November 30, 2010

Studying Mandarin - part III.

What I think helped me, when it comes to learning Mandarin:


Moving to Taiwan, spending as much time with Taiwanese as possible, memorizing everything I found useful exactly the way Taiwanese said it, asking them to correct my pronunciation whenever possible. I wasn't writing down words or constructions that I found useful. The number of expressions was just too big and so I figured, if the expression would be important for me at the time, it would stick in my brain, if not it'll stick there once it becomes important. As far as pronunciation goes, this is one thing I kept and keep trying to work on almost every day as there are sounds that I still don't get right (j-,zh-,sh-,ch-,ri,-a,-i,b,p,) 

Pronunciation of Mandarin is a big issue really. It’s not only that producing the correct sounds takes a lot of practice, but recalling the correct sounds and recognizing them in fluent speech effortlessly takes a lot of time and is very tiring.

When I first came to Taiwan, I remember being tired after even a 10-15 minute conversation. I was unable to use the words I’ve learned before effortlessly even after I’ve used them a hundred times or so. Each time I wanted to use these words I had to make at least some effort and it was very tiring. Then one time I mispronounced the word 比利時, a friend of mine corrected me and since then I used the word effortlessly, without having to think about the tones or syllables and I was wondering how it happened. Then I thought that maybe it was because I never saw the pinyin or the characters for this word. I was familiar with this word, because I’ve heard it before. When I mispronounced it, my friend corrected me and it instantly sticked in my head. Up until now I don’t know and I don’t want to know the tones in the word比利時, because it was the first time I’ve learned a word so effortlessly and so quickly, which could support the theory, that Chinese – at the beginner stages - should be learned just like little kids learn their first language.

When it comes to the 4 tones I think the biggest mistake ever was to use tonal graphs (the curve of the tone on a scale from 1-5) to explain them to anyone. The tone is glued to the syllable so much that it acts just as if it were another letter changing the syllable completely. It is not the tones that need to be focused on, but the syllables themselves. The sound of the syllable is how one gets to the meaning of the morpheme in speech and I think that for learners it would be much better to focus on this fact, rather than “laboratory” explanations. I feel it could be worth a thought that in the initial stages one should work his/her way slowly through the basic most commonly used syllables without pen or paper. 


Talking to Taiwanese people, watching “watchable” TV shows like: WTO 姐妹會 or 痞子英雄,


Reading National Geographic in Chinese
Reading 漫畫 especially 死亡筆記本, GTO and 池袋西口公園 (Ikebukuro West gate park, but the cool version, not the crap one that they made a soap opera out of).
Reading the subtitles of TV shows.


Chatting on MSN with friends, writing a blog/diary.

What I think one should not do:

Learn characters before knowing how to use the relevant word confidently in real life speech (apart from maybe the most essential 100 ones)

Learn how to handwrite each and every character at the beginning of your studies. If you can, understand how characters are written, learn the correct stroke order and so on, but do not memorize how to write more than the most essential ones in the beginning.

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