Mack's log: Mandarin, damn the torpedoes!

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Dr Mack Rettosy
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Location: USA, The Great Lakes
Languages: English (N), Mandarin
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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Mon Dec 21, 2020 2:44 pm

Well, my first language exchange was a disaster. My co-worker initiated this exchange at the end of the work day. I felt cornered and was definitely not prepared. Most of the phrases and vocabulary that I'm able to activate in speech are introductory and observational, which in a conversation would have been trite and redundant since we both already know each other. Furthermore, I think we have different ideas as to what we want from the exchange. He seems to want a back-and-forth between English and Chinese, where he speaks phrases and vocabulary in Chinese, then he will explain it in English (to improve his own speaking). This isn't helpful at all in my opinion. I want a full immersion, where we either choose to speak in English OR Chinese about a topic of interest. The coup de grâce, I ended the exchange in a flustered rush in order to catch my commute. Talk about an awkward parting of ways.

We clearly have some kinks to work through. Initially, this was a very discouraging experience. I basically just sat there dumbstruck at how hard it was to produce language. But now that some time has passed, I'm considering the positives: 1) I could actually understand a lot of what he said. 2) He clearly seems motivated and excited to have these exchanges. 3) Greater motivation to start speaking.

I'm increasing passive listening. Youtube premium is great for this. Features include no ads, downloadable videos, and continued playing while using other apps or screen shutting off. I will likely keep paying for this feature after the free trial ends. I'm getting 30-120 min/day of passive listening. In the past, I haven't included passive listening as total study time count, but this week I started recording 30min for every day I passive listened (which happens to be every day). As I begun to comprehend more of the passive input, I'm working harder to actively listen and understand, so this 30 min credit feels like an appropriate compromise and should keep me motivated to listen.

I found another candidate for shadowing/accent acquisition: director/actor Wen Jiang. He has a deep, melodic Beijing accent and speaks quite simply. As an example, this interview I estimated my comprehension approaching 50%, both the interviewer, Jiang, and the questions at the end! 姜文也是非常男子汉, 大笑 :)



Finally, I spent 4 hours this Saturday transferring my HC immersion and TCB vocabulary libraries to Pleco. Then on Sunday I went through the lists with a preliminary SRS test to assign initial scores. Tested roughly 20% correctly, pretty low considering I had just reviewed definitions the day before. I'm not happy with how this went, there are so many details to work out: how to handle synonyms (complicated by the fact that I'm focusing on pinyin), best flashcard layout, optimizing the review settings, including context from where I learned the card, the list goes on and on... and on...

That's it for now. I have a busy work week with the Holidays coming up. Hope everyone finds their balance with family time and studies!
7 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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Posts: 55
Joined: Thu Oct 15, 2020 5:53 pm
Location: USA, The Great Lakes
Languages: English (N), Mandarin
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Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Tue Dec 29, 2020 5:08 pm

My avatar photo is a painting of Vincent van Gogh's Digger in Potato Field. In it, we see a man angled away from us. He is shoveling the earth, with his legs straight and back bent in toil. His shoulders protrude through his jacket and his limbs are sinewy. His face is darkened from the shadow of his cap, but his eyebrows are set high and eyelids open, looking to see what lies ahead in his path. To me the Digger symbolizes delayed gratification. Do the work now, reap the harvest later. Dig, dig, dig into Mandarin...
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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BalancingAct
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Languages: Mandarin (N), Cantonese (N), English (prof.), French (Adv. - prof.), Italian (Adv.), German (Adv. receptive), Spanish (Int. receptive)
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Re:

Postby BalancingAct » Tue Dec 29, 2020 6:02 pm

Dr Mack Rettosy wrote:My avatar photo is a painting of Vincent van Gogh's Digger in Potato Field. In it, we see a man angled away from us. He is shoveling the earth, with his legs straight and back bent in toil. His shoulders protrude through his jacket and his limbs are sinewy. His face is darkened from the shadow of his cap, but his eyebrows are set high and eyelids open, looking to see what lies ahead in his path. To me the Digger symbolizes delayed gratification. Do the work now, reap the harvest later. Dig, dig, dig into Mandarin...


Too bad he isn't wearing a headphone.
2 x

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

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Sun Jan 10, 2021 6:21 pm

Don't have too much to say this week, other than the grind continues.

I've just about reached 250 hours of total study time, which represents 5% completion of my 5,000 hour total study time goal.

Found the perfect youtube channel for my current needs: ErgengTV https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3083i ... Vz6I34WZUQ. The videos are 6-10 minute documentaries on aspects of Chinese life. All have hard-coded simple characters and many have soft-coded English subtitles, which, at my current level are necessary to stay engaged with the material. The production and filming is extremely well done, almost artistic, and the subject material is very humanizing.

Expect a more thorough update next week which will mark the three month progress report.
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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Posts: 55
Joined: Thu Oct 15, 2020 5:53 pm
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Re: Oct 15th 2020 - Jan 14th 2021: Three Month Update

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:09 pm

Oct 15th 2020 - Jan 14th 2021: Three Month Update
Current Mindset
Still really enjoying the Mandarin language and the new experience of learning a second language. The deeper I go the more motivation I find, and yet, I feel as if I've barely scratched the surface. I have a lot of future ideas for after the completion of my current short-term goals. Excited to continue broadening and building aspects of the languages (characters, speaking, reading, etc). Overall, I feel that I am just at the cusp of (very) low intermediacy. But considering I only know a handful of characters I'm not too confident in that assessment.

I've developed a nice rhythm to my day which allows me to fit in three hours of solid study time. However, the sustainably of my current practice has yet to be tested. While I manage to balance most aspects of a healthy life, my work productivity has definitely suffered, and I find myself justifying time spent on Mandarin for future economic opportunities. Is this trade-off worthwhile? Only time will tell.

Current Course of Study
The two major materials I use for study are reading pinyin with The Chairman's Bao (TCB) and listening to immersion lessons with the HelloChinese (HC) app. Not much has changed. I'm spending less and less time with the HC app. The SRS reviews only take 10-20min/day. Also, I seem to be losing some interest in the immersion lessons. I wish they were more like ChinesePod's that used comprehensible input and less linguistic descriptions. I glanced ahead and even the hardest intermediate lessons are spoken in mostly English (unlike ChinesePod where the teachers speak more Mandarin scaling with the lesson difficulty). But there are benefits to the immersion like culture exposure and contemporary vocabulary. I'm somewhat conflicted, but I think I'll be giving the HC immersions at least another month.

I've established a morning reading habit of TCB news articles. This is definitely the highlight of my studying. Reading at an HSK3 level is still a little rough but getting smoother day by day. Instead of working up to HSK5 in pinyin, I think I'm going to stop at HSK3/4 and then shift to character learning and reading (restarting at HSK1). I'm very eager to begin learning characters. Heisig's RTH sits on my bookshelf taunting to be opened. I just feel so helpless with my illiteracy, unable to navigate web pages and use subtitles for my listening practice. I'm also thinking about, albeit less eagerly, when to start using HelloTalk for conversation practice. I'll have a detailed plan after I finish my TCB and HC short-term goals.

The final thing to say, beyond SRS reviewing the ~1000 HC words, I am not using any other form of review. That means all exposed words through HC immersions and TCB are only being reviewed as I re-encounter them naturally. I'm not too worried about this, because I feel the pronunciation and meaning alone WITHOUT knowing the characters is just not worth the effort reviewing. When I start learning characters in a few months I'll develop a dedicated reviewing system within Pleco.

Quantitative Summary*
Total unique word (pinyin) exposure: 1650
Total time of intensive study: 262.63 hr
Average time studying per day: 2 hr 49 min

*Reducing the amount of emphasize on hard numbers. I feel that most metrics I had been tracking were not providing a meaningful measure of progress. Total time spent studying remains a reasonable approximate for learning progress and also reflects my overall motivation. While I love tracking data of my personal growth and seeing numbers tick upward, I am cautious of falling victim to Goodhart's Law. At the end of the day it ought to be about the language and not the numbers..

Qualitative Summary (brackets = estimated proficiency)
Listening [HSK2-HSK3]
I aim for 30-60 minutes of passive listening a day. I have an 8 hour youtube playlist with interviews and presentations. This sometimes becomes semi-active when I focus parsing words and noticing tones. I'm beginning to hear more recognizable words but not really making sense of things yet. I also watch short youtube clips (as previously mentioned). With video and context, much more becomes comprehensible.

Speaking [>HSK2]
Full sentences or vocabulary will randomly surface in my mind, and if no one is near, I'll just say them out loud. Lol. I'm still a bit traumatized with the exchange I had with my co-worker, and haven't had any since.

Reading [拼音: HSK3 / 汉字: HSK0]
With TCB. Eager to get to characters as I feel that reading pinyin isn't *real* reading.

Writing [拼音: >HSK2 / 汉字: HSK0]
None, except with HC.

Cultural
Still picking up a lot of cultural aspects, mostly through HC but also through a podcast entitled "You Can Learn Chinese", hosted by Jared Turner and John Pasden (anyone interested in the Chinese language learning community has surely heard of them). Episode 18 has an interesting history on simplified and traditional Hanzi. As an aside, this podcast is a valuable resource for anyone thinking of breaking into Mandarin.

Personal Goals (list of ongoing and completed goals as of January 14th 2021)
Ongoing goals:
HelloChinese immersions: 244 / 512 / 512 lessons
Read 500 HSK1-4 TCB articles: 188 / 500 / 500 articles
Study: 263 / 5000 / 5000 hours

Completed goals:
✓ HelloChinese Maincourse [14 Oct 2020 - 29 Nov 2020]
Last edited by Dr Mack Rettosy on Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:08 pm, edited 5 times in total.
1 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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cjareck
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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby cjareck » Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:24 pm

Are you sure that learning only Pinyin is a good idea? In Mandarin, many homonyms look the same in Pinyin but have different characters. It looks like you will have to learn to distinguish them, which seems to be harder with the amount of learned vocabulary. The more words, the more homonyms, so the more confusion when learning characters. Or perhaps you have some solution to that? I'm only a beginner in Mandarin, and that language is not my priority, but learning characters is really important for me (mostly because I want to read since I am a historian)
3 x
Please feel free to correct me in any language


Listening: 1+ (83% content, 90% linguistic)
Reading: 1 (83% content, 90% linguistic)


MSA DLI : 18 / 141ESKK : 8 / 40


Mandarin Assimil : 36 / 105

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

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Fri Jan 15, 2021 4:05 pm

cjareck wrote:Are you sure that learning only Pinyin is a good idea? In Mandarin, many homonyms look the same in Pinyin but have different characters. It looks like you will have to learn to distinguish them, which seems to be harder with the amount of learned vocabulary. The more words, the more homonyms, so the more confusion when learning characters. Or perhaps you have some solution to that? I'm only a beginner in Mandarin, and that language is not my priority, but learning characters is really important for me (mostly because I want to read since I am a historian)


Short answer: No, I'm not sure my approach is the best.

Long answer: Indeed, the homonym issue is a serious problem with the pinyin approach. Best example being "Shi". Shi is an extremely frequent word and is used with all five tones (fifth being neutral). Just considering the fourth tone alone, shì has at least 8 different meanings. This was a big challenge initially but I'm getting better at working around it in two ways:

The first is using context in which I find it. When I read: Wǒ shì zhè jiaǹ wàitào (我试试这件外套; Let me try on this jacket.) I know that shì meaning is "to try on" because of the context. It's used twice (as a casual suggestion) and because of the object (a jacket). From this I know it's not shì in the since of "to be" 是 or "soldier/scholar" 士, etc. This is a natural process all humans do when hearing spoken language. Could be adapted for flashcards using the cloze deletion approach.

The second way is actually using characters! When I read in pinyin I don't *only* use pinyin. Both HC and TCB have options for turning on just pinyin, just character, or both (one on top of each other). I ALWAYS have characters displayed. In this way, I can still use characters to distinguish between high frequency words. E.g. 的 地 得, all neutral "de" grammatical particles meaning possessive, verb linkage, adverb transformation, respectively. I haven't made any special efforts to memorize them, but through constant reading I've just naturally come to know their meaning.

Having listened to a lot of interviews with Chinese learners, the consensus opinion is to start with the spoken language, then move to characters later. That said, many have wished they started characters earlier on, but some of these people went years before learning characters. It's only been a few months for me, so I feel OK waiting a couple more months. But for your needs, sounds like reading would lead to a more immediately fulfilling use of the language. I see in your log you are using Assimil? Is that exposing you to a lot of characters?

Appreciate your feedback, cjareck! :idea:
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 cjareck » Fri Jan 15, 2021 4:54 pm

Thanks for the detailed Answer! It seems that you are learning characters by exposure to them, not by effort. That may be even better ;)
Dr Mack Rettosy wrote: I see in your log you are using Assimil? Is that exposing you to a lot of characters?
Appreciate your feedback, cjareck! :idea:

The whole course has 800 of them. Not that much for two volumes. I wanted to learn them simultaneously with progressing in the lessons, so I've bought a Chinese script volume, but I am disappointed with that. It is just a list of characters used in each lesson together with stroke order (characters are both simplified and traditional, but stroke order is only for the simplified). Nothing that I couldn't achieve using free tools on the Internet.
3 x
Please feel free to correct me in any language


Listening: 1+ (83% content, 90% linguistic)
Reading: 1 (83% content, 90% linguistic)


MSA DLI : 18 / 141ESKK : 8 / 40


Mandarin Assimil : 36 / 105

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Dr Mack Rettosy
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Location: USA, The Great Lakes
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Language Log: https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... 15&t=16180
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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Wed Jan 20, 2021 4:29 pm

Dr Mack Rettosy wrote: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 [...] I'm curious to see if this happens again, and if it does, will think of ways to reproduce it.


I frequently dream in Chinese now. Often I'll find myself listening to conversations had by other people. Other times, I'll be following orders or directions. And on occasion, I actually speak words and broken sentences. It's strange that during the dream I'm not aware communication is happening in Chinese, only after waking do I realize it wasn't my native language.
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

User avatar
Dr Mack Rettosy
Yellow Belt
Posts: 55
Joined: Thu Oct 15, 2020 5:53 pm
Location: USA, The Great Lakes
Languages: English (N), Mandarin
Language Log: https://forum.language-learners.org/vie ... 15&t=16180
x 226

Study plan update - learning characters

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Thu Jan 21, 2021 6:37 pm

Summary of different methodologies I'm considering to learn Hanzi:

1) Rote
1a) drawing 1ai) paper 1aii) digital (skritter)
1b) flashcards 1bi) paper 1bii) digital srs (anki, supermemo, pleco)

2) Mnemonic
2a) Heisig
2b) Hoenig
2c) Matthews and Matthews
2d) Tuttle (extended by user "HSK Pro" found here.)

3) Concentrated Effort (aka the "Imron method")
Imron is an adminstrator over at chinese-forums. He has been an active forum user for over 15 years and has contributed a VAST wealth of insight into learning Chinese. Here is a compilation of all his important posts, recommended reading for anyone looking for deep insight into learning Chinese. The following method is best explained in his own words here.

The plan is to use a combination of the above (in bold), alternating between the Heisig and Imron method alongside Pleco's SRS to review. I will follow Heisig Vol I and Vol II, which starts with basic radicals and sequentially builds to greater complex characters. The first book has 1500 characters, the second 1500 characters, for a total of 3,000 characters. I'll start with 3-5 new characters a day and build up to a maximum of 8-10 daily. This initial part will likely take 12-15 months? But more time will be needed to crystalize memory to a level of instant recall needed for reading. After I've memorized the first ~300 characters, I will start extensive reading using graded materials (like TCB, MandarinCompanion) and scale up the difficulty of the graded materials. Hoping that by Summer of 2022 I'll be able to start reading native materials.

Not sure when I'll begin, perhaps on Feb 14th, the date of my 4 month update. Admittedly, I'm getting anxious to dive in.
Last edited by Dr Mack Rettosy on Thu Mar 25, 2021 2:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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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