Thursday, 25 May 2017

Back from dead, and possibly a 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 nearly dying and then recovering - learning and another year of studying reasonably seriously I'm at about 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" (haha) method, I formed an opinion 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, and it always worked that way.

Chinese is especially difficult because of

  • a) its peculiar writing system
  • b) almost complete lack of cognates with Indo-European languages and
  • c) a somewhat alien to a Western 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 god I'm a native Russian speaker and, intriguingly, there are some concepts that are sort of common with Chinese - e.g. verbal aspect 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!

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