Last month I set a number of goals for myself:
- Read 50 newspaper articles (approx 2 ~ 3 per day).
- Have phone/skype/face-to-face conversation with 3 new people, or friends that I’ve fallen out of touch with.
- Choose a character from a TV show and ‘shadow’ him.
- Learn 4 new songs to sing at KTV.
- Learn 100 new individual character cards in Anki.
I did learn more than 100 new individual character cards, but I didn’t achieve any of the others. I made a deliberate decision during the month to stop working towards those goals, as I wasn’t feeling motivated by them.
I have been remarkably consistent with my studying though, and very motivated. I didn’t miss a day of Anki reviews, and have been experimenting with other study techniques that I’ve never tried before.
The first of these is scorched earth reading/listening. This basically means reading or watching a short segment of a Chinese book/tv show, and then looking up all the words I don’t know (often 100+ words), writing them down on paper with the characters, zhuyin pronunciation, and the definition (written in Chinese or English, most depending on the length of the definition). I then re-read/re-watch that segment again at least 50 times to reinforce the vocabulary. What I don’t do is put these words into Anki (!), yet I’m finding my retention is still quite high (70%+) for much less work. It feels very refreshing to not have mountains of reviews to get through every day.
For my vocabulary acquisition, I’m going to continue with this approach for the next month.
The second is I’ve found a fantastic online radio station that I’m leaving playing all day long. I’m already feeling improvement in my listening as a result. A great overview of the station (RTI) and why it’s great for learning Chinese can be found at Hacking Chinese.
Thirdly, I’ve been improving my competency with bopomofo (reading it, typing it and handwriting it). I’ve noticed lately I have a lot of deeply ingrained mistakes with even my basic chinese, mostly related to the tones. It’s not that I can’t correctly produce tones, it’s simply that when I learned the word, I’ve somehow associated the wrong tone with it. Typing in zhuyin/bopomofo forces you to type the correct tone symbol before it shows you the characters (unlike pinyin input), which has helped me immensely in identifying these errors. To speed up this process I’ve uninstalled pinyin input on both my phone and computer, and everyday I’ve been typing a passage from a book into my computer to improve my speed. It’s already feeling a lot more natural, and my typing speed is getting faster and faster each day.
Lastly, I need to mention a comment that a friend made last night while eating dinner. He said “你的發音越來越不標準喔!” (Your pronunciation is getting worse and worse!). He said this after I had said something and had to repeat myself 3 (!) times before he understood. That type of situation hasn’t happened to me in a long time. My pronunciation is far from native like, but it’s been a long time since it was a factor in impeding communication, as it’s nearly always understood, even if my pronunciation sometimes sounds off to native speakers.
This gave me cause to think, and I realise that I need to discover the root cause of that and making fixing it my number one priority this month.
I have a few ideas. The first is that, while my focused study time has increased this month, the actual time I’ve spent out socialising with Chinese speakers has become very small. I’ll need to increase this dramatically. The second reason, and I think the primary cause, is a side effect of my learning bopomofo/zhuyin. The way you type zhuyin requires typing in all the consonants and vowels in the word, from initial, vowel to ending. As I do, I always sound out those component sounds which form the word. In doing so, I’ve realised that a lot of words I pronounce differently as a whole than when sounding out the component sounds strung together. I have a feeling that the new form of the words (the way I’m pronouncing them in zhuyin practice) is beginning to show up in my regular speech, and it’s actually less understandable than the way I was doing it before.
Of course, this means two things, both big probelms I must fix. The first is that even though my pronunciation has always been understandable, it’s not based on a solid foundation, and therefore it’ll never sound perfect without going back to basics first. Second, is that my pronunciation of basic building block sounds in Chinese is wrong, and I need to correct this ASAP.
Taking all this into account, I have the following broader goals for this month:
- Work on my pronunciation of the core sounds in Chinese.
- Spend more time speaking Chinese.
- Continue with the study techniques I was experimenting with last month.