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Chinese proficiency report 14

This proficiency report won’t actually be a traditional proficiency report, but since it deals with my Chinese learning in much the same way, I’m going to put this among the rest of the progress reports to make things more coherent. If you want to read an update of my Chinese studies, you could look at the post from September last year. I have of course improved since then, but not in any significant way that merits a new progress report. Instead, this time I want to talk about this spring and what I intend to do. For once, I have lots of time on my hands and I need to invest it wisely. Before I start going into details, let us remind ourselves of my overall goal at the moment:

Overall learning goal: 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. If things go according to my plans, I might be required to do this starting from September 2012, so this is the deadline for most of the goals mentioned here.

What I’m going to do below is detail in fairly specific terms what I’m going to do this spring in order to achieve the above-mentioned goal. As usual, I’ve divided the goals and tasks into the four standard categories of speaking, listening, reading and writing. I have also added vocabulary.

Please note: These are my long-term goals. They aren’t the goals I will work towards on a daily basis. I won’t sit down thinking that now I’m going to practise listening for two hours. It doesn’t work like that. Long-term goals are broken down into manageable chunks and short-term goals, but I won’t discuss them because it would take too much time. Read more about goals here. All tasks mention below overlap if possible, so spending X hours reading book Y will also count against the read-a-total-number-of-Z-hours goal.

Please also note: This article is updated regularly to show how things are going. I find this to be much more efficient than copying the goals and commenting on them for each month. Thus, the numbers here are typically update once a month and linked to from the summary for that month. Here are the summaries published so far:

懸樑刺股 – This Chinese idiom (成語) means “to study diligently”, but how diligently? If translated literally, it means to tie one’s hair to the rafters (so as to not fall asleep) and jab one’s thigh (in order to stay awake). In this way, the student can study more. Perhaps I won’t study that diligently, but I still like the story.

Speaking

In general, I don’t feel that speaking is a big problem. That doesn’t mean that I have nothing to learn and that my pronunciation is perfect, it just means that I think that I could survive with the language level I have now. Sure, I would probably need to adjust and start using more formal language, but I feel that this is very difficult to practise on my own. Also, this problem is connected to writing, since focusing on improving writing will at least give me the tools to speak more formally as well. Once I start a master’s degree program, I’m sure I can convert my writing skill into more formal speaking. I’m not saying that it will be easy, but I do think it’s the least of my problems right now. Let’s move on to more interesting areas.

Tasks to complete before September 1st:

  • None, social talking will probably be enough

Listening

I’m convinced I need both quantity and quality when it comes to improving listening ability. I’ve been focusing on quantity a lot during the autumn and it worked out fairly well. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of radio, news broadcasts and podcasts. I’m not going to go into why I think this kind of aural immersion is essential, I’ll just say that I intend to continue doing it. Any material is good, as long as I can understand what’s being said (which is true for 95% of all the material I’ve found so far, so this s not a problem).

Quality has been sadly lacking, however. What I mean with quality is active listening where I spend time to really understand what’s being said and weed out any problems. I have several ideas on how to go about doing this, but here is one: I will pick a news broadcast (perhaps 10 minutes long), then I will try to transcribe what’s being said, then correct/complete my transcription with the official one. After that, I’ll go through the text in search for new words, interesting patterns and so on. Then I will add the news broadcast to a special review queue, which I will listen through occasionally. In general, I want to spend more time on fewer minutes of audio, delving deeper instead of just aiming for quantity.

Tasks to complete before September 1st:

  • Continue aural immersion (mostly passive listening)
  • Spend 300 hours actively working with listening material: 93 (+30 last month)
  • Listen to, transcribe and check a total of five hours of formal Chinese (mainly news from RTI): 40 (+14 last month)
  • Listen to one audio book

Writing

My main focus (compared to what I’ve done earlier, not in absolute terms) over the coming seven months should be writing. Being able to make myself understood in Chinese is simply not good enough, I need to be able to express myself correctly as well. This require s a awful lot of practise, including analysing my own mistakes and listening to other people’s advice. In my experience, writing an article might take an hour, but correcting it and understanding why the corrections were made might take three times as long. As for listening, however, I think there is call for both quantity and quality.

Another problem I need to fix is that my handwriting isn’t good enough. I need to learn this for many reasons, but the fact that I want to teach Chinese should be enough. There might also be tests, reports and so on during a master’s degree program that requires handwriting. Don’t get me wrong here ,though, it’s not as if I can’t write Chinese by hand, it’s just that I’m not good enough. I’m too slow, need to think too much and have forgotten how to write some characters.

Tasks to complete before September 1st:

  • Spend 300 hours actively working with writing of any kind: 82 (+20 last month)
  • Spend 75 hours practising handwriting: 15 (+3 last month)
  • Summarise everything I read in some way (reviews, analyses, chapter summaries)
  • Translate both my theses into Chinese (~60 pages about phonology)

Reading

I’ve already said that writing should be the main focus, but reading comes a close second. Reading is a less direct way to improve writing, but is still essential. Also, reading in itself is necessary because I need to be able to read texts on topics such as grammar, phonology or syntax without having to look up one word every sentence. I have read texts on these topics before, but not close to the amount I need. Just as for the other areas, reading is also about quantity and quality. I need to read more, regardless what I read, and I need to need more relevant literature in-depth, with 100% comprehension as the goal. Doing this, I will of course also pick up the vocabulary I need, but more about this later.

In the following list, “read” means just read through and “study” means read, understand and take notes.

Tasks to complete before September 1st:

  • Spend 300 hours reading any material: 72 (+14 last month)
  • Study 漢語語法 (a comprehensive grammar handbook): 40 pages (+40 last month)
  • Study 華語文教學規範與理論基礎 (about the theory of teaching Chinese): Finished, not summarised.
  • Study 漢字說清楚 (about similar characters native speakers often mix up)
  • Read 國音 (about the sound inventory of Chinese)
  • Read 中國文化史 (about Chinese cultural history)
  • Read 孔子的部落格 (about Confucius in modern Chinese): Finished.

Vocabulary

Vocabulary is the glue that connects all the above parts. I currently have more than 20 000 active cards in my Anki deck, so pure volume is not my main problem. I need to focus on learning specialised words in areas I will need (anything related to language study) and I also need to start sorting out near synonyms and word usage.

Tasks to complete before September 1st:

  • Read, understand and take notes from the Chinese Synonyms Usage Dictionary: 50/500 pages (+0 last month)
  • Read, understand and take notes from The Phonology of Standard Chinese: Finished
  • Increase the number of characters I know to 5500 (I’m currently at around 4250): 4675 (+25 last month)
  • Keep queues (including leeches and marked cards) in Anki at zero: 

Meta and miscellaneous

This category is naturally more difficult to discuss, but I do think I need to learn more about Chinese. Much of this will come from books I have already included above, so I won’t mention them again. However, I do think that I need to learn more about second language acquisition in general, which is probably best done in English. I also have some other more or less ambitious projects going which can’t be sorted in any of the above categories.

Tasks to complete before September 1st:

  • Read, understand and take notes from The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (this is a 900-page monster)
  • Read, understand and take notes from The Phonology of Standard Chinese: Finished
  • Memorise and be able to handwrite 道德經 in classical Chinese (the Taoist classic commonly called Tao Te Ching in English): 20/81 verses memorised (+0 last month)
  • Apply for master’s degree programs, along with associated scholarships (deadline: end of March): Application submitted, scholarship acquired, university admissions pending.
  • Complete my thesis and graduate: Draft finished, defence seminar scheduled.
  • Make monthly updated on my progress on the goals in this post
  • Build up a queue of at least 20 articles ready for publication on Hacking Chinese (these are of course in addition to the normal one article/week): I have a number of drafts and pending articles, but it’s hard to count the exact number of finished articles.
  • Write Hacking Chinese book: Still only exists as a concept.

A plea for help

This is an ambitious undertaking. I estimate that it will take about eight hours daily to complete everything on this list. Every day, including weekends. This means that any kind of longer break will severely increase the workload. Still, I’m not going to do much else during this semester (apart from taking some credits in Chinese, but I think those will be largely incorporated into tasks already mentioned in this post), so it’s definitely possible. Leaving one day each week for things not related to studying, I’ll have 9+ hours workdays, which is quite a lot, but not impossible.

The major problem is that this is my own time and the only one keeping track of it is me. Nine hours a day might not sound like much if you spend that time at work everyday, but this is different. Very different. Therefore, I need your help. I don’t need any encouragement right now, because I’ve just started, but I need people to keep in touch, ask questions and read my updates. Cheering on is welcome at any moment. If you have any suggestions for what I should study you’re more than welcome to leave a comment. Likewise, if you have ideas on how to practise something I’ve written here, do let me know. Thank you!

Edit 1: Added goal: Meta: Build up a queue of at least 20 articles ready for publication on Hacking Chinese (these are of course in addition to the normal one article/week).

Edit 2: Added goal: Meta: Write Hacking Chinese book.

Edit 3: Reduced all “X hours” goals with 25% to allow for more time on the meta/misc category.

Edit 4: Changed “transcribe 100 news items” to “transcribe 5 hours of formal Chinese”.

Edit 5: Cancelled the goal “Update twitter account daily in Chinese (everyday language)”.

Edit 6: Cancelled “Take the TOCFL test again, even though I have passed it”

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