Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back from Asia ...

Hi all

Well, I'm back from Asia - having spent the last couple of weeks in Hong Kong, Taipei & Singapore on business.

On the right here you can see a picture of me at a late-night Pearl Bubble Tea place (珍珠奶茶) (zhēn​zhū​nǎi​chá​) in Taipei, near the main station. Medicinal purposes only, of course. :-)

I made some purchases while out there, including two Taiwanese TV series, a couple of Chinese movies, some Mandarin music, and a few cartoon books in simplified Chinese. I can't wait to get the time to start working (playing?) through them.

Ten months ago I came back from a business trip to China, unable to read any Chinese, and with a much more basic conversational skill. Being there at the time really gave me the incentive to boost my learning, which is why, upon my return, I started actively using flashcards, looking for a method to learn to read & write (I chose Heisig) ... and I started this blog.

And now I am pleased to see that the difference in my skill level was really obvious. I could read lots of the signs (although knowing the individual characters didn't always help me work out what it actually meant!) and my conversations were very much more, uhm, substantial. I'm very pleased.

And for the record - I've not been much of a student. I've only put in about 30-45 minutes a day, most of which is just listening to podcasts while travelling to and from work. But I was at least consistent.

Also, being in the environment, I was thinking lots about learning Chinese - and I drafted the skeleton of a number of articles which I intend to fully write up over the next couple of months.
I'd love you to follow along, so make sure you're subscribed - using the usual RSS feed, via email, or even on Twitter.

Speak soon

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Something happened to my Mandarin!

Have you seen it too?

Over the last couple of weeks, I've noticed something has changed in my Mandarin.  I'm focusing here on the difference between (mentally) translating, and (intellectually) understanding.

I would love to be able to tell you that I woke up one morning and discovered I was perfectly fluent - but that's not true. And I don't know exactly when it happened, but given the level of the material & discussion partners I've been working with lately, I can see signs of it now.

Basically, I'm understanding without understanding. Bruce Lee would have been proud of this statement ("The art of fighting, without fighting"), but it makes sense if you think about it ...

I'm sure you know what it's like in your Mandarin world too ... when someone says 你好 (nǐ​hǎo​) to you, you probably don't have translate nǐ​hǎo​='Hello' (thinks: "Ah, they're saying hello to me. What friendly people."). You just know they mean 'hello' and you respond to that.

OK, so in recent months I've mainly been listening to elementary-level podcasts (ChinesePod equivalent), and I could understand most of what I heard. The conversation was at a slow enough level that I could pretty much translate sentences, word-by-word, and understand it all as I went along.

But my language partners have been speaking a bit faster to me, and I've been listening to intermediate-level podcasts, and although it's too fast for me to be able to mentally translate  word-by-word, I still find that I'm reaching the end of the conversation with a rough idea of what I'm hearing.

Of course, there are plenty of cases where I can understand (without translating) most of the sentence, but because I don't get the main word, I don't fully know what the sentence actually means. But I still get enough to know that I'm on the right track.

So I'm responding to this by trying to shut down my conscious mind, and just listen (without trying to translate). And although it's still managing to evade me, I have noticed I am definitely operating at a higher level.

Something has definitely happened.

Have you experiened something similar? Do you remember the first time you understood what someone was saying to you even though you didn't seem to hear the words they were using? Or is this something you're still waiting for? Please leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you.