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Chinese proficiency report 9

Another semester in Taiwan has come to a close and it’s time to yet again evaluate where I stand at the moment (see my page about studying Chinese or follow this link to see older reports). I do feel that I’m in the middle of things, such as learning the 3000 most common characters, but since I’m always in the middle of something, this is as good a time as any to stop for a while and think. First, these are the grades from last semester, although they should mean nothing to an outsider. In short, most grades are what I expected them to be and I’m satisfied with that. Mots of these courses where way above my level, and I’m happy to have survived.

綜合華語 (Integrated): 85
漢字學習 (Characters): 85
讀寫訓練 (Reading/Writing): 85
聽力訓練 (Listening): 81
會話訓練 (Conversation): 86

Speaking: Speaking is a gradual development and I think that’s the way it’s likely to be in the future as well. The time when I experienced quantum leaps now and then is over and it’s now mostly a question of improving vocabulary, more complicated grammar and pronunciation. Since conversation is seldom a problem nowadays, I’m going to focus on pronunciation instead.

I think that I have pinpointed a few problems with my pronunciation, although some of them have been with me for a while. I do believe my third tones have improved a lot during this semester (I have focused on that a lot), but recently I’ve found out that the fourth tone might pose an even bigger challenge. It’s not that people don’t understand what I’m saying, but I need to make these tones more distinct. The fourth tone in Mandarin is very hard for westerners, because it sounds so aggressive. We think that we’re pronouncing it correctly, while in fact we aren’t doing it enough. I’ll write more about my plans for next semester later, because I regard correcting this as one of the more important goals for the coming months.

Listening: Listening keeps being the main problem, mostly for the same reasons as before. I haven’t practiced nearly enough as I should have, although I have started listening to radio a lot. Listening comprehension requires extreme quantities of practice and I seem to be unable to focus enough on this. I wrote about leaving the surface a while ago, but I still have a secure connection to the world of English and Swedish. Perhaps this is bad for language acquisition, but it’s good for my mental health. For those of you who are familiar with Chinesepod, I can quite easily follow the advanced lessons, although there are still a fair amount of new words in there.

Writing: As with speaking, writing keeps improving at a steady pace. The biggest difference between now and at the beginning of last semester is that I can now write fairly complicated texts relatively quickly. I had some assignment I missed doing in time and so had to complete extremely fast, but it still worked okay, a feat which would have been impossible half a year ago. The main problem with writing is word usage (i.e. I can make people understand, but they might think it sounds weird). That’s okay, it’s part of my learning strategy and something that will go away with time and practice.

Reading: I think reading is where I make the quickest progress right now. I keep on adding substantial amounts of new characters and words, leading to an increased ability to guess or feel what words mean, even though I haven’t seen them before. I’m not yet at the level where I can comfortably read newspapers, but I can usually understand the general meaning. The textbook in Chinese for the Taiwanese junior high-school still contain difficult parts, but it isn’t as intimidating as it was at first.

In pure numbers, I have 8500 vocabulary items in my ZDT lists now, which is 900 more than last time. I expect to add anotehr thousand or so from the dictionary, but I think the learning curve will level out around ten thousand words. At that point, I will probably stop focusing on vocabulary and just learn words I happen to come across and focus more on mastering what I already know. Knowing 10 000 words and roughly 3500 individual characters is of course far from a native speaker, but it’s enough to read most printed media and enough to be able to handle all kinds of situations. Expect me to write more about this when I’m done with the dictionary, which hopefully means before the start of next semester!

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