Saturday, May 25

Many, many years later...

Just checking in.
We have a daughter now. From China. I haven't studied much but always mean to.

Thursday, October 6

Yeah, I'm still here.

After 5 years (五个年) here I am. Still at it.

I've been spending more time in the last month studying than I have since I began in 二零零七. When I have more time I will post more. Just wanted to check in. It has been 2 years (两个年) after all!

Wednesday, September 9


I'm still here.
I've been treading water for the last couple of years.
And it only took those two years to get 8 comments!
I'm not sure what direction I'm going to take my studies at this point.
It seems like an insurmountable obstacle. I'll be the first to admit I don't spend much time studying though. I hate to study. Always have.
I think I would be the perfect candidate for total immersion. I would learn something. Or make it my job.

Since last I posted I became a supervisor at my job and all the free time I had at work evaporated. Lunch evaporated the first year as I didn't schedule one and I let work overrun my life (at work and at home!).

What now?

Sunday, July 15

Muzzy Review

Early in my quest for good Chinese materials I discovered that I have to go for the kids stuff. I purchased some kids DVD's from the local Chinese mall, picked up a book here and there and researched what I could online. Honestly I was disappointed in what I found. The material was either too easy (can anyone say "dui") or too difficult. Then I came across Muzzy in Mandarin and read glowing reviews but the ridiculous price kept me away. Sure, there's the 30 day "return if you don't like it", but if you do like it, then you have to pay $200.

A month ago I said what the hell and ordered it. After waiting a week or so it finally arrived.

Guess what? It's great. I wish I would have had this when I started learning.

First the good stuff. The package includes 2 DVD's, clocking in at around an hour and a half. I'm sure it would fit on one DVD and I don't know why they didn't do that. There are 6 parts, 3 on each disc but the "episodes" run together so you don't even notice. You have the options of English, Pinyin, Chinese (Traditional or Simplified), and no subtitles (my preference so far). You also get 2 more DVD's with the same lessons in English, a book with the entire transcript in Chinese, English, and Pinyin, a DVD of additional vocab, and an audio CD I haven't even opened.
The quality is top notch. Honestly after watching it I'm completely baffled why others haven't produced something this good. It doesn't seem like it would be that difficult. The animation looks like it's from the late 70's or early 80's. The dialog is simple enough. It builds upon itself and introduces new concepts and words perfectly. The only "problem" is carried over from the English edition I'm guessing because there is a part covering the English alphabet (A-Z) and the Chinese pronunciation of . Completely skips CH-ZH pronunciation.

It's intended for children to sit in front of for hours upon hours upon hours... This is no "I'll watch it a few times and have it!". Repetition is key and they tell you so in the information that comes with the package.
Using the ChinesePod scale I would say the material is at an Elementary level, though if I were at a Newbie level I wouldn't hesitate to pick it up. If you can imagine Elementary material, but instead of a 30 second dialog two 40 minute cartoons with no English.

This is what I'm happy about. I want more and more Chinese input but at the same time I need to understand what is being said too. I can't listen to the Intermediate ChinesePod lessons because there's too much I don't understand. Muzzy provides the perfect solution. First the material is at my level. There is enough that I do understand interspersed with what I do not that I stay motivated and hungry for more. When something comes up that I don't understand I can either put on the subtitles or grab the enclosed book and grab a dictionary. Then the next time I watch it I'll know what is being said. And the next time, etc, etc. And eventually I'll be as familiar with "dong1tian1" as I am with "wo3 bu4 zhi1dao4".

The bad part: the price. $200 is RIDICULOUS for what amounts to 2 40 minute sessions. $200!!!! Even if it came with the 2nd part (which is currently an additional, you heard right, an additional $200 for 2 more 40 minutes sessions) would it be worth $200? Hell no!

OK, that's the only bad thing, but it's very bad. Very, very, bad.

If you forget about how much it costs then I would say this is by far the best learning material I've come across. The dialog is engaging (even for adults) and the visuals are incredibly helpful. I read a review from a parent that complained the material was a little too much for their child (a green, pointy nosed character, unrequited love, sticking a telephone in the bathtub, etc). I'll leave that to those of you who are parents to decide on.

Sunday, July 8

Practice Plan Round 2

I've signed up for another month of Practice Plan with ChinesePod. After speaking with Aggie she determined that the best bet would be for me to have 3 lessons a week and 2 days of review. Last week it was:

Sunday - Pets
Monday - Review
Tuesday - This Room is Too Small
Wednesday - Review
Thursday - Borrowing and Returning

I also started recording the discussions so I could go back and listen. Two things about recording: I sound terrible and it helps tremendously. One of the drawbacks to the lessons the first time around was trying to take notes while simultaneously attempting to pay attention to Vera. Now I don't worry about it. I always listen the next day and can take notes, press pause, etc.

Saturday I visited my old class for possibly the last time. We finished watching "Huozhe".
Great film. See it!

More later...

Sunday, July 1


I visited my old class 星期六。 It was very good to see everyone who was there.

We watched one of my favorite movies. In all honestly my favorite movie since I've seen it.
Zhang Yimou's "To Live", or 或者。

We only made it half way through the film. We stopped and reviewed some of the language in the film and aspects of the history. Kai was about the age of the 儿子 in the movie. Next week when we watch the other half I'm sure he will have more comments because he will be able to relate to even more of it.

As I told Bridgitt the previous week, there were tears. Thankfully she brought tissues. I can't imagine what it will be like next week! I can't recommend this movie enough, and this has nothing to do with it being a Chinese film.

After watching the first half again I was trying to determine whether it is melodramatic or just a reflection of what was happening.

I hope to put some notes on the language up at another time.
Till then, 再见。

Thursday, June 21

It's Over (for now)

Today was the last lesson. "A Ticket to Suzhou". Thankfully an easy lesson. The last few weeks have been intense. I don't really know how much I've gained from them because I haven't had time to think or reflect on the lessons. It's just one after another. And when you are living your life, working your ass off at work, and taking care of a house full of pets, you just stop thinking. Well, I do anyway.

So in retrospect what would I say? The time was incredible. I've experienced several months of classroom lessons and homework and now 2 months of daily 10 minute phone calls. There's no comparison. Kai, my first teacher, is great but is limited to one classroom session a week (unless I could come up with $45 for a private lessons here and there!). Working with Vera, though for only an hour a week, was more effective because it was constant. There was something new and something old everyday. Everyday. Repeat, repeat. The closest thing to immersion that I can imagine unless I moved to Chinatown and worked in an environment of friendly native speakers who would take the time to explain the finer points of their beautiful language to me!

I can also clearly see my strengths and weaknesses. Basic comprehension, especially when spoken slowly, is pretty good. Replying to questions in Chinese, not so good. Comprehending a full dialog with no hanzi or pinyin, poor. Directions with a map, horrendous!

I'm going back to my old class this weekend for a visit. Bridgitt, my only classmate from the beginning will be there and it will be great to see her, along with Eric.
Not sure who else will be there.

So what's next?

Two weeks "off". If I can muster the concentration two weeks focusing on grammar. I really feel like I'm on the precipice of getting basic grammar which will allow me to communicate on a basic level. I'm not planning on picking up any new vocab unless I download some of those new CPod lessons and get "the Fix" too. Then I'll be picking back up with Vera for another month. Not sure what will come after that. Language acquisition is becoming an expensive hobby!

Wednesday, June 20

And I Should Be...

Studying. Instead I'm doing this. The day before my last Practice Plan lesson with ChinesePod for 2 weeks. I need a break. Bad. I was almost in tears on Monday. Sunday and Monday were lessons on directions. First of all, I'm not that good with directions. Making me give them in Chinese does not help. I felt ignorant, as though the thought of trying to learn Chinese was silly. Who do I think I am!

Well, yesterday and today were better. I hope to spend the next two weeks reviewing grammar. I've downplayed it for so long and now I'm being drawn to it. I've had too many reviews with Vera where I knew every word to say but not the order to put them in. That's the height of frustration for me.

I reached a plateau for a while and I feel like I'm starting to make some progress. It's strange that I'm desperate for a break and yet looking forward to the next set of lessons.


A Quick Update

I'm on my final week. Too busy with the lessons to post anything here.
Once I have my final lesson this Thursday I plan on taking a two week break to study grammar, then picking it back up for a month.

Till then,

Monday, May 28

Week 5

Starting on Week 5, only 3 more left. I am more impressed now than I was to begin with. Vera is terrific. I was concerned the lessons and teaching would be rigid. I thought that regardless of progress (or regress) that she would maintain the same teaching style, going over each lesson the same way. This has not been the case. I haven't had any problem reading the dialogs so we spend less time on that than we used to and more time on translating and conversation.

She also incorporates more and more Chinese, again, based on what I am able to do. I don't mean that she keeps it so simple that I can easily answer or respond. No, the words and phrases are always just above what I am able to do. It's like working out. She's adding the weight to our lessons week by week. Very impressed.

I am very fortunate that I am able to test my abilities and weaknesses on a couple who are visiting from Beijing and staying with my former instructor. Last Friday Jenn and I had lunch (delicious noodles!) and conversed a little here and a little there in Chinese. I was able to recognize more than last time and they were surprised that my tones were so good. So was I!

I'm already thinking ahead. I can't afford to keep doing it month after month. I am hoping to go for a month, take a month off, etc, etc. Probably not the best option but when money is an object..., you know how it goes.

If only it had not taken a full month for me to get in the swing of things.

Newbie Comics 3

From the lesson "Ordering Food":

Wednesday, May 16

Week 3

All I can say is WHEW!

I've made it this far. And I still look forward to my calls each day. The combination of compressed work week and the call shortly after I get home is difficult. I think I've touched on this so I won't go on about it again.

I'm impressed once again that the lessons incorporate words from previous lessons providing a great system of review and expansion. For instance I had lessons separated by a week and a half that included the word 经常 (jing1chang2). I need as much of this as I can get.

It's also helping me realize I just can't learn it all at once. My goal before was to have a lesson memorized, to be able to pick it apart, and translate it without a transcript while listening. I have only been able to do this with Newbie lessons and was constantly disappointed that I could not do the same with Elementary lessons like this one. I could listen all day till I was sick and STILL not be able to translate all of it.

I still can't do it but I don't care either. I'm convinced I need repetitive and broad exposure to the language. It's too early in the game to determine how effective this will be in the long run but I have a good feeling about it and it keeps the experience fresh.

In the mean time I will direct you here to read about John Pasden's fascinating and humbling experience learning Chinese.


Monday, May 7

An Update

Still here.

My wife had surgery a couple of weeks ago and I was home taking care of her 24/7. With all that time you would think I would have really worked on my studies for ChinesePod right?


You underestimate how much I hate to study.

There were moments of discovery in that time, when sentence structures that Vera asked me to work on clicked in my mind. But then there were other things.

Today she asked me to translate "I never...". Well, I knew the rest of the words and the structure but forgot how to say "never" (my wife would concur) and just shut down at that point. Mental block.

It's true. I hate to study. My mother recently told me that I was gifted but easily bored. I asked if she meant gifted in the shortbus way or bright and she assured me she meant bright. I was in all the advanced classes in High School but did terrible because I hated the classes. Instead I went home and read Steinbeck and King (Stephen).

So Vera (and Kai), I give you my apologies, I am a terrible student.

Oh yes, an update on the 8 week course. Well, not much to report since China had a week long national holiday which meant no calls for a week. We started back today and I did terrible.

Speaking of starting back today I went back to work for the first time in 11 days (hey, when I said Jenn couldn't do anything I wasn't kidding!). The combined stress of being back at work and having studied very little for the lesson tonight almost gave me a coronary.

Well, there's always tomorrow.

Friday, April 27

Listening and Understanding

I wish I could remember the point in my life when I heard "don't touch that" and knew what it meant because I knew what the words "don't" "touch" and "that" meant. Of course we know based on the corrective tone and fierce look in our parents eyes. But when do we "get it"?
It reminds me of the classic Far Side comic:

Brendan over at Peeling Mandarin and Edwin at Tower of Confusion have both mentioned this. During one of my Practice phone calls I told Vera that I struggle to understand what I'm hearing in the Podcast dialogs. When I hear or read the words out of context I understand most of them.

It all points to something Steve Kaufmann has said was essential: tons of time spent listening to the target language. I admit that I neglect this, much to my chagrin. I believe part of it is laziness (just being honest!). The other part of it is lack of comprehension. My brain just hears it all like the dog in Gary Larson's comic. Sure there are words I understand from time to time but the rest is meaningless. But what really gets me is that if I stop and see a transcript from a lesson I know some of the words I was unable to distinguish when I was listening.

Now that I've stated my delima, I'm hoping that some fellow language enthusiasts will post about their experience in regards to comprehending their new language.

Week One - Recap

The first week of ChinesePod Practice is complete. Five elementary lessons in five days. Five phone calls from China. Five days of anxiety, excitement, and amazement. Anxious because I never felt prepared enough. Excited because I finally had a chance to practice Chinese. Amazement because I remembered more after each ten minute phone call than I had after listening and studying some elementary lessons for hours!

Overall I would say it's been a great week.

I have a few observations from the first week.

The most beneficial part of the phone call (for me) is translating from English to Chinese. Vera will give me a sentence in English which I must translate. Typically half the words are from the lessons, the other half they assume you know. Some I do and some I don't. If I don't I just tell her I don't know it and she tells me. I then proceed to translate. It's like working out for the first time. You use muscles you didn't know you had. You strain to do the minimum repetitions. When you're done you're exhausted . The next time you work out that muscle it's still difficult but not quite as difficult.

My translation muscles are nearly non-existent. I have to work very hard to squeeze out the simplest of sentences. Sure, I can translate "hello" but "I study Chinese everyday" and I'm almost in tears. I know the words individually but putting them together into a coherent sentence is hard work.

There were a few times Vera had to correct my tones which is a relief. People tell me my pronunciation is good but it's not perfect. If she never corrected me I would be concerned.

I want to come up with some sort of review for the end of the week. I'm somewhat surprised CPod doesn't have anything like this already. I plan on reviewing all the lessons tomorrow and working on some more English to Chinese translations.