressed by your schedule and persistent. Makes me want to brush up on my Chinese characters … my Mandarin/Taiwanese have definitely deteriorate since not living at home with my parents …*sigh

    • Maybe we can be practice buddies 🙂

      • Lol we should! Although my Mandarin isn’t as good as it use to be … my husband and I was just talking about hiring a private tutor so we can brush up on our Mandarin …

        • It’s still probably much farther along than mine! Where are you thinking of hiring a tutor? Online or in-person?

          • hmm i guess either works? one of our friend has a online Skype tutor and he says it works pretty well although i didn’t think of going online before …

          • iTalki has a lot of language tutors available if that’s something you’re interested in.

  • I learned English and French at school and then focussed on learning Swedish. Now I’m moving to Norway and will have to adapt my Swedish skills to Norwegian. I agree, it’s much easier if you’re motivated and have a certain goal in mind!

    • Thank Van! That’s so cool that you decided to learn Swedish. I’m not really familiar with the two – how close are Norwegian and Swedish?

      • Close but it takes some time to adapt and get used to all those dialects of course! But generally a Swede can understand a Norwegian quite well and vice versa!

        • Ah, thanks. Hopefully that will help. Sometimes the closer languages are, the more confusing it can be to differentiate them. Considering your experience with languages, however, I don’t see that being a problem!

  • i think mandarin is one of the hardest languages to learn.. at least for me. japanese is much easier. right now i’m trying to teach myself spanish.

    • That’s really cool. Where did you learn Mandarin and Japanese? What are you using to teach yourself Spanish?

      • oh i never learned mandarin really.. just by seeing other people try it. haha jacob is by blood chinese. and japanese i learned in college. right now i was trying rosetta stone but i haven’t in a while.

        • Oh ok. That’s really cool. Just out of curiosity, how does Rosetta Stone work for you? Have you ever tried Assimil or Pimsleur? I’d love to learn Japanese next.

          • i like it a lot.. i feel like it’s easiest for me.. and i retain more of it.. i haven’t tried either of the ones you are mentioning though so i don’t have much to compare other than university classes. although i don’t have a language partner so i still lose a lot of it quickly

          • Yeah, have a language partner is crucial to really retaining and using what you learn. I personally think that can make a huge difference with how fast you progress. There’s always iTalki (if you’re looking for an exchange partner).

  • I got the Assimil kit for Christmas but still haven’t started it because I want to do it properly. How are you finding it?

    • It’s not bad although I sometimes feel like the vocabulary they throw at you is a little random. I’ve heard great things about it but I don’t feel like I’m far enough into to make any personal judgements just yet.

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