As some of you will know, I have recently started taking Mandarin lessons again. (Previous blog post here!) The last time I had a lesson was back in 2015 when I was studying for my MA Chinese Studies at Sheffield University and in all honesty, I didn’t enjoy them that much* so this had always made me a little hesitant to pay for extra lessons.
After a week or so of trying to work through the course book myself, I realised I was going to struggle on my own. Even though I can read, write and memorise characters quickly and easily, I find it tricky to remember linking words or higher level vocabulary and often get confused over the idioms (even though I used to love learning and using them).
I spent a few days looking through iTalki‘s list of Mandarin tutors, watching introductory videos and messaging a few people who I thought would be suitable. The teacher I decided to book my lessons with is a lovely lady from Taiwan (yay!) and she couldn’t be any nicer. She’s so patient, laughs with me at my ridiculous Chinese and has already adapted to my errors. I’m very fortunate and her lessons have made me feel so positive about learning Mandarin once again.
*During secondary school my Mandarin lessons were not great and luckily my parents were able to find a lovely tutor for my sister and I. But when I went to Phuket for sixth form (high school) I had the most amazing teacher. She was from Mainland China but had been living in Phuket for years. I can remember her so clearly as she was absolutely brilliant. Despite being strict, she was absolutely lovely and so determined to help me succeed.
I also was fortunate to have a super teacher at York St John. She was contracted by the University and worked for other schools around the city, so, sadly, I only saw her once a week. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy my lessons during my Master’s degree because I was often told I wasn’t good enough to be studying it, but the lectures and lecturers were fantastic so it balanced out in the end.
On the plus side, I have been lucky with many my teachers, but there were some that I feel didn’t enjoy teaching, and these memories constantly push me to be the best teacher I can be #silverlining. It’s weird, because it didn’t really bother me at school, but it had certainly worried me recently as I’d been worried about taking lessons again.
Looking back on my third and fourth weeks of studying Mandarin, I have already noticed a big improvement in my confidence (I know this, because I’ve shared my work with my sister. Queen of Mandarin!). However, there are still so many words and phrases that I desperately need yet still haven’t remembered.
So, I decided to take the plunge. During my last lesson I videoed parts of my lesson so that I could look back at myself in 3 months time and see how much I will have (hopefully) improved. The other reason for doing this was because I wanted to show my own students that it is okay to make mistakes. It is perfectly acceptable not to know everything or to forget common words. As long as you try to explain yourself, keep talking and practicing, you will improve.
Here‘s a little snippet of one of the videos.
How am I improving my Chinese outside of my lessons?
I have been spending 15-30 minutes a day on Duolingo to help me review my basic vocabulary and character recognition. It also helps with some grammar structures that I use less frequently, but overall it is a little too easy for me. However, phrases like ‘my cat is not fat’ are not that useful, I have to admit.
P.S. If you also use Duolingo there’s a brilliant Twitter thread for the nonsense they have on there: Sh*t Duo Says
I spend some time most days using my flashcards. I check each one to see if I can remember the meaning and pronunciation, if I can then I put it to one side but if I can’t it goes in a separate pile. With the pile of words I can remember, I turn them over and use the English meaning to see if I can write the characters without looking. If I can, one pile, if I can’t, another pile.
With the words I can’t remember I tend to write out each set of characters 10-20 times whilst repeating the words in my head. Then I move onto the next character, write it out, the move on again. After every 6 words, I go back and see if I can remember them all before moving on to any further words.
It’s a long winded process but it works for me, and in fact I have always studied Mandarin this way. Why fix it if it isn’t broken, right?
As I mentioned, I have a course book and the corresponding workbook as well, so reviewing any key phrases or grammar terms from the previous lesson is important, but consolidating this new knowledge with the workbook is even more useful. That way, if there are things I don’t understand I can either message my teacher or ask her to explain things again in the following lesson.
Now, onto week five and I’m determined to keep this momentum going. If you fancy sharing any study tips with me, feel free to leave a comment below or connect with me on Twitter!