It has been said, perhaps by Mark Twain, that confusing sinology and Zionism would be a little bit like confusing astrology and astronomy. Anyway, about three weeks ago I finally gave in to the craving and starting studying Chinese.
As I’ve written before, Chinese was among the alternatives when I decided to start studying Japanese. But Japanese seemed even more weird and hard, and the selection of courses at my university was better, so I chose Japanese instead. But I promised myself years ago that once I passed JLPT 1, I could start studying Chinese. And I did pass JLPT 1.
So I went to the huge Kinokuniya book store in south Shinjuku – you know the one located next to the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building, the tallest clock tower in the world. The supply of language-learning books in Japan is just overwhelming! Especially, of course, for English, but the supply of books on other popular languages is tremendous as well. I can only surmise that this is because foreign things are superficially fashionable in Japan, combined with a school system that teaches kids that foreign language acquisition is impossible. So everyone buys the same kind of miracle cure beginner-level language books every year, and every year the miracle breakthrough doesn’t happen, so the cycle repeats itself.
Anyhow, my philosophy on language learning is the antithesis of that kind of books so I bought the most boring-sounding ones I could find: one called 文法から学べる中国語 (“Chinese that can be learnt from grammar”) and one called 中国語の教科書 (“Chinese textbook”). Still quite fancy books, but the content seemed serious, and they follow different approaches: the grammar one obviously focuses on grammar, and the textbook one is more focused on listening, pronounciation, and conversation, so they should complement each other, I think.
As you notice, the Chinese language study books I bought are in Japanese. This is an important point, since that allows me to keep learning Japanese while enjoying studying Chinese (it is rather enjoyable as a change from years of Japanese studies). In fact, out of the first approximatly 100 words I harvested from the “textbook” book, 5 were new to me in Japanese as well. Double-win! Once you pass JLPT 1, there aren’t really any language study books available for your level, so this I think is a good method to ensure there aren’t any holes in my basic Japanese vocabulary.
I believe in setting goals, just as I did both when I decided to pass JLPT 1 in 2008 and JLPT 2 in 2006. So I have set my overall goal of my Chinese language studies: to be able to read a book in Chinese by the time I turn 30 (i.e. in about 2.5 years from now).
That seems challenging, yet doable. I don’t have any specific type of book in mind, but I imagine it would be some normal top-selling book. Actually come to think of it, the only book I’ve read in both English and Japanese is Haruki Murakami’s after the quake (神の子どもたちはみな踊る) so maybe that would be a good one to use as a reference standard.