Mandarin Chinese Learning Project: Overview

So I’ve come to the end of my intense concentration period on Mandarin. The following is an overview of all the tools I’ve used, my progress to date, what I am going to do next and all sorts of other wonderful insights from yours truly.

My Progress with learning Mandarin Chinese

I have been learning Mandarin for just over twelve weeks. This has become a part time thing because I underestimated the mental toll it would take on me. As such, there have been more days off than I’d like to admit to.
Still, the figures are in:
I learned about 1000 characters. The majority of this was from Tuttle’s book (see below.)
I can form basic sentences and write them in character form.
I have regular contact with people using just Mandarin.
My pronunciation is pretty terrible, but I can speak Chinese as well as read and write it.

The Resources I Used to Learn Mandarin Chinese

I used Tuttle’s Guide to Chinese Characters, which you can get here:Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters
This was quite valuable, because whilst I didn’t like the approach, it had everything I needed to adapt it. It had the characters, the meanings, the pin-yin and the stroke orders. It’s also set up in a common sense way, because it’s based on the Chinese literacy tests. Overall, great book.
Pimsleur Mandarin. Pimsleur is good for what it is. It’s good for drilling basic pronunciation, and it’s good for getting an intuitive feel for basic sentence structure. You can get it from their site here: Pimsleur.com: Language Learning Courses .

What You Can Do to Learn Mandarin Chinese better than I did

This is a touchy subject, but as a human guinea pig, here are my offerings:

  • Learn Pinyin

This was a mistake I made which I wrote about here. Learning Pinyin is important because it stops you from getting depressed and you need it to write Chinese characters on your computer anyway.

  • Stick to the schedule.
  • Realise it’s going to take you a long time.
  • Don’t hesitate to find people to communicate with.

It’s a trial by fire thing. Mandarin Chinese is such that you’ll never be ready if you don’t embrace it. Like I stated elsewhere in this article, you can learn thousands of French words and so waiting a month or two isn’t the end of the world and can be the difference between a terrible first conversation and great first conversation. Chinese is a different beast. You will always find something that you don’t understand. Just throw yourself in and say Ni hao. You’ll find that people will understand and support you, and that’s great.

Considerations for learning Mandarin Chinese

Other than the above, I’d say prepare to learn some stuff by rote repetition. This doesn’t bother me so much, but other people hate it. Whilst the Tuttle approach is nice with the mnemonics and whatnot, I can’t see anyone learning the writing system without some rote learning.
Tones are another thing to bear in mind, but don’t let them become super-complicated. They are just different sounds, at the end of the day. There are four of them. Learn them, remember them, and don’t let them interfere with your life.

What are you doing next with learning Mandarin Chinese?

i’m going to continue communicating in it. I’m going to read Harry Potter or some other children’s stories to keep it fresh in my head and learn some new vocabulary and generally be better acquianted with the language.
At some point, I will likely return to it and level myself up, but I’m burned out at the moment.
I’ll also be releasing my field notes as a guide at some point. I’ve littered this blog sporadically with Mandarin stuff, but I have hundreds of pages of grammar and characters and other notes. This is on the back burner though whilst I concentrate on setting up for my new projects and catching up on non-language-learning stuff that needs to be concentrated on.
At some point, possibly next year, I will go to China. I want to do as much of that without English as I can. We’ll see.

What are the key strengths in the Language Bug approach that help?

A big thing i’ve noticed since starting this blog is that most people don’t have any structure to their learning. This slows them down. Just this week, I was on a forum and the thread question was posed as, “What’s your method for learning a foreign language?”
The answers were good as far as resources went, but they weren’t actually methods. Using Anki is not a method. Duolingo is not a method. It’s a tool. a very useful tool for some people, but not a method.
A method is a start-to-finish plan. This is something you need for studying Mandarin. There are so many alien components that you can’t bumble your way through it like you might be able to with French or another closely related language to your native one.

What are the key difficulties in studying Mandarin Chinese?

It’s alien. Everything about Mandarin conspires to stop an English speaker from learning it. The grammar, whilst straightforward, is alien. The writing system is the worst thing about it from a new learner’s perspective. I’d consider myself as having a great visual memory, and I still only managed to learn a thousand characters or so. That’s less than ten per day. I’d say it’s not a bad figure for part time learning, but if I only learned a thousand new words in French over nearly four months, I’d be pretty upset at myself. I could probably learn five times that many. (We’ll see about this.)

So if you’re not concentrating so hard on learning Mandarin, what are you going to be doing?

As a conclusion, I’ll still be using Mandarin and learning as I go. What I really want to do ( and have wanted to do for months) is now go back and learn familiar languages. I’m going to do a bit of language juggling and within a period of a few short months, see if I can relearn to a better extend two languages I’ve already learned. After that, I’m going to learn two new languages that are closely related to the two I’m going to be relearning. More to come later.
They all have an alphabet and familiar words. I’m going to see if I’m correct about Studying Mandarin taking a lot longer due to its writing system.

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