Welcome to 2022. It’s been a while since I posted anything. So, I’ll catch you up a bit. As you know, our homeschooling method includes inspiring kids to learn. One way I do that is to lead by example by studying regularly. So, what am I studying now. Many things, but the one that takes the cake is learning Chinese.
In 2019, I started teaching children in China how to speak English online. This renewed my interest in learning Mandarin Chinese that started back in the 90s. So, I started learning Chinese in 2019.
Like a lot of people, I turned to Duolingo to get started. Unlike the French and Spanish courses I’ve started, the focus in the beginning isn’t creating sentences. It’s character recognition and learning to associate them with the correct pronunciation. If you didn’t already know, Mandarin has many tones. Looking at the image below, you’ll notice that the syllable “ma” has 5 different meanings based on how you pronounce “ma.”
If you choose to use DuoLingo, it won’t be long before you start learning phrases and sentences. Throughout the Duolingo program, you’ll learn new characters and the sentences grow more complex. Overall, I’m very happy with Duolingo. It has helped me to use the other resources I’ll mention below.
If you have a Duolingo account, follow me and I’ll cheer you on: My Duolingo Profile.
Watching Chinese Dramas
Before DuoLingo, I found a Taiwanese dramas on Netflix. I looked deeper and also found a bunch of Chinese Dramas. One of my students turned me to a 50 episode long drama called The Untamed， it’s Chinese title is 《陈情令》. This was my introduction to wuxia (武俠), a type of martial arts story where the characters have incredible moves. By any chance did you see the live action version of Mulan? Mulan is a great introduction into the wuxia genre. She could jump onto buildings from a young age. She was also chivalrous.
Currently, I don’t have Netflix. Instead I have Rakuten Viki, which mostly showcases East Asian dramas. At first, I watched with Mandarin dubbing and English subs. Later, I learned Viki had an amazing tool to help me learn Chinese. Let me show you in the video below (pardon the video quality- I had to use my phone to record the example).
There are other streaming services you can use to watch Chinese dramas. I won’t go into that here, but I will share with you an amazing index of all the East Asian dramas- it’s kind of like IMDB. It’s called MyDramaList. I recommend checking it out to find the type of drama or movie you like. You can also visit my profile to see what I’m watching.
Recently, I started listening to a podcast that has some great ideas for learning Chinese. The podcast is called You Can Learn Chinese. In one of their episodes, they talked about reading Chinese and why it can be very difficult to find a book for language 2 learners (people learning Chinese as a second language). The reason most children’s books aren’t a great choice is because children’s books are designed for native speakers who have a large vocabulary. They probably cannot read, so their parents or an older relative reads it to them. We, on the other hand, probably didn’t grow up listening to others speak Chinese and we’re not quite fluent.
So, Jared Turner and John Pasden created a graded reader series called Mandarin companion. I’m currently reading my first book and made it to chapter 4 of their modernized version of Jane Austen’s Emma. I like that I know most of the characters. At the end of the book is a list of words that may be new to the reader complete with Pinyin and a definition. This comes in pretty handy because there were some new words plus I still find it difficult reading when it’s in a different font. In fact, the font appears differently on my ipad verses my phone and the kindle reader on both my Windows and iMac computers. Let me show you an example:
The highlighted characters should look like this: 一直. I didn’t know this at first, so I went to the Discord server called 中英交流 Chinese English Language Exchange and posted a question question: “我刚刚开始阅读我的第一本书。 我有一个问题。 黄字是什么意思? Is it 一直?谢谢” translation: “I’ve just started reading my first book. I have a question. What does the word yellow mean? Is it always? Thanks!”
I received a few answers from a couple of people confirming that I understood the characters and one offered this answer: “The font in your screenshot is Japanese. If you’re interested in a detailed explanation, see: https://chinese.stackexchange.com/a/31942.”
Anyway, after that I discovered that the font displayed on the iPad Kindle app made the characters appear more familiar compared to the computer Kindle reader and the Kindle app on my LG V20 android phone.
This is exciting to read in Chinese. It’s a bit exhausting because it’s my first book and it reminds me of reading my first chapter book as a child.
In the spring of 2021, I looked at the communities section of Duolingo for more resources. I found some free online classes from Cherry Tree Learning. They offer 4 levels of classes for adults: Beginner 1, Beginner 2, Intermediate, and Advanced. I thought that since I’ve watched a lot of dramas and spent more than a year studying, I would try the Intermediate class. I understood about half of it, but couldn’t come up with anything to say on the subject of sports, which happened to be my most challenging topic at the time.
So, I decided to try Beginner 1. I fit right in. The class started in January and I think I joined in April. In the fall, I took Beginner 1 and Beginner 2. My teacher was from China, but living in California with her Taiwanese husband and their children. I feel like it was very useful to learn what people actually say to each other in China (she also offered examples of what people in Taiwan would say) and receive nearly immediate corrections when I presented a sentence with errors.
Enough of my history with it. The classes are free because they got a grant from a foundation. Forgive me, I forgot who the grant is from. The classes are on Zoom and my classmates are from around the world. For many, this is their 3rd, 4th, or beyond language. The classes used to be held in person, but the pandemic changed everything.
Zoom has breakout rooms, so my classmates and I were able to take our in class assignment and complete it together. I learned a lot by working in groups to discuss it.
Thank you for reading this far. There are some resources I’d like to share, but this post is a bit long. See you soon!