July 09, 2011

How to speak fluent Mandarin Chinese

Hello all,

some of my friends have been asking me to provide a more detailed explanation on how to learn Mandarin Chinese but at the time I didn’t feel competent enough to give any advice because I wasn’t fluent enough myself and I had to wait to find out what actually worked for me and what didn’t.

There is unfortunately no step-by-step manual on how to become fluent in Mandarin Chinese, but I will try to write down in brief what I think worked for me. Goes without saying that what worked for me might not work for the next person and this is really only my personal opinion based on my own experience and the experience of other students I know.

Without any specific order of importance, these are the key points that helped me learn Mandarin Chinese to Advanced fluency:

  • Your learning process should follow this following pattern, whether it comes to your overall learning strategy or learning of new single words or expressions:
  1. understand
  2. speak
  3. read /type
  4. handwrite
  • Move to a Chinese speaking country for at least one year
  • Find a Chinese speaking girlfriend/boyfriend
  • You should not learn how to hand write characters in the first one or two years of your studies, only learn how to hand write the 50 or so most basic ones to learn the writing basics. It is an incredible loss of time and energy in the beginning. If you love characters, learn as many as you like, but if your goal is to speak as fast and accurately as possible, learning how to hand write characters will cost you an incredible amount of energy whether it comes to learning how to write them, memorizing them or because of the interference they cause in your brain when you speak. 
  • Listen to people who have voices similar to your own
  • Imitate people with voices similar to your own
  • Try to find sort of like a “soul mate”, someone who has similar life values and copy his Mandarin. His/her Mandarin speech will probably be something very similar to your speech in your native language. I had a Japanese friend who learned to speak almost native like Mandarin in one year without a pen and paper or going to classes only because he literally “became” the copy of his Taiwanese roommate. The problem was that he was no longer himself when he was speaking Mandarin and talking to him was almost like talking to his roommate. 
  • Find a conversation partner who has a similar voice to your own. If you’re a girl, find a girl, if you’re a boy find a boy. Chinese pod for instance is great but has unfortunately very few male native speakers and thus could not help my pronunciation negatively influencing it a little, because as previously mentioned I was artificially trying to raise my voice to match the height of the host's tones.
  • Talking to 2 people is better than talking to only one person, because you can see how these two people interact and learn a lot from that.
  • When you talk to a person, try to look at his/her mouth a lot. I think you can consciously or subconsciously learn a lot about pronunciation this way. Maybe little babies do the same thing, because the mouth is the only thing that moves on a persons face and must be very interesting for a small child.
  • Try recording yourself regularly as you talk to other people and analyze the recordings later. Compare your pronunciation to the person you were talking to. You should be able to notice a whole deal of things that you usually wouldn't.
  • Text chatting on Skype or MSN is great exercise too. It can help you solidify your spoken Chinese and give it more structure.
  • I was so tired and demotivated by constantly learning and forgetting new words and expressions  that I decided to stop writing down new vocabulary altogether and decided to see what would happen. I rarely remembered new words after hearing or repeating them only once or twice and this approach didn’t seem to work at first but it unexpectedly started showing results. When I heard a new word, say  and asked what it meant, after people explained it to me, I probably forgot it in about 5 minutes, maybe later that day I asked how to say “embarrassing”, again people told me it was , but I forgot it again. The next day I heard  in a discussion and it sounded more familiar, however I still didn't remember what it meant, but this time, when told what it was the sound-meaning association somehow “clicked”. My explanation for this is that the brain makes records of everything you hear and selectively decides which sounds/expressions it will keep and which ones it won't. Since the word in question  kept popping up and I was honestly interested in remembering it (since it sounded so familiar and was a bit annoying that I still didn't know what it meant), the association was made. After this moment I could recognize the word automatically in real time speech and since I associated the sound with its meaning directly and not through pinyin, the association was very direct and fast. Learning how to say the same word happened in pretty much the same manner. I was in a situation where I wanted to say “embarrassing” in Chinese, but couldn’t quite remember how to say it, someone helped me and I said.. damn why can’t I remember how to say this word when I know what it means is when I hear it? Believe it or not, this is actually a very important moment, because that is when the brain realizes that this word really is important. After 2-3 situations like this, the word became a part of my active vocabulary. On average one word or expression took me 5 days to get into my active vocabulary. It seems like a very long time, but when I was bulk learning vocabulary, when it really comes down to it, after a week of studies, I passively memorized maybe 300-400 expressions, but getting them into my active vocabulary was very difficult and often very unsuccessful. All I had to do was take a week off and I forgot two thirds of the expressions I have previously learned, not to mention the characters. If you learn 5 solid expressions per day and get them into your active vocabulary, you will literally “own” them, you will have a much better “new vocab per week” ratio in the end, sounding like a native (or close). Mandarin takes a long time to learn any way I look at it, so the way I see things is, that you will have to be spending a lot of time on your studies and you unfortunately will progress slowly. You can choose to spend this long time anyway you like, but in my opinion, since there is no bulk-learning shortcut to Mandarin, slowly but steadily learning 5 expressions per day will get you much further in the long run. You should also try to talk to as many different people as you can, as much as you can and use your “safe” expressions in many situations to solidify your active vocabulary learning slowly but steadily as you go.
  • Whenever I didn’t know how to express something, I asked how it should be said and didn’t try to improvise, because I found out that as much as I tried in my improvisations, they never matched the Chinese set-phrase that should be used in this or that particular situation.
  • After becoming conversationally fluent I started to read comic books in Chinese. They consist of 80% direct speech which is virtually the same as spoken Mandarin and will help you enhance your speaking abilities. The descriptive parts however are mostly different from spoken Mandarin, will not enhance your speaking abilities and are the reason why regular books are much harder to read.
  • After being able to read comic books, I started to read regular books. For me, reading proved and proves to be the best way to broaden my vocabulary and helps make my expressions become more standard and educated. When I read, I don’t translate every word I don’t know, only the key ones that I cannot move on without. I circle in the word I don’t know with a pen, pull a line to the side of the page and write the translation there. After 10 pages or so I review. I circle in the words because they are easy to find when I review the pages and I write the translation far from the words in text at the side of the page, because if the translation is written right next to the unknown word, reviewing vocab is impossible. 
  • After being able to read comic books fluently, I got back to characters and finally learned how to hand write them in detail.
  • When it comes to tones, I tried to use my Sound-only method as much as possible. (For more information please see Mandarin Chinese tones - Sound only approach)
  • When it comes to tones, it helped me a lot that I always learned syllable pairs and not single syllables. It is much easier to learn a syllable pair (basically most of Mandarin words 看書 and so on) rather than to learn isolated syllables like  and so on. Learning words this way, you have a relation of two sounds that are either in contrast or are the same and it is much easier to remember them rather than trying to remember the sound of a single syllable. Subsequently it is also much easier to isolate a syllable from a syllable pair and then use it in a different word remembering its sound (for instance you learn the sound of , then isolate the  and use it in 普通話).
  • While learning a syllable pair – if I have a problem reproducing it, I only try to listen out for which  one of the two syllables is higher and whether the tone of the syllable is flat or I have to “get up to it” in pitch in order to match it.
  • The neutral tone is very important. I realized that a lot of my expressions sounded off because of a wrong neutral tone. For instance I always thought that I just could not correctly pronounce the Mandarin “a”, most notably in expressions like 真的嗎? Turned out it wasn’t the “a” sound that was the problem, but the pitch of the neutral tone in . A lot of foreigners, even though they are very fluent, still don’t get this one right.
  • The best teacher is not a native speaker but a native like speaking foreigner. He will understand your problems much better and will point them out to you in a much clearer way. For instance I was trying to pronounce the word 茄子 in Taiwanese but couldn’t get it right for a very long time. I was asking my Taiwanese friends to tell me what I was doing wrong and they were always trying to correct my pitch and tones. It turned out that it was not the tones at all but it was the initial consonant that was off and a foreigner had to tell me that.
  • When it comes to the pronunciation of difficult initials and finals in syllables, be very critical of yourself and never believe a Chinese person when he or she says your pronunciation is great. The native like speaking foreigner is the key again. If you can’t get the sounds down by purely imitating them, try hundreds of different positions of your tongue until you find something that you are satisfied with. Then memorize the position of the tongue, force it into that position the first couple of days until it becomes natural.
  • There is also sort of a basic “starting mouth position” for Mandarin. It is the position of the tongue, lips and other speech organs before you even start speaking. If you find that position, keep your month that way, expand and get back to this starting position as you speak. It will be much easier for you to pronounce Mandarin sounds correctly, but it takes time to find this position. In Taiwanese Mandarin, in the starting position the tongue is slightly pulled back in your mouth (my explanation is that Chinese have naturally shorter tongues so you have to make your tongue shorter by pulling it back a little), the tip of the tongue is slightly  touching the hard palate right behind your upper teeth and lips are very relaxed. The mouth almost seems as if it were a bit opened, the back of your tongue is a bit higher, approaching the soft palate. It is very difficult to explain it this way, so you just have to experiment a little and try and try and try.
  • Give each syllable its proper length. Some syllables are actually much longer and elaborated than I thought. The  – ian final cluster actually almost seems like two syllables “-i+an” and not a monosyllabic “yan”.
  • I didn’t want to talk about tones as a matter of my own policy, but as I said, height is very important, so concentrate on the fact that there are three high tones (as in the words  – deliberately not mentioning the number of the tone) and one low tone (as in the word ). It is a good rule of thumb to set the group higher than the  group if you are a girl and set the  lower than the  group if you’re a boy. If you are a boy and start speaking too high you will sound funny (a lot of boys/men learn Mandarin from girls/women and they unfortunately end up speaking like them - that is with an unnaturally high pitch of their voice and a speech full of female expressions, which not only sounds strange but is also very tiring, since you have to artificially elevate your pitch every time you try to say something), that’s why it is better to go lower with the  and staying in place with . Also, even if the  group tones start high, they end very low and almost sound like a low tone so in order to get them right, the key is not to accent the syllable as much as you can as in !! , but rather start naturally and completely relax your vocal chords at the end of the syllable to achieve that low bass purring sound. But this is all very individual. The thing to do, as I said before is to concentrate on hearing and producing the sound only and forget about tonal changes. If you repeat what you hear it will sound much more natural and will be much easier to reproduce than having to consciously concentrate on how to adjust your vocal chords. This  Vs.  distinction is only here to help you if you think you are mispronouncing a word that has tones from both groups and you don’t know why. The reason probably is that you are not separating the two groups enough, so as I said just keep in mind that  tones should be low and   tones should be high.
  • What helped me a lot was, that I only learned how to recognize characters for words that I already knew how to say. I saved a lot of time and could concentrate on other things instead. Learning how to read something you know how to say is much easier and faster. I remember that a long time ago I used to bulk learn characters and expressions and when I look back at my studies, I think that was one of the biggest mistakes I made. I thought I had a good memory and would sort of 'pre-learn' hundreds of expressions that I could later use in real life situations. It was very time consuming and very inefficient. Almost none of those expressions 'sticked', the ones that did I had to re-learn based on their sounds through my new method, because characters and not the sound of these expressions kept flashing in my brain whenever I was speaking which was very very tiring. Also, when I heard a sound and tried to recognize what it was, I had first the character pop up in my mind based on which I could remember its meaning. It all happened in fractions of seconds, but was very very time and energy consuming because of the number of occurrences in even the simplest of discussions. 
  • Later I stopped learning new characters altogether, concentrated only on speaking and understanding, waited until I was fluent and then started to learn how to read and write.
  • I stopped consciously concentrating on tones and started to concentrate on the sound and sound reproduction only. I was trying to imitate people as good as I could.
  • I was learning whole expressions instead of just words
  • I stopped bulk-learning characters.
  • I stopped bulk-learning new vocabulary that I didn’t know how to use.
  • I was learning vocabulary on the go without writing it down, only remembering it by the sound.
  • I was/am trying to speak slowly.
  • I was not using Anki or any other SRS programs.
  • I was doing a lot of listening, preferably to a large variety of different types of voices that were as close to my voice as possible.
  • I was listening to good music in Mandarin.
  • I was watching a lot of TV shows in Mandarin.
  • When I suddenly didn’t know how to say something, rather than asking for a direct translation of what I wanted to say, I asked for the expression that a Taiwanese person would use in that situation. The two were often very different.
  • I tried to be able to understand as much of the Chinese pod intermediate podcasts as possible before coming to Taiwan. I pause-rewinded them looking up every unknown word by trying to guess it's pronunciation in a dictionary over and over again and listened to them over and over again until I could understand them at natural speed word by word.
  • I was chatting a lot in Chinese on Skype. This is very good practice actually. Sometimes even much better than talking to someone in person. On Skype, you constantly have to talk, constantly have to describe concrete or abstract situations in detail. You have to talk in bigger chunks and describe everything with your words instead of just pointing to something. In person, sometimes you only drop a few sentences, use your body language to describe things, or just point at the thing you have in mind, on Skype you often have to talk for minutes on your own, describing every situation or object without having your body language or environment helping you, structuring your speech and so on.
  • I didn’t write down any vocabulary that I learned during the day, but it was a pretty helpful to wait until the end of that day and try to write down off the top of my head the words that I’ve learned during that day. Chances were that the words that I remembered at the end of that particular day were important and were already at least in my passive vocabulary. 

    34 comments:

    1. woahh *sigh*
      I'm 16 and have just completed my GCSE in Mandarin. Having read this blog post I can see why I am grappling with the language. Learning to handwrite before I even had the slightest understanding.
      I hate learning languages at school because we only get 150 minutes of lessons a week which doesn't do enough especially living in London with scarce opportunity to practice with other Mandarin speakers.
      But anyway thank you for writing this post :) I'll be experimenting with my learning style this summer and see how I learn most efficiently.

      Rachel

      ReplyDelete
    2. Hello Rachel,

      I remember that we also had classmates at our Chinese department that had studied Mandarin in high school and had a thing similar to GCSE in it. They had much more theoretical knowledge than the rest of us, but after one year in the department, they weren't better than the average student.

      150 minutes per weeks seems like awfully too little, but then again I don't remember learning anything in school whatever the Mandarin classes were. I skipped classes all the time and just felt like the language was forced on me. I thought things would get better here in Taiwan, but the classes were even more boring.

      There must be an ocean of Chinese speakers in London, maybe you could try to find an exchange partner if you already don't have one.

      wish you the best of luck with your studies

      ReplyDelete
    3. Thank God I'm not the only who feels that way.
      The majority of Chinese speakers here speak Cantonese :/
      I have found an exchange partner who lives in Spain but speaks Mandarin very well in my opinion. I'll keep searching though as it would be better for me to hear different people speak in different ways.

      Thank you.

      ReplyDelete
    4. "The best teacher is not a native speaker but a native like speaking foreigner. He will understand your problems much better and will point them out to you in a much clearer way."

      This is so true!

      This is an EXCELLENT post Vlad. Thanks for sharing your considerable insight.

      ReplyDelete
    5. Thank you very much for the nice comments guys.

      Some other things that I remembered:

      Talking to 2 people is better than talking to only one person, because you can see how these two people interact and learn a lot from it.

      When you talk to a person, look at his mouth a lot. I think you can consciously or subconsciously learn a lot about pronunciation this way. I think little babies do the same thing, because the mouth is the only thing that moves on a persons face and must be very interesting for the small child.

      Record yourself periodically as you talk to other people and analyze the recordings later. You should be able to notice a whole deal of things that you usually don’t.

      Chat a lot on MSN. It will help you solidify your spoken Chinese and give it more structure.

      I didn’t write down any vocabulary that I learned during the day, but it was a pretty good idea to wait until the end of that day and try to write down off the top of my head the words that I’ve learned during that day. Chances were that the words that I remembered at the end of that particular day were important and were already at least in my passive vocabulary.

      ReplyDelete
    6. How refreshing to find another learner I entirely agree with and who proceeds exactly the way I do. I'm getting tired of arguing against SRS and people who believe in a silent period.

      Kudos on the post.

      ReplyDelete
    7. Alexandre,

      thanks for the support.

      The only place I think SRS might work when it comes to Chinese is to get you prepared for a test and testing you on characters you already know, but not much more.

      Keep up the good work. Good luck.

      ReplyDelete
    8. Wow, I just came across your blog through your YouTube video. Keep up the good work!

      ReplyDelete
    9. MagicMaximo,

      thank you very much. I didn't even know I had a youtube video:) Someone must've done it for me.

      How nice. I should go thank the person.

      Vladimir

      ReplyDelete
    10. Hi Vlad,

      Thanks for the very informative and inspiring post. I just got arrived in Taiwan for nine months of study; I've been in Chinese learning limbo for a couple of years now and hoping to get past the plateau. I'd like to know more about why you don't use an SRS program--it seems like most of the SLA blogs I come across, particularly w/r/t Chinese and Japanese, take it as a given. Indeed, SRS is a critical element in the 10,000 sentence model, pioneered by Khatzumoto at All Japanese All the Time, that many people seem to be using these days. Also, what are your thoughts on James Heisig's method for learning Hanzi?

      Thanks again for your post, I'll certainly be following your blog from now on

      ReplyDelete
    11. Hello Matt,

      thanks for the nice words.

      I used Anki for about 5 months back when I was still in Europe. Maybe I just had a bad overall approach to it, but I felt like my aim wasn't to remember the characters but rather to meet the daily limit for the characters/words I had to review which was putting me under a lot of unnecessary pressure. Entering the information about characters also cost me a lot of time which I could've used on something else and in the end, even though I had a pretty good retention rate and had well documented all the characters I knew, Anki unfortunately didn't help me at all when it came to real life discussions, because I only learned how to recognize words passively in writing (it didn't help with sound recognition at all). It is a great strategy with 'easier' languages to bulk pre-learn vocabulary and review it with Anki later. Languages, where there is a lot less information per vocabulary unit where you can create yourself a 'passive vocabulary storage' which you can then gradually turn active as you speak during the day can be learned this way, but this never happened to me and Chinese. Now I think that I was learning Chinese vocabulary all wrong because there just really is too much information per vocabulary unit (pinyin, tones, meaning, character) and using Anki was just too tiring and didn't lead anywhere.

      What Anki might work for very well though is, that it might help you prepare you for tests. I do not know a lot about Japanese, but I think Anki might work better there, because there is less information that you need to remember per vocabulary unit, even more so with the 10 000 sentence method. Bulk learning separate words and expression is a bad idea when it comes to Chinese (in my opinion), bulk learning 10 000 sentences, that you never heard before at your beginner stages is absolutely pointless (my opinion again).

      I do not really know that much about the Heisig method. I've seen some scanned pages from the Chinese character book. It looks nice, but I would like to talk to someone who successfully used this method to learn how to read or try it myself. I don't know what to think about it now. My experience with Chinese was and is, that it is a good idea to learn how to read after you've learned how to speak. This way you will need no artificial mnemonics but ones that you can naturally relate to. But that's only my opinion again.

      ReplyDelete
    12. I'm learning Chinese and starting feel that the way I learned was not working and not fun at all.

      Reading your blog confirms me that new path I'm currently experimenting.

      Thanks.

      ReplyDelete
    13. Boat,

      thank you for the comment.

      You being Thai, do you have the same problems understanding tones as we (people with no tonal language background) do, or are they easier for you?

      I heard a Thai friend of mine once say he can hear the tones right away, but didn't say anything about reproduction. Is the pronunciation difficult for you to learn?

      What has been the biggest problem for you so far?

      Vladimir

      ReplyDelete
    14. Hi Vlad,

      Your friend was right. The tone is easy for us. Thai language has 5 tones and 4 of them are very similar to those of mandarin.

      What is hard though interms of sound is the alphabet sound. We don't have many of them in Thai. And some like C X Sh Ch Q for example are hard to them apart.

      The characters are also hard to remember and can be tiring. But I'm skipping them now to be able to just concentrate on listening like you suggest.

      Its grammar though is surprisingly similar to Thai. The lack of tense and many of the structures are the same.

      ReplyDelete
    15. Since I've decided to drop reading and writing altogether to focus on listening alone, my exposure to Chinese is very limited. If you don't count Chinese movies and radios that I use as background noise, the only thing that I feel like I'm learning from is the podcast Popup-Chinese. I've tried listening to many of the podcasts and like this one the best. However, I can't help feeling that it's not enough. What do you think? Do you have any advice? Thank you.

      (I don't have any Chinese friends here)

      ReplyDelete
    16. Boat,

      what would you say your level of Mandarin is now? Do you think you could manage soap operas? If so, there are some relatively watchable soap operas from South Korea voiced over into Mandarin with Mandarin subtitles.

      If that is too hard, You can try some Chinesepod podcasts if you haven't done so already. What I did was, that I listened to the intermediate and advanced Chinesepod podcasts, especially those where there was no English at all. I didn't worry about the actual dialogue they were discussing, I was focusing on the discussion between the two hosts and kept listening to it over and over until I understood absolutely everything and then moved on to the next episode.

      ReplyDelete
    17. Thanks,Vlad.

      I have to say that I'm an absolute beginner. And I can't manage the soap operas (though the idea of watching South Korean soaps dubbed in Mandarin is very temping). I've been watching Disney films in Chinese because that's how I learned English as a child. Even though I've watched those films 50 times each already, and know the English dialogues by heart, I still have difficulty understanding them in Chinese.

      I think I need to build up my vocabs. Maybe learning them from some basic textbooks that come with audio is not such a bad idea? I'll try to focus on just the sound and the dialogue and how the sentences are formed without worrying too much about remembering the characters. And I'll try not to look at the pinyin.

      ReplyDelete
    18. Boat,

      maybe you could find some intermediate level audio dialogues (something one step higher than your current level of Mandarin is) learn the vocab for those and play them over and over until you understand them perfectly. By playing them over and over you also review the vocabulary and hopefully won't have to write anything down in pin yin.

      The problem is, that I still don't see any effective way to note Chinese vocabulary other than pin yin and you probably will have to start writing things down, but if you can do not mark the tones. Try to remember those only by sound. Maybe you could try learning the zhu yin notation system used in Taiwan. It represents the sounds of Mandarin much better than pin yin does and you will not be influenced by the pronunciation of the roman letters in other langauges. The thing is you would need to learn an additional 30 or so characters.

      ReplyDelete
    19. Thank you Vlad,

      I do listen to the intermediate level podcast from time to time just to keep me interested and motivated. It's hard for me but the challenge stimulates me more that just listening to the basic stuffs.

      I try not to write down anything at the moment. I try to play the audio repeatedly to get the sound installed in my head, like how kids learn. Not sure how it's going to work but I want to try.

      I don't have problems with the tones. It's very natural to me. However, I do have problems with the sound of alphabets but I try not to worry about it too much. Now I just have my faith in my listening skill. Haha. We'll see how it goes.

      My plan is to use one text book that I like together with the podcast. I feel that I need something concrete to help keep track of my progress. Chapter by chapter style. I feel like I need to have that sense of visible and measurable accomplishment.

      The book has audio conversations, so I'll just use it for listening and learning the new vocabs. Hopefully the sentence structure would be automatically ingrained in my head without having to read what is written.

      ReplyDelete
    20. Boat,

      I am really interested to see what you're results will be and what obstacles you will encounter. I learned Mandarin this way and it would be great if someone else could test this approach and come up with more ideas on how to improve it.

      I am not an expert when it comes to textbooks but I tried Assimil Romanian and Assimil Farsi and they both are ok for a sequenced introduction to a language. Maybe you could try to take a look at Assimil Mandarin and see what you think.

      Difficult sounds are a problem. If you're not in a hurry, what you could try to do is that you could just try to listen to the recordings as much as you can for a month or so, until you will be able to hear the differences in the sounds clearly and will be able to spot them in the recordings effortlessly.

      ReplyDelete
    21. I'll post my progress once I have some interesting discoveries to share. Thank you for your blog. It really boosts up my motivation! Keep it up!

      ReplyDelete
    22. Hi Vlad!

      I really enjoyed this post! It was so interesting to read about your approach and tactics, especially as they seem very different from others I've read about, who seem to specialize in languages... and yet, your method seems very similiar to my approach. Though I never would have thought to pinpoint all these specific (or seemingly minor) things as tips, tricks, or ... a schematic approach, so to speak.

      For example, what you said about the best teacher NOT being a native speaker! I definitely agree with that. I also think a big part of learning language and gaining fluency is having someone to speak with that can focus on communication, and can understand where you're coming from, and what you're trying to say, or how you're trying to say it - whether that person is native or not. And I also think it's important to surround yourself with all kinds of input and practice - language partners, friends, radio, podcasts, movies, TV, books, comics, non-natives, natives, chatting, talking, etc.

      I also like what you wrote above in the comments about having TWO language partners, about being in a group setting and seeing how the others talk to each other. Often, let's say when I'm operating in Russian, my Russian friends may have to 'grade' their language, or speak more easily or with certain phrases and vocabularly I know. But when we were altogether in a group with mixed Russians and foreigners, it was easy to pick up on the phrases they naturally used with each other, and then take those into my own vocabulary, especially after multiple times hearing it, and trying to remember it - another important feature you pointed out with your learning.

      Really, very interesting! I'll mark your blog and try to read along, if you're still updating. (o: Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences!!

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Dear Jt,

        thank you for the nice comment.

        I'm glad that you found my post useful. I'm sure there a lot of people out there with better learning strategies and a lot of what I wrote would not work with everyone too. I was just trying to write about what helped me during my struggles with Mandarin.

        Maybe you should also try to schematize your approach and write about your strategies somewhere. There is a nice forum for that called How to learn any language, maybe you've heard about it.

        I try to post once every 2-3 weeks, but sometimes I only manage to post something once a month. I don't want to post articles just for the sake of posting and it takes a while for me to come up with something reasonably interesting to be turned into an article.

        wish you the best with your studies

        Vladimir

        Delete
    23. Super!!!
      Super!!!!
      I am so happy
      I've been sticking to my intermediate level for years and now I can see why : I overloaded my brain with useless bunk learning.
      For the last 3 years I stopped everything because I had the continuous feeling that I was not improving.
      I thank you sooooo much
      Now, I'm ready to start again.
      C'est le déclic!
      THANK YOU
      Coline

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Hello dear Coline,

        I'm so glad that my article helped you a little. I wrote it for people who would be in the exact same situation as I was and try to help them realize what they were doing wrong or at least encourage them to start thinking about the problems and deficiencies that the current Mandarin instruction has.

        Good luck with your studies and don't give up:)

        all the best

        Vladimir

        Delete
    24. Great article man, good read!

      Ironically Im almost doing exactly the same as you but without really being aware or conscious of it haha. Only thing I dont really understand is how anyone can deny the effiency of SRP, but as you say, some things work for some etc. I feel that its insane and Ive managed to remember so much because of that.

      One thing I really appreciated and never realized is how paired syllables, indeed are easier to remember. Also I like how you point out that moment when the brain realizes that a given word is really important enough to be "stored" in the front, after the frustration of repeatedly forgetting something.

      Good stuff man, I will continue my mandarin study with a boost of inspiration:)

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    25. Hello. I'm glad you found the article interesting.

      I used Anki to remember Romanian vocabulary and it worked great, but in case of Mandarin it didn't work that good and I would go as far as saying that it didn't work at all in my case.

      One of the problems was that I put too many words into my deck and I found myself trying to hit my daily repetition goal instead of really trying to remember the words I was studying. I also realized that trying to remember the pinyin, tones, characters, meaning and stroke order per one information slot was just too much information for me to process and move it into active memory fast.

      One other thing that I didn't like about Anki was, that it was too sterile in the sense that I had no 'environmental' elements to help me remember the vocabulary, since it was all standerdized by Anki. In a regular notebook for instance, at least the words are written in different positions on the page, or (since my handwriting is terrible) they all have their own shapes and defficiencies when I write them, which is always something that can help me remember the words. But again, this was only my experience and Anki might work perfectly well for a ton of people even with Mandarin. A lot of my friends gave up on it for similar reasons though.

      Wish you the best of luck with your studies:)

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    26. Hi everyone! I am Flávio Viana Gomide from Brazil.
      I am production engineer and decided to teach engineering subjects.
      I am really interested in learning my third language since i also speak Portuguese and English.Then, i choose Mandarin. I realized the long journey i must run if i can consider myself a Mandarin speaker!!! I wonder it could be tougher than engineering!!!
      This blog is very nice. It really fulfills my demands.
      Thank you Vladimir and all who make this partnership possible. It's the power of the web!!! I will soon share it with friends and other ones.
      Greetings,
      Flávio Gomide

      ReplyDelete
    27. what helped me greatly to understand and memorize tones was (1) the way my teacher used to 'conduct' our pronunciation practice choir, using his hands – others have opposed that method, but it me helped a lot; (2) the way moira yip (http://books.google.de/books?id=KFv2lojXjpwC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false) modelled chinese tones, suggesting chinese had two registers, low L and high H, with two consecutive positions for each syllable; this gives you (HH) for the 1st, (LH) for the 2nd, (LL) for the 3rd, and (HL) for the fourth tone, neatly depicting the fact that there are (apart from the neutral tone) no more and no less than four tones in chinese, and also that, essentially, the 3rd tone is a deep tone (because in speech it looses its dipping contour, but retains its low frequency). just my 2 cents.

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    28. Hello,

      I like this idea (HH, LH, LL, HL). It burdens people with less information than the graph/number method that is in use, which is great. Where I see a problem would be mass vocabulary acquisition and the fact that it still is not a purely sound+meaning association that you make, but still a (sound + visually marked feature) + meaning association.

      What I like about this system much more is the fact that there is less informational burden in the beginning stages, right where students start to learn how to actually get the tones right (you don't have to look at a graph scaled from 1 to 5 and wonder where on that graph you are tonally with every syllable you pronounce, you simply stay low, high or change. I think that the height of the tone is not so important actually, much more important is its curvature), but isn't it a source of confusion later during vocabulary acquisition?

      Let's say, if you're learning 100 words every month and you'll have a string of LLHLHHHLHLLLLLHLLHHLH... the first month and HHLHLHHHLHLHHHHLHLLLL.. the next month. Didn't this eventually start getting confusing? I know it's a bit more complex, but you know what I mean? Me for instance, when I started learning Mandarin, I used colors to remember tones and it worked great for the first couple of hundred words but after that it was just wan blurry mess. Was it green/yellow? yellow/green? ect. There was just too much information.

      Would you have any video or audio recordings of anyone who used this approach so I could give it a listen?

      kind regards

      Vladimir

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    29. Vladimir, thank you so much for this inspiring post.

      Could you give us some advice on which TV series and programs to see?

      Thanks.

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    30. Hello Roland,

      I'm happy you found the post inspiring.

      Which programs to watch will depend on your level. What would you say is your level in Mandarin now?

      Unfortunately a lot of the shows here in Taiwan are really difficult to watch (and it's not because of the language, they are just really weird). There is finally this one show that I found on international politics, domestic affairs and economics that is on almost every day and approaches good journalism. It's called Today 正經話. You can also try 小燕之夜 which is a relatively watchable celebrity talk-show and a TV series called 痞子英雄. If you like Japanese anime, GTO (called 麻辣教師 in Chinese) has been dubbed into Chinese. All of these shows have subtitles, so you can pause - rewind through the whole show.

      hope it helps

      all the best

      Vladimir

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    31. This is a lot of helpful advice, Vladimir. When I started studying Mandarin in Kaoshiung back in 1993, my focus was on the tones and getting them right. Then I began to use cassette tapes for dialogues along with the accompanying text for building up vocabulary. A few minutes every day I would devote to studying the radicals. Then after recognizing the radicals, I began to study the main characters....by requesting children's schoolbooks from acquaintances and using the Mandarin phonetic alphabet. This worked for me and helped me become functionally literate faster. There was more urgency for me to learn to read since I was living in the country. My fascination with the characters was a big motivation too.

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      Replies
      1. Thank you for the comment Dimitrios.

        Delete