My Personal Method for Learning Chinese
Dec05

My Personal Method for Learning Chinese

Hi guys! Hope you’re all well. I’m just now crawling from under my Law school exam-time rock and reacquainting myself with the real world – my apologies for the low number of posts in the last month or two. I hope you enjoyed the recent guest post on how another fellow Australian learnt Chinese to a near-native level in one year. The good news is that I have lots of ideas for articles and a lot more free time to write them! As you may know, I’m also leaving my hometown of Melbourne to spend around 7 months travelling and studying in China – I’ll be posting regularly about language and culture, and also doing weekly video updates (in Chinese! But with subtitles) to show my progression and to add a bit of extra pressure/accountability from my end. So look forward to that! I leave on January 7th.  ________________________________________________________________________________ MY CHINESE METHOD  MY TOOLS Chinese content to mine words from (podcasts, TV etc) Pleco (a Chinese dictionary app for iPhone/iPad, and probably Android) Microsoft Excel TextEdit (or equivalent) Anki The ChinesePod Glossary (optional) A good old fashioned pen and paper As a brief introduction to my method, I have developed it after learning about the way my own brain works. As such, it may need to be modified slightly depending on the type of learner you are, or hey, it might work great for you too. I find it to be very time efficient, and through it I am able to learn 20-30 words (often comprising of more than one character) per day in under an hour of study and with a retention rate of about 90-95%. That’s pretty good, I think. However, for it to work the best it can, you really need to do it every day or the process will be disturbed. The way it works is essentially by creating a maximum number of ‘exposures’ to the new vocabulary, spaced out over time, allowing the words to naturally move from  short-term memory into  long-term one by convincing the brain that the information is valuable, rather than passing stimuli to be discarded. I believe that this repetition, coupled with the relatively stress-free context (in that I’m not forcing the words into my memory but relaxing and letting them enter naturally) is the key to its success. Phase 1: Let’s go word mining. Although one can learn vocabulary from word lists or frequency lists, I greatly prefer finding my own words in the material I’m studying firstly because: a) word lists are boring and I’m not a robot, and b) finding words in context is a great aid...

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Guest: Highlight on Chris Kamp: Australian, Accredited Translator and Fluent Mandarin Speaker
Nov25

Guest: Highlight on Chris Kamp: Australian, Accredited Translator and Fluent Mandarin Speaker

My name’s Chris Kamp. I’m a student at the University of Queensland doing a dual degree in Law and Arts (majoring in Japanese, which I don’t speak terribly well). I started learning Chinese in 2010, before taking a year off to live in Harbin in Northeast China, where I learned to speak Mandarin while trying not to freeze to death. I now work part-time as a freelance translator. I’m also currently the Vice-President for Education of the Australia China Youth Association at UQ. If you’ve been learning Chinese (or any other language) for any length of time, chances are you will have come across hundreds of these “tips and tricks for learning a language” lists. There are plenty of them scattered across the internet. And it’s a good thing, too- because only a handful of those methods will work for you, and they probably won’t be the same ones that work for your friend, or even you in six months time. There is no one right way to learn a language (though there are a lot of ‘wrong’ or ineffective ways), so take this post for what it is: a list of things that worked for me, one or two of which might work for you. It’s written with Mandarin in mind, but a lot of it would be applicable to other languages. Before we get into it, a bit about my background. I’m Australian, and didn’t seriously start learning a foreign language until I got to university. I’m still a student (not majoring in Chinese), and also an accredited translator (Chinese > English) doing freelance work. It’s fair to say I speak ‘fluently’, however you want to define that. I started learning Chinese in late 2010, then went to a place called Harbin in northeast China in early 2011, where I lived and studied Chinese for a year. I started out at a language school, then did a semester at a Chinese university. I learned pretty quickly, though much of that can probably be put down to having a lot of free time in a city where it’s too cold to do much besides sit at home and study. That said, here’s some advice based on my experience.   1. Find a Good Language Environment There’s no doubt that people living in a Chinese-speaking country will generally learn faster than people who aren’t. If you do have the opportunity to study overseas, choose carefully. Different parts of China and other Chinese-speaking areas have very different accents, environments and lifestyles. Beijing and Northeastern accents are considered more ‘standard’, which is a bit of a problematic concept, but that is...

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How To: Get Audio Flashcards For Anki Using ChinesePod
Sep20

How To: Get Audio Flashcards For Anki Using ChinesePod

Audio flashcards are an incredible resource for learning languages. They turn listening and reading activities (which are passive) into active ones. Unsurprisingly, you need passive activities to improve your passive language ability (for example, your listening comprehension), and your need active ones to improve your active language ability (producing the language). The size of your your passive vocabulary can be very different from the size of your active vocabulary. I’m planning on doing a couple of posts in the next few weeks about how I use flashcards, and why. The first premise of my flashcard theory is that audio flashcards are the go. I’ll explain later. Don’t question it, just do. Here’s how to get them using ChinesePod (on Google Chrome) . Even if you don’t listen to many of their podcasts (which I don’t recommend – if you have a subscription, their podcasts and the ability to listen to dialogue only versions are extremely good) it may be worth paying for a subscription to have access to their glossary. Step 1: Go to the ChinesePod glossary page. Step 2: Put in your search (I recommend writing the characters, rather than the Pinyin). Step 3: Click the play button, then right click on the button and select ‘Inspect Element’ Step 4: This little box thing will come up. Click the ‘network’ tab. Step 5: Press the sentence’s play button again. You will see something like this come up in the box. Step 6: Click on the ‘rec’ one (not the other one). You should see a ‘Request URL’ that starts with http://s3. Select and copy this address. Step 7: Add a new card to Anki. Simply paste the URL into either (or both) card fields. Step 8: Copy the sentence from ChinesePod. Step 9: Paste the sentence into the deck. That’s it! Rinse and...

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How Long Does It Take To Learn A Language?
Sep13

How Long Does It Take To Learn A Language?

Hey guys! Today I wanted to address one of the most asked questions by language learners, and potential ones. This is, of course, the question of “how long does it take to become fluent in a language?”. I remember well that when I was learning my first language (French) I was constantly asking myself and everyone around me this very question. I would spend a lot of time googling things on the internet, or by annoying Luca Lampariello or Steve Kaufmann with emails. It’s strange, really, that there is such a burning desire among learners to have this question answered, when really this question can’t be answered (even by the most seasoned polyglot) with any certainty whatsoever. I received this email a couple of days ago: Hey Dan, I watched your French video on Youtube and was really inspired. I’m also a LLB/BA student, and I’m considering picking up French next year. It’s such a beautiful language and I’d love to speak it fluently one day. Do you think at 21 years of age, I can attain a fluent level of French if I start learning now? How long do you think it will take and what learning methods do you recommend. So, why can’t this question be answered? Well, anyone can give you an estimate fact or figure, but in reality it can’t be answered accurately because the rate you get fluent in a language is entirely contingent on: Your motivation. The more motivated you are to learn a language, and your ability to maintain that motivation and not lose interest is the single most influential thing on the success you will have. Exposure alone, in the form of classes or from being in-country, is not enough to learn a language beyond the basics. This is evident from countries like France, where the kids learn English from a young age, yet who after 10 years of study have little more than a feeble grasp of the language. The time you invest. In all honesty, it takes a lot of time in terms of raw hours in order to learn a language to fluency. It gets easier and faster the more languages you learn (Steve Kaufmann recently learnt Romanian in a couple of months), but your first one will take longer than the rest. The good news is that I believe that the time spent learning langauges provides a fairly observable return on investment, meaning that the more time you put it, the more you will notice yourself improving. I believe that as long as you reach a ‘threshold’ minimum amount of time per week, then fluency is an inevitable result (ideally you...

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On Comprehensible Input
Aug26

On Comprehensible Input

Hey guys! Sorry it’s been a little longer than usual since my last post – I’ve been extremely busy lately! Aside from being a full-time University student, I’ve also been running my own company (or trying to) and doing a lot of work for an organisation called ACYA (Australia-China Youth Association or 中澳青年联合会) for which I’m a Vice-President of the Monash University Chapter. In fact, I’m writing this post from the plane! I’m on my way home from the ACYA National Conference that was held in Brisbane. I met an amazing bunch of people, including many Chinese people with amazing English and quite a number of Australians with flawless Chinese – it was definitely an eye opener and reassurance that reaching a high level of fluency in Chinese is definitely possible. Anyway, on to it! —————————————————————————————————————— So, comprehensible input. What is it? I believe the term first appeared in the work done by Stephen Krashen on language acquisition (if you haven’t heard of him, look him up). Essentially, he devised a model for language learning based around input (reading and listening) as an alternative to the traditional grammar-based approach favoured in classrooms. More specifically, he contends that in order to maximize efficiency in language learning, the input should be comprehensible: meaning not too hard that you can’t understand, but not too easy that it isn’t challenging. I am a strong believer of the input model, as are other many far more accomplished language learners than me. Input, and listening in particular, makes up about 90% of my Chinese learning. The rest is spent learning characters and speaking. In the past 3 months I’ve been trying to average an hour a day of listening, and in that time I’ve progressed tremendously. Like, seriously, my Chinese is infinitely better. I wrote an article about my first month doing this challenge, which you can read by clicking here.   Why an input based approach is so effective: It’s the way we learn our native language. Have you ever wondered why everyone (pretty much) is able to speak their native language flawlessly and naturally? Or why you rarely make grammatical mistakes despite never touching a grammar textbook? The reason is because from your first day on earth, you are bombarded with an intense dose of input. A baby just sits there all day, absorbing the language being spoken around them. The result is that they have a seemingly ‘natural’ feel for the language. The good news is that you can be baby. You have my permission. Take some time out of your day to turn on your iPod and listen and absorb the...

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Speech On Language Learning

Hey guys! So a couple of days ago I had a great privilege of speaking at Suzanne Cory High School, which is a selective entry school form years 9-12. Selective schools are great environments (I went to one myself) and are inspiring places to be in. They seemed like a good group of kids. If you’re interested, give it a listen! Click Here to listen to the speech. Dan P.S. Let me know if that link doesn’t work for some reason, but it should...

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