Study strategies for those who are low on time
Hey guys, I finally have gotten to a place in my life where it is hard for me to freely study Chinese at whim. Thus, I need to look for more efficient methods. What study strategies do you have that you think get good results? I am interested in improving any aspect of my Chinese, be it listening, spoken, writing or whatever. I might add that I am also light on the Internet these days, and I don't know if I'll ever own an iPhone or what not, so it has to be an old-school method in my case.
pretzellogicDecember 21, 2010, 11:45 AM
Ok, I was hoping others would post here, but it appears that's not going to be the case. Or maybe i'm just impatient :-)
Safe harbor statement about these being suggestions, there's no one right answer, do what works for you, take it or leaveit, your mileage may vary.
Also add statement that, as you know, there is no silver bullet in Chinese learning. At best, the likely best/most efficient approach solves about 1% or less of the problems you have in Chinese (or at least at my level it does).
I am woefully without time myself. My approach still consists of these items discussed on the linked threads below.
One thing you might try that i've recently started doing that doesn't require an iPod (good news). But it works for me because my Chinese speaking and listening is so weak, that I have a target rich environment from which to select.
I've been focusing on repeating sentence patterns to anchor my translation/listening ability. Take a sentence pattern, repeat it about 200 times so that you know what it means, andcan substitute new words into it correctly. Actually, where i've had the best results is in doing this 1000 times. It takes about 1.5 - 2hours to go through a single sentence or better yet, a set of sentence patterns, but then you have a good feel for what the sentence means, and how to use it. the first time you go through the sentence, it takes some time, the 1000th time goes very quickly.For example:
S +yī +V + O, jiù + V + O
我 一 回来 北京，我就 想去 798艺术区
wǒ yī huílái běijīng, wǒ jiùxiǎng qù 798 yīshùqù.
As soon as I return to Beijing, I would like to go to the 798 Art zone.
Repeat the sentence in Chinese 1000 times, and then substitute verbs and nouns into it. Do this for about 100 verbs and nouns.
The great thing about this approach is that it can be used when you're on the way to work, riding the bus, shopping for clothes, walking in the park, etc. If the sentence pattern above is one that you have no problems with, find a pattern that gives you difficulty and try this approach with that pattern. If you do not have problems with sentence patterns, do not bug me again :-)
If you try this, let me know if it works for you. Theoretically, since there are about 150 -200 sentence patterns in Chinese, you could be "fluent" in about 150-400 hours doing this. This is of course based on a statistically significant sample size of one.
That's a pretty good suggestion. I might go for it. Thanks. Although, I actually am not sure if I have problems with sentence patterns (and I am quite serious when I say, "I don't know"). But I think there might be another benefit to your approach, at least for me. It is a good way to use use new and forgotten vocabulary. I often tell myself that I should make sentences using vocabulary because just memorizing words without context is meaningless. However, I just never feel like it is interesting to write random sentences. If I had a sentence pattern to test my vocab with, somehow I might trick myself into liking it better.
based on my casual observations, I think i'm 3 years behind you on Chinese learning, plus I do not have a Chinese spouse, plus I do not work in China. So I can believe you don't have the sentence problems I have. But as I said, if you try this, let me know. Motivation is always a challenge to doing what i've suggested. You have to think that this is worth doing.
toianwDecember 21, 2010, 05:52 PM
A few ideas (though admit I am not a good student). Also I think your level is higher than mine so perhaps not everything is appropriate.
Most important: Doesn't matter how much time you have, but try to keep it regular.
1. I understand you have a Chinese wife. Make use of this valuable 'asset' if at all possible. Arrange a short time everyday when you communicate only in Chinese. You could talk about your day, cook a meal together (using Chinese), discuss the contents of the ChinesePod lesson you studied that day (good reinforcement) etc.
2. Make time each day also to 'think' in Chinese. Perhaps when you're lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. Again it could be anything (e.g. what you have to do tomorrow, how you would tell a Chinese friend about the TV program/movie you watched that day)
3. Expand your vocabulary a little everyday. Learn vocabulary in chunks. For example, from yesterday's 'river town' lesson I would learn the phrase "商业味道太浓厚了" rather than learning all the words separately. It's easier to remember this way and as a bonus you're also learning how to actually use the words. You don't necessarily need to make sentences just for the sake of it. Instead think about the situations in which you're likely to use these words in your life (and speak them out). I find this really helps the vocab to stick. Don't forget to review regularly instead of always learning the new.
4. Listen a lot. This is something you can do whilst travelling to work, cooking, whatever - so takes no extra time. I use a mixture of ChinesePod lessons, Audio Review and dialogues. However, if your listening in this way, I find it best to listen to relatively understandable stuff (if it's too difficult I find I just switch off - save this material for your 'study time'). Lots of repetition of relatively simple stuff (e.g. the lessons you've already studied) is, I think, a great way of improving your grammar without any real effort. The more you listen to, the more you start to get a feel for how to stick words together and whether a sentence is right or wrong (this is, after all, how we acquire our native language).
5. I enjoy reading, so I also read (for enjoyment) in Chinese. Again it's important to choose something at the right level (I use graded Chinese books - simplified versions of real modern Chinese novels/short stories for learners of Chinese) as if you have to look up too many characters it's a real put-off. The first time I read a story, I won't look up any words/characters, just guess. Then I might go back through the story a bit each day and explore new vocabulary.
I could go on, but it's getting long already. Good luck in your studies.
Thanks for the tips. Regarding number five, do you ever read dual language books? I have in the past read books where one side is English, and the other side is Chinese. I only look at the English side if I need to understand. Sometimes the translation expresses a concept, especially an abstract one, in a completely different way, which I like because it is more authentic, or at least I imagine so.
All the books I've got don't have any English translations, but they have characters and pinyin underneath (like childrens' books in China). Although the pinyin is useful if you want to look something up in the dictionary, the downside is I often find my eyes wandering towards the pinyin instead of the characters which is not so good.
I agree, it's also interesting to look at how different languages deal with concepts in different ways. And a good translation can really help bring out the 'flavour' of the language rather than just the literal meaning.
pretzellogicDecember 22, 2010, 09:22 AM
Xiaophil, actually your request makes me wonder what you believe your specific problem is at this point. Forgive me for pushing you on this, but I thought you mentioned earlier that you've been in China for 5 years. I would think that at this point, you probably understand 50% of any TV program you watch on the first try. Is that the case?
I think if I can ask you what your specific problem/frustration is, then maybe I can devise an exercise for you (ok really for me) that will help you (or maybe me) be more efficient given limited time.
Well, I think I'm frustrated with all aspects (as I always am), but lately I hope to just build my vocabulary to the point that I don't always rely on simple, basic words. I also wish that when my wife talks to other people in Chinese, I could jump into the conversation somewhat as easily as if it were English. You see for me communicating is not a problem; keeping up at a native's speed and not asking "what?" all the time (or at least sometimes) is.
I also want to write without always checking a dictionary.
Okay, gotta go. Thanks for thinking, but don't think too hard. I would feel bad :-)
You need to be assertive and keep reminding her to slow down for you, so you can learn and at worst at least passively participate in the conversations by being able to get the gist of what is being said..
My wife speaks slow enough. It's the other people. Actually it isn't a comprehension problem usually. It is a "I can't think fast enough' to jump in problem. By the time I organize my thoughts, they have moved on in the conversation. Basically, I need to think faster. Not just translate in my head (although I don't do that for basic stuff). Happily, I can usually handle it if they talk directly to me.
Ok, I have a similar problem with our a1yi2. She uses lots of slang, and has an Tian1jin1 accent. Usually, after she fires off some comment to me, and everyone else laughs, by the time I think of what I want to say, its 1 minute later.
You need to be assertive and keep reminding her to slow down for you
Honestly, I couldn't disagree more. In one-on-one conversations, sure, your wife and friends should try to accomodate you, but even then it's not really doing you any favors. In most situations people won't slow down for you -- they'll either switch to another language that you speak better (if that's an option), keeping going full speed and lose you, or simply not communicate (the third is normally the case in any non-business situation).
In pretty much every pursuit, raising your game, rather than lowering your standards, is the way to go.
zhenlijiangDecember 23, 2010, 05:54 AM
Hi Xiaophil, this isn't anything you haven't heard of, but it's from a teacher of mine. She advised me to read novels. Novels are good for becoming familiar with both the literary language and very colloquial speech. It's a good supplement to being part of conversations and hearing spoken Mandarin in your daily life, because it's private, you're never put on the spot, you can stop the flow whenever you need to.
I think intake of novels is vital to becoming fluent in that it gives you the confidence, having done the work in order to share with Chinese their common literary experience. It gives you background for the way native speakers--those who are serious about using language persuasively, because all such people are serious readers--consciously and subconsciously try to express themselves, in writing and in speech at all occasions, and even non-verbally (cinematically, I'm thinking here). I do realize of course that Chinese literature consists of far more than just the novel.
My teacher didn't give any specific authors or titles but I guess you can get many recommendations and ideas, being in China. I'm not sure how this rates on your efficiency scale. It's old school at least!
zhenlijiang, do you have specific recommendations for novels? Anything you've read that you found enjoyable and recommend for a relative beginner? It would be helpful (at least for me) to have a sense of what i'm in for based on other people's recommendations; the Chinese equivalent of Harry Potter is one thing, War and Peace is another, and The Bluest Eye is another thing altogether.
Erm, my teacher's advice I am taking to heart, but have not actually been practicing it yet--sorry to disappoint! But for the reaons cited above I do really believe in reading novels, if you're at the intermediate or higher level, have limited time and need to choose just one thing to do.
So you're open to juvenile lit? Do you know 《一年甲班34号》? When I found this poetic, cinematic picture book by Taiwanese illustrator-author 恩佐 (Enzo) I was mesmerized. Enzo shows us the world through the eyes of a boy in first grade, but this book isn't just to be enjoyed by kids.
It was apparently made into a movie and released this year.
Enzo's website: http://www.wretch.cc/blog/tellenzo
I'm reading now 张天翼童话（一）, this one a for-children book of stories by 张天翼 which for me is just challenging enough without being too painful--and finding it so delightful. So much vocab and usage to learn! The little illustrations are wonderful too and help me stay engaged and my imagination expand. Trying to read this one through without using dictionaries, even if it means going over some bits not fully understanding.
The other thing I'm staying away from now is translated works, though I did really enjoy trying to go through the Alice in Wonderland books in Chinese before. I want to read Chinese people expressing Chinese thoughts in Chinese now.
johnbDecember 23, 2010, 07:54 AM
My $0.02: read. Read (to horribly paraphrase Chris Rock) like the antidote was in those books. Read until you're confident that you could go into any bookstore in China, or grab a magazine off any magazine rack in China, and read, and get something out of it, just like you can in an English-speaking country. And then keep reading.
I've found in my decade or so with the language that, once past the initial problems that Chinese throws at a learner (so, maybe, 2 years in), 95% of the issues I encountered were because I didn't understand the words being spoken. I know of no better way to overcome this than reading.
It's painful at first, but actually not for very long if you stick with it, and it pays off hugely.
johnb, same thing to you as to ZLJ, any good simple easy-to-read (think nice simple words) recommendations for materials? Anything you've read in this category that you found interesting yet easy to read? I already know I can/should read childrens fairy tales, but i was hoping for a few recommendations for something at least in the young adult category. Maybe the Harry Potter translation is indeed the way to go.
I always feel strange recommending this, but I think 张小娴 is a great entry into long-form Chinese lit. Total chick lit, lots of touchy-feely-ness, but really straightforward plot and easy to read. The first book I ever read straight through was 再见野鼬鼠 http://book.douban.com/subject/1084918/
One just general tip would be to pick an author and read several of his or her works in a row. The first one might be tough, but after one or two you'll get used to the author's style and his or her pet words, and it will take a lot of the edge off.