One Month Challenge: How To Change Your Chinese Learning Habits in 30 Days
May31

One Month Challenge: How To Change Your Chinese Learning Habits in 30 Days

Lacking motivation? Keep putting off that Chinese study? Haven’t learnt a new character since you bought that World of Warcraft expansion pack? One month challenges are for you. I first heard about them online a couple of months ago, I think in a psychology journal (I can’t remember which, sorry!). Anyway, I read that habits are formed in around 30 days (less in some people), and that by setting yourself a goal of doing a specific task every day for a month, we are likely to assimilate it into our life as one of our everyday activities. So, armed with this newfound knowledge, I set out precisely one month ago on my first One Month Challenge: to get 1 hour of Chinese input a day. Studying seriously becomes so much easier when it becomes a habit. Lemme explain. What is a habit? And why do we have them? People like to believe that they have absolute free will over their actions and behaviours. That they are the one master of their destiny. In reality, most of our behaviour is hardwired into our subconscious – we don’t notice, of course, but a lot of what we do is governed, and explicable by reference to these unconscious processes of the brain. An example of this is psychological addictions, such as addiction to drugs such as marijuana that, chemically, have no physically addictive qualities. Specific behaviours develop and strengthen over time. In order to use it to its full potential, we must recognise that the brain is a muscle that must be trained, just like the muscles needed to physically carry out the brain’s messages. The reason you cannot immediately play a guitar the first time you pick it up is not only because your fingers can’t physically perform the required movements, but also because your brain doesn’t have the capacity to do so yet. Over time, your fingers develop ‘muscle memory’ that allows them to quickly snap from chord to chord. Your brain simultaneously develops the neural connections associated with playing the guitar, without which you would not be able to play. We can extend this to the question of why people procrastinate. Why do they seem unable to stop themselves? In case you don’t see where I’m going with this, I’ll spell it out for you: they have gotten into the habit of procrastinating and cannot just simply, well, stop. They need to train their subconscious to ignore the temptation, and their conscious mind will follow. How does this apply to learning Chinese? We are creatures of habit. If you can commit to doing a bit of Chinese every day...

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Short Post: When Your Speaking Is Better Than Your Listening
May28

Short Post: When Your Speaking Is Better Than Your Listening

Hey guys, Just a quick update from me. First of all, thanks for all the positive feedback I received from you regarding my guest post over at Sam’s blog Lingholic! Much appreciated. One comment on my post was by a guy saying how he didn’t seem to have much difficulty speaking, but did not have a high level of comprehension. Now, this is quite strange, but not unusual. Strange, because, well, it is weird to be able to say something, but not understand the same thing then being said back to you. In a language like Chinese, where grammatical accuracy and correct pronunciation and tones are imperative to speak the language well, this does set up some warning bells in my head. I can’t really see how it is possible to speak well if you can’t understand. This is because it is only through a serious amount of listening and reading that one can speak properly. We have to be copycats at the start. You can’t just ‘speak’. Here is the comment and my reply: Listening is especially important in beginning stages, as you lay down the foundations for language acquisition. Grammar and pronunciation mistakes, or incorrect tones, in particular, can be particularly tedious to fix once set in stone, or once you’ve been saying it incorrectly for a while. Seriously, you’re better off putting in the time and getting it right from the start. I still have trouble with the word 方便. I know now that the tones are ‘fāngbiàn’, but after ages of saying ‘fàngbiān’, I often incorrectly say it as my brain has somewhat solidified this incorrect pattern. Do it!...

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So, what if they only wanna speak English?
May23

So, what if they only wanna speak English?

Ah, the classic problem amongst most Western language learners. This is known colloquially amongst the language learning community as the ‘language power struggle’. Speaking English is both a blessing and a curse in this world, particularly if it is your native language. If English is your first language – then hey, you just won the jackpot, as long as you’re not interesting in learning any other languages. If this is you, (and I don’t know why you’re reading this blog), then congrats, you speak the current de facto language of the world in most arenas such as business, science, medicine, etc, and can probably get by in life without too much difficulty. Wait, what’s that you say? You want to speak another language? Well, compared to someone who speaks some random language (any Patuá speakers out there?) that no one knows or cares about, you are at a disadvantage, and that’s just tough cookies.  Firstly, you will likely have far less motivation to do so, as it is unlikely to be necessary for your social or economic stability. If you speak English, you’re laughing, mate.  Secondly, chances are, the people whose langauge you’re trying to learn speak better English than you speak their language, and so in order to promote efficiency of communication, the language used will by default be the one that is easiest, or the one that both parties are best at. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that in many countries (such as France), speaking English is cool. Often, too, overzealous parents or government programs have forced the kids to learn English since they learnt to walk, resulting in one of three scenarios: They want to speak English with you to finally get some use out of the decade they spent learning English at school, and so will speak English to you.  They are convinced that learning English is essential to success (a belief common in China amongst young people) and so will, at all costs, speak English to you. They want to get out of their shitty country, and see English as their first-class ticket, and will speak English to you. Now, this becomes increasingly annoying/frustrating when the person involved has delusions of grandeur in relation to their English speaking ability, and they actually suck.  Although I have perhaps been guilty of this myself in the past, in some dark, far off time, and so me saying this is a bit hypocritical, but one of my pet peeves is when people insist on freeloading and speaking English to someone in a country that is not English-speaking, when they are trying to learn the language of the country...

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Launched my YouTube Channel – and decided to do a video in French (with subtitles)

So, I started up a YouTube channel that will primarily be used to talk about learning Chinese. However, I decided to do a little introduction video in French, as it is the language I know the best (apart from English). Don’t worry, though, there are subtitles – so you can all understand! Also, now you guys have some proof my advice works, or at least that it did for...

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NEWBIES: So you wanna learn a language?
May17

NEWBIES: So you wanna learn a language?

Okay, so, I realise that a lot of the content on this blog, like the content of other language learning blogs, is crazily nerdy and likely incomprehensible to those not already in ‘the language game’ due to references to things like ‘SRS’, ‘Massive Comprehensible Input’, ‘Silent Period’, ‘Reps’, ‘Learning vs Acquisition’, and the like. The reality is that a lot of traffic coming to this blog and others are probably the product of a single Google search by a normal person, meaning someone who isn’t as geeky as some of us. I’m also willing to concede that most readers probably have a vague interest at best. Fair enough, too. In any case, let me fill you guys in. So, you want to learn a language? I understand that it may seem to newcomers like there is a huge learning curve involved in simply understanding what the hell we’re all on about. Which is ironic, really, as these ‘language’ terms are concepts intended to help people learn languages. The first thing I’d like to say to people learning a second language for the first time is that you can definitely do it!  No matter your goal, either complete fluency or a survival level of the target language, you can achieve it. I have distinct memories of myself stressing hard about learning French, and doubting that I would ever be able to speak it fluently. There just seemed to be so much to learn. But trust me, you can do it. The number one rule is that you need to enjoy yourself. Enjoy the learning process. If you are too worried about the outcome, you will fail. Find some interesting beginner content, and get listening, reading and learning the vocab! I recommend the ‘Who Is She’ series available at LingQ. It is a short story consisting of about 20 even shorter parts that introduces a lot of necessary beginner vocabulary. What’s better, is that it is available in most languages LingQ offer (a lot), so this is a great starting point for learners of any language. I usually begin learning a language by listening to these. Rather than focusing on the outcome, of fluency, or whatever: set yourself mini goals. At the beginning, maybe this will be learning the 30 most common words by the end of the week. Learn all of the words in Part 1 of Who Is She, for example. The best way to start is just by starting. Seems simple, but a lot of people get anxious about feeling lost about where to start and give up before they’ve begun. Get some learning materials, and just get started....

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