By Trevor Humble
I’ve decided to start a “Chinese Language Summer Challenge”. I am two weeks in, and wanted to give our followers a Chance to understand my methodology, and starting point. In hopes that you can design a Chinese Language Challenge for yourself. A Chinese Language challenge doesn’t have to last the whole summer, I think even a month is sufficient. The idea behind it is to set goals in the beginning, so that you build a lasting and automatic habit. If you have any questions about available resources please message me at the UIdaho Confucius Institute Facebook, I’ve tried out a fair amount of Chinese learning resources, and would be happy to help you find a plan that suits your learning style, language level, budget, and time constraints.
Learning on your own is a vital part of learning Chinese, because of the limitations of weekly class time, but having a real instructor to motivate you, answer your questions, and correct your mistakes is invaluable. I urge anybody who is interested in learning Chinese to sign up for one of our many classes, we have community and university classes in Boise and Moscow, Online university classes, and a kids Chinese summer camp in Moscow. If you can’t find an option that suits you on our website don’t hesitate to contact us, we may be able to direct you towards an upcoming class, or make accommodations for you.
My Challenge will mainly be focused on three apps known as Anki, Skritter, and HelloTalk, three books, two by two different famous polyglots, Fluent Forever and Fluent in Three Months, and another book by a journalist who unwittingly became the 2006 memory champion of the world, called Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. I will also be using the Chinese films available on YouTube, and Pimsluer’s Chinese audio series.
A note about using apps: Not everyone has a smart phone, I for one have a windows phone so most apps weren’t available to me. Amazon has a decent tablet that can easily run these apps for 50 dollars (although it often goes on sale for as little as 35 dollars). HelloTalk, and Skritter aren’t available on Amazon’s App store, but they can be downloaded directly from their respective websites.
Anki for iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, Mac and Online. Free, $25 for the iOS app
Anki is a flashcard app that uses SRS technology or Spaced Repetition Software, which means every time you answer a flashcard correctly it won’t ask you the question again for a larger interval of time. The more times you answer a card correctly in a row the greater that interval becomes, until it is a year or more out. If you answer a card incorrectly the interval returns back to ten minutes. For a new card the intervals starts at 1 minute, than 10 minutes, 1 day, 3 days, 7 days, 3 weeks, 2 months, and continues to increase rapidly for each consecutive correct answer.
The Spaced Repetition System works on the idea that recalling something right before you forget it is very effective, and expends minimal effort and time. It is a very well researched system that is over 80 years old.
On Anki you can choose from already premade decks or create your own. Both have their benefits, a lot of people are huge proponents of Building your own deck because the creative process can strengthen your memories. I chose a really great pre-built deck called Spoonfed Chinese (this can be found on anki’s website or googled). The deck consists of about 8,000 sentences, one side in English, and the other side with Chinese characters and pinyin. After you answer each card an audio file is played with a native speaker pronouncing the sentence in Chinese. The deck starts with very simple phrases and each card ads one, or no new words. From my experience a new word is added every 3-5 sentences. For the English side of the card I translate the card aloud in Chinese, after I reveal the answer, I listen to the native speaker and mimic their speech. For the Chinese side, I read the Chinese aloud, translate the card in my head and again listen to the native speaker and mimic their speech. This app is really effective, and the flashcard deck has you expressing complex ideas fairly quickly, while simultaneously learning new vocabulary and practicing pronunciation. If you are an absolute beginner, I suggest you learn a few basics before you start using this deck, joining one of our community classes or university classes is a good place to start. If you are a more advanced learner you might want to delete a chunk of the early cards, you can edit your decks in the app or on their website.
Skritter for iOS, Android and Online. $14.99/month with big discounts for longer subscriptions.
Skritter is another flashcard based app that uses the Spaced Repetition System. The difference is Skritter has been optimized for Chinese writing, this works best with a touch screen or writing tablet, but the characters can be drawn with a mouse. For each word there is a card for the definition, the pronunciation, the tone and the written character, each word is read aloud by a native speaker after you answer the card.
Skritter has a ton of really awesome prebuilt decks, including one for each HSK level, almost every Chinese text book, and a lot of really great user built decks, like decks for the top 3000 words in Chinese movies, and the 500 most popular Chinese Idioms. The decks are added to one personal master list, repeated words that you are already learning are not added. Skritter does account for stroke order, and will show you the stroke order if you need it to. Stroke order may feel trivial at first but it is really important if you want to have neat and quick handwriting, or want to use a Chinese dictionary. This app is a little expensive, but I believe this is the best handwriting trainer, and their comprehensive collection of decks are a great way to learn vocabulary from a new text book, or prepare for the HSK.
Hello Talk for Android, iOS
This is a great resource to meet language partners, you simply in put the languages you are completely fluent in, then in put the languages you want to learn and your level. The app generates a list of people who are trying to learn the languages you are fluent in and are fluent in the languages you want to learn. There are tons of native Chinese speakers using this app and before you know it you’ll have lots of friends to speak with. The app is loaded with great features, including functions that allow you to correct your partners grammar or spelling, translators that will translate Chinese sentences into English and pinyin, a text to speech function so you can hear written Chinese aloud and voice messaging. The voice messaging system is really valuable, because it allows you to listen to your own messages before sending them and to rerecord, this is a great way to evaluate your own pronunciation and readjust.
Fluent Forever by Gabriel Wyner
Gabriel Wyner is an mechanical engineer turned opera singer, as an opera singer he had to learn several languages in short periods of time. What I really appreciate about this book is that it really digs into the science of linguistics and memorization.
Fluent in 3 months by Benny Lewis
The concept is a little bit Gimmicky, and he was not in fact successful in becoming fluent in Chinese in 3 months, but he did make an impressive amount of progress in that time. I’ve read his blog, and it is awash with really great resources.
Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
Joshua Foer is a journalist who chronicled how he became the 2006 memory champion in the period of just a year. I chose this book because learning to write and recognize Chinese characters can be a constant battle against your own long term memory. If you are considering this book but are unsure check out his TED talk on the same subject, it will give you a little bit of an idea of the techniques, and story found in the book.
YouTube is chalked full of Chinese movies, blockbusters, kids shows, TV shows and more. Most with at least Chinese subtitles, some with Chinese and English subtitles together, and a few with Chinese, English, and Pinyin subtitles. I’m most interested in the Chinese subtitles because I am at the point where I want to remove English as an intermediary for Chinese. My vocabulary isn’t expansive enough to understand everything completely, but the beauty of movies is all of the visual clues you have to coach you a long.
I’ve been using the Pimsluer series for a while, I think they are a great supplement for listening comprehension and spoken Chinese. The audio only, hands free format makes it easy to find times to listen to the lessons, such as walking to work or classes.
My Goals are designed in such a way that I allow my self to miss two days per week, and 1 week during the summer.
Daily: 20 new sentences, with all of my reviews
Weekly: 100 new sentences
3 months: 1100 new sentences
Daily: 30 new words, with all of my reviews
Weekly: 150 new words
3 months: 1,650 new words
20 minutes per day, at least 5 days a week talking with Chinese people
Weekly: 3 lessons
3 months: 30 lessons
all three books read by the end of the summer, I will try and write short summations as I go along.
Weekly: One full length Chinese movie
This is the progress for the first 13 days. I am on track so far, but the beginning is the easy part, the hard part is consistently keeping with it for 90 days. I am now able to write a lot of words that I only knew from sight thanks to Skritter, and I feel there has been improvements in my speech and comprehension.
I’ve gotten through 195 sentences, I should be at about 215 by the end of the day, so I am right on track.
I’ve reviewed all of the HSK 1 Vocabulary, and HSK 2 Vocabulary. I am about half way through HSK 3, for a total of 430 words.
This has been a successful endeavor so far, I have made a lot of new language buddies, and have been given a new Chinese name. As many people have kindly informed me that the name I have chosen for myself, essentially means that I drag my feet and work slowly.
I’ve gotten through 6 lessons, so I am right where I am supposed to be.
So Far, I’ve watched a bad rom-com, and a quite good coming of age story called Young Style. Young Style is about High school students preparing for the difficult Gaokao or the standardized test that determines what kind of college you will get into. It is available on YouTube and I’d highly recommend it.
I’ve read about the first quarter of fluent forever, overall a good book with a lot of good techniques to offer.