学习方法 study methods

Wow, a new life!

by cjj on March 21, 2014

So much has happened in my life since we sadly, decided that we couldn’t buy this beautiful boat! We dreamed of owning a boat on the Canal du Midi, but this particular boat had some serious problems, and we just couldn’t see how we could fix it …

So, back in Australia, I have discovered a whole new way of eating … eating real food … with a healthy supply of natural probiotics … and green stuff … in smoothies .. but, I don’t have time to talk about that just yet ..

More important right now is my love of China, and the Chinese language! It is about 7 years since I started learning Chinese. I have made steady progress in that time and am still learning new stuff every day. I can almost speak a little bit fluently, better now than the recordings that I have put on this blog … but I’ll demonstrate that later too.

Today I just want to announce that I have signed up for a challenge: Sensible Chinese character learning challenge 2014
And this is what my challenge is:

I’m up to lesson 321 in ChineseLearnOnline. That means I only have 99 lessons to go!
I really enjoy the lessons from CLO, but I must admit I’ve been concentrating on listening and speaking skills, and reading characters … certainly not writing them. I guess it’s about time I did it properly! Each lesson has between 0 and 10 new words, usually about 5.
So my goal is going to be to learn whatever words (not just characters) that they throw at me in the next 99 lessons!
Milestone #1 (April 8th): to Lesson 338
Milestone #2 (April 30th): to Lesson 360
Milestone #3 (May 31st): to Lesson 391
End of challenge (June 30th): to Lesson 420

I think I had better get started … now!

So enough blogging, see you next time!




You guessed it! I’ve found another GREAT web site that is helping me make heaps of progress with my Chinese.

It is www.chineselearnonline.com (or their new site www.newclo.com) and it is a progressive course, which means each lesson builds on previous lessons.

Each lesson has a short dialogue, and then a very thorough explanation of the meaning of each word, phrase and sentence in the dialogue. They also have a second dialogue (a review) in each lesson which uses the same words, and has about the same meaning, so it’s an excellent way of learning/revising.

What I’m finding particularly useful is that they have concentrated on translating in both directions.

The main lesson translates from Chinese to English. The review is the opposite. After playing the dialogue, they ask a lot of questions in English, and you have to say the Chinese in the gap, and then they say the correct answer.

There is also an activity (among many activities) where I have set my options to hear the audio (words and phrases!), and if I understand it I click on one of 5 levels. A student tracking system keeps track of my progress and repeats words or phrases that I have said I have difficulty understanding.

I have been working my way through the lessons, starting at about 20 after quickly listening to some of the earlier ones. I’m now up to 108 (out of more than 400 lessons)! Because I have already been studying for a number of years, I know most of the words that they are using. However, I have a lot of trouble understanding when I hear Chinese spoken. Can’t understand a thing!! 🙁

In every lesson, I listen to the dialogue first, I can hardly ever understand what they are saying even though I know most of the words when I see them written. After I LISTEN to the WHOLE lesson (I try not to look at the written script that is available on the site) I can then understand what I am hearing in the dialogue!! Brilliant!!!

But, I forget it of course. Later on when I listen to that dialogue, I again have no idea what they are saying. However, it doesn’t take me long to work it out, and the more I concentrate really hard on what I’m listening to, the better I get at just ‘hearing’ what they are saying. It is still a lot of work, but hey, I’m getting there!!!

Each lesson is quite short, around 10 minutes. So it’s not too hard to concentrate completely for that long, or if my mind wonders I repeat sections. The dialogue in the early lessons was only 2 short sentences. Now I have progressed to 4 longer sentences. Each lesson has only a few new words, so it is a lot of practice using the same words in different ways.

I’m always very keen to just listen to the next lesson to see how much of it I do understand in the first listening, sometimes I hear a bit, and it feels really good! But after just 10 minutes when I can hear it all, it feels even better. I’m finding time to do up to 6 lessons a day. But I listen to older dialogues often, to make sure I’m not forgetting them.

If I was just beginning my study of Chinese, I think this would be a good site to use, but it is very demanding. But there is no way around that, it is a lot of work to learn a new language!

I like the structure in this series of lessons. I also like the content. It is very ordinary language they are using, in very ordinary dialogues. Compared to all the text books that I have used, I think the language here is probably going to be more helpful to me when I get back to chatting with my friends. I expect to be able to understand at least some of the stuff they say to me, and I will be able to quiz them in good Chinese, about what they are saying, instead of having to resort to English.

The other amazing thing about this course, is that they have native speakers from different parts of China and Taiwan so we get used to different accents. They even explain the different ways of pronouncing things in different parts of the country. In the past I found this very confusing.

Here’s a screen shot of the exercises you can do to help you remember what you’ve just been listening to. BTW, you do have to pay to access everything except the basic lesson (Basic lesson is free!). And, they charge more if you want to do a lot of bulk downloading! I’ve payed just their basic fee, and download only the bits of each lesson that I want, and as I want them. They have done a great job, and I really don’t mind paying for good stuff. I wonder if I will be looking for more lessons from these chaps when I finish their 400 odd that are already there 🙂

Well that’s all you get. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say in Lesson 109.


3 months intensive learning …

by 卡梅尔 on April 16, 2012

Inspired by Benny’s effort to learn Mandarin (to whatever level) in 3 months, I took on the challenge too. After 4 or 5 years of study I still couldn’t talk!!! so I tried very hard over the last 3 months, and now? well, at least I’ve actually been doing it, talking that is, but oh so painfully slow.

For the past 3 months, even though I stayed at home in an isolated area in rural Australia, I have been studying Chinese and practising speaking it most of every day and night.

From Lang-8.com I made a few friends who agreed to help me talk Chinese, and they are all really wonderful people. They all liked the idea that they suddenly became a teacher! One chap said his work mates all laughed at him when he told them, but he didn’t mind at all, and prepared stuff for me just like trained teachers do. He even got his wife and son to help him record things for me to learn. They all worked very hard to help me. In return, they were happy to talk in English when necessary (which was quite often) to give them English speaking practice. Each of these people had slightly different accents, and along with their different teaching methods, I feel like I made great progress over the 3 months.

I kept up a weekly lesson with my teacher Xuni in Xi’an, and towards the end of the 3 months had 3 lessons a week with her. Because she didn’t want to practice her English at all, the time I spent with her always seemed even more valuable.

When my allotted 3 months was running out, and in a desperate measure to learn even quicker, I paid for some more lessons from teachers at http://www.glovico.org/. They were excellent too, and once again I really appreciated their attempts to speak no English at all.

The only problem I found with any of this was the sometimes very poor sound quality due to the slow internet. However, I learnt to treat that as yet another dialect that would force me to listen even more carefully.

Learning intensely like that, especially when you can feel you are making progress, becomes very addictive. It was so hard to call a stop to it all. And I think all my new friends were disappointed too.

And after all that, I’m still not very fluent. There is a lot to be said for being completely immersed in a language. That would be the only way to improve quickly, and I mean really immersed … no talkie English to any one at all … it simply reverses all of your new language learning.

Here is an excerpt from my last lesson with Xuni. I feel the biggest difference between now and 3 months ago is the fact that I am prepared to try and talk about almost anything. But what slows me down is still not knowing sentence structures (I think the structure I use is still English) and lack of vocabulary. I also have difficulty understanding what I hear. Even when I know each word that is said, I can’t always comprehend ordinary talk. Listening to this lesson again, I also lack confidence. I should just chat away and see what comes out …

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Why did I stop I hear you ask? Well, I’m going to France!!!!

But I will be back!


Another great web site to help learn a language

by 卡梅尔 on January 31, 2012

Sadly, it’s not working at the moment 🙁 If it was, I wouldn’t be writing this blog! But I trust it will come good.
I’m not good at thinking up mnemonics or hooks that help me remember characters and words. It has taken me many years to learn a lot of characters, but I have a long way to go. I really don’t want to spend the rest of my life learning so intensely as I have been doing. My research has shown me that some people, quite ordinary people, can learn way faster than I can! How, I asked myself is that possible. Mnemonics is the answer … and other hooks. That is, a hook that links something quite new to something that you know already. Well that’s all good and well to know, but how do you think up these hooks? I have been able to think of only a few, enough to know that’s the answer to learning a lot of stuff, but not enough to be any real use for me. The other day, out of pure frustration, I searched the internet (yet again, I do this often, especially for exactly this question) and this time I found it. A site where a community of learners have contributed their own hooks for remembering Chinese characters (and more!) This site calls these mnemonics and hooks “mems” and it is called memrise.com

Memrise.com is a wiki and is growing all the time. Needless to say it already has enough for me. I started on a course that taught me Survival Mandarin: menu words, place names and signs that occur in Shanghai. When I went to another course it kept my record and so the words I had learnt were already ticked off in the new course. It is a very good database in that sense. It has a scoring system too, and it gives points for getting words right, but the number of points depends on how long it is since you looked at a word. I’m not concerned about that though, I like the fact that it makes it easier to learn the characters.
I have a new goal. I want to learn 3000 characters in the next few weeks!!! I only hope the site starts working again soon 🙂


Fluent in 3 months????

by 卡梅尔 on October 24, 2011

I know I’ve pointed out before that it takes 10 years to learn something properly (see: Why is everyone in such a rush? (Peter Norvig)) but …

today I found this: Language Hacking Guide by an Irishman called Benny Lewis. He reckons you can be fluent in 3 months!!! Step 1 is being positive, so I will believe him. (After 5 years of study, I might just be able to do something like that!)

I’ve only read the first few pages of his ‘book’, but he has instructed me to write something in my journal.  He says in his book, that he will wait until I do this :). I have to make a blog (tick) and write up my first short term goal in learning my new language.

I’ve been thinking about what that might be while I was preparing dinner, and I think I will make it this:

I want to be able to talk about the weather, and the sorts of things I like doing in different types of weather… about 2 minutes worth of chatter. And I will give myself 1 week and 2 days to be able to do this. So, Wednesday week, when I see my friend 张舜花 at the local Chinese restaurant, I will be able to do this … easily!!!!!

1 comment

Instant help from native Mandarin speakers!

by 卡梅尔 on October 18, 2011

A few weeks ago I posted about Lang-8. Well here’s another one. After a few weeks I am even more enthusiastic about an amazing web site to help anyone learn any language! Sounds too good to be true? But it’s not. Developed in Japan, it has similarities to face book, in that it is very social and you have lots of friends. But the whole purpose is to help each other learn. Most of my friends live in China and their native language is Mandarin. They are all learning English. We all type in sentences, stories or even essays, in the language we are learning, and people who natively speak that language correct it. So I correct their writing and they correct mine. In doing this we learn about each other, have conversations, but above all are always helping each other learn. It is a very friendly and supportive atmosphere. Just amazing.
My friends range in age from 7 years!!! to 47 and like me, unstated (older). Most of them are about 20 and attending university.
Apparently the largest group on the site is the Japanese and English language group. The native language of one of my friends is Urdu! His must be the smallest group. He lives in Pakistan and unfortunately for him, so far, no English speaking person learning Urdu has registered on the site. He is a good man, and it is very interesting to read his stories.
It is not necessary to reveal any details about yourself, you can be completely anonymous, but most people are quite open.
The site is designed like a diary. Entries are written in a journal, and each entry has 4 options as to who can see it. It can be viewed by anyone on the whole internet, only by people on Lang-8, only by friends, or kept private.
There is a way of giving up to 5 stars to people who correct your work and you can give thanks points for comments too.
You can always see how many entries people have made, how many corrections they’ve made, and it’s easy to see their public profile and send them messages.
To use the site costs nothing, but I can remember the advertising being a bit much. So I opted to pay about $5 a month or $45 a year I think. Not much for the help that I get!
Of course all this means I don’t need this blog anymore! Just kidding, it really means I can change the focus of this blog. I won’t have to write up my poor Chinese and wait for a kind person to find it. I can get instant feed back at Lang-8. From now on I will put onto this blog things or methods that I use to help me to learn Mandarin.
Things like Pimsleur, Skritter, even Google translate!! and there’s more, but one at a time.


听写 tīng xiě – listen write: dictation

by 卡梅尔 on August 19, 2011

My latest method to learn Chinese is dictation. It’s brilliant! I listen to the chosen text and try to work out what is being said, and to make sure I’m listening to every word, I write it down. Of course I need the written text to check, and look up what I can’t hear, or can’t spell … if there is such a concept in Chinese 🙂

My text books of course come with a cd. For that matter the few novels I have also have cds. At this stage of my learning I wouldn’t have it any other way, because I want to be able to listen and understand, as well as read.

The other point I want to make in this post is how convenient it is to practise my writing on scrap paper … used envelopes mostly, and then throw them out straight away. After all, it is the writing process that is important. The finished writing is not what I want. I have heard some people say they have books and books of their hanzi writing … I wouldn’t have anywhere to store the number of books that I would probably have filled by now.

By the way you have to love the word for dication: 听写 tīng xiě – literally translated it means: listen write

回收纸 - huí shōu zhǐ  - recycle paper


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Why is everyone in such a rush? (Peter Norvig)

by 卡梅尔 on June 21, 2011

Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years

Peter Norvig might be talking about computer programming, but this page is a great read. Particularly for anyone who wants to learn ..  anything!

I’ve been learning Chinese since about the 4th October 2006, teaching myself for a year and a half, then doing 2 and half years at uni. Now I have an online tutor and she guides me and is someone I can talk to in Chinese.

So it’s nearly 5 years that I have been learning. And that is full on learning. I’ve lived, but I haven’t done any other studies. Everyday I spend from 1 to many hours studying Chinese. So that’s been a lot of study, but I can’t yet ‘talk’ in Chinese. I can pick out sentences slowly and with help. With the aid of the computer I can write stories. With the aid of Google translate and Wire Tap Studio, I can record the stories that I have written in a very good Chinese computer voice, and then I can practice reading them out aloud.

Strangely, I feel like I am learning it quickly and I find it very exciting. I can see though, it’s going to take another 5 years to be reasonably competent.


木柴 mùchái firewood

by 卡梅尔 on May 21, 2011

我每天砍 一些木柴。
Wǒ měi tiān kǎn yīxiē mùchái.
Every day I cut some firewood.

Jīntiān yǔ tíng hòu, wǒ kǎn le hěnduō chái.
Today when the rain stopped, I cut some more wood.

Wǒmen shōují bìng kǎn shǎo zìjǐ de mùchái.
We collect and cut our own firewood.

Tā bǎ tā sòng dào wàimiàn, ràng tā kěyǐ wéi gōuhuǒ kǎn gèng duō mùchái.
She sent him outside to cut more wood for the fire.

我每天砍 一些木柴。Wǒ měi tiān kǎn yīxiē mùchái.

我每天砍 一些木柴。Wǒ měi tiān kǎn yīxiē mùchái. Everyday I cut some firewood.


Hay in the garden shed

干草在花园的棚子里 - gāncǎo zài huāyuán de péng zǐ lǐ - Hay in the garden shed

Liǎng zhōu yǐqián wǒmen cānguān le Yuēhàn biǎodi de nóngchǎng.
Two weeks ago we went to J’s cousin’s farm.


Tāmen yǒu yī ge xiǎo nóngchǎng, zhòngzhí mùxu gāncǎo.
They have a small farm and grow lucerne hay.

Zài nàr de shíhou wǒmen qù tāmen de cǎoliào péng shōu jí le yīdàn gāncǎo shōují.
While we were there, we went to their hay shed and got a load of hay.

Wǒmen bǎ zhè yīdàn gāncǎo dàihuí jiā ránhòu, fàng zài huāyuán de péng zǐ lǐ.
We took the hay home and put it in our garden shed.