So after my first Chinese conversation lesson, I realized that I had to make some changes to my Chinese studies:
- Practice more simple sentences and basic vocabulary. The kind of stuff people usually start off with. I have a tendency to go for more advanced grammar and vocabulary immediately, which isn’t bad in itself but leaves a big hole where elementary expressions and vocabulary should have gone. It’s hard to do conversation when you can’t even introduce yourself…
- Pinyin is essentially bad – so reduce the reliance on pinyin and look at the characters and memorize their pronunciations by itself (by listening to a tape or the teacher, for example). I thought pinyin was a fairly good way of writing Chinese, but I now realize that down to the monkey’s balls it’s essentially the same as romaji is for Japanese – i.e. an unnatural way of expressing the language. Not an incorrect way, but very sub-optimal.
- Study hanzi characters and their readings one by one (or short compound words) – starting with simple, frequent characters and moving on from there. Hanzi is how Chinese is written, and as with Japanese, literacy is essential. I have a tendency here too to go for the hard stuff too early, so I need to start over a little and learn from the beginning.
So considering that, the following constitutes my current Chinese study method:
- Using Anki (a spaced repetition system application), I study elementary characters, short words, and simple phrases. With Anki you can download “decks” (sets of “flash cards”) made by other people and provided for free. I found one called Chinese Characters (Level 1 and Level 2) apparently based on the book New Practical Chinese Reader. I don’t use that book but the deck is very useful in itself. The quality is a bit variable though, but I’m adding and changing things as I go along. Considering it’s free and doing it all yourself would take significant time, it’s really good value for time.
- Practice writing hanzi, using some Chinese character writing sheets I found online provided by the University of Vermont (the ones called Practical Chinese Readers Book I and Book II). These are very useful. Again, the quality could be better (readings and stroke orders would be nice, for instance) but for a price of zero, they’re extremely good value. I just write and write the character all over many times, and do the same sheets multiple times. It’s not the most fun activity nor the most fancy kind of study method out there – but actually when I come home from work and I’m tired, that kind of activity is just about what I am able to manage. And I am certainly seeing good progress!
As an aside: I can read about 2,500 Japanese kanji, so most of the elementary/intermediate Chinese is readable for me already, but I never learned to write kanji by hand… I can only write maybe 100-200 characters. Which isn’t a big deal but it’s not very good either. So I’ve decided to use this as an opportunity to learn how to write the simplified Chinese characters, since that will be useful for writing Japanese too (with some exceptions). Since I’m lazy I really prefer the simplified characters. I mean compare 认识 with 認識… I know which one I want to write 100 times on the blackboard.
- Using the books I bought before, keep studying grammar using the grammar book and vocabulary and pronunciation primarily using the other book. Fairly standard. I study grammar before going to sleep (well it makes me go to sleep), and pronunciation/vocabulary some times in the evenings. I am also hoping to use the vocabulary book at the Chinese conversation lessons, since that book has nice, big illustrations accompanying simple words, it should be suitable for learning the correct Mandarin pronunciation.
It’s going well, and it’s fun. It’s great to be able to apply my experience and knowledge of learning from 5+ years of Japanese studies to Chinese. My study methods are incredibly much more efficient now. I will soon have to set some intermediate goal (the current final goal is to be able to read a book in Chinese within two years), such as passing a particular HSK level next year. I’ll have to discuss that with the Chinese school teacher.