This is actually not one of those Chinese New Year posts, but it is a kind of renovation post, that is my renewed studies. To get me going, I joined the character challenge for January, I didn’t think I was going to make it, but then I realized it’s super motivating (except for the crazy people spending more than an hour a day, EVERY day, on characters, they make me feel lazy, but that’s not the point, besides, I won a free month YAY!).
I’ve been browsing through those internet-famous polyglot/multilingual blogs and came across a cool video on how to reach native-like fluency. It actually reminded me of when I started studying Chinese. In my last year of high school I desperately wanted to learn Japanese so I bought a book and a friend and I started studying. I believed erroneously (you know 以为) that I would continue said studies, but I didn’t because it was a hassle to get the class on my schedule so I chose the next best East Asian language, actually the only East Asian language available, Chinese. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but the great part was that it was no pressure, but most importantly fun, even if I sounded like a robot. I did my homework and worked mostly on pronunciation, it was all old school, handmade flashcards, terrible textbooks, you know it. Then destiny happened, I fell in love, and with none other than a Chinese girl. For some strange reason my logic was that if I could speak to her in her language she would like me back, yeah like I said, super logical. I finished first year Chinese and then came summer break. I needed a reason to see her. I made up a reason to see her.
Love and heartbreak
I breathed Chinese at that time. I woke up and listened to a podcast way too difficult for me, but I would transcribe it nonetheless, word for word. Then, I would watch an episode of one of those Taiwanese dramas and look up all the characters from the Chinese subtitles, I learned a bunch of expressions like that (like the very useful, 你很讨厌啊). I would then learn a song, sing it a billion times. I would browse the internet in Chinese translating everything. It was obsessive. I think I spent about 8-10 hours a day on Chinese. This went on for a month and a half, until the Chinese girl visited a place close by. Of course, a month a half is not nearly long enough to understand full conversations, but it was enough to get by and sing karaoke. Before we really get off topic, one thing that is really interesting about this experience is that although my studying wasn’t structured, at all, I learned so much more in that month and a half than I would go on to learn the next year. I also got more of a feel for the language, it’s use of phonetic particles at the end of sentences and such. So, yeah, for sure it’s a great idea to do the whole simulated immersion thing at home, but not everyone has the time for that. In any case, fast forward 5 years, that is to now. I’ve been studying about a year continuously, though not obsessively, and now…
Yes, I’ve reached the dreaded plateau (高原), intermediate level with no progress in sight. I feel like no matter how obsessive I am with studying Chinese (though not quite like the madness of that month and a half), it does not come fluently to me. Obviously my strategy is not working. I’m learning a lot of vocabulary and I can make small talk, but I really want to be able to get my language across, that is what I like to talk about, in the way I like to talk.
Getting things moving
My first step was to get my chatting game back up. I downloaded HelloTalk (thanks Laoshu for that). I’m not going to get into all the details of the app, but let me say, there are so many people to chat with! There are a couple of features which are very useful and that sold me, it has a transcription feature and a correcting feature. So you can send/receive voice messages and then transcribe them or you can correct/get corrected when you say something stupid like I did today when I said 我也穿镜子 (I also dress* mirrors) instead of 我也戴眼镜 (I also wear glasses). But that’s ok, I’m just plunging in head first and bumbling my way around until hopefully I start sounding more natural.
My second step was to get myself a synonyms dictionary. Haven’t you noticed how many words there are to say the same thing? Well, do yourself a favor and get one of these:
More on synonyms later because this post will be too long. We’ll see how this plateau thing develops.
Have a happy new year and don’t forget to buy your 对联.
*I know 穿 is wear, but the point here is glasses are not worn like clothes, instead they are 戴 (haha like a sword).