View Full Version : learn Chinese, need advice
Search & Destroy
07-06-08, 01:04 AM
Any advice you can give, tips, advice, etc. would be most useful.
I am going on my second month in Changsha, China and am just breaking free from the first part of culture shock (delusion), and ready to start studying as soon as I find a good apartment. A good tip on how to structure my learning, a good time-table maybe, and some realistic or theoretical help is perfect.
I am especially interested this I found w/ google
If you just want to enrich yourself, I would strongly recommend Chinese. It is a very powerful language that will break you free of the Stone Age paradigms of English: inflections, tense, number, gender, prepositions, etc. You'll learn to think in a more modern and more adaptable way in Chinese and you'll understand why their country is advancing so quickly despite the handicap of a repressive government with a schizophrenic economic system.
Hey Fraggle if you could elaborate I'm eager to hear more. Just make each sentence into a paragraph if you know what I mean. I'd really appreciate that.
here's some more info so you can better see my situation:
Enroll in Hunan university? pay for private lessons? I'm on a tight budget so they are not out of the question but best replaced. I can stay in China for a year and study hard, I can stay longer if it proves worthwhile. Right now I'm teaching english full time, living with a local family, saying goodbye to my chinese girlfriend who is leaving to Canada shortly. I'm 20, 6 months spent in college, 6 in ecuador, 18 years in virgin islands. I plan to keep traveling and studying for a few years and maybe re-enroll afterwards.
hope that helps
I've lived in China 10 months and speak what I would consider fairly good Chinese. I've yet to meet a foreigner who has been here the same length and accomplished more than myself. Though, admittedly, I live in a small city with few foreigners, so I'm more than certain that many have done better than me.
(1) Learn the written language. It takes an ass-long time and remarkable amounts of work, but it's worth it. It will give you a better understanding of the grammar and allow for easier transition into thinking in Chinese. Every foreigner will tell you that for some reason learning how to write makes it easier to speak. I never knew why, but I recently found an article that explains the way learning a more ideographic language helps build spoken-language learning abilities in the brain. Perhaps Fraggle can expand on this point.
(2) Study like a demon for the first six months. I think for that period of learning (which started for me after my first month in China), I studied on average 4-5 hours a day at least, not including the obvious daily use. It seriously limits your social life, but it is necessary.
(3) Use vocabulary cards every day. I make cards with English on one side, Chinese on the other (now I use characters, before I only used pinyin). At first I did 10 a day. Now it's 25+ every day. Any time of day you have a moment free, look at your cards. You will learn a ton of new vocabulary that way.
(4) Keep vocabulary and listening devices next to your bed. First thing in the morning and last thing at night are great times to learn and you should utilize them. Starting your day in Chinese will help you get into the mindset more readily.
(5) Never pass up a chance to speak and never use a translator. Never rely on someone else, ever.
(6) You don't need to pay anyone to teach. You live in China, dude, just make some friends and they will be more than happy to help you. The Chinese respect anyone who can or wants to speak their language and they are very friendly with their ability to help you learn.
Here's what my daily routine features:
(a) 25 new words a day for spoken language
(b) 2-4 hours practice reading and writing with an upper-intermediate language/history textbook. (Mine is from the Hong Kong Chinese university and is excellent. You should find a high-quality beginners textbook.)
(c) 30 minutes to 1 hour with my grammar textbook.
(d) near-daily entry in a journal (diary) of at least 200 characters.
(e) Every night either out with Chinese-speaking friends or if at home I watch Chinese television.
I know this seems like a lot. It is. But if you want to learn the language quickly you really should devote at least 4 hours a day to studying. As time moves on you can wean yourself off it a bit and focus on the speaking in context. As I became able to spend nights/days without English at all, I stopped studying quite the same hours and just devoting much more time to speaking in context.
The last obvious piece of advice:
Get a girlfriend who doesn't speak English. Nothing will help you more.
Feel free to ask any questions at all, I'm always here to help.
07-08-08, 11:00 PM
Hey Fraggle if you could elaborate I'm eager to hear more.Chinese has only nouns and verbs. That simplicity makes it easier to use because you're not always struggling to make your sentences come out grammatically correct.
The absence of prepositions makes the description of relationships much more precise and expressive. Every language has a tiny set of prepositions left over from the Stone Age that can describe about twenty kinds of relationships. So we end up with words like "at" and "on" that mean virtually nothing, yet require absolutely correct usage. Try explaining to a foreigner the difference between getting to school "on time" and "in time." If you express relationships with nouns and verbs you suddenly have thousands of words to draw from. Instead of "the dog is in the box," in Chinese you say "dog occupy box interior."
The absence of gender, number, tense, etc., means you're not always implying more than you mean. "Dogs eat bones." Which dogs? Which bones? Will they also eat bones tomorrow? Is that different from "The dogs ate the bones"? In Chinese you say "dog eat bone" and if what you mean isn't obvious from context you just add more nouns and verbs until it becomes so. "All dog eat bone," "One dog eat two bone," "Yesterday dog eat bone."
Chinese doesn't allow you to hide behind ambiguity as easily as English because it's more precise. Even the fact that tone is phonemic contributes to that. You can't vaguely imply a feeling with your tone of voice, because each syllable has its own required tone. You have to say how you feel in words.
I disagree completely on your last point.
I find ambiguity much easier in Chinese. Exactly as you said "if there is ambiguity, just add more words". Well, yeah, we do that in English as well. Chinese is certainly more precise in it's structure, but for any given feeling it is very, very easy to use an ambiguous or more 'catch-all' way of speaking. This is reflected well in the Chinese students who speak English. Even very high level students will describe everything as "fun/interesting/exciting" and almost never expand. When speaking in Chinese they do the same. The spoken language simply does not feature the same variety of options that English does for many ideas.
Think of 'beautiful' in English. Now think of the 20+ other words you can use to describe (as one example) a good-looking girl. Here, I'll help start you off: cute, sexy, hot, smokin', beautiful, gorgeous, stunning, foxy, attractive, good looking, lovely, pretty, ravishing, angelic, elegant, fine... And that's not even getting into the common spoken English use of other non-related words to describe a girl (delicious, etc.).
What's great in English is that each of these has a different meaning. Each is a different kind of beautiful. And most people who speak English know this, even if they can't express in words exactly the subtle differences.
In Chinese, no such common practice exists. There are multiple words for beautiful, but 1 is used most commonly and maybe 2-3 others pop up from time to time.
Now, your response will probably be: "yes, this is how Chinese forces you to go into further description and be more precise."
If that's what you want to do, yes. But in 99% of the cases I've ever encountered the people don't want to be more precise. They use an ambiguous form and they're happy that way. In writing they will spend much longer, but in spoken language they are content to employ the one catch-all word for beautiful and almost never expand on the idea.
And you can vaguely imply feeling with your volume, hesitation, certain toneless expressions used at the beginning/end of sentence, and more importantly the tone of a sentence. Yes, the tone of each word must stay consistent. But that doesn't mean I can't say a whole sentence in a higher-than-normal pitch. Or lower-than-normal.
I agree with your stance on the relative ease of spoken Chinese and it's grammar. But to say it strips ambiguity away is blatantly false and to deny the ability to convey vague feelings through non-semantic/syntactic methods is naive.
Search & Destroy
07-20-08, 06:33 AM
Thanks, interesting posts
I have learned that with new vocabulary it is best to create a mental town. I learned the word for 'neck' by picturing some boats sailing up a giraff's neck and that works well. But It needs another level of organization. For instance, all words ending in zi should incorporate the electric part of town. Do you know what I mean? I can expand.
I agree I should learn the written language. Where can I pick up a text book do you think?
I'm working 8 hours a day full-time teaching and it's tough to study at the moment, although ever since your post I have committed my free time in the apartment towards it. (it's still not enough for what I want)
I think when learning a language it is an inevitable outcome to absorb the culture with it. Can you notice changes? Have you gone back to the West?
Whatever works for you, works for you. Have you learned a language before?
When you learn new vocabulary you should try as hard as possible to use the new vocabulary in context on that day. If your Chinese is still not at a conversational level, just practice saying simple sentences. When you learn 'yanyuan' is actor, practice saying "wo zui xihuande yanyuan shi li xiaolong" (sorry, I can't add tones in on this computer).
You should be able to find a textbook in a local bookstore. If not, wait until you visit a bigger city and there you're bound to find one.
As for working 8 hours a day, we're all in pretty much the same boat. I am also a full-time teacher. Like I said, the first six months are going to suck balls for your social life. Chuck your TV out the window, don't pay for an internet connection, delete all your computer games, bust your cell phone. The only thing left for you to do will be study. If you sleep on average 7 hours a night, work 8 hours a day, you still have 9 hours left over. I'll give you 2 hours for eating/trasit. That leaves 7 more hours. Take 5 hours to study and 2 hours to talk to people in Chinese.
Do that for 6 months and you'll be conversational by the end.
Without a doubt it grants you greater access to the culture. This has it's benefits and detriments - like all things. When I got here I could pretty easily get out of situations with "ting-bu-dong". Not so easy anymore.
No, I've not gone home yet.