It's been quite a while, since I made a language related entry into my blog and since it's been around a year since I changed my approach to my Mandarin studies so I thought it might be a good time to review a little and see where I stand with Mandarin at this point in time.
It's almost unbelievable that I can say this, but I feel my Mandarin is finally getting somewhere! It's been more than a year and a half since I've been in
and more than a year since I've completely changed my approach and I think it has definitely paid off. When I speak Mandarin now, I am not tired at all, I don't think about pronunciation and often I can choose from more than a couple of ways of how to say the same thing. The sentences that I produce - since I repeat what I hear around me, are structurally Mandarin-spot on and after such a long time, I finally start getting the gist of the logic of Mandarin and can improvise in situations where I haven't heard or said similar sentences/sentence structures before. I finished reading a 12 book series of 死亡筆記本 and towards the end of the series (book 10,11,12), when I got used to the vocabulary I was reading it almost at natural speed, which made me incredibly happy. Now I'm reading a fat 400 page detective story (黑暗的回聲) and try to keep a pace of 40 pages a day without a dictionary. Well, see how that goes. I usually understand every word when it comes to direct speech dialogues in these books. When it comes to descriptive sections, sometimes I understand every word, sometimes just enough to get the gist and sometimes I don't get the entire sentence. Taiwan
When it comes to oral comprehension, when talking to people it happens once every 10 minutes on average that I don't understand a word. I understand TV talk-shows pretty well, but it depends on the show. Movies are more difficult, but with Chinese subtitles it's not that bad. News broadcasts are still a problem. I can read newspapers, but the topic has to be international or something I know a little more about. If it's local Taiwanese politics, the article is usually full of names of politicians or institutions making it difficult for me to distinguish what is a name and what is a regular noun which I don't know the meaning of.
When it comes to writing, since I've been reading so much lately, it's been up a notch, but still not what I would like it to be. Per paragraph I write I usually have to ask once or twice to check a sentence structure that I wrote. Usually they are Ok, but every now and then the still look weird.
Since I dropped my conscious forced attention to tones, my pronunciation has turned out to be more and more natural and closer to the standard. There still are a couple of sounds that I am working on - especially the Taiwanese version of sh, ch and zh, since the way I pronounce it is too soft and I am still looking for the correct position of the tongue. When it comes to vowels, the one that is a killer for all the foreigners is the Mandarin "a". Who would've thought. It will give you away as a foreigner on the phone any time. Maybe it is the height of the neutral tone in 嗎 that should be a lot lower in 真的嗎 than I used to pronounce it and not the sound it self, but it is this vowel that I have to work on.
Because of my previous Mandarin instruction (explanation of tones based on graphs and the use of pinyin), even given my best effort I was pronouncing rather what I saw and not what I heard so now I am basically working on rebuilding my entire pronunciation base to make the words sound like they are supposed to and not the way they I was trying to pronounce them according to tonal graphs.
Also, forgetting is a very big part of my learning process. For instance the fairly simple word 先生 is not a very frequent word in my daily life actually but a very frequent word in my Mandarin scholastic life, since it was one of the first words I learned. After hearing and saying it less and less, I forgot the details of how I used to pronounce it and when my Taiwanese friend suddenly said it, I noticed a whole lot of things. For instance that I used to pronounce the 生 almost in a neutral tone and didn't give it it's proper length, that I used to pronounce the "ia" sound in 先 as if it were merged together whereas the "i" and the "a" should be quite distinct and fused through a "y" but still very distinct and this small discovery led me to upgrade my pronunciation in all other "-ie" , "ian", "-eng" finals. Fortunately I make these small discoveries all the time and do this little "word sculpting" to make my pronunciation better.
I dropped pinyin a long time ago as well and I don't feel "bound" anymore by it since I also forgot the associations between the pinyin writing and the way I used to pronounce words. Individual words are easier for me to "sculpt" to the way they are supposed to sound, because I can "forget" my wrong pronunciation of them faster and thus upgrade them to a more standard one, but the most basic of words or combinations, like 我, 我有, 不是, 不要 and so on.. I use them a hundred times every day, so it's difficult for me to "forget" the details of their pronunciation and then notice why exactly I was pronouncing them wrong.
All in all I am quite happy with my progress and according to the how-to-learn-any-language forum classification I feel like I am approaching advanced fluency, but I'm still not there. For advanced fluency I should be able to turn on the TV at any given time and be able to understand what they are talking about just as if it were English or Slovak, I should be able to read novels almost at natural speed, I should be finally satisfied with my pronunciation and while speaking I should be able to play around with expressions in every situation, having at least 2-3 possibilities to express the same thing at any given moment. When I get there, if I ever get there, maybe I will finally be able to compete with big boys like 大山 and the rest :))