Chinese proficiency report 11

It’s been an incredible six months since I last wrote a proficiency report regarding my Chinese studies. Since I spent four of those months speaking a lot of Chinese and continued studying full-time, I should have written a report just when I left Taiwan in July.

However, I had too many other things on my mind, which means that a report now will have to do. Since I haven’t been studying more than sporadically (perhaps an hour a day) since I returned to Sweden, I don’t think much has happened. Therefore, in many regards, I think this report represents what I knew after my two years in Taiwan and also what I know now.

Overall learning goal: Regardless of whether I go back to Taiwan after graduating or not, my goal is to take my Chinese to a level where I can manage an MA in teaching Chinese as a foreign language, taught in Chinese for Chinese-speaking students, without dying. This mostly involves being able to swallow academic literature at a reasonable pace, being able to understand fast-paced, formal spoken Chinese, as well as being able to write formal Chinese with more fluency. I will achieve these goals by studying on my own, parallel to my other courses, during the coming three years.

Here are the four different parts with a discussion of where I am now and what I plan to do in the near future to achieve the goal I described above.

Speaking: This is the single biggest change that occurred during the spring semester. I spent more time speaking Chinese during these four months than I’ve spoken Chinese in total during the previous two and a half years. It’s mostly thanks to people I’ve spent a lot of time with, but also a conscious effort to focus less on reading and writing and more on speaking.

I feel that I can comfortably talk about almost anything with fluency. I don’t do it correctly all the time, but with friends, I can talk for hours about fairly complicated matters without feeling tired. I have reached a stage where expressing my opinion or ideas is never a problem, but should instead focus on doing it correctly. This is a very nice level to have reached, since it’s not very tiring to practice (thanks to everyone, especially Yang-xuan and Jia-fen).

As future plans go, I don’t think I’ll be able to advance very much in this area, but I hope that I’ll have time to keep in touch with people in Taiwan as well as finding some new friends here in Sweden to maintain my speaking ability.

Listening:
The problem with listening remains. It’s a lot easier to study how to pronounce, read and understand Chinese than it is to listen to it. Of course, speaking with people I know (teachers, friends) is not a problem, even if the topic is abstract or complicated, but I still find news broadcasts fairly difficult, although I do understand the gist of them and sometimes a lot more than that.

Listening is almost as easy to practice in Sweden as it is in Taiwan. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to hours of news broadcasts every week (I’ve almost stopped listening to audio books; it’s only the Economist and Chinese now). This hasn’t paid of yet, but my goal is to keep listening a lot during the coming years. I want to be able to listen to news with almost full comprehension within a year or so.

Writing:
When in Taiwan, I argued that there is no point in focusing too much on learning how to write Chinese while abroad, that could be as easily done in Sweden. It’s true that I have been writing a lot more since I left Taiwan, but still not enough. As usual, you can see how I’m doing on my Chinese blog.

My written Chinese has improved a lot since February, mostly because of the above-mentioned boost of speaking ability. Earlier, I wrote some kind of semi-formal Chinese that wasn’t very good, but I think that it looks a lot more natural now. I will try to maintain this and have people correcting me; then I can slowly work myself up to more formal Chinese again when it feels okay.

Reading: As is the case with writing, it seems stupid to waste too much time on reading while abroad. Still, I have learnt a lot of characters and words since last time, although a lot of them haven’t entered my Anki database. It now totals around 11 000, which is only an increase of 1400 words since last time, but as you know, this was a conscious strategy to focus more on speaking.

One major obstacle towards perfecting my Chinese is reading speed. On most standardised exams I’ve taken, the only reason I haven’t scored very well for reading is speed, never comprehension (i.e. I understand everything, but don’t read fast enough). I’m currently trying to change this by reading novels, then I plan to change to more serious, academic literature (thanks again to Yang-xuan for providing me with this).

Starting reading the novel (a translation of Robert A. Heinlein‘s Citizen of the Galaxy), I had a reading speed of about 61 characters per minute. This means that I cover a page in about eight minutes and the book in approximately 45 hours. I plan to check every 100 pages and see how things change, stay tuned.

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