Mack's log: Mandarin, damn the torpedoes!

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Dr Mack Rettosy
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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Mon Nov 09, 2020 6:58 pm

A few updates.

Not much time to study last week. Work picked up and family visited for the weekend. But I remained committed and continued my early morning study and finished the week with a 16 hour total study time. I think it's safe to say that my interest in Mandarin is not a fad.

Something peculiar happened during the early hours of Saturday morning. As I was drifting in and out of wakefulness, I begun to form Chinese sentences. Simple sentences to be sure, but nonetheless genuine thoughts originating in Mandarin. At the time I was vaguely aware of this being interesting, but only now realize this is a significant step closer to generating original L2 thoughts. Does sleep have a special role in this? Or could it be that sleeping-in for the first time in weeks (instead of waking early to study), my brain was use to inputting in the morning, and because I wasn't inputting my brain begun it's own active process of output. I'm curious to see if this happens again, and if it does, will think of ways to reproduce it (for example, go for an early morning walk once a week during the time I normally study).

An exciting book arrived: "Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary" edited by Rick Harbaugh.
"This dictionary is specially designed to help students understand, appreciate and remember Chinese characters. It has the following features:
Each character entry includes a brief etymology explaining the character's composition according to traditional Chinese research.
Genealogical charts highlight the connections between characters, showing the creation of more than 4,000 characters from less than 200 simple pictographs and ideographs. Based on computerized referencing of the classic dictionary written nearly 2,000 years ago, these charts generalize and systematize the radical system by allowing a character to be found by any component, whether phonetic or semantic.
"


Essentially, it is an etymological treatment of Chinese characters. Still considering how to best study and use this book, but for now, I think I might start by memorizing the ~160 core characters (e.g. 一,人,月, etc,) most of which I've already been exposed to through the HelloChinese app.

Looking forward to providing a one month update next week!
5 x
Mandarin goals:
Heisig RSH Vol I: 1276 / 1500 / 1500 汉字
Anki Spoonfed Chinese: 135 / 8017 / 8000 sentences
Study: 527 / 5000 / 5000 hours

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Dr Mack Rettosy
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Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Wed Nov 11, 2020 4:19 pm

It's only been two days, but I have a few more updates. The more time spent learning Mandarin, the more that needs to be said!

-In the famous words of Mike Tyson, my plan to learn simplified 汉字 has been 'punched in the face'. The plan was to memorize basic radicals as a foundation for learning more complex characters. The book I was going to use "Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary" is actually in traditional, not simplified character. Furthermore, I have learned that there is mixed opinion on the usefulness of learning radicals. This article (https://www.outlier-linguistics.com/blogs/chinese/getting-radical-about-radicals) makes a linguistic argument that radicals were created as a reference tool, i.e. for finding characters in a dictionary, and are NOT "building blocks of Chinese characters". Rather they are functional components that carry meaning and sound. What to do going forward? I think I'll still spend some time learning HackingChinese's top 100 radical list compiled from highest frequency radicals of the 2,000 most commonly used characters (https://www.hackingchinese.com/kickstart-your-character-learning-with-the-100-most-common-radicals/). I like the idea of writing them out on paper note cards to counter-balance the enormous amount of time staring at my phone using HelloChinese.

-I discovered 相声! 相声 Xiàngsheng translates to face and voice, or cross-talk, a form of Chinese play on word/tone comedy. This was a great find because I've been needing materials to start passive listening. I find the voices in 相声 to be entertaining and think the exaggeration of the tones are useful. Also, I like the cultural references and heavy idiom usage. Planning to pick a 30-60 minute performance and listen to it until I understand it completely. First it will be a passive exercise, listening to the sounds and rhythms. Then I will begin active translation and slowly begin to improve comprehension until the whole piece memorized, only then moving on to another performance. I expect working through a performance to lasts months, so I need to pick the performance carefully. Dashan is an obvious favorite here, but I'd like to explore more traditional forms as well. Spotify has some older 相声 I might try, but would prefer performances with the translation already available as I'm still very much at a beginner level and translation is daunting.

5 x
Mandarin goals:
Heisig RSH Vol I: 1276 / 1500 / 1500 汉字
Anki Spoonfed Chinese: 135 / 8017 / 8000 sentences
Study: 527 / 5000 / 5000 hours

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Re:

Postby tangleweeds » Wed Nov 11, 2020 5:58 pm

Dr Mack Rettosy wrote:The book I was going to use "Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary" is actually in traditional, not simplified character.
Coinidentally & tangentially, last night in video chat my brother in Japan (also a recreational language learner) showed me a cool book he's using in his Chinese studies that compares, side by side, the modern Japanese character, the modern Chinese version, and the traditional character.

Dr Mack Rettosy wrote:Furthermore, I have learned that there is mixed opinion on the usefulness of learning radicals. This article (https://www.outlier-linguistics.com/blogs/chinese/getting-radical-about-radicals) makes a linguistic argument that radicals were created as a reference tool, i.e. for finding characters in a dictionary, and are NOT "building blocks of Chinese characters". Rather they are functional components that carry meaning and sound. What to do going forward?
In my experience learning to read Japanese, recognizing radicals is incredibly useful chunking*-wise. Ditto knowing the basic characters that tend to show up as sub-elements of other characters, even they don't show up much in daily use (but most seem to). This kind of chunking makes characters 10x easier to recognize and write, and also makes similar characters much easier to distinguish.

*using learning theory meaning of chunking
2 x
Ho-hum, waiting for the latest neurological relapse to pass.
Study tips for (mental) invalids welcome!

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Oct 15th 2020 - Nov 15th 2020: One Month Update

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Mon Nov 16, 2020 2:07 am

Oct 15th 2020 - Nov 15th 2020: One Month Update

Current state of mind
One month has taken me deep into Mandarin language learning. I've got a long way to go, but overall feeling good about my progression and habituation. Excited to complete HelloChinese and move to native materials.

Quantitative Summary
Total word exposure: 773
Total words learned [estimate]: 350
Total character exposure: 255
Total characters learned [estimate]: 40
Total time of intensive study: 86.25 hr
Average time studying per day: 2 hr 42 min

Qualitative Summary (brackets = estimated proficiency)
By HelloChinese standards I have reached HSK3, but I would not put myself anywhere close to that level of competency. I'm probably somewhere between HSK1-HSK2, depending on the language component (see below). Hard to know exactly because language learning is a new experience for me.

Listening [>HSK1]
Mostly through HelloChinese. I've tried Chinesepod, and while I think highly of it's educational value, active learning by listening does not come easily for me. Still searching for good 相声 content. The performance I select will be extremely important because I'll be investing a lot of time and energy. Must have 1) a translation, 2) voice and accent I like, and 3) stimulating content. Also, as recommended by Dashan 大山, I have discovered the work of Xu Zhiyuan 许知远, a journalist who conducts interviews with Chinese intellectuals. These can apparently be found on tencent video 腾讯视频, but still trying to navigate the app. I've found a few interviews on youtube with 汉字 subtitles I may start listening to.

Speaking [HSK1]
Only through HelloChinese. Beginning to form simple sentences spontaneously, some self-narration, imagined conversational responses. No plans for real conversations yet. Pronunciation and tones are not an issue. I feel confident when I do speak, usually shadowing in public or using HC on public transit. What's really holding me back is: 1) Active recall, 2) internalization of complex grammatical structures, 3) limited vocabulary, all of which I'm sure will come in time.

Reading [Pīnyīn: >HSK2 / Hànzì: HSK0]
Only through HelloChinese. Definitely a strong point for me. I know ~350 pinyin words and in context understand ~600 words. At this point I only know a few dozen 汉字, but sometimes characters help me remember pinyin meaning which is kind of neat.

Writing [Pīnyīn: >HSK1 / Hànzì: HSK0]
Only through HelloChinese. Originally thought this journal would be used to practice writing, but need more time before this will happen. Turns out journaling is more helpful for meta-learning.

Cultural
Listening to Sinica podcast (in English) for academic discussions on Chinese culture, history, politics, foreign policy, language, and business. Also reading Supchina (affiliated with the podcast) for opinion pieces. Chinesepod's AskAmber has interesting cultural discussions. Finally, I'm picking up a few cultural points from HelloChinese: Never wear a green hat in China, lol! I want to eventually learn Chinese geography so I can use this as a talking point to learn where people are from, but will wait until my Mandarin has advanced so I can do it with native materials.

Personal Goals (list of ongoing and completed goals as of November 15th 2020)
Ongoing goals:
  • HelloChinese Pinyin: 54 / 71 / 71 courses
  • Study: 86 / 5000 / 5000 hours

Completed goals:
N/A
3 x
Mandarin goals:
Heisig RSH Vol I: 1276 / 1500 / 1500 汉字
Anki Spoonfed Chinese: 135 / 8017 / 8000 sentences
Study: 527 / 5000 / 5000 hours

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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby rdearman » Tue Nov 17, 2020 11:40 am

2 x
Anyone who thinks assembly language programming is difficult, obviously hasn't used Rust.

The Autodidactic Podcast
The Lollygagging Podcast

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Dr Mack Rettosy
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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Tue Nov 17, 2020 6:18 pm

tangleweeds wrote:
Dr Mack Rettosy wrote:Furthermore, I have learned that there is mixed opinion on the usefulness of learning radicals. This article (https://www.outlier-linguistics.com/blogs/chinese/getting-radical-about-radicals) makes a linguistic argument that radicals were created as a reference tool, i.e. for finding characters in a dictionary, and are NOT "building blocks of Chinese characters". Rather they are functional components that carry meaning and sound. What to do going forward?
In my experience learning to read Japanese, recognizing radicals is incredibly useful chunking*-wise. Ditto knowing the basic characters that tend to show up as sub-elements of other characters, even they don't show up much in daily use (but most seem to). This kind of chunking makes characters 10x easier to recognize and write, and also makes similar characters much easier to distinguish.

*using learning theory meaning of chunking


I'm still undecided about radicals. My left brain hemisphere is saying DO IT. It's logical to learn more basic components and sounds and build from the ground up. But my right hemisphere wants to rush forward with interesting content, and indeed, I've noticed I'm picking up radicals WHILE learning characters. I think eventually I will have to dedicate some time memorizing the radicals. Thank you for sharing your experiences, it's helpful to hear.

username wrote:I had a similar experience days ago. I had a dream where I was talking to people in English, and I used a word describing the place I was at which the "awake me" did not even know. then I woke up and looked this word up at once, turned out it was a real word and it made sense in the dream context.

I guess it was an inactive word hidden in my subconscious and somehow got activated, also curious to see if this happens again.


Out of curiosity, what was the word?

I woke early both Saturday and Sunday to study so did not allow the opportunity for this to happen. I'm going to try to sleep in both days this weekend and will report back. (Yes, my SO thinks I'm crazy that I must try sleeping in.)

rdearman wrote:https://mandarincorner.org/videos-by-student-level-and-subjects/


I've come across Mandarin Corner's youtube channel. Like ChinesePod, I think their content is of extremely high quality, but it's just not for me. I really struggle to learn from audio sources especially those in a structured format. Right now the plan is to use long format interviews or Xiangsheng performances for listening practice.
3 x
Mandarin goals:
Heisig RSH Vol I: 1276 / 1500 / 1500 汉字
Anki Spoonfed Chinese: 135 / 8017 / 8000 sentences
Study: 527 / 5000 / 5000 hours

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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Mon Nov 23, 2020 2:34 pm

Busy week at work, but made time for Mandarin. Quick thoughts:

Broke 100 hours of total study time.

HelloChinese main course in pinyin - the. end. is. near. By week's end I should finish all main courses. After completion, I plan to split my study time equally between: 1) Continuing HelloChinese, use the SRS system until review dwindles. Also begin HelloChinese immersion lessons, very curious to see how these are structured. 2) Reading. Likely The Chairman's Bao, maybe graded readers through Pleco.

Well, the cat's out of the bag. Yesterday I told a Chinese co-worker that I was learning Mandarin. His reaction was fun to watch being a mixture of surprise, delight, and pride. We're starting with two half-hour sessions a week, one of which we'll talk in Mandarin, the other in English. His spoken English isn't great, probably A2-B1, so I think we're agreed that this will be mutually beneficial. I'm excited to start attempting to converse, but also just to get to know him. We naturally have good rapport but language has been a real barrier.
6 x
Mandarin goals:
Heisig RSH Vol I: 1276 / 1500 / 1500 汉字
Anki Spoonfed Chinese: 135 / 8017 / 8000 sentences
Study: 527 / 5000 / 5000 hours

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Study plan update - 30 Nov 2020

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Mon Nov 30, 2020 3:53 pm

Another solid week in the books.

I've completed the HelloChinese maincourse in pinyin!
HelloChinese maincourse pinyin: 73 / 73 / 73 courses; 14 Oct 2020 - 29 Nov 2020

Two new short-term goals:
1) HelloChinese immersion lessons in pinyin. I seriously underestimated the amount of content in the immersion section. There are over FIVE HUNDRED lessons across four categories of beginner, elementary, pre-intermediate, and intermediate, with new lessons coming out weekly. I was under the impression each category had a few dozen lessons and I'd knock this out in a couple months. This could take over a year...

Honestly, I'm not excited for this. I am very much ready to be done using the HelloChinese app. Most of the vocabulary and grammar appears to be review from the maincourse, but looking closer there may be new vocabulary which would make this more appealing. For now I'll start with one lesson a day. But I have no qualms about quitting short-term goals if they are not serving my long-term goals.

2) Read (100 each) HSK1/2/3/4/5 TCB articles in pinyin; total of 500 articles
The Chairman's Bao (TCB) is a graded reader for Chinese news. The content is compelling and I enjoy reading *real* stories even if they are simple. I've been using on my iPhone for a week and have read ~25 articles. Some preliminary feedback about TCB:
1) No full translations. There is a "point and click" dictionary translation for each word, but a full translation would be nice for getting the gist of the sentence.
2) Dictionary function frequently mistranslates. It appears the hanzi is automatically translated to pinyin with a simple software. I think the main article's pinyin is edited, but many mistranslations still exist. An annoying example: 都 dōu (all) in the article appears in pinyin as dū (surname). Even more concerning, the dictionary function outputs raw translations and is very often incorrect. For example, in the article 会 huì (which has many definitions, in HSK1 often meaning can/will) is defined by the dictionary as kuài (total). So, in summary, TCB cannot be used by itself, but requires a solid dictionary. Thank goodness for Pleco.
3) Bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Often the audio or text won't load. App occasionally crashes. Sometimes log-in doesn't work. Other times it forgets I'm a premium subscriber. Not sure if this is specific for the iPhone app?

Overall, TCB is far from perfect, and all these issues taken together almost make it unusable. But all things considered, TCB is currently the best option.

Quick run through on the other reading-assisted software I considered:
LingQ I like Steve Kaufmann and think the core feature of LingQ is solid, but I just couldn't stomach the execution. The layout is bloated, the software buggy, and the features too gamified. Truly a shame.
Learn With Texts This looks like it has all the core functions of LingQ without all the bugs and bloat. The download looks intense for someone not tech savy. I would do it, however, it appears it can only run on desktop OS. I want something that could be used on iPhone or iPad.
MandarinCompanion, Duchinese, etc. Not interested in content aimed at learners. Not stimulating enough to keep engagement.
Pleco's document reader Unfortunately does not support pinyin. Probably will use this when I begin learning hanzi.
All others I forget specific names but they had one of the following problems: Not compatible with iPhone/iPad, not Chinese-friendly, not compatible with pinyin.

Executing the short term plan
Tentatively, my daily schedule will look like: Continue to whittle down hellochinese SRS review. One hellochinese immersion lesson. Read 2-10 articles (depending on HSK level). Each day I'll add at least 10 but no more than 20 new vocabulary words to my Pleco deck, sourced from immersion lessons and/or reading. I've already transferred my HelloChinese word library to Pleco's flashcard system. After working down the hellochinese SRS I'll transition to Pleco SRS full-time. For TCB reading, I'm planning to read 100 articles of each HSK level up to HSK5, give or take a few dozen. Not planning to read HSK6 because I think when I hit 3000 pinyin words I'll want to begin memorizing hanzi. Estimate this phase will take 6-8 months.
4 x
Mandarin goals:
Heisig RSH Vol I: 1276 / 1500 / 1500 汉字
Anki Spoonfed Chinese: 135 / 8017 / 8000 sentences
Study: 527 / 5000 / 5000 hours

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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Tue Dec 08, 2020 2:42 pm

Lower than average study time this week, 16 hours. Had to prioritize professional and personal matters. When things get tough I like daydreaming about studying Chinese, a good sign that I’m enjoying myself?

A few impressions about my new course of study.

I'm sure I sound like an advertisement, but I can't help having strong opinions with software I spend many hours using.

First, the HelloChinese immersion lessons are fantastic. The HC immersions are high quality and introduce a decent amount of new vocabulary, give thorough explanations on grammar, and expose one to elements of Chinese culture. I've also noticed the phrases learned from these lessons pop into my head randomly throughout the day. For example, 你的生日,是几月几号。Nǐ de shēngrì shì jǐ yuè jǐ hào has a certain rhythm to it that makes it really sticky. Other short phrases, 对,谢谢, etc. All of this I had learned weeks ago but somehow the immersion lessons are moving vocabulary from passive to active.

The Chairman's Bao is giving me less trouble in terms of the software. To fully appreciate TCB, be sure to have the most updated version of your phone's software and have some patience using it. Now that I'm a few dozen articles in I'm really enjoying it. Real content, even if simple, is very compelling. I'm reading up to HSK2 articles in pinyin very smoothly, I could probably try HSK3 but don't want to rush things. Reading is more "work" than the HC app, that is, it requires a higher degree of motivation to begin. But I also think it is more efficient and rewarding.

Finally, I'm still figuring out a workflow for collecting new vocabulary words. Currently: listen ~4 HC immersions (save ~3 new words) + read ~4 TCB articles (save ~7 new words/day). That's it. I'm just saving them with each apps save function and not really doing anything with them. I need to figure out a system where I upload them into Pleco's flashcard SRS software somewhat regularly, maybe twice a week? I also need to decide on a flashcard format. I've read that sentence clozes, ideally sentences you've read (to invoke context) are most effective.
3 x
Mandarin goals:
Heisig RSH Vol I: 1276 / 1500 / 1500 汉字
Anki Spoonfed Chinese: 135 / 8017 / 8000 sentences
Study: 527 / 5000 / 5000 hours

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Oct 15th 2020 - Dec 14th 2020: Two Month Update

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Mon Dec 14, 2020 3:02 pm

Oct 15th 2020 - Dec 14th 2020: Two Month Update
Current Mindset
Motivation remains high. Making the transition away from gamified app learning (HC) to more authentic graded materials (TCB). Really enjoying the challenge of reading. Listening is improving and starting to pick out familiar words from native materials. Currently, I need to sort out the logistics of vocabulary acquisition. Previously, my learning was exclusively through HC so I could rely on their review system. But now a lot of new words are coming in from TCB and native materials. I want to create an integrated system on Pleco, but haven't had the time to sit down and figure it out. So that means the last two week's worth of words (210 to be exact) have gone in one ear and out the other :?. The top priority for the third month is to get the Pleco review system working.

Quantitative Summary
Total unique word exposure: 1236
Total words learned [estimate]: 700
Total unique character exposure: 321
Total characters learned [estimate]: 40
Total time of intensive study: 161.55 hr
Average time studying per day: 2 hr 39 min

Qualitative Summary (brackets = estimated proficiency)
Listening [HSK2]
Listening practice through current study methods (HC immersions and TCB). However, neither are voluminous nor compelling enough to internalize speaking patterns. The HC immersions are simple dialogues spoken by teachers. As for the TCB articles, the lower level readings fall in the uncanny valley of artificial-human speech. I'm starting to collect some authentic materials for passive learning falling into rough categories:
  • 相声 playlists on youtube and spotify.
  • A few TV shows, trying to find ones that interest me, have subtitles, use mainland dialects/accents. First glance, there's a lot of content on youtube, but still need to figure out the best plug-in for language learning. May have to switch to using chrome. Somewhat discouraged by the lack of mainland content with subtitles on youtube. 我是老板 looks great but doesn't have subtitles. Other options for business/legal dramas include 继承人, 猎场, 我的前半生, last one has subtitles but has a female lead, obviously nothing wrong with this but only an issue considering I'm trying to acquire an accent and I've read it's best to use a gendered-matched, similar-aged individual.
  • Various Chinese youtube channels. These are great for the evenings when I'm too tired to do active things and want to relax and learn something. Also discovered an excellent Beijing dialect series, spoken by a similar aged man with an awesome accent and describes some Northern-specific phrases and concepts. (Yes, I would like to acquire a Northern/Beijing accent.) Considering playing this on loop in background, however there is some background music which could be distracting.

Speaking [HSK2]
Only through HC immersion dialogue sections. My intention here is not to practice pronunciation but to have comprehensible speech. Through my meta-learning, I'm becoming more influenced by the massive input/comprehensive listening philosophy (see Stephen Krashen, AJATT, Matt vs. Japan, etc.). I'm cautious to speak too soon because of the opportunity cost and risk of developing bad pronunciation habits.

Reading [拼音: HSK2-HSK3 / 汉字: HSK0]
Continuing to strengthen reading skills with TCB. I can read HSK2 quite smoothly now, will likely start reading HSK3 articles next week. I'm mindful that I'm reading 拼音 and not 汉字. Hopefully the grammar rules and vocabulary will help the 汉字 learning process down the road.

Writing [拼音: HSK2 / 汉字: HSK0]
A little bit of writing practice in the HC immersions, picking out whole words to form sentences. Obviously not writing 汉语 here (or elsewhere for that matter). Focusing on input.

Cultural
Still picking up a lot of culture through HC, TCB, and native youtube content. One noteworthy aspect of Chinese culture are the standards of gift acceptance. When receiving a gift, one should take it with two hands and hold it for a prolonged period. This conveys a sense of appreciation, body language that I think is intuitive across cultures. I tried it recently and felt a greater sense of presence and thankfulness. This is timely with the upcoming Holiday season and absolutely encourage everyone to try it.

Personal Goals (list of ongoing and completed goals as of December 14th 2020)
Ongoing goals:
HelloChinese immersions: 65 / 512 / 512 lessons
Read 100 HSK1,2,3,4,5 TCB articles: 60 / 500 / 500 articles
Study: 162 / 5000 / 5000 hours

Completed goals:
✓ HelloChinese Maincourse in Pinyin [14 Oct 2020 - 29 Nov 2020]
4 x
Mandarin goals:
Heisig RSH Vol I: 1276 / 1500 / 1500 汉字
Anki Spoonfed Chinese: 135 / 8017 / 8000 sentences
Study: 527 / 5000 / 5000 hours


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