Chinese Interview on SBS Mandarin
Nov09

Chinese Interview on SBS Mandarin

Hi guys! I’ve actually been neglecting my Chinese in recent months due to my return to law school (and reality) – however a couple of weeks ago I was interviewed in Chinese by SBS’s Mandarin channel about living in China, learning Chinese and about Asia Options (an organisation I’m a part of). It was broadcast today. The interview was actually on the day of my Chinese oral exam at University – it was a great warm-up! You can listen to it...

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The Danger of Perfectionism
Sep26

The Danger of Perfectionism

CHINA UPDATE: I’m back in Australia! I was in Nanjing for just over 5 months at Nanjing University. It was a phenomenal experience, my Chinese improved immensely and I had a ridiculous amount of fun. I find myself continually daydreaming about the time I spent over there. I did quite a lot of travelling and feel like I have a good grasp of what the country is all about and what it stands for (and yet there is infinitely more to learn). —- Perfectionism is a quality that many people possess – maybe due to a lifetime of parental pressure or societal expectations more generally, or perhaps because of the common characteristic of education of emphasising a ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ answer or marks-based system, which can condition students to have a crippling fear of making mistakes. Particularly, in regard to language learning, being subjected to years of rote-learning  verb conjugations throughout school can leave you with an acute sensitivity and distaste for small errors (even those that don’t affect your meaning) and often an expectation that an incorrectly executed grammar pattern might result in an embarrassing correction by the person you’re communicating with (as language teachers often do). Perfectionism is often characterised as being a good thing. And, often, it can be. For example, spending hours ensuring your university or college essay is correctly cited and reads well will often pay off and may very well be a worthwhile endeavour. However, speaking a language is an instantaneous phenomenon. You don’t have time to agonise over every word that comes out of your mouth, and a belief that this is important is likely to result in you being too afraid to open your mouth, or too slow to engage in a proper conversation if you have to make sure every sentence is flawless speaking it. If you think you are a perfectionist in your language learning (I used to be, and often still am) then I encourage you to stop reading this article for a moment and think for a moment about what the ultimate goal of languages is. Go on, do it. … … I think that the obvious answer is that language is a vessel for communication. Perfectionism then can, I believe, be defined as worrying about flawlessly using the language to the point that it becomes a barrier to communication. If you agree that communication is the main purpose of language, then you must see the incompatibility of perfectionism with this goal. When I was learning French, I got so caught up with trying to speak it perfectly and with an impeccable accent that I was often...

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December Challenge!
Dec29

December Challenge!

Okay, so the short answer is that I failed. The long one is that I succeeded. What? Turns out, December ain’t a good month for doing a one-month challenge. I mean, if you’re an obsessive and goal-oriented person like me, then every month is one-month challenge month. However, at least in Australia, you basically have to write most of December off productivity-wise as it signifies the end of a year of school, university, work, whatever, and so everyone is out and ready to party. It’s also the start of the Australian summer – this is bad news for Chinese study and other nerdy endeavours. To top it off, this December was particularly bad as I am just recovering from a week of hectic food poisoning that nearly killed my whole family (not literally, but it got nasty). Coupled with the week I spent away in Hobart on holidays (where studying Chinese wasn’t really an option as I was only travelling with one other person), that gets rid of two full weeks from my month of study. Therefore, I had half as much time to complete the challenge. But I got much more than half-way through! In fact, if I kept up the average amount of words I studied per day I actually studied for the whole month, I would have beaten my monthly goal. Therefore, the long answer is that I succeeded in my mission. Kind of. Not really though. Anyway, let’s have a look at the cold hard facts. Part 1: The Input/Listening So, here is a record of all of the listening I did (podcasts, TV, etc) over the month. I actually did pretty well for this stage of the challenge. My goal for the month was to listen to 1 hour and 30 minutes of Chinese EVERY DAY. You can see that many days I made that, some I went over, and most fell slightly short. The overall amount of listening comes to 2355 minutes, which sounds like a lot when you put it like that. Averaged over the month, that’s 78.5 minutes per day. My goal was 90 minutes. But it’s not over yet! I have to add the time I spent doing my audio/character Anki reps, too. 2355 + 299 = 2654 minutes. Per day: 88.46 minutes, Goal: 90 minutes. Ah! So close! A mere 1.54 minutes a day extra and I would have done it! Oh well, close enough for me!     Part 2: The Words/Characters Now for the interesting bit. The other part of my goal for this month was to learn a total of 500 news WORDS (including however many...

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Your accent isn’t important. Your pronunciation is.
Aug02

Your accent isn’t important. Your pronunciation is.

The majority of hard-core, nerdy, nitty-picky language blogs on the net promote having an authentic-sounding or ‘native’ accent as being the ‘holy grail’ of language learning. I’m looking at you, Ramses. I’m not saying having a decent accent isn’t important, or that your accent isn’t worth working on, but it definitely isn’t as important as many of these other language enthusiasts make it out to be. To clarify, the distinction I draw between an ‘accent’ and ‘pronunciation’ is as follows: Your pronunciation is your ability to pronounce words in a way that makes them intelligible to other speakers of the language. One can have the strongest accent possible, but as long as they are understood, they will usually be pronouncing things properly. An example of incorrect pronunciation would be pronouncing ‘down’ as ‘dawn’. Your accent includes things like your intonation and rhythm of speech. It is anything that makes you sound foreign. The classic ‘accent trap’ is pronouncing things exactly like you would in your native language, rather than actually listening to the way they are pronounced in the language you’re learning, and imitating it. So, as you can see, having good pronunciation is necessary for being understood. Your accent, however, has little bearing on you being understood. You can have the biggest French (or whatever) accent, and people will still understand. People like Ramses are extremely proud of their ‘native’ accents in the second-languages they speak (in his case, Spanish). And rightly so. It’s an impressive feat. However, I think putting too much emphasis on its importance is actually doing language learners a disservice, as it tends to scare them off and instill in them a feeling of helplessness. Ironically, I’m currently in the process of writing a guest post on his new blog, The Language Dojo, about how to acquire a native like accent. If you’re really that intent on pretending to be a native, and on impressing people with your impressive language abilities, then you should probably reconsider your motivation for learning another language. You have to be intrinsically motivated to learn a language, for more profound reasons than mere bragging rights, in order to learn it successfully. He says that you should be working on your accent, and trying to achieve a native-sounding one, from the get-go. Otherwise, he says, you’ll be learning bad habits that are hard to get out of. I actually have a completely opposite point of view about the matter. I was fluent in French before I started developing anything near to a native accent! As many of my readers will know, when I was 15 I spent 5 months in France living...

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The Secret To Learning Foreign Languages
Jul24

The Secret To Learning Foreign Languages

You lucky devils. Today I have decided to share with you all the one true secret that I believe is essential to learning a language. Sure, knowing this information alone won’t be enough to learn a language, but you also can’t learn one without knowing this rule. Surprisingly, it is quite logical when you think about it. However, I think that this secret is, unfortunately, largely absent from traditional language teaching in schools and the like, despite the fact that, unless they are native speakers, every language teacher knows this secret and would have had to consciously acknowledge it in order to learn the language that they teach to fluency. Yadda yadda yadda. You guys just want to know the secret, right? What is it, you ask? The overarching rule of successful language learning is that the process itself must be enjoyable. What is so frustrating about this rule is that it is extremely easy to forget. Chinese is my fourth language, and yet I often find myself getting frustrated at myself for forgetting characters, or for not learning as fast as I would have liked – but this is the worst thing you can do. The learning process must, above all, be fun and enjoyable – you can’t force yourself to learn a language. You may be able to mindlessly rote learn a few basic phrases, but to gain any substantial ability to communicate in a new language, the process itself must be enjoyable. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but people often say to me that I must have a gift for learning languages. I hate hearing this, because what the person saying that really means it that they think they aren’t gifted, and so they can’t learn a language. This is definitely up there in the biggest excuses potential language learners make. I always reply that I’m not any more gifted than anyone else. This isn’t false modesty, this is the truth. Really. The reason I’ve been, so far, relatively successful in my language learning comes down to these four things: Language learning is my hobby, not a chore. I’m not learning Chinese to get that big job promotion, or to impress people. I’m learning it because I absolutely love learning new languages and about the cultures of the people that speak it. Nothing gives me a bigger rush than speaking with someone from China about government corruption, the one-child policy or the growing divide between the ultra-rich and super-poor. Call me a nerd. I’m not fixated on the end result. Perfecting a language (if that is even possible) is actually a sad thought for me. That...

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