Who loves the Audio Review files? How do you use them?

SF_Rachel
July 25, 2012, 07:56 PM posted in General Discussion

I don't live in China and I don't get a chance to speak much. My speaking ability is far, far, far behind my reading and listening comprehension. So I need the Audio Review and the shadowing particularly badly. But I feel like I've never figured out how to make use of the audio review. I don't want to sound like I'm just complaining: over my time as a subscriber I've seen plenty of comments from people who love it, so I figure it's time for me to try and understand why and if any of you have any tips that will work with my study style.

My main issue with it is really two different kinds of audio exercises at VERY different levels of difficulty / achievability.

The vocabulary part is not challenging, even for me and my poor speaking ability. Which can be fine for something you're going to do just once, but I'd never want to do it twice for any lesson. The pacing is easy, there's plenty of time to guess the word before Connie reads it back, and there's plenty of time after she reads it to repeat it after her to perfect your pronunciation.

The sentence part is crazy challenging! The pauses are not nearly enough time for me to say the sentence, and I fear if I tried real shadowing I'd be not really hearing the rhythm and overall sentence intonation, and thus not mimicing it properly when I repeat it. And that's what I really want to get out of the audio review: full-sentence intonation and rhythm. One word at a time, I think I've got nailed.

Considering how riduculously slow the vocab part is (even when Jenny says "Now, let's try that faster!" it's not fast at all, is it?), I'm just suprised they don't do each sentence two times or make the pauses about 40%-50% longer. Note that I'm not asking Connie to speak slower! :-) Obviously, her naturally-paced speech is the main benefit!

Doing the vocab part more than once is a big waste of time for me; but I need to do the sentences 3 or more times to feel like I get anything out of it. So overall, just listening to the Audio Review multiple times is not efficient and in fact deeply frustrating. 怎么办?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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iaing
July 26, 2012, 12:15 AM

I gave up on the audio review files a long while ago. Mainly because they contain English.

It is better just to click on the expansion tab for each lesson and listen to the Mandarin (only). Most of the audio review files don't contain all the expansion sentences, anyway (so I find it better all around to use the expansion).

If your goal is speaking / shadowing, recommend doing full sentences at aichinese.com. This corrects your tones and pronunciation automatically as well.

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anthony93

So cool...thanks for this suggestion!

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podster
July 26, 2012, 03:41 AM

I have exactly the same experience; I can usually handle the vocabulary part of the audio review, but the sentence generation stumps me every time; I usually can't generate the sentence in the first place, and then after I hear it I am not given enough time to repeat it.  I agree that longer pauses would help, something similar to the Pimsleur recordings.  I am not completely sure about having the sentence repeated though.  I think maybe the point of the exercise is being able to generate the sentence, not being able to mimic he recording.

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SF_Rachel

Mmmm, over time I've come to feel that they can't possibly expect sentence generation. (For one thing, I think the Chinese part would be spoken more slowly; but I'm very glad it's not). The pauses are way way WAY too short to actually think (much less even say the phrase, as I've said). And anyway, the sentences are originally generated in Chinese and then translated to English, and the translations are many times pretty distant from any kind of literal meaning; they'll swap one Chinese set phrase for a very different English collocation.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a beef with the translations -- I think they give you a nice sense of how various set phrases "feel." But you simply can't be expected to hear the English and guess exactly which set of Chinese words are going to be the "right" answer in that less. Even at the Elementary levels there's just too many ways to skin the cat, and of course once you get higher up the poor cat is entirely doomed.

So once I came to that conclusion, I took to making sure I didn't even bother with the audio review until I had read through the expansion carefully, and in fact will try to have the Expansion page up to read from.

Re: Pimsleur, yes I sometimes feel that my discomfort with the Audio Review pacing is based on my having gotten "spoiled" by Pimsleur's maybe-too-long pauses, as I completed the Pimsleur course before I started with ChinesePod. But even trying to give ChinesePod the benefit of the doubt pedagogically (maybe the super-fast pacing is based on trying to train us to "stop thinking"; or study under pressure creates better results in the wild, etc.), the pauses are just crazy short. I can't help but suspect that even a native speaker would have to bring a nimble tongue plus their "A game" in terms of concentration to repeat that stuff back or even shadow effectively.

Of course, I theoretically have the option of hitting the pause button, or doing the sentences one at a time from the expansion page. But that's less useful partly because I DO value the enforced discipline of having to respond in an achievably short interval, but also because I'd like to study these hands-free when I'm driving, cooking a meal, slopping the hogs, whatever.

It's a shame, because they obviously put some resources into producing the audio review and making it available for download in the first place (and it's one of the perks of a full subscription, of course). And it just feels like a little tweak in the pacing would make a HUGE difference in useability. Are they significantly saving on server space or bandwidth with shorter pauses???

Oh well, I said I didn't want to complain and here I am whining after all. So much for trying to stay positive! I'm still hoping to hear from someone who DOES find the audio review useful and has some tips.

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chris

Rachel, I totally understand where you're coming from, particularly the point about many ways to skin a cat. However, this is the very aspect I like. I like to be forced quickly in my mind come up with a Chinese way of saying the English and then seeing if my guess is anywhere near what cpod came up with. If it is, great. If not, then I console myself that a native might still be able to understand me....

The short spaces are necessary because that's how it works in real life unless you go all clint eastwood and actually think in Chinese, ie when I speak Chinese I am first thinking in English then immediately translating in my head before speaking the Chinese. My problem is actually listening comprehension, I'm a rare breed in that my speaking is way ahead of my listening !

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chris

I should clarify that this process of trying to quickly come up with a Chinese version of the English becomes a bit too difficult in the time available at UI level.

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root
July 26, 2012, 01:53 PM

The audio review files work okay for shadowing on newbie and elementary levels, with the exception of being completely blindsided when new sentences are being thrown at you without warning. It seems they designed a very strict one-way pattern -- listen to the lesson, do the expansion and exercises on the website, then listen to the audio review. If you deviate from this, you cannot use review mp3 for sentence production / shadowing at all.

My most successful audio file use approach was to put the on the Pimsleur schedule -- on day 1(day after lesson), day 5, day25, and day 90. This way a daily playlist includes one lesson, and four reviews, when things are rolling, half hour total, or so. And using the graduated interval I don't end up overloading , while still being able to choose lessons in any order I like and not rely on per-programmed review as part of later lessons vocab. This worked well for a while...

However, by the time i got to the intermediate level, sentences are too long anyway, even if I do follow this pattern. Playlists started running up to 50 min long, and motivation dropped to almost zero. So yea, I've found it a bit of a waste, too :(

I really do wish somebody paid attention to teaching methods, rather than throwing everyone into the sea of content and telling them "now learn how to swim, grasshoppers". Seriously people, there is enough content, both lessons, and sentences, just organize them into a useful review combined with test !!

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SF_Rachel

Yes, the sentence length at Intermediate was what first caused me to about give up on the Audio Review.

"...now learn to swim, grasshoppers!" LOL very funny. (Of course, that's how I actually learned to swim....) There's something to that actually, with comprehensible input. I think that's most people's experience with graduating levels at ChinesePod -- a little bit of fearlessness will see you through to where it feels comfortable again.

I'm probably cool with ChinesePod keeping a loosey-goosey overall approach to methods, since it's one of the things that makes the whole service "on your terms" i.e. flexible. I just question whether this tool has a particular goal in mind for me to get something from.

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root

Early levels of audio reviews are excellent, short sentences, you can remember them, they are actually much closer to the much hyped "lexical chunks" idea. And they are sort of like Pimsleur chunks -- all imminently possible and very useful to remember. Longer sentences I don't really see the value in remembering exactly. Sometimes I produce a different wording from what they imagined, and then shadowing seems like a bit of a waste. I understand the desire for a "free-for-all" approach ends up being a "no way to use" for me :( I think the freedom to explore should be exactly that -- not being forced to remember a long sentence that is only possible to learn using one place on the website (expansion page).

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bodawei
July 26, 2012, 04:11 PM

Rachel - I'm working on the lesson bank now but I just want to go on the list of people who find the Audio Review useful; I like the pauses after the English to see if I can structure an answer properly. I pretend I'm an interpreter. 

I think CP has a big challenge coping with poddies with various learning styles, diverse levels, and different contexts (eg. where you're living.) They can't please everyone. I do hope that they do not increase the pauses but it won't be the end of my world if they do. They have made many changes over the years.  

From my perspective I find my fellow poddies here much more perfectionist than I am - eg. 'I don't have time to say my sentence' and 'you're never going to get it right'). I think an answer and check with what the Chinese speaker says - if they say it differently I learn something. If I am way off, no big deal.

While I am not a perfectionist (in this respect), I want to know how it's said naturally; I'm not just trying to be understood.  

As you say, there are many different ways to say something, but understanding the range of acceptable possibilities only comes from years of learning. 

I am constantly hearing new ways of saying things here in China, about the most simple things, even calling out to the driver so you can get off a bus. What, are they making it up as they go along? They probably are. :) 

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SF_Rachel

You make an excellent point about perfectionism, and I know I've actually given others the same advice so I ought to listen to that myself, eh?

That being said, a number that gets thrown around a lot is aiming for 80% of goal (rather than 100%) to avoid perfectionism. With the audio review, I probably manage to get 50% of a sentence out, and unfortunately way less than that if I'm trying to multi-task at all.

It's weird in a way, isn't it, that the Audio Review leaves me feeling more tongue-tied than on the occasions when I get to speak Chinese to my handful of Taiwanese friends here? They're certainly more patient with and generous to me than I am to myself, but then again the situations are less canned so a bit more challenging.

I'm trying to psych myself up to join a combined English / Mandarin Toastmasters group locally; that would help if I can make myself do it.

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bodawei

'aiming for 80%'

that's good. sometimes I get nothing out and I can live with that (low standards.)

A maths teacher used to say to me 'aim for 100 and you'll get 80, aim for 80 and you'll get 60, aim for 60 and you'll fail'. Actually he was wrong about a number of things so don't take it to heart, but maybe you should aim for 100. :)

'to join a combined English / Mandarin Toastmasters group locally'

That's great! All the best with that.

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adam_p_lax
July 27, 2012, 04:26 AM

Well for me, I find the sentences in the audio review a good way to put the words into context and learn useful phrases. Also, I think it helps learn to chunk words in your speech as in not just learn one word at a time but rather get down to being able to, at a more natural speed, put together sentences. This is why learning and listening over and over again to those sentences as well as parts of the dialogue can help you to mentally chunk words so you can be speaking at a faster more natural speed. I always check the website expansion section first to review the sentences that will be in the audio review and sometimes read them while i hear the sentences in the audio review. So I think you have to listen and read the sentences a few times before you can get them down. But I do think its worthwhile to do.

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chris

Yep, the context point is incredibly important particularly at the lower levels up to Intermediate. There is little point in learning new vocab or grammar patterns if you can't then put them into context and actual usage.

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root
July 27, 2012, 04:27 AM

Just a note -- I was a big fan audio review mp3s, but -- the format has not changed since 2005. Can anyone remember 2005 -- no iphones!!?? And yet we are still stuck with the same format?

I know, I know, the podcast format is doing extremely well, with the two hosts, the banter, lexical chunks and all. But the audio review , in my opinion , has not fared well at all. Its purpose is to review vocab, lexis (the emphasis of this website, as of 2005-2009), and sentences. It is inferior to SRS for vocab, has little lexis coverage, and fails on full sentences, starting at intermediate level. If there's one place where CPod has not kept pace with tech advancement -- it is audio review. They were wonderful in 2005 for newbies, woefully outdated now :(

Just a comment, I used to love review mp3s, listened to about 700 in my term. But, considering they are just a computer-generated sequences of sentence mp3, now with iphones and all -- there should be a much better way to do review the same exact content!! Sadly, i've had to move off to other sites with better lexis-based testing, but nobody can match the quality and amount of CPod content :( If only they could invest just a little bit of time into test / review function development, we would all be speaking at advanced level by now!! Sorry, /end{rant}

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pretzellogic

I agree with you. A little time spent here upgrading the Fix as you suggested would be a significant benefit in maintaining what mandarin we've learned.

It is interesting. The basic structure/format of the lessons hasn't really changed either. That's good for year-over-year lesson creation. Also gives students predictability over all 1800 lessons or so about what to expect regarding lesson content and structure. But yeah, enhanced focus on review would be really helpful. The methodologies already exist, and its unfortunate that cpod hasnt done more in this area.

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SF_Rachel

Root, great summary. Bottom line, ChinesePod continues to do well at what they choose to do well at, i.e., what fits within their mission of providing "lots of great content." I don't think they ever claimed to have much of a focus on (or possibly even belief in) drilling, and this conversation has really helped bring into focus for me the fact that I have been looking for speaking drills to replace actual, you know, TALKING to people! :-)

The large volume of excellent audio and reading content that ChinesePod has not only made available but made easy for me to digest has made a world of difference in my comprehension skills, and I'm very grateful for it. Ultimately suppose I should look at Audio Reviews above the Ellie level as another one-way input tool and NOT an interactive exercise or drilling tool, and consider myself on my own to find some resources to "use it or lose it."

Someone at the top of the thread suggested AI Chinese and maybe I'll take a fresh look at that. Frankly though I'm indifferent to their primary selling point, the feedback from the computerized voice analysis of my accent. I'm not terribly worried about faithfully reproducing individual phonemes (not that I'm perfect, either). I am just primarily looking to improve my confidence and cultivate an ability to blurt out lexical chunks at speed with a reasonably natural cadence. I would gladly sacrifice some pronunciation accuracy on that altar (or perhaps a goat, should one happen to be handy).

I suspect that when I speak Chinese I sound like my 6 year old niece when she's reading (English) out loud phonetically: she more or less gets all the sounds right, but she's clearly producing a stream of isolated phonemes and not yet able to put them together to give them life.

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jennyzhu

SF_Rachel,

Thank you for starting a very interesting and worthy discussion! You said in your original post that your speaking is far behind your reading and listening and that you need the audio review badly. But I'd suggest that you might want to try increase your chances of speaking than relying on listening. And it might be helpful to analyze and rank the major obstacles to your ability to speak, e.g. is it tones, is it structures, is it vocabulary? Of course, the audio review itself has lots of room for improvement.

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chris

This is interesting. As I mentioned above, my speaking ability is way ahead of my listening comprehension. I've just been giving this some thought..... I am fortunate in that I live in SH so have no shortage of native people to speak with. However, because I am so nervous about not understanding the other person, I subconsciously do whatever I can to stop them talking - and this invariably takes the form of me trying to talk for longer to not give them the opportunity to speak. And because I am speaking with natives, they will often be able to understand me even if some tones are off or some grammar not quite right. Over the years, this means my speaking has had far more practice than my listening, which I now think is why my listening lags so badly. I often confuse people by the fact that I can say something quite long and grammatically complicated for a few minutes, but when they reply with something really simple I have to ask over and over again for them to repeat it slowly.

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SF_Rachel

Jenny, thanks so much for weighing in. You're absolutely right. I do realize that I'm looking for a mere exercise when obviously what I need to do is get out and talk to people.

As easy as it is for any of us to talk about any weaknesses of the Audio Review, one huge strength that it has is that *it exists* (thank you!), so I was originally hoping for some ideas so I could actually put the tool that's there to work for me.

I think my primary speaking obstacle is really confidence. I'm tongue-tied in the wild. Thanks to ChinesePod (with a shout-out to Anki) my vocabulary is pretty solid, and I think my tones and pronunciation of individual words are okay, but the words don't jump into my mouth when I want to speak. And even when I read pre-written stuff out loud the overall cadence doesn't sound natural. Obviously a lot of those problems tend to evaporate if you BEGIN and get some practice. So I am looking for some things (like the English / Mandarin Toastmasters group, though I also need something much smaller in scale). A teacher is unfortunately prohibitively expensive for me at this time.

That being said, I personally have always found drilling in private to be a huge confidence-booster. I trained pretty seriously as a musician in my youth and it's possible this training has affected my thinking: once you've drilled all your scales and arpeggios into total submission they're automatically at your command when you're under performance pressure, right? While I'm aware that in a lot of current language acquisition circles there's some skepticism around the effectiveness of drilling, my own opinion is that in combination with other tools it does help.

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root

I also enjoy the 'on your own terms' aspect of the audio reviews, and the general direction of CPod. This emphasis was the main reason for signing up, being able to do lessons and then review all fully 100% on my schedule. Too bad recently it seems the site's emphasis is on Skype lessons, which have to be scheduled, and more expensive to boot.

As far as sentence - based drilling, I am really hoping CPod can partner with iKnow.jp, they have a marvelous system, combination of SRS, typing in pinyin for quizzes, hearing excellent short sentences , and , surprisingly enough, having a picture with each sentence. It works very well, in the last year Ive had many a vocab term bubble up from the example sentences!!

Please please please let us export CPod sentences there automatically, this would be just so cool!

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chris

I agree that the ability to export the Expansion sentences into Anki or similar (like you can do with Vocabulary) would be excellent. I currently have the HSK Levels 1-4 sentences in my Anki deck, but they are archaic and some of the language is very 1970-80s!

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root

Yea, but I'm not holding my breath on this. Someone mentioned earlier that management decision is not to allow customers direct access to sentence mp3s, so this kind of export is not too likely. This means we have to rely on built-in tools to access them, such as audio review mp3, and new iPad app (aside from the website, but, honestly, who uses websites these days?)

So... Audio review not being useful at or above intermediate, all the hope is are for an excellent iPad app, or a collaboration with an excellent 3rd party sentence based review service. Personally i think the collab is more realistic on the technical level, here's crossing my fingers and wishing on a a star!!

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chris

I mainly use the website on my laptop, just find it an easier way to study since I still use a lot of paper and pen (can't shake the studying habits i picked up at school 20 years ago!). Did get an iPad but don't use it much since functionality is too poor for my job. I basically just use my cellphone for flashcards.

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tingyun
July 30, 2012, 12:35 AM

I also face the problem of practicing without living in China...for speaking drills, I highly prefer mimicking dialogues over doing the audio review or focussing too much on creating sentences oneself.

You've raised a good point about the difficulty of accurately mimicking, and the tendency to miss some of what was said, or the subtleties of the rythm...but i think its really a combination of two factors, first it skill that you can develop, the more you mimick the better you'll get, and second, your familarity with what is being said. I think mimicking is probably only effective when youve first listened to the material, in addition to improving accuracy, this means that you know what you are trying to say in the entire sentence at the same time as you pronounce each part, which probably helps absorption (if for example you arent clear what is being said until hafway through the sentence, then i doubt mimicking that first half will lead to good practice in the use of those words, as you were just mindlessly producing sounds, rather than using the audio to guide you in constructing a sentence based around an idea you know you are communicating)

I usually mimick the same audio dialogues 10-20 times over an extended period, sometimes more...Especially for refining subtle points and really putting the material into fully automatic unconcious use, I really think the first couple of times are just like listening first, a sort of prep for the real learning.

It takes a bit too kick in, but it really seems to create the ability to unconciously and effortlessly speak when it starts kicking in...

Obviously some practice is needed in putting sentences together, but once you've mimicked alot, it becomes a whole different and better operation - instead of building your sentences up word by word in your mind, it becomes building a sentence out of 2 or 3 big chunks of words that you've mimicked enough to have absorbed fully. And thus there are only 1 or 2 real pauses or breaks in your speach,nwhich tend to occur at a break in the meaning, which is also where native speakers tend to have a slight pause...so I really think, first mimick alot, then practice talking, repeat for new kinds of language...

Cpod dialogues work great, and If you have good reading skills, tv shows might be an even better material, paying half attention to the subtitles gives you a clue to whats coming up and all, and this means they can be more effectivly used without previewing the material, unlike pure audio dialogues. though probably the costume dramas, with their relativly steady slow speech and standard accents, are the best choice (sometimes a little more formal than usual, but really not something to worry about, with he exception of heavy useof chengyu there really isnt much different about the basic way they build sentences and such, for the vast majority of charecters in most shows)

Also, i think switching your daily planning, thinking, day dreaming over to chinese is a great way to get a free extra couple of hours of practice every day. Its esecially useful once youve asorbed enough chunks of meaning to escape the sort of word by word concious approach, but also probably useful to help that process along. I think one of the best speaking drills is just daydreaming in chinese (especially when your throat is tired from hours of mimicking tv shows) ;)

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toianw
July 30, 2012, 06:07 AM

Personally, I'd prefer to see the audio review focus on the dialogue rather than the expansion sentences. I'd like to have a convenient tool for mimicking the dialogue (which I've already spent some time learning and listening to) section by section. Ideally, each line of the dialogue would be broken down into several chunks, so I could mimic the chunks one by one. Then the chunks could be put together to give us a realistic (achievable) chance of producing the whole line after listening to the Chinese.

At the moment, I don't find the audio review useful for two main reasons (in addition to the difficulty issue raised by Rachael):

1. I don't spend much time working with the expansion sentences themselves. Just read through once to get more of a feel for how each word/phrase is used and its scope.  (I know I could solve this by changing my study focus, but I just feel that learning new vocab and then listening lots of times to the dialogue only audio file is most efficient for me). So I’d rather the review focus on the things I’ve spent my time learning.  

2. Once you get to an intermediate level and beyond, I'm not sure how useful it is to be able to quickly translate something from English into Chinese (unless you're training to be an interpreter). Our aim is ultimately to be able to produce Chinese without first thinking in English and then translating our thoughts into Chinese. Yet the current audio review seems to promote just that skill.

A compromise might be to make more use of chunking in the vocab section. For example in the recent "Fan Death" lesson 得出 and 结论 are reviewed separately. It makes more sense to me to review these together as one chunk 得出结论。

Anyway - just my thoughts. I appreciate that Chinesepod has to cater to a lot of different folks and I'm just one of many users. Enjoy your studies, everyone!

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chris

Couldn't agree more on your point about not first thinking in English and then translating the thoughts into Chinese. I am finding that particular skill especially hard to master. I do know I'm improving, but I don't know whether I'm improving because I'm now thinking in Chinese before I speak or whether it's because I'm getting faster at doing the translation in my head! If I'm honest, it's the latter. But how to tell?!

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SF_Rachel

Yes, I also agree completely about English => Chinese translation exercises not being a particularly good idea at Intermediate or above for the same reason.

You bring up a good point about questioning why the audio review focuses so much on the expansion. I love the expansion sentences, but they themselves really are not going to work as speaking drills in any case.

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toianw

Hi Chris. If you're finding it difficult to tell, then that can only be a good sign! Actually, I think from a relatively early stage of learning - especially if you're living in China - we subconciously START to interpret and use the language without needing to translate. An obvious example is numbers which you're using day-in day-out, but also conversations that you're famlar with (ordering a coffee or directing a taxi driver to your house) - you probably don't have to think in English first and then translate. It's only when we're in unfamiliar terratory that we start to rely on our mother language. It will come gradually, but I find a good way to speed along the process is just to force yourself to think in Chinese for a short time each day. For example, reflect on your say or run through your plans for the day or think about an interesting film you watched. All the best...

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chris

Good ideas mate. I know I made the reference higher up this thread, but this so reminds me of that Clint Eastwood movie (think it was called Firefox) where he had to think in Russian in order to fly the MiG jet!

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root

Hah, good one! With improved audio review methods we would all be able to fly Chinese J10 then!