Top 12 Best Practices for learning with Cpod
Some of these practices are common sense and well known, others are relatively unknown, and a few are picked up after awhile. But after seeing what worked here, getting feedback from existing users and searching the boards after a few years of subscribing, talking with fluent and native speakers, here’s what seems to work for users that want to seriously learn Chinese reasonably well (or any language for that matter). These 12 are a collection of various study strategies that subscribers said worked for them at various times. Notwithstanding the usual disclaimers around “everyone’s learning styles being different”, these recommendations will offer you working Chinese if you put them into practice and stick with them:
1. Put the time in: 1 hour per day minimum or more. Don’t bother with a couple of minutes here and there. You’ll only end up forgetting that little bit you practiced, and have to learn it all over again.
2. Constant pace: no 3 hours on one day, then nothing for 2 weeks: almost the same thing as in number 1, but here, you stress study over weeks and months.
3. Shadow like crazy: thanks to Simonpettersson, I was introduced to this method, and though it’s challenging, it also works. A practice discussed at length by Antonio Arguelles, this is a method that requires you to speak over a lesson so that you hear yourself making the same pronunciation as the speaker. One of the greatest reasons to have a Cpod subscription is that it allows you to download lessons into a portable format and shadow.
4. Speak out LOUD – worth it. Thinking along with the lesson is not the speaking practice you think it is. Hearing yourself make verbal mistakes with the cpod lesson is valuable feedback, and why cpod is a very valuable tool.
5. 10 new words/day- challenging, but doable. Going through a cpod lesson at the newbie level is probably giving you 10 new words at first, then less than 10 words.
6. Review and consolidate regularly - probably need to do this weekly at least, maybe daily for more effectiveness.
7. Practice speaking to others – speaking forces you to put together sentences that are of your own making, forcing you to work though grammar and sentence structure. All good practice.
8. First time learners: DO NOT USE PINYIN AT FIRST – fluent speakers that learned well recommended this approach, and I buy it. Nothing destroys tones faster than learning pinyin as a starting point. Best to learn using Chinese pod lessons, and listen to them over and over. I recommend 100 hours worth of listening time before even looking at pinyin. After 100 hours, pinyin is a helpful tool on the path toward mandarin understanding. Not before. I remember the first time I heard zhun3 bei4 in a lesson, and seeing it in pinyin was significantly different from what I thought the pronunciation was. Further, native speaking Chinese kids do not learn pinyin at first either.
9. Goto China, or at least plan to go to China – nothing motivates deeper study of Chinese faster than planning a trip to China. Once you realize you’re going to China, you move from casual interest to “holy cow, I’m going to need this!” shifts into overdrive.
10. Speaking first, characters second - only focus on the characters first if you can pick up characters with as much speed as you can pick up spoken words.
11. Integrate speed and accents over time - technique over speed.
12. Get an mp3 player. I can’t bring myself to use the “i” word but using the cpod lessons on the go makes reviewing, speaking out loud, putting the time in, constant pace, and shadowing easier. In fact, it’s really hard to shadow correctly without an mp3 player.
ohmyg0dAugust 01, 2010, 11:48 AM
Don't worry about the tones. They are not sooooo important, only single character like 问/吻 must be spoken with care. Just try to imitate what you hear, it's difficult enough.
10 words per day? Maybe too much to do EVERY day. 70 per week is a really impressive number. Go down to 5 per day, 35 per week, but do it right.
On the tone thing; In practice, I agree with you 100%. I've been told by Chinese teachers that "they know what I mean" when I casually throw tones around. But my reply to them has been, "you get in the taxi cab with some dude who just wants to know where to drive you, and then you forget what to say, and you will know tones go right out the window"
Maybe add a sentence along the lines of "10 words per day, to 25-50 words per week"? In practice, very few people are able to maintain 70 words/week for more than a couple of weeks. Or at least no one on this site reported that many, although a couple of people were on track to do so. Plus, I suspect learning Chinese is your full time job at that rate.
I don't agree. Tones are the reason people don't understand you and that you don't understand them.
replacement for No. 10. Learn reading characters early. They are the key to understanding this language and of utmost importance when it comes to deal with the abundance of homonyms.
No. 13. Be aware that it does takes years if not decades - especially if you are a part time learner outside of China.
abelleAugust 01, 2010, 04:04 PM
When I first began learning Chinese, I didn't pay attention to the tones. In the Chinese 101 class, I got by without learning them well, probably because it was a large enough class that the laoshi at that time didn't really focus on me. Now in Chinese 102, we have a small class and I think I am the student with the worst tones when speaking. This new laoshi (from Taiwan) is always correcting my tones when I speak. In fact, one day the assistant head of the Chinese language department sat in on our class and later she specifically told my laoshi that I really have to work on the tones. Now I know that tones are REALLY important and I have to work on them seriously.
I think one of the more interesting aspects of the cpod 5-year anniversary celebration is the opportunity to hear cpod students use their developing Chinese. We can hear everybody's Chinese for better or worse, and see how these tones are coming along!
simonpetterssonAugust 03, 2010, 02:07 PM
Finally getting around to writing something on this super-awesome post. Some comments:
Number three (shadowing): First of all, I recall the professor's name as Alexander Arguelles, not Antonio. Second, I'd add that it's not just about pronunciation of individual phonemes (not that you said it is), but perhaps more importantly of rhythm, pace and prosody. The most common problem with pronunciation of foreign languages is prosody (though perhaps in Mandarin it's the tones).
Number four (speak out loud): I don't agree at all. I think speaking out loud should be postponed as far as is practical. Lots and lots of listening before pronouncing out loud is a good way to get good pronunciation. When you get to the stage where you want to begin speaking out loud, first do lots of shadowing and only then start trying to "speak for yourself".
Number five (ten words a day): With SRS ten words a day is a piece of cake. I did about thirty a day for several months during my vocab sprint. SRS won't get them into your active vocabulary, but only your passive one. If we're talking active vocab, ten a day is a challenge.
Number six (review): Once again SRS. I loves it.
Number seven (speak to others): As said before, I think this should be postponed if possible. If you need to practice creating sentences, this can be done by "thinking in Mandarin". I'm not sure if that's best postponed as well, though.
Number eight (don't use pinyin at first): I think what should be avoided at first is speaking based on pinyin, without any audio to mimic. What you want to do is to as quickly as possible associate pinyin with the real pronunciation. This can be done by the method you suggest (not using pinyin at all in the beginning), but I think purposefully working on pairing pinyin with the actual sounds might also work.
Number nine (go to China): I think "Plan to go to China" is a better idea than "Go to China". If possible, I'd suggest learning Chinese for at least a year or maybe two before actually going to China. You'll have little use of the opportunities until you're at least Intermediate, anyway, and as I said, I believe early speaking might be detrimental to good pronunciation.
Number ten (speaking before characters): I'm not sure one way or the other, but I'd in any case obviously replace "speaking" with "listening".
Okay, so some of this stuff might seem weid to some people. Here's my "ideal" method in brief:
Work on listening comprehension at first. Don't say anything, just work on listening. You can do reading as well, but I suspect, as Pretzel suggests, that it's best left behind for at least a few months. Don't worry at all about producing language, just consume it.
Do this until you're comfortable watching movies in Mandarin. Yes, this will likely take well over a year, maybe two or three. Or even more, depending on circumstances.
Now do shadowing like crazy. Work with dialogues and do it until you're able to follow a dialogue at natural speed (UI level and above) in about ten listen-throughs.
Then go to China. Open your mouth and start working on producing language. Ask people to correct any mistakes in your pronunciation.
This is, I believe, the method that will minimize your foreign accent.
Number 4: simon, not sure why you'd want to wait even one day to start attempting speaking based on what you've heard. But I suppose I don't have data either way that supports speaking based on listening right off the bat. I certainly didn't say start speaking Chinese right as soon as you've downloaded the first cpod lesson. It would be an interesting experiment to see if accurate language acquisition is verifiably acquired faster than delaying speaking.
Well, here's the theory behind it: The brain controls the speech organs based on the sound they are to produce, not based on which muscles are used. That means that the brain must first form an accurate image of what a sound is supposed to sound like before it can decide on how to use the speech organs to form that sound. This requires a lot of listening. Think of how much listening a child does before starting to speak.
Early speaking will, because of this, be inaccurate. Your own speaking quickly becomes habit, though, and the brain will tell the speech organs to make those inaccurate sounds it's gotten used to using. This is why you get immigrants who've been living in a country for 20 years and have a great command of it, but terrible pronunciation.
This theory is far from uncontroversial and might well be wrong. As far as I know, there are no comprehensive studies made in this area. If someone can point me to one, I might well change my mind.
Here's a quote from renowned linguist Stephen Krashen:
"The best methods are therefore those that supply 'comprehensible input' in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are 'ready', recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production." Stephen Krashen
For those present in the very early days of CPod, you might recognize the "comprehensible input" mantra used by Ken in every other podcast. I suspect Ken was heavily influenced by Krashen when he created ChinesePod.
I had a professor once who said stuff like, "Economists has Physics envy. In Physics, 3 laws describe 99% of what you see. In economics, 99 laws describe 3% of what you see". It was probably because his undergrad major was Physics, then he became an economist. I'm starting to think linguists belong in the economist category.
I remember Ken talking more about "lexical density" than anything else, but it was your reference to the portion around the cpod site that led me to Stephen Krashen. I casually looked at Stephen Krashen's research, and I guess I have more unanswered questions around language acquisition in general. But I understand linguists have plenty of unanswered questions and hypotheses as well.
Honestly, when looking for practical advice on second language acquisition, linguists aren't really the people to ask. The correct thing to do is to go to Polyglot Forums and check out what people there are saying. There are a plethora of methods there. You'll find both delay-speaking methods and early-output methods and both sides have their adherents. Accomplished polyglot Moses McCormick (not sure of the spelling on his last name) uses a method with very early output.
Thanks for the link. I do recall your original shadowing post of some months ago, and think I saw this polyglot forum around that time.
What I guess at this point I was hoping for was more peer-reviewed research around methods that are verified to be more effective than other methods. So far as I can tell, you're right, linguists don't seem to be interested in the effectiveness search. There doesn't seem to be much research around effectiveness, or i'm using the wrong search terms to find that. Even though I posted this "Best Practices" thread, I would love to see some evidence verified. Certainly, polyglot experiences should, and do count for plenty, but I am also thinking that there's a lot of chaff in this wheat somewhere.
ouyangjun116August 04, 2010, 11:09 AM
Different things work for different people and situations may differ. Based on my situation the following were the key things that got me to my level now:
My situation: I work and live in China. I started studying Chinese up on landing in China.
1) Learn Pinyin before anything else. This allows the whole language to make sense at first.
2) Shadow, Shadow, Shadow
3) Practice speaking Chinese every chance you get
4) Start to learn characters early (my biggest regret is that I waited 6 months into my studying to begin learning characters)
5) Focus on your tone (mine is still nowhere near where I want it to be)
6) Get a chinese girlfriend ;)
6) get a Chinese girlfriend: I've casually heard that the teacher/student relationship heads south as your Chinese girlfriend moves up the ladder to become your Chinese spouse. :) But of course, everyone is different, your mileage may vary.
Boy, I can't disagree more on the "learning pinyin" before anything else, but it would really be interesting to hear from people who learned pinyin first along with their Chinese pronunciation, then had to correct significant errors once they landed in China.
I'd like to recommend people to take a look at Mental Case, too. I paid a huge sum for Anki for iPhone only to find it didn't support creating new cards. That has been fixed now, but I still prefer Mental Case. Largely because it looks stunning, whereas Anki looks like someone threw up in my iPhone. And you still can't create new decks in Anki for iPhone.
matthiaskAugust 26, 2010, 12:35 PM
I still have to see if and how much it boosts my chinese, but I started to transfer the extension sentences into Anki, reading them out myself and let conny read them for me afterwards - all in anki ^_^.
The huge advantage is that the exposure of chinese characters in complete sentences feels way more dense than just single characters + you get a grip of the patterns.