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Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages

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I have now studied almost two months at Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages here in Gaoxiong, and it’s time for my regular Chinese proficiency report. I think this is an opportune moment to do this, because I’m trying to change my studying strategy a little bit and it would be nice to evaluate what I have now so as to be able to make some comparisons later. Not much of interest has happened, but I seem to have survived my kamikaze attack on Chinese, rendering it something of a misnomer. I have passed the tests so far with quite a good margin, so I’m not that worried about the future. Let me continue with the evaluation itself.

Speaking: As I said last time, I haven’t experienced any great leap forward for speaking. This might be a bit incorrect, because the change of environment meant that the average level in my class became about twice a high. This means that perhaps my speaking has improved a lot, but I simply don’t feel that way. The situation is roughly the same as before. I can discuss most subjects I want to discuss, but I still lack a lot of key vocabulary. I have some fluency when it comes to everyday conversations or topics I have discussed before.

Listening: My listening ability has improved a lot, mostly because of the fact that the requirements have sky-rocketed the past two months. In the beginning, I thought it difficult to understand what was said in class, but now I can participate a lot more because I can follow the discussions more easily. Still, this listening ability is for fairly complicated Chinese and for people I know; I still find it almost impossible to understand even simply phrases if said out of context or as the opening of a conversation with someone on the street. After the initial confusion, I’m usually okay, though.

Writing: I have increased my efforts to learn to write Chinese (write as in compose text using a computer, not writing by hand), partly because of homework, but also because I enjoy it. I keep posting a few articles now and then on my Chinese blog. I feel that I have improved a lot in this area and that is quite easy to see if one looks at the earlier texts and compares them to the recent ones. The biggest difference is not in correctness, but in the subject matter discussed. I recently wrote an article about my reactions to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and even though I know I make mistakes, I can still get my meaning across.

Reading: By far, this area is the one in which I have made the greatest progress. Having text books that are much too difficult guarantees that I spend a lot of time learning to read and pronounce new characters, which indirectly also leads to improved listening ability. To compare some figures, my database now contains about 4400 words (compared to 3400 on February 25th). That’s roughly 20 new words daily! Of course, I’ve learnt much more than that, because the database only contains words I study formally (text books, mostly). I also did a quick check in my dictionary over the 3000 most common Chinese characters to see how many I knew, and some statistical extrapolation tells me that the answer is roughl 2100/3000. Needless to say, I do know characters outside the 3000 most common ones, but this is probably a fair approximation anyway.

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Last time I thought it odd that a full two months had passed since the report before that, but the fact is that this time it’s been more than three months! I think a lot has happened in this time and if I want to keep any continuity whatsoever in these reports, I need to keep them reasonably updated. A new term has just started, but so far the new environment has had no chance to influence my Chinese (even though I’m sure it will soon enough). This seems like a good opportunity to shed light on my current Chinese ability.

There is not much to say in general about this, except that two months in class and one month on the road has improved various aspects of my Chinese (I wrote a separate article about travelling to learn languages). It was a well needed break and I now feel more motivated than ever to study diligently and learn as much as possible. Below, I refer to a number of methods and so forth, and I’ve elaborated on these before in series of articles starting with a text about attitude.

Speaking: I can feel no qualitative difference in my speaking ability compared to last time. Of course, that doesn’t mean that nothing has happened, but the feeling I have seems to be the same, and thus the change is quantitative. I can converse freely about a lot of subjects with reasonable comfort and fluency. Needless to say, I still make lots of mistakes and lack key vocabulary, but people understand what I mean, and with I usually get by with a little help from my friends.

Listening: At last, a quantum leap! During my vacation with my parents, I realised that I actually understood what normal people around me said, sometimes even when they speak with each other rather than with me. I still consider listening ability to be the most difficult part of learning Chinese, but I’m progressing. If it’s everyday conversation, I can understand what people say even if it’s spoken with accent and sometimes even if it’s fast. This feels very good to say the least! Hearing what somebody says without context is still out of the question, though.

Writing: I have now stayed with the same revision method I was thinking of when I wrote the previous report and it works very well. It doesn’t guarantee that I know all the vocabulary, but that isn’t the point. I’ve also started a new blog in Chinese to practise my writing, even though I’ve only written a few posts so far. In this manner, I hope to improve not only my ability to write characters, but also to compose longer and coherent texts.

Reading: The method I talked about last time, about not focusing on learning to write every character, but separating them into two categories (one for writing and one only for reading), seems to have payed off. I know a lot more words than three months ago, even though roughly 1400 of them I can only read and pronounce. My database contains roughly 3400 words in all (not individual characters, mind you) and it’s increasing rapidly. Before, I said that I could get the gist of stories, instructions and so forth only with luck, but today I think it’s fairly common that I get the general idea without using a dictionary. Reading is a gradual progression over many years, but I still hope to be able to read newspapers at the end of this semester.

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