July 21, 2009

portable fun

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 4:10 pm

I’m going to write a little about two things that tend to pop up a lot in my posts. Portability and fun.

Because I’m married, work a full-time job, and have other hobbies on the side, I don’t have the time to be strapped into a chair for a few hours per day studying Chinese. I need to be able to take my Chinese study with me wherever I go, so I have a tendency to focus on portability when looking for materials and tools. If I can’t take it with me, it isn’t much use (with the exception of movies and a few references).

So most of my studying is done on my iPod and my Palm. I use podcasts from ChinesePod rather than audio tapes or CDs, although portability isn’t the only reason (800+ lessons in a vernacular style is the real reason to use ChinesePod). I have a dictionary program (PlecoDict) on my Palm, though again, there are more reasons to use Pleco than just the fact that it’s portable. Handwriting recognition, searching by radical or pinyin, built-in SRS, and a really nice user interface all come to mind as great reasons to ditch your paper dictionary and go electronic.

It seems that the best resources out there are made to be portable, because the developers of these products know that they will be used mainly by self-learners, rather than in a classroom setting.

But even still, if Pleco were for PC, and ChinesePod were ChineseCD-ROM instead, I probably wouldn’t use them, at least not nearly as extensively as I do now. I’d look for more portable methods, even if I did have to settle for fewer useful features. ZDT would be great if it worked on Palm. If they had a Palm version of Harbaugh’s 中文字譜 I might even go for that instead of the paper version (if they were able to cross-reference it and present it in order, that is).

Portable resources offer you the ability to study any time you have a couple spare minutes. Sometimes I have to visit another store in my mall (owned by the same company) to talk with the managers there. I put my iPod on and take the long way around, and by the time I get there I’ve listened to a good chunk of a CPod lesson. I get an hour of audio input during my break. If I’m learning characters by reading or practicing writing, I put on 二手玫瑰 instead of ChinesePod so I can focus on the characters. I plug my iPod into my car’s stereo and listen to ChinesePod lessons during the 30-minute drive to and from work. I drill my Pleco flashcards for recognition whenever I have a few uninterrupted minutes in the office.

That’s easily 2 hours or more of study time that I wouldn’t get if I were using something that required me to sit in front of the computer. Think about that for a second. 730 more hours of Chinese input a year. And I’m not even really pushing it. I could easily force the opening and closing associates to listen to my lessons before we open or after we close (good to be the boss). That would be another 2 hours. A couple pissed off high school kids are a small price to pay, I’m learning Chinese!

But seriously. If you’re using something that requires you to be in front of a computer or have a book in your hand while you listen, you aren’t getting the most out of your day. Sure, use those things too if you like them. But if you aren’t making use of an iPod and a PDA, you’re wasting hours each day. Literally.

Ok, so time to talk about fun. This is essential. You will not become fluent in Chinese unless you enjoy the process of learning. Or I guess you could if you’re a masochist with a really compelling reason to become fluent. Like I don’t know…death threats on your family or something. Otherwise, make it as fun as you can.

One thing I see a lot on is a heavy reliance on textbooks and traditional study methods. People ask questions like “Which textbook should I move on to now that I have X words and Y characters memorized and can hold a conversation with someone about the greatness of China and the intricacies of mahjong?” Seriously. OK maybe not that bad, but take out the last half and you’ve got a common thread on that site.

That’s fine, but what kills me is that instead of “Stay away from textbooks and start using the language,” the replies are more like “Try Practical Chinese Reader 3 or Harry and David.” (yeah, I know it’s David and Helen)

No! Do anything BUT buy another textbook! Textbooks are fine to use occasionally, but they suck the life out of the language. They’re boring and dry and tedious and dead. I’ve never enjoyed reading a textbook, have you? Sure, there’s info there to be gleaned, but it’s a chore. Yeah, the DeFrancis books are solid texts, but I wouldn’t say they’re entertaining by any stretch of the imagination.

The most fun I’ve ever had learning Chinese was when I popped in The Little Mermaid in Chinese last week and understood a lot of it. And I learned some new words (embarrassing to admit I didn’t know 鯊魚 before). Plus, I got to hear the language with all of the actors’ inflection and animation (sorry, bad pun). It really makes the language come alive.

There’s a time and a place for boring, tedious, nose-to-the-grinder work, but don’t do more of it than you have to. It’s the fun stuff that will hold your interest and make you want to stick with it and learn this monster of a language to fluency. And, amazingly, it’s the fun stuff, the REAL material in the language, by and for natives, that is the best learning material, not the boring, painful textbooks. Much better to see the language alive in its native environment than to kill it, dissect it, and throw it under a microscope (textbook).

OK, that’s all. Try to add more fun into your learning, and see what kind of extra learning time you can squeeze into your day by using more portable resources. You’ll gain a lot from it.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: