Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Fun Awards!

I have already emphasized the importance of getting some proper textbooks and workbooks so enough said on that score.  

You also have to have a bit of fun built into the equation right? too bloody right I hear you say!  steady on now...I'm not talking wild parties or getting drunk out of your mind on an all night binge fests or anything like that, although that would be nice too :)  I'm still keeping it strictly focused on the language learning which I'm currently absorbed in at the moment.    

There is a host of great sites out there at present,  some I have looked at in great detail and others I'm sure I have still yet to discover. 

I'm going to rave on  about a a few I've tried recently and which deserve a mention .  These entertaining yet educational sites take you away from those tedious yet essential text books and grammar rules for a little while.  I will briefly recommend a few good sites that without even thinking about it too hard will improve your Chinese.

So while it is a good thing not to get too obsessive about these sites it is also good to visit them every now and then and enjoy the content they have to offer.  You become more familiar with sounds and characters after exploring content on these sites and this is always a good thing.


Without further ado... the  major fun awards in my opinion go to, and in no particular order.....

1) Zhongwen Movies
ZhongwenMovies started, thanks much to friends and teachers, in 2012 with a guy named Scott Oman. One day, frustrated while studying Chinese, an idea was born to create this entertaining, yet useful, language learning platform dedicated solely to the study and research of Mandarin Chinese - clashing modern and ancient, past with present.  ZhongwenMovies is about free education, as well as helping to expose people to interesting things about China, Chinese culture, media and language! They provide a community with quality links to compelling Mandarin programs, free study and cultural materials to advance your Chinese and just make learning fun!

I have to agree, only started using this site recently again and the content is superb.  They also have some quality movies.  I really love this site.  :)

2) Fluent U
FluentU is a new way to learn Chinese through authentic video content like music videos, movie trailers, news, and inspiring talks. With engaging and immersive content, they empower users to learn with fun videos exhibiting the diversity and vibrancy of modern Chinese culture.

This is a great site where so much work has been done by the developers. You really have to check it out to appreciate how good it actually is.   It even has all the content in video form that I use in my textbook (New Practical Chinese Reader) with English , Pinyin and 汉字, all optional to view when looking at the video of your choice.

Quite simply you play songs to learn Chinese characters.  Its as simple as that really....well not really.  It does take a bit of getting used to but it is really fun when you do.  It is still in beta mode so its a bit raw around the edges but I can see this site really taking off.  A really innovative way of learning characters.

Also, I never really listened to Chinese music before and this has really opened up a whole new genre of music for me.   I think this will be major success for its developer.  

Wednesday, 16 January 2013 works

 Mnemonics is a learning technique that aids information retention. Mnemonics aim to translate information into a form that the human brain can retain better than its original form. Even the process of applying this conversion might already aid the transfer of information to long-term memory. Commonly encountered mnemonics are often for lists and in auditory form, such as short poems, acronyms, or memorable phrases, but mnemonics can also be for other types of information and in visual or kinesthetic forms

Mnemonics is a really cool learning aid for anyone starting out.   It's not really discussed in much detail at the early stages of learning Chinese particularly if you embark on an academic course of some sort.  Of course there is some reference to the fact that some characters resemble the word(s) they are supposed to define, for example -   人/  Ren2 /man -  The character looks like a man standing up so its very easy to remember the symbol associated with the meaning.  However,  academic courses I believe, and I speak only from my own experience, while they don't discourage it they certainly don't encourage mnemonics.  

Mnemonics is widely discussed and used in many great websites that are in existence today.  I have used and still continue to use -  This is an absolutely fantastic site which uses mnemonics to its fullest.  I am using skitter quite a lot lately and it too uses mnemonic aids and it also works quite well.

Also, I have now taken it upon myself to put my artistic skills to the test.  I am going to attempt to try and create my own little pictogram type sketches with characters contained within.  I know there are some already on these websites but for me it will make the learning process for character learning that bit more personal, and fun :)  I'll see how it works out.   I've started with a simple one , you will forgive me I hope when I say  - you get the picture right?

                                                           飞/ Fei1/ to fly

Monday, 14 January 2013

Character Writing & more....

Just a brief update on the weekly studies.  All things are going particularly well especially when it comes to writing characters.  This week has seen me start with 10 new characters and I'm loving it.  I should move on to another 10 in 2/3 days time depending on work/life schedule.


I still use the Skritter app and will continue to do so until my free trial ceases, but I can't see myself renewing it until I get a tablet :(   I'm saving the pennies as you read.  I continue to use Ankidroid on my phone for all flashcard learning of the same characters and its working out pretty good.

I really do love practising stroke order for character's with just a pen and paper.  I get a real buzz when a seemingly tough character becomes very easy to write.

I going to go off on a rant here and it's the last time I mention it but I want to get the message across one last time to those starting out.  Here it goes........ I cant emphasise enough the importance of learning basic grammar and sentence structure before embarking on a whole immersion in Chinese language learning sites.  These sites are freely available and are an invaluable resource for new learners but you should first put some structure in place.  A recognised Textbook I think is the first step to take.  The websites have great content and provide great interaction with teachers and fellow learners but can be a bit overwhelming for a complete beginner, so don't use them as your sole primary resource.

As mentioned I use the New Practical Chinese Reader which is provided by the Beijing University press.  It's well mentioned in my earlier blogs.   I am sure there are many more reputable Institutes out there that provide similar content but at present that is the only Textbook I am familiar with.

I am going to outline below what I think are the necessary steps involved when first starting out.  They are as follows:

  • Get a proper set of Textbooks, Instructor Manuals and Workbooks.  These all enhance the learning process providing students with proper exercises ,pronunciations  vocabulary , grammar and basic Chinese characters.
  • Sign up or enroll in a college course by night if available in your area if like me you are doing this on a part time basis .
  • Listen to the Audio that comes with the Textbooks, this will enhance your pronunciation skills.
  • Involve yourself in some language learning websites as they are extremely useful for language learning resources but don't become too absorbed by them ( I'm speaking from experience) it can derail your studies and lull you into a false sense of security where you think you are actually better then you are ( I'm yet again speaking from experience).    I could spend hours trawling through exchanges that were way too advanced for me while I should have been sticking to the basics, while they were extremely interesting they did little to enhance my own learning process.
  • I am a firm believer that Character writing from the start is an absolute must for anyone wanting to learn Chinese.   It just gives you a deeper meaning of the words you are learning.  
I also recently signed up to the Beta site Hanzicraft.  It looks really promising for the future.  For a character lover like myself it breaks characters down giving a better understanding of its components and radicals.  Its gives you a really insightful view of the character from a different perspective.  I look forward in seeing how this site progresses.


Friday, 11 January 2013

Character Challenge Update

Okay, so last week I took it upon myself to take on the character challenge set up on Hacking Chinese.   I am really pleased with my progress so far.

Character Challenge.

How the challenge works is that you sign up and set a goal for yourself in learning a certain amount of characters per week.  You get assigned two challenge buddies who you email to introduce yourself , tell them your goals and basically to become accountable to them, keep them updated on your progress and vice verse.  My two buddies are way more experienced which makes it all the more interesting.  I hope to draw on their experience and it's good to know you are in good company.  

My short term goals are-

  • Learn about 20 new characters a week.
  • Get a better sense of the radicals in the characters.
  • Get familiar with stroke order.
  • Learn characters and words for everyday items you find at work and at home. 

My Long term goal is -

  • To be able to converse with my work colleagues in China who I have contact with every day through phone conversation but also through email , Skype etc..
  • When I travel to China, that is at least once a year be able to have a fully fledged conversation in Chinese with people I encounter through work and on social occasions or for even buying that fake bag in the market for my wife :)
  • To be able to speak and write the language I have grown accustomed to love over the last few years. 

Update -

It has worked out to about about 10 new characters every 3-4 days which isn't bad considering it's in addition to my regular course content.   I think I might do this for another week, try and build it up to about 30 and then have a few days revision after that to recoup on stroke order and learn a deeper understanding of the characters I've learned.  I will then start another block of 30 and so on.   If I can continue this pace it wont be too bad at the end of the year in addition to my regular college stuff, where new characters will also be learned..

As mentioned previously, I availed of the extended Skritter trial through the Hacking Chinese promotion and I was really impressed with it.  However, I think I would not fully avail of all the benefits until I get a tablet.  Nevertheless, even with a PC or a laptop it still works well and has excellent features but I will hold out on a subscription until the day comes that I get a brand new tablet.  Ankidroid and Hanping Pro are my preferred choices, although I do use Pleco from time to time.  Hanping Pro is really cool and here you can also practice characters, similar to Skritter  but you look them up based on your attempt.  It's more of a dictionary and reference guide, as opposed to telling you stroke order but its still is a cracking little app.  I also use the TrainChinese app a lot where again you can look up words in English , Pinyin or in Chinese character mode and away it goes.  A fantastic application as well.

I have to add that learning the additional characters was always going to be a big challenge for me and it actually has been slower then I first anticipated.  I think I am still finding my way and should find a comfort zone pretty soon.  While I am probably the least most experienced of the challenge participants I think I am as well motivated as anyone and determined to keep making that extra effort..


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Mandarin Overload

OK! first night back and college went extremely well :) 非常好!

I was happy with my retention of characters and sentence patterns since the Christmas break.  I was also really glad to be getting back into the whole structured learning process.  It's starting to hot up now with classes twice a week and I am experimenting more and more particularly at learning to write new characters.  I am still taking on the challenge I set up on Skritter as talked about on an earlier blog so its all go.  I forgot to mention about me using the fabulous Anki flashcard app on my phone whenever I get a spare few minutes, in bed usually just before I go out to graze for the night.  I really love this app.  I am you could say in complete Mandarin overload....but its all good .  这是真好!

I also bought a game for my phone.  What the hell was I thinking. I am a person with a compulsive addiction disorder, so maybe, just maybe this wasn't such a good idea, however, I have what you would call a control measure in place.  It's called a HTC battery :-)  The game is called  Mandarin Madness  and its pretty cool, lots of fun and it's surprisingly quite addictive.  It has some pretty good content and I was amazed at the amount of material contained within the game.  It's not going to revolutionise the learning process but I would definitely recommend it as a good acquisition for any language learners who enjoy games.

Back to the serious stuff.  This is what's on the agenda -
  • Skritter list to complete before end of week.
  • Revision of class material.
  • 2 x 3 hour evening classes every week. 
  • Revise new characters and grammar learned in class.
  • Play a few games....its still learning right? 
  • Anki flashcard revision for around 20 minutes a day, usually before I go to bed and based on New Practical Chinese course content. 

I was also thinking of sneaking a few Chinese Pod pod-casts in on the way to and from work (20 minutes). This is my idea of some light entertainment.  I live a very sad an uneventful life but who wouldn't love those quirky podcasts of old with Ken and Jenny.  Ken is some Irishman being fluent in Chinese, what next, a Chinese man becoming fluent in Irish? see below.  However, and I'm not afraid to admit it....but...ahem.....I am quite enjoying my wife's Bruno Mars CD :) so I might skip the pod-casts for now.

I will continue to do this after a hectic day at the office......oh yeah,  did I mention I have a young family as well.  It's a good job I only sleep around 6 hours a night.   That's just the reality of a part time language learner and full time father.

As they say  - 加油


Sunday, 6 January 2013

New Words

I've comprised a list of new characters that I intend to study and hopefully will be able to write.  I really enjoy writing and learning new characters and look forward to getting stuck in.  I will load them all up in a Skritter list where I will practice stroke order and pronunciations

I will also make a list for Anki which I have on my Android phone.  I find this a fantastic little program where I can study flashcards at the drop of a hat.  I just take out my phone and away I go.....happy days :)  

Example of Anki

My list of new Words

在家At home

床 - Bed

椅子 - Chair
棉被 - Quilt
梳子 - Comb
床单 - Sheet
小地摊 - Rug
衣柜 - Wardrobe
枕头- Pillow
抽屉柜 - Chest of drawers
镜子- Mirror
刷子 - Brush
灯 - Lamp
图片 - Picture
挂衣钩 - Clothes hook
电话 - Phone
楼梯 - Stairs
信 - Mail
桌子 - Table
报纸 - Newspaper
散热器 - Radiator
沙发 - Sofa
地毯 - Carpet
光盘 - CD
垫子 - Mat
收音机 - Radio
牙膏 -Toothpaste
毛巾 - Towel
淋浴 - Shower
面盆 - Basin
海绵  - Sponge
马桶  - Toilet
牙刷 - Toothbrush
手纸 - Toilet paper
水龙头 - Tap
肥皂 - Soap
浴缸 - Bathtub

I will be doing this in addition to my regular course studies where I will also be learning new words and characters but I'm going to keep the above specifically for Skritter/Anki and the character challenge I set for myself.

There's quite a nice few characters here to learn.  I have come across some of the characters before but not in the combination above.

What strikes me as amazing was how little words I knew for everyday objects, appliances furniture etc., even in this page alone I was hopeless.  I think this is where people who are immersed in the language and culture 24/7 have a distinct advantage, they become very familiar with these items and the Chinese characters very quickly.    

Anyway...back to flashcards!!!

****  I should add this is a bonus way to increase my vocabulary particularly with items that I will come into contact with everyday.  For me the real advances are achieved at the college course and that is where I believe I get the proper grammar, sentence patterns and structures.  For a beginner if you are not attending a college class or subscribed to anything on line I would definitely recommend the New Practical Chinese Reader Textbook in order to get sentence patterns and structures first. ****

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Labelling everyday objects

I have now taken it upon myself to start labelling everyday objects around the house.  I got a little stack of post-its and away I went.  I think this is going to be extremely useful particularly for pronunciations as I'll also include the Pinyin and tone marks along with characters and English translation.  This will also be good for character recognition I think??.....I hope??.. :)  Ill see how it works out....