I’m currently in week SIX! of making a conscious effort to improve my language skills and I’ve decided to reflect on my experience so far.
As many of you know, I have studied Mandarin Chinese for a loooooooong time! I’ve learned basic (and holiday) German since I was a baby, but I’ve never really managed to improve it to any level. I studied French at school, as was never very good and unfortunately I never enjoyed Thai. I’ve always wanted to study Arabic and Spanish, but never had the time, money or the will power.
Last year, I tried to start Arabic but I found it far too difficult to teach myself, and I couldn’t afford classes or new materials at the time. Now, it doesn’t seem relevant to my life or my future, but I do hope I’ll be able to take a crash course one day.
So, for 2021 I have decided to make a huge effort with Mandarin, but also to finally start learning Spanish and basic Swedish. Mandarin is my main focus, and always will be. I do want to be fluent in the near future (and I have no excuse not to be!) but I think Spanish will be extremely useful for lots of reasons. Swedish? Well, I love the crime fiction and the films and I think it would be incredible to be able to read and understand them in the language they were written in.
How’s it going?
Pretty well, I’d say! My Mandarin is improving dramatically, I have learned a few phrases and sentences in Spanish and I know some basic words in Swedish. I’m quite impressed and have really been enjoying myself as well! However, I must admit that in the last 2/3 weeks I haven’t looked at Spanish other than to review what I’ve learnt and I haven’t progressed with my Swedish. I plan on having Wednesday as a Spanish day and Sunday as a Swedish day, but even as I’m typing this blog post I can feel that my eyes are heavy and my throat is burning – I’m getting ill and I can only just about focus on Chinese. I’m no super-human, after all.
Quite a few people have asked me about my timetable, the materials and how I stay motivated, so I thought I’d go over them here for those who are interested.
A typical timetable
This timetable changes depending on my mood, my work and also what my family are doing. I try to have breakfast (8-9) and lunch (1-2) with my family every day, and I try not to study after 6 (or 8:45 if I’ve had a lesson). I use this as a rough guide, but change things up when I’m feeling tired or more energetic.
|6-7am||Wake up||Wake up||Wake up||Wake up||Wake up|
|-8:15||Podcast and vocabulary||Music and vocabulary||Reading and vocabulary||Watch the news or listen to a podcast and vocabulary||Songs, podcast or story / audiobook|
|10-12||Review old vocabulary||Watch tv and focus on vocabulary||Watch a Youtube video or listen to a podcast about character history or idioms||Review lesson vocabulary and grammar|
|2-4||Tv and vocabulary||Review HSK vocabulary and grammar.||Prepare for HSK with the text and workbook. Check new vocabulary||Review yesterday’s lesson – new words and grammar. Prepare for tonight’s lesson.||Watch tv, listen to a podcast|
|4-5||Rest||Rest||Food + history|
Reading: I use graded readers and note down any vocabulary I don’t understand
Vocabulary: I write the characters 10-20 times each, repeat the pronunciation as I write them and then try to write 2-5 sentences for each word. I try not to copy sentences from the internet, but instead make them relevant to me.
Listening: I have discovered some super podcasts and radio stations. I alternate between passive and active listening depending on my mood. I try to write down the main idea, any new words or sentence structures that I like and create new sentences with them later on.
Dramas: I have discovered a new love for Taiwanese dramas (thank you Netflix) and I don’t watch them with subtitles. I try and write down any words I don’t understand, replay the scene if I need to and if I’m still reallllllyyy stuck, I put the subtitles on for just that part. I then create flashcard categories on Pleco just for that drama so I can revise as I’m watching.
History: Learning about the culture, history and characters of Mandarin is so important. It helps me stay motivated, interested and helps me to understand the written words better. I watch YouTube videos about cooking, travelling or reality shows, listen to podcasts or (try) to read short texts online.
Materials I use
Chinese in Steps 4 – A great book for everyday scenarios, new vocabulary and a clear layout.
HSK 4 下 – great if you’re planning to take the HSK exam and also for academic vocabulary
Ni Hao 4 – I use this book for nostalgia. I started learning Chinese with Ni Hao 1 and reached number 4 around IGCSE level. I use it to review vocabulary and grammar structures, despite it being a little outdated now.
Apps – Pleco, Anki, Du Chinese, Tandem, HelloTalk, Instagram (duh!)
Graded / guided readers from Mandarin Companion
Youtubers – Mandarin with Miss Lin, Ms Lin Chinese, HSK Prep and practice, ChinesePod,
Netflix – Back to 1989, The Devil Punisher, The Perfect Match
Podcasts – Talk Taiwanese Mandarin with Abby, Chinese Pod101, Learn Chinese through stories. (For Spanish and Swedish I’m using Coffee Break and Teach Yourself language books)
As I’ve mentioned already, I’m feeling fairly run down this week and I’m taking more time to focus on me rather than cramming in 30 hours of studying. I’ve still listened to the radio and watched TV in Mandarin, but I haven’t been able to concentrate on vocabulary or any grammar. I’m going to be kind to myself for the rest of the week, and hope that next week I’ll have more energy! Yes, this is your reminder that it’s okay to take a break.
In my next post I’ll be writing about the immersion weekend that I took part in last week, including videos, photos and my overall view of it. It should be a good one, so keep your eyes peeled! But in the meantime… if you have any questions or want to chat about learning a language, feel free to leave a comment or come and follow me over on Instagram!