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.

Wednesday, April 25

Oh No!

That's my new slogan for evenings Sunday through Thursday. I work a compressed work week (from 8-7, Monday - Thursday) and get my daily call from Vera at 8:10. There just doesn't seem to be enough time to spend with each lesson, to dig into it and internalize the language.

Stephen King said in "On Writing" that the late Kurt Vonnegut would work on one page until it was perfect. He didn't write a book and revise it. He wrote and revised all at once. He would apparently, if Mr. King is correct, throw entire pages away and start rewriting until the text was perfect.

My mind works this way too. It wants every pronunciation, ever possible shade of meaning, every tone just right before it moves on to the next word. Because there is a fear that if I let it go now it will never be right. Talk about maddening! One of the beauties for me working on the Practice plan is that I have no choice. I have a set of lessons in a set order and I have to go through them in that order. I don't have time to get every word and I don't have time to care if I get every word because once one lesson is done there's another. And another. And another. For 7 more weeks. The interesting thing (so far) is I believe my vocabulary is increasing. Not enough for my tastes but more than it did before.

I'll post a recap for the week on Friday or Saturday.

Monday, April 23

Lesson One

Last night I had my first Practice lesson with a ChinesePod counselor. How was it you ask?

In a word, excellent. For me, reviewing with someone who knows the language (or knows it far better than I) is critical.

After speaking with Aggie a couple of times I was concerned that whoever I got was not going to be as qualified. After all, Aggie was the great Frank Fredella’s counselor. Thankfully my fears were for nothing. My counselor, Vera, is terrific. Sympathetic, encouraging, and available for questions via email at any time!

To begin Vera had me read the dialog from the transcript for this lesson. She said my pronunciation was good. Next we reviewed critical vocab from the lesson. She would pick a word and ask me the meaning. Then the difficult part: translating English sentences into Chinese.

I seem to have great difficulty here. I know the words but putting them together to form sentences is a problem.

Here is an example from last night.

Translate “I want dinner first’.

In my mind I have wo3”, xian1”, and xiang3”.

Dinner is a bit tricky. I’m thinking “chi1” but not sure if this is correct and not sure what should follow it. Should it be “fan4” or should it be something completely different?

I’m lost.

Then there is the word order. Is it 我先想 or 先我想

So the combination of not knowing the order or the correct word was stressful.

After some struggling and help from Vera I got 我先想吃饭.

This continued for several minutes with different key words from the lesson. Then the call was over. I walked away from the call with my mind racing, thinking over everything I said and what she asked me to review for tomorrow.

Overall I was very impressed. My only concern would be over the tones. For instance one of the phrases Vera asked for was “wash hands”. I knew hand was? “shou”.

What I could not remember was the tone. I said it with the first tone but was doubtful. Later I checked and it should have been the third tone. Vera didn’t correct me I assume, because of the phone connection. There were a few moments when she started to cut out so maybe she didn’t catch it. Or maybe she’ll mention it today. I don’t know. But I want to be sure I get them right. I’ll keep my proverbial eye on it.

I don’t intend on posting about every single lesson, but I’ll be posting as much as I can over the next couple of months. Hopefully I’ll get some more chances to use the language too!

Sunday, April 22

The Final Countdown

I couldn't help myself with the title, especially being a big fan of "Arrested Development".

Anyway, I got the assessment call from Aggie on Friday. And, and...

I'm at an Elementary level!

I was in shock, and somewhat horrified because she said they would assign 40 Elementary level lessons to me over the next 8 weeks. My comprehension of Chinese grammar is weak so I'm hoping this will help.

What I found interesting is a conversation I had with a friend this weekend about learning. He said that to become better at something required you to practice AND to push yourself beyond what you are able to do. So if you're listening to Newbie lessons and can breeze through them the push yourself and start working on Elementary. I'm preaching to myself here I know.

For some reason this seems more terrifying than when I originally signed up for Chinese classes in the first place. Maybe it's because I have some idea of what I'm in for now?

Aggie was terrific and very encouraging during our phone call. To assess my "level" she read a number of sentences and asked me to tell her the meaning in English. When we were done I got the results. She also said (as some others have) that my pronunciation was good. A little encouragement can do wonders to your enthusiasm and willingness to keep going.

Time to study. I get my first phone call in 3 hours.


Newbie Comics 2

From the lesson "I'm Not Hungry".

Thursday, April 19

The Countdown

I received my first phone call from Aggie at ChinesePod last night. After a week or so of emailing back and forth and missing the first call due to a misunderstanding of the time/date difference we finally connected.

The introductory call was an explanation of what will happen during the next 8 weeks. For those who have not read about it on the CPod site participants in the 8 week program receive an introductory evaluation of their abilities. The counselor then picks 40 lessons to be covered over the 8 weeks. Each day (Sunday-Thursday, or Monday-Friday Shanghai time) I will receive a call from the counselor to review that days lesson.

I hope this reinforces each lesson and will write it to my long term memory. Getting it in the short term is "meiwenti". Retention and the ability to use it are difficult for me though.

I plan on posting updates on the blog more often than I have been. Really, I do.

Sunday, April 15

Chinese Comics for Newbies

I spend a little bit of time reviewing characters at work. I thought it would be so much easier if there was some context for them, incorporating some visual aid. Comics are great at that and my dad is an artist/illustrator and that was it.

Here is the result. I hope there will be more but he's a busy guy so it depends on his availability.
The dialog was taken from this lesson.

Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, April 10

The End of the Beginning

Saturday was my last class session. I'm really going to miss the group.

From Left to Right: Bridgitt, Kai (laoshi), me, Elizabeth, Eric, Fred, Johnny, and Michael.

I've been meeting with some incarnation of this group for the last 45 weeks! Bridgitt and I were there from the beginning. I think this group will continue to meet sans Elizabeth and myself. I hope to see them on Saturdays at a local Chinese restaurant (hint, hint!) or the Chinese mall in Atlanta.

For the next couple of months I'm going to try out the 8 week program offered by ChinesePod. I've mentioned in previous posts that I was interested in this but didn't think it was going to be possible. Recently I received an email from Eileen at CPod with an offer to try it out (yes, I still have to pay!)

I hope to be reporting on my progress in the near future.

Honestly I haven't been spending too much time with the language lately. I've been entirely too occupied with this. I thought about posting a screen shot of how much time I've spent on it but I would have to hang my head in shame. I'm almost done with it so that won't be an obstacle after next week. Hehe...

Enough for now. I just hope I haven't forgotten too much.

PS: For all of those who have posted comments I promise to respond at a later date. So sorry...