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Chinese proficiency report 12

It seems as if my progress reports come at longer and longer intervals, perhaps because I feel that I don’t learn as much as before or simply because I’ve already reached a stage where it takes a lot of time to actually notice any difference. It’s been four months since I last wrote a Chinese proficiency report. I left Taiwan in July, so all this time has been spent in Sweden.

Overall learning goal: This is just a restatement of the same goal I’ve had for some time now: I want 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.

Let’s see how I’ve done over the past four months.

Speaking: I have actually spent a lot more time speaking Chinese this semester than I would ever have thought possible, mostly because I have a very nice neighbour who wants to learn Swedish and we seem to be able to co-operate well (she’s from Taiwan). It’s very difficult to say if I’ve improved or not, so what I said last time is still true. I can speak about almost anything with reasonable fluency, although it’s not necessarily grammatically or idiomatically correct all the time. My pronunciation still has some quirks (especially the old third-tone problem and the fourth tones not being distinct enough), but I’m working on it. I’ve started practising with very basic words to weed out any problems that might remain. Since I’m only half-way through that project, I’ll get back to you about that next time. Still, I don’t think speaking is a problem. I can speak more correctly, but not much more fluently than I do already.

Listening: The more I think about it, the more I realise that listening is the most difficult part in learning Chinese. It requires an extraordinary amount of time and it’s difficult to keep it up. I don’t feel that I learn much Chinese from listening to radio broadcasts or news, but that’s the only way I’ll learn how t understand more formal Chinese. As it is now, I can understand ordinary radio programmes with out too much trouble, but I still think listening to news is hard, although I get the gist most of the time. Regarding more colloquial Chinese, that’s seldom a problem if I’m talking with people, but it’s of course trickier to listen to many native speakers talking at the same time among themselves. I can still understand enough to follow conversations and participate in them, even if they are not intended for me and thus not simplified or slowed down at all.

This is perhaps the area where I’ve improved the most. I think it feels a lot better to write articles now, and I don’t have use dictionaries as much as I did before. When I ask people to correct my articles, I receive fewer and fewer “I don’t understand” comments, but more detailed feedback on word usage and style. I’ve tried to write more on my Chinese blog and I intend to write even more in the future.

Reading: As I’ve often said, reading a lot can be done anywhere, so this is something I’ve done a lot more than when I lived in Taiwan, but perhaps something I should have done even more. I’ve kept on learning words and my database now totals around 12 500, which is 1 500 more than last time, so a slight increase, but a lot slower than when I first moved to Taiwan. I’ve started reading more serious books in Chinese. I’ve finished my first novel, I have started on a second and I have begun going through a book about Chinese grammar, in Chinese. It feels good to know that I can read these books and understand most of what is written there without using a dictionary!

In general, I think I need to spend more time on passive learning, such as reading or listening. Not only will it result in the obvious, better listening and reading ability, but it will also increase my understanding for spoken and written Chinese, and enhance that holy grail of language learning, the gut feeling for what is right.

On the whole, I feel satisfied with my Chinese studies. Of course, I don’t have as much time as I had in Taiwan and it’s obvious that the learning speed is slower, but I haven’t just managed to avoid a retreat, I feel that I’ve been able to advance a significant distance as well. It will take time to reach my goal, but I’m slowly getting there.

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