Reflecting on 6 days of study

I’m nearly a week into studying Chinese, and I still haven’t settled into a rhythm. However, my study routine is slowly crystallizing as I find the most fun and efficient ways of studying.

One of the easiest part of my routine is doing flashcards. Early morning is prime flashcard time. It takes about 10 – 15 minutes to review all of my flashcards (I have 190 due tomorrow, so I expect that will take 15 – 20 minutes 🙁 ) and then about 45 – 60 minutes to learn 100 cards (for a total of 50 characters). I return to the flashcards later in the evening when the new ones come up for review. Although I start feeling restless and unfocused towards the end of learning those 50 new characters, I can still power through it because it’s fun and, compared to actively using the language, pretty damn easy (well, easy in the same way running a marathon is easy).

I should elaborate on how I do flashcards because I made a few modifications to both the anki deck I downloaded as well as the suggestions Heisig and Richardson give at the beginning of their text. I increased the font size for the characters dramatically so my old eyes can see them. I changed the font to one resembling written Hanzi better (it’s the one you see in textbooks). Then, I introduced links to wiktionary, yellowbridge, and several other useful sites for each character (the default deck links to a Remembering the Kanji/Hanzi site). This way, I can consult wiktionary for the definition,  etymology, and pronunciation help as well as yellowbridge’s stroke order. Heisig might make a mistake or use incorrect characters in another character’s composition, so using these two resources will be useful. Accessing them with a click of a button beats firing up the browser and doing a search each time:

How my Anki cards look
How my Anki cards look — the simplified character is at the bottom and I have blacked it up (I have to highlight it to see it). Normally, I have a mnemonic in the section that says “note: never right side” but since I had already seen this character in the RSH deck, I didn’t bother.

I did make one mistake which will cost me a bit. I download the Anki word list for Remembering the Simplified Hanzi (RSH). While I do have each RSH book, I am planning on learning the traditional characters mainly and revisiting the simplified ones later (or learning them via osmosis). Fortunately, most simplified and traditional characters are the same or closely related, so I will be transitioning to a deck with just traditional characters very soon (I used my modified traditional deck in the example picture).

John Defrancis’ Beginning Chinese Reader (BCR) has also been an easy and enjoyable part of my routine so far. I am only doing 1 lesson a day, so I only get introduced to 10 new characters and perhaps 5 – 10 character combinations (aka words) per day. I am surprised that I still have a passing familiarity with many of these characters; it has been around 10 years since I read any Chinese, and I only crammed those characters in for a final exam back then (I had decided that reading and writing Chinese was too time consuming given my full university course load). As a result, the early lessons have been easier than anticipated. So far, there have been few dialogs, which makes sense because I’ve only learned around 60 characters and even fewer words. To compensate, Heisig came up with a few interesting exercises like reading place names in Chinese and finding them on a map.

DeFrancis Exercise 3 Map
I promise it doesn’t look this blurry in real life. My laptop really should take better pictures for how much it cost :|.

I have been sticking to my goal of 1 Chinese grammar point a day… mostly. I’ve had to review the glossary in Claudia Ross’ Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar to re-familiarize myself with parts of speech. The chapter on basic word order and its accompanying exercises was fairly straightforward barring a few weird sentences. I will be learning about noun phrases tomorrow and then verbs the following days. I am so excited! I probably won’t rigidly stick to 1 grammar point per day once I have completed the first section of her text (the first section deals with all of Chinese’s parts of speech while the second delves into specific ways to use them i.e how to write a letter, how to introduce yourself, etc.). Instead, I will use it as a reference. I don’t think I would be able to use it as a reference if I didn’t spend the time going over the basic structure of the language now, so I am happy I chose to do it now. I haven’t been using John Pasden’s Chinese Grammar Wiki at all. I think I will save that for later!

Integrated Chinese… I did the first chapter today. It’s… OK. I have a feeling it is going to be a struggle to keep up with these books. The dialogs are stilted, the grammatical explanations are OK but not quite in conjunction with Claudia Ross’, a lot of words are introduced without first introducing the characters (this is one flaw I see in all texts including DeFrancis’ to a lesser extent), and there isn’t much reading, listening, or speaking material. That said, it follows a systematic approach that builds on earlier lessons, and all of the words and grammar introduced are sure to be high yield, so I am going to stick with it. However, it clearly wasn’t designed with self-learning in mind, which irritates me because so many other textbooks are. 1

My rapid tear through Glossika appears to be coming to an end. The first 200 – 300 sentences were quite easy. I’m at 550 or 600 and it’s now become a lot harder. I have been listening, reading, speaking, and transcribing (via keyboard, of course — I can’t write most of these characters) Glossika’s sentences using his Glossika Mass Sentence (GMS) method. Then, when I am walking, driving, or waiting, I listening to his Glossika Spaced Repetition (GSR) sentences of the same material. Instead of listening to the GSRs sequentially, I listening to day 5, day 10, etc. because those correspond to 50 sentences of new material. It is tempting, but dangerous, to listen to a bunch of GSRs in a row because it gives me the impression I am learning more than I actually am. I have only done 300 sentences using GMS but I have gone through twice that amount via GSR. Glossika certainly is helping my pronunciation, vocabulary, and recognition of basic grammar patterns, but there are many high level words I am encountering that I wish I had known beforehand. Further, the lack of grammar explanations combined with the colloquial and natural language has left me a bit flummoxed with a few sentences. Perhaps it would be wise to slow down the Glossika a bit and return once I have a stronger grip on grammar… but I’m not going to do the wise thing. The way I see it, it won’t hurt me to memorize a bunch of sentences and (hopefully) internalize their grammar and vocabulary. If it gets too difficult, I will slow down or stop for a bit until my other skills pick up.

I had planned on using Chinesepod extensively, but so far I have only used 2 lessons. I need to change that. I plan to create audio flashcards out of sentences I encounter in Chinesepod because I find the vocab, grammar, etc. they introduce is very useful but oh so easy to forget.

Interesting resources I’ve found this week:

  • Chairman’s Bao

Notes:

  1. I can learn math, chemistry, physics, etc. with many of the standard textbooks because they all use approximately the same pedagogy: introduce the concepts broadly, narrow in focus, provide a few example problems, give the student a few problems based on the example problems, and then have a million problems at the end of the chapter. These texts also have solutions manuals for sale. To my knowledge, no language textbooks do this, at least not the ones I purchased. My ideal language text would follow a similar pattern. Grammar point, examples of grammar in use, easy grammar questions for the student to solve based on the examples given (with answers at the back of the book), and a bunch of questions at the end of each chapter corresponding to specific grammar points/dialogues encountered earlier. As well, an in-depth solutions manual should be available to purchase. I understand there often isn’t a single right answer when it comes to language learning, but for specific grammar exercises there often is! And the solutions manual could provide two – three solutions per question as well without taking up too much paper. It is a shame that solutions to language texts and workbooks are only available in instructor editions, many of which can only be purchased if you are a verified university professor or language teacher. Bullshit.

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