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I’ve been silent for quite a while now, regarding both important and unimportant matters. In particular, I’ve been quite about my education, mostly because writing a post about it would have meant using more question marks than full stops. However, things have cleared up and I think I now dare to talk a little bit about what will happen during this semester.

Actually, a lot of things could have gone wrong, but so far, everything seems to flow more smoothly than I ever dared to hope. The first issue was to convince the institution that I should be allowed to include Chinese in my teacher’s education. This would be difficult, because the university does not offer this option so it has to be done individually and outside ordinary courses. This was by far the most pivotal question of all, because if I was denied my request, everything would turn very bad indeed. I would have to add at least three semesters before graduating and I would be more miserable in general.

Fortunately, I seem to be able to include Chinese. It’s not exactly clear how this will work, but it’s now rather a question of how to solve problems that might show up rather than thinking about if it’s possible or not. I will study some kind of general didactics courses this semester, along with some practical teaching. I don’t know much about this yes, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I do.

The second conundrum regarded my continued pursuits to learn more Chinese and, perhaps more importantly considering what I wrote above about graduating, how to transform my knowledge into academic credits in the Swedish university system. In order to do this, I have registered for a full-time course in Lund, although I will do most of it from home here in Linköping. I thought I would be denied taking the course at first, but right now everything has worked out just fine, so everything I need to do is pass the exams and write a thesis (a quite hefty one at that).

In addition to all this, I will try to see if there is any part of the English that I lack that can be done during the spring semester. I will have lots of things to do anyway, but graduating next Christmas is not only desirable, it also seems possible. So most of the question marks have been straightened and turned into healthy, positive exclamation marks. I don’t know how this will work out in practice yet, but I’m optimistic!

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Those of you who have studied (or helped me studying) any kind of language know that I think pronunciation is not only important, but also interesting in itself. Admittedly, I’m usually the kind of person who focus more on practical applications of theoretical knowledge than the theory itself, so I don’t focus too much on this when learning languages. However, since I took a course in English phonetics a couple of years ago, I’ve realised that studying theory is sometimes the only way to improve. It’s simply not possible to advance beyond a certain level if you don’t know how things are supposed to sound in theory. Also, knowing the theory makes it easier to read what other people have to say about pronunciation, or to analyse related problems. This, this goal ended up on my 101-in-1001 list.

During the previous semester, I took a course called Varieties and Contexts of English, containing, among other things, studies of different English dialects. This course almost required me to revive my dormant knowledge of phonetics, but this time I made sure I learnt it properly. Properly means that even though I don’t get it right all the time, I have made several fairly successful attempts at narrow transcriptions of spoken English. I have also studied individual phonemes and allophones, to improve my understanding of both standardised versions of English (Received Pronunciation and General American) and certain varieties and accents. If you have no clue about what I’m talking about, check Wikipedia’s page about English phonology.

Using IPA to study Chinese pronunciation becomes a bit more tricky, partly because Chinese seems to be a language which contains broad variations in itself, and these differences are seldom well-documented, at least not in English and using IPA. Still, I have mapped the basics of Mandarin phonology using IPA, based on books I have, but also on Wikipedia. If you are interested in obtaining the list of related vocabulary that I constructed, I suggest checking the Anki deck available for download from within the program, or ask me directly.

I can’t say that this endeavour  has lead directly to any enlightening revelations, but I do feel more comfortable with the sound system and would probably teach it better than I did last time I tried (September). There is a lot more to learn about Chinese pronunciation in theory, but I think this is a necessary first step that I have now completed. There are still a wide variety of theory regarding Mandarin pronunciation that I haven’t read, but I think that what I’ve done already should be fairly comprehensive and should also have eliminated most blind spots.

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Looking at the language section of my 101-in-1001 list, it’s obvious that Chinese is the focus of my studies, as it has been for quite some time. However, I still regard English as quite important, and even though I’ve reached a comfortable level of proficiency, there are always things to polish and areas to expand. I consider vocabulary one of my strong points in English, but learning more words is never a bad idea, especially since that might prove useful when taking higher level exams, something I haven’t done yet, but might have to do in the future.

Choosing English words to learn is not very easy. The words I learn risk being so obscure or formal that they are never used, not even in formal writing. Still, that doesn’t mean that I know all the formal English I should, just that it’s hard to determine what I need to learn. My basic approach is to look up any words I encounter in the Economist, which gives me a few words every week. This is good, but fairly slow.

Then I noticed that my electronic dictionary has a word list with vocabulary that are supposedly adapted to the TOEFL test (Test of English as a Foreign Language). The list contains 5,000 to 10,000 words (I didn’t find a good way of counting them). Of these, I picked out around 550 that I didn’t know at all or that I didn’t know how to use. I entered them into Anki and now I know the fairly well.

How useful this is in practice I don’t know, but I did get the opportunity to make sure I knew some words I had only knows very passively before. I also noticed that there are a number of fairly formal words relating to people who are too interested in sex (such as prurient, licentious, lecherous and lascivious). I thought formal English was quite dry and devoid of passion, much like any other formal language, but it appears that there is at least a lot of pent up sexual frustration.

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One of the reasons for my recent inactivity here on this website was the fact that I’ve moved house, but another reason, which is at least in the long run a lot more important, is the changes I’ve made to my education plans. It would be false to say that I have changed direction entirely (as I did when changing from psychology to teaching), but if everything goes according to plan, I will graduate three semesters earlier than the previous estimate (after the autumn semester of 2011 instead of after the spring semester of 2013).

This is a major change, and although things look good, nothing is guaranteed. The worst case scenario is that my education is prolonged another semester instead, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Bye-bye Swedish, 中文你好

In short, what I have decided to do is to stop studying Swedish and use Chinese as my second subject (English is my first). Looking at actual language level, my Chinese is already good enough, at least if we consider how many academic credits my language ability corresponds to in the Swedish system, but there are three things that are missing.

  • My ability is not measured in the Swedish system since I’ve been studying abroad
  • I need some practical teaching practice in a classroom
  • I need some more theoretical courses related to teaching Chinese

These things are all possible to solve, assuming that the university allows me to include Chinese in the first place. If they don’t, I might have to change to another university, but I hope I won’t be forced to do that.

The following three semesters

This isn’t a detailed plan, but I’ve thought about it a lot and spoken to enough people to make me feel that it’s quite realistic. If something goes wrong, it might delay my graduation a bit, perhaps even an entire semester, but that still enables me to graduate a year earlier than I originally planned.

  1. Autumn 2010 – I just changed from studying Swedish to studying English. Since the other students have already studied for a few months, there will be things I can’t do because the courses are already completed. There is also one element, the term paper, which the others have already started doing, and I don’t think I have enough time to do it properly this semester. In addition to finishing as much as possible of my remaining semester of English, I will also take some kind of course to prepare myself for the spring, but I don’t know any details about that yet.
  2. Spring 2011 – If everything goes according to plan, I will be able to study Chinese for one semester in Lund (hopefully through some kind of distance learning; I really don’t want to move to Lund). That will give me four semesters worth of academic credits in Chinese, which is both good enough to start a master’s degree later and enough to teach. At the same time, I will finish the English term paper and some other things that might be left over from the autumn. Also, I will complete the teaching side of my Chinese education before the summer.
  3. Autumn 2012 – Final courses in what’s called “general education”, which includes a thesis and a long period of continued internship. There should also be time here to complete courses that for some reason have been impossible to finish earlier. It’s not very likely that that’s the case, but there should be enough time if the need arises.

Towards a brighter future

So, what will I do after graduation? The most significant difference between the plan I’ve described above and the original one (which removes the Chinese and adds two years of Swedish studies), is that it takes less time. This means that my financial situation will be a lot better, allowing for more flexibility and more options after graduation. Here are some possible future developments:

  • Finding a job teaching English and/or Chinese in high school – I realise that Chinese is a minor subject, but I do think that some courses will be available and that even more can be created. This would be a way of earning some money and some experience, but it’s also evident that I really like teaching, so this is the most likely development, albeit that it might not be permanent or long-lasting.
  • Returning to Taiwan to study for a master’s degree in teaching Chinese – I know I want to do this at some point, although it depends on my social and financial situation. If granted a scholarship at some point, it’s very likely that I will go back to Taiwan to take my Chinese to a level which is professionally useful outside the classroom.
  • Advancing my Chinese or English studies in Sweden – The goal here would be to take master’s degree in either subject, or possibly something related to education science, enabling me to apply for a PhD later. I’m not saying this a realistic opportunity, but doing research relating to language learning, focused on either Chinese or English, is something I can imagine myself doing five years from now. This can be combined with teaching Chinese.
  • Having achieved more academic credits in general, finding a teaching job at a university would be desirable. Of course, this depends a lot on what happens in the near future, but right now it seems very likely that this will related to Chinese in some way. Teaching university courses in Chinese is something I definitely see myself doing in the future, although there are too many unknown factors to hazard a guess when that might happen.

As you can see, this is a major change not only in my career, but also in my life in general. Most of the change has not taken effect yet, but things have been irrevocably set in motion, so the plan above is what I will try to follow.

I’m convinced that I’ve made the right choices, now I just have to see them through and hopefully things will turn out to the best!

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This is the fifth of the posts in which I explain and motivate the items on my 101-in-1001 list. The list itself can be viewed here, where you can also find a list of all posts related to the list. If you want to follow my progress in more detail, you should check my profile page at the Day Zero Project.

Have a total of at least 120 academic credits in Chinese

This goal is mostly a question of bureaucracy; I need to convert the Chinese I know to the Swedish university system. 120 credits equals two years of pure Chinese, which is enough to start a master’s degree course if I want to. I plan to do this during the spring of 2011. I might have to learn some simplified characters, but I should do that anyway (see below).

Perceived difficulty: 4/10
Estimated time needed: 100 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Write 100 000 characters worth of blog entries in Chinese

I need to practice writing. Quantity is king here, even though I want to be corrected as much as possible as well. I need to get into the habit of writing more Chinese. 100 000 characters is a lot, around 100 major entries.

Perceived difficulty: 7/10
Estimated time needed: 200 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Launch HackingChinese.com and publish at least 50 articles

This is my major project to demystify learning Chinese. I think there is a lot to talk about and I think there are lots of people who are willing to listen. The project is not official yet, but as you can see if you care enough to enter the URL, the website is up and running. Comments are appreciated! At the moment, I have 16 articles, but the official launch date is still quite far away.

Perceived difficulty: 4/10
Estimated time needed: 40 hours
Progress so far: 15%

Have one month with over 5000 unique visitors to HackingChinese.com

Since I plan to write a book and to at least try to sell it, I want to build a substantial community. 5000 unique visitors is a very arbitrary number, I know, and I have no way of assessing how difficult it will be. The point is that I want to make a conscious effort to reach many people and force myself to read and understand how website communities and traffic works.

Perceived difficulty: ?/10
Estimated time needed: ? hours
Progress so far: 0%

Write a book about learning Chinese

A book is not the end result of the above-mentioned project, but it is a significant milestone. I want to summarise and present everything I’ve come to understand about learning Chinese over the past few years and present it as a book. Currently, there is a huge list of things I want to include, but when Hacknig Chinese is up and running properly, I will start working on the book.

Perceived difficulty: 8/10
Estimated time needed: 200 hours
Progress so far: 5%

Read ten university level textbooks in Chinese

My goal is to bring my Chinese to a level where I can take a master’s degree in Taiwan and survive the courses. This means I will have to get used to reading academic material, so reading ten textbooks will be an important step. I haven’t read a single book at this level before, so I expect the first one will take a lot of time.

Perceived difficulty: 8/10
Estimated time needed: 400 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Read a total of 10000 pages of Chinese (any text at any level)

This task overlaps the previous one since the both focus on reading, but 10 000 is a number which easily exceeds the pages in ten course books. In other words, I plan to read more Chinese in general, of any kind. This includes children’s books, novels and anything else I can lay my hands on.

Perceived difficulty: 8/10
Estimated time needed: 300 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Be able to listen to news broadcasts in Chinese with close to full comprehension

Listening is the area in which I need the most practice. I can understand the gist of news broadcasts now, but I need to listen a lot to increase this to the goal “close to full comprehension”. I plan to listen at home, on my way to class, when I walk, when I… well, most of the time, to be honest, although I don’t think listening when I sleep will do much good.

Perceived difficulty: 9/10
Estimated time needed: 500 hours
Progress so far: 5%

Learn the lyrics of 50 songs in Chinese

Listening to music is an interesting way of approaching a language. Not only does it involve listening to the language in question, but learning the lyrics also requires learning the words and the grammar. If the song is a good one, these grammar patterns and words will be reviewed often and with pleasure! Music is also an example of how language is used, even though it isn’t formally correct all the time.

Perceived difficulty: 4/10
Estimated time needed: 50 hours
Progress so far: 4%

Correct all the listed pronunciation mistakes in Chinese, at least when reading

It’s of course a lot harder to improve pronunciation when I live in Sweden compared to when I lived in Taiwan, but since I have a list which I think covers most of the problems I have, I think it’s still possible. Those people who are willing to help me can have a look at the list and evaluate my progress. Achieving all this for relaxed speech is of course very difficult, but the goal here is to be able to do it when reading.

Perceived difficulty: 8/10
Estimated time needed: 50 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Record one hour of Chinese to study my pronunciation

This is in line with the previous task, but the approach is somewhat different. Analysing my own speech has proved to be useful before and I don’t see why it shouldn’t again. I will try to do this both for reading and for speaking, but as is the case above, I strive towards attaining perfection for reading first. Then, that pronunciation can be transferred to spontaneous speech.

Perceived difficulty: 4/10
Estimated time needed: 3 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Learn at least 5000 new words and/or characters

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: vocabulary is king. I currently have 11 669 words in my database, so I plan to have around 17 000 towards the end of this period (hopefully more). I feel that the need for quantity is decreasing all the time, otherwise this goal would be more ambitious.

Perceived difficulty: 5/10
Estimated time needed: 500 hours
Progress so far: 8%

Learn to recognise all simplified Chinese characters

There are roughly 2000 simplified characters, but a huge majority of them (around 1750) are based on a systematic simplification of parts of characters which are generalised to other characters as well. I don’t know how difficult this will be, but my working hypothesis is that it won’t be too hard. I want to learn this because this is what I’m going to teach in the future. Note that I mean recognition here, I don’t plan to be able to write all these characters yet, that will have to come gradually.

Perceived difficulty: 3/10
Estimated time needed: 50 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Keep review queues in Anki at zero

Time-wise, this task overlaps the vocabulary task above, because I use Anki to learn new words. However, this item includes other languages, not only Chinese, even I think it unlikely that I will learn more than a few thousand words in any other language during this time. Also, in the time estimate here, entering the words isn’t included. On the other hand, I have around 15 000 words in Anki already! I spend roughly 30 minutes per day reviewing vocabulary, so the total time might exceed 600 hours.

Perceived difficulty: 3/10
Estimated time needed: 600 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Offer my help to all arriving Taiwanese exchange students

During my stay in Taiwan, I’ve had so many people who’ve helped me with thing that would have crushed me if I’d been forced to handle them on my own. Therefore, at the start of each academic year, I want to offer my help to all arriving Taiwanese exchange students. I’ve already done so this year, but so far, few people have actually used the help I’m offering. I plan to be more available in the future and be clearer about my ambition to help them as much as I can.

Perceived difficulty: 2/10
Estimated time needed: 20 hours
Progress so far: 20%

Record one issue of the Economist to study English pronunciation

My pronunciation in English is quite good at the moment, but there is always room for improvement. There are several people who record the audio edition of the Economist who speak what I deem to be perfect English. I intend to record articles equalling one issue of the magazine and analyse my own pronunciation as compared with that of the professional readers.

Perceived difficulty: 4/10
Estimated time needed: 25 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Study one solid English grammar book

Obviously, I know how to use English grammar, but that doesn’t mean I can explain to other people how to improve or why a certain sentence is better than what they’ve written. Studying grammar to learn how to teach English is of course a natural part of becoming a teacher, but I want to focus more on it. Studying (and learning) the contents of one solid grammar book should be a big step in that direction.

Perceived difficulty: 2/10
Estimated time needed: 25 hours
Progress so far: 0%

Learn all the words in the TOEFL words in my electronic dictionary

Improving my formal English is always a priority, so going through the suggested vocabulary for the TOEFL test on my electronic dictionary is a good idea. It’s also convenient because I have the words already prepared for me. I estimate that there are around 2500 words in this list that I need to study, either because I don’t know what they mean or because I’m not sure how to use them.

Perceived difficulty: 3/10
Estimated time needed: 100 hours
Progress so far: 10%

Learn full IPA for standardised Chinese, English and Swedish

The more languages I study and the more advanced my level becomes in these languages, I realise that learning phonetics properly is really important. I do think it’s a waste of time for beginner or intermediate students, but I don’t consider myself to be at that lever for any of the three languages I’m currently using or studying (Chinese, English, Swedish). This goal is as much about learning phonetics in general as learning the phonetic symbols, but since they go hand in hand, I think a wording like this works well.

Perceived difficulty: 5/10
Estimated time needed: 60 hours
Progress so far: 0%

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