Thursday 25 May 2017

Back from dead, and possibly a Chinese zombie - argh!

I wouldn't call this "back" exactly though. Re-emerging with a completely non-infosex related topic after a year of learning Chinese (Mandarin, or 普通话, strictly speaking). Also, no links here - use Google if you are a curious type.

After a year of lazy (I was somewhat busy for half of 2015 first nearly dying and then recovering from an acident) learning and another year of studying reasonably seriously I'm at HSK4 level. Which isn't really as much as advertised, but that's a separate topic.

This motivates me to wax philosophical a little. Given all my applications of "trial and discover" method, I am certain that there are few to none language-specific tricks to learning Chinese. All of such advice can be applied to, or rather derived from, learning of other languages.

That is, all language learning is essentially the same - a lot of practice and repetition, preferably a long-term immersion. I've learned a few (human!) languages to various degrees of usefulness in the past, and it always worked that way.

Chinese is especially difficult because of
  • a) its peculiar writing system
  • b) complete lack of cognates with Indo-European (IE) languages and
  • c) a somewhat alien to a Western (IE, really) speaker grammar.
On the last point - it depends on your mother tongue, with English speakers being hit the heaviest among major IE language groups. At least, complaints in English are the most vocal! Thank gods I'm a native Russian speaker and, intriguingly, there are some concepts that are sort of common with Chinese - e.g. verbal aspect (~了) is not an entirely alien concept; "verbal complements" in Mandarin correspond to verbal prefixes in Russian, and so on.

Chinese-specific trick or two I learned are all related to writing: Learn writing of some characters, maybe a few hundred (but prioritise using pinyin IME), and learn the most common 150-ish radicals - this will make learning characters easier. Skritter is nice, partially because they record the state of all characters you ever learn, no matter whether you add or remove lists you're studying from.

Reading and listening comprehension - well, read and listen a lot; maybe prioritise learning words over single characters they consist of (not sure about the latter though). Zhongwen is a good Chrome plugin and ChineseGrammarWiki is a good online grammar.

Speaking - the same. Find a tutor, there are tons online, eg. on iTalki. A good piece of software to visualise tones is SpeakGoodChinese (or Praat, which it is based on).

That plus all of the generic language learning advice like "you learn what you practice", "find the group/book(Integrated Chinese for me)/method that works for you", "use SRS(Anki) if it's your thing". And motivation, which is the key with any learning.

好好学习天天向上, in short!