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 » Tue Jan 26, 2021 10:29 pm

Some thoughts from a first time L2 learner,

I've noticed a developing sense of familiarity towards Mandarin Chinese. When I hear it or see it, it just feels, normal? For example, at work I'll overhear a colleague use Mandarin to another colleague, and there's nothing foreign nor exotic about it, and although I might not understand what was said, it simply does not register as something I can't understand. My brain just accepts the sounds and doesn't raise the incomprehensible alarms that foreign language usually provokes. This realization all came about the other evening while watching the Korean film "Burning". Immediately, the Korean language struck me as totally imperceptible, not at all like Mandarin. There was one point in the movie where a Korean character was describing her travels in China and spoke a little bit of Mandarin and my brain immediately grasped unto the language, like it hadn't had a breath in quite some time and was relieved to get something comprehensible.

Anyway, this is all old news to anyone who has acquired languages beyond their native tongue. But as a new language learner, I would say this is my first "aha!" moment. It's only taken 300+ hours, but I'm definitely looking forward to more.
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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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Fri Jan 29, 2021 6:10 pm

This post is for myself, working through my thoughts on testing standards and long-term goals.

At the very beginning of this journal in Oct 2020, I was under the impression that the 汉语水平考试 (HSK test) equated to the CEFRL in the following way:

HSK1=A1
HSK2=A2
HSK3=B1
HSK4=B2
HSK5=C1
HSK6=C2

However, I quickly learned that the actual relation is closer to:

HSK1=<A1
HSK2=A1
HSK3=>A1
HSK4=A2
HSK5=B1
HSK6=B2

Anyone unfamiliar with Mandarin or with rudimentary understanding of HSK would get the false impression that my Mandarin abilities are higher than they actually are. Make no mistake, when I describe myself as HSK3, I'm really saying >A1.

My gosh this language is slow going.

There is word that the current HSK is going to receive a massive overhaul. There will be three tiers, each with three levels for a total of nine levels. The top level will require 11,000+ words, in contrast to the HSK6 modest 6,000 word requirement.

I'm happy with this proposal. It creates new goal posts for those HSK6+ learners. Also, I think it's more in line with other language proficiency requirements like the CEFLR, etc.

My goal of "Mastering" Mandarin aims much higher than HSK6, and having estimated the enormous time to obtain HSK6 (>3,750+ hours), true mastery may take much, much longer. Longer than my long-term goal of 5,000 hours. And who can actually say they've mastered a language? Even a native language is impossible to master! I suppose it follows that this journal title is hyperbole; the sort of ambition only had by a naive L2 beginner learner! Anyway, my guess is by the time I've hit 3,000 hours I'm going to be itching to try a new language. :D
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 rdearman » Fri Jan 29, 2021 6:35 pm

Dr Mack Rettosy wrote:My gosh this language is slow going.

They all are.
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Dr Mack Rettosy
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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Tue Feb 02, 2021 9:37 pm

rdearman wrote:
Dr Mack Rettosy wrote:My gosh this language is slow going.

They all are.


Cue click bait title :!: The One Secret Only Polyglots Know :!:
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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Dr Mack Rettosy
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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Thu Feb 04, 2021 8:49 pm

Noticing progress in my passive listening. Beyond just recognizing more words, I'm starting to comprehend short phrases. Again, this insight is only significant because this is my L2, but it's fascinating to watch my brain take the language as something comprehensible. There's no translation happening, the meaning just happens.

e.g.
"[..]要咖啡?"
"我不关系"
"请翻译"
etc.

The journey to learn Chinese characters has begun (on Jan 31st 2021 to be exact). I'm using Heisig's Remembering Simplified Hanzi. So far I've exposed myself to 68 characters, averaging 12-15/day. This is more than I had originally planned, but it feels manageable and I can always adjust as the reviews increase.

Current workflow: I first review characters with Pleco's SRS [5-10min]. Any that I get wrong I make sure I still can recall the mnemonic device and how that connects with the keyword and primitive meaning. I then learn the day's new set [30min]*, concluding with a quick review of each character by covering up explanations [5min].

*No details of this process because it will likely change throughout my studies. Expect to have more detailed explanations in the future.

My first impression of Heisig's RSH? It works as advertised. At least for the simple process of recognize character > recall keyword. But some huge unknowns I still have is how to piece together pronunciation, meaning, words, and then read them. The whole language is like one big fuzzy puzzle. But I've done enough reading and research, so no more analysis paralysis, it's time to give it a go myself.
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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Dr Mack Rettosy
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Re: Dr. Mack Rettosy's Journal: Mastering Mandarin

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Wed Feb 10, 2021 10:28 pm

Seeing as I've passed a small milestone, 200 characters, I'd like to give an update.

I'm reviewing characters with Pleco, a powerful yet elegant Chinese dictionary app. It's taken time to familiarize myself with the software and settings, but I think I finally have it sorted out. In doing so, I decided to reset my score files, which essentially left me a stack of 201 character cards that needed review to assign scores for the SRS system. I reviewed them all in a single session.

Here are the results:
pleco_RSH.png
pleco_RSH.png (54.41 KiB) Viewed 258 times

Regarding the mnemonics, out of the above 201 characters, I've only forgotten 11 of the mnemonic devices, either partially or fully. In many cases I've forgotten the mnemonic device but still remembered the keyword for the character, which, is actually the end goal with this system, so that's quite neat (although I plan to refresh the story because the characters build off each other).

Spending just 3 minutes learning each character gives me an 85% retention rate. I spent months using HC's rudimentary character learning feature for ~300 characters. It uses pictogram approaches similar to the pedagogically-deficient Chineasy system. I'd probably put in around 8 hours with it over the past four months and have had a dismal retention rate, less than 5%. I'm very pleased with RSH so far. I know it's only a first step towards literacy, but it's allowing me to get a foothold into 漢字, where previously it was impenetrable.

Other key statistics behind these numbers:
-Days studying characters: 11
-Total time studying characters w/ RSH: 450 minutes
-Total time reviewing characters w/ Pleco: 185 minutes
-Avg time studying characters per day: 57.75 minutes
-Avg characters exposed per day: 18.25 characters
-Avg total time spent learning character: 3 minutes 9 seconds
-Avg time needed to recognize each character (during this test alone): 16 seconds. This will be a fun statistic to track over time, because quicker recognition time means closer to the goal of having instant recall needed for fluent reading.
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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Re: Oct 15th 2020 - Feb 12th 2021: Four Month Update

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Fri Feb 12, 2021 7:35 pm

Oct 15th 2020 - Feb 12th 2021: Four Month Update

新年快乐!这个是地四月我学习汉语。我希望开学习汉字让我写中文。 不好意思, 但是我使很多错误,我不要用Google翻译。

我知道这个春节成语:牛来运转!我喜欢汉语的文字游戏。

A little early on this month’s update, but here it is.

Current Course of Study
I’m close to finishing the entire HelloChinese app. The SRS reviews have dwindled to only needing 10 minutes every other day. Honestly, I’d probably benefit graduating to other materials, but the completionist in me wants to push through with the last ninety immersion lessons. I’m still learning new things and improving my listening, but am losing interest with the amount of English and all the grammar descriptions. I think my next listening project will be to select a fully Mandarin dialogue, study the transcription, then listen on repeat. More on this later.

I stopped reading TCB in pinyin half-way into the month. After a few more weeks with Heisig, I’ll go back to the HSK1 articles and begin reading in characters. After I complete my goal of 500 articles, I’ll likely move to graded readers.

Characters are picking up. Allocating more of my study time to Heisig and reviews. See previous and future posts for detail.

Quantitative Summary
Total unique pinyin word (拼音) exposure*: 2230
Total character (汉字) exposure: 286
Total time of intensive study: 374 hr
Average time studying per day: 3 hr 4 min

*This may be the last month I include this statistic. I’ve stopped tracking it and will soon go all in on characters.

Qualitative Summary (brackets = estimated proficiency)
Listening [>HSK3]
This month I saw the biggest improvement in my listening. I would say I’m solidly HSK3 at this point, and if watching video with context I’m able to comprehend into HSK4 range. I understand short phrases and get the gist of longer sentences. Although comprehension can reset to zero depending on the dialect, speed, and my attention span.

Speaking [>HSK2]
I don’t feel that my speaking (i.e. talking to myself) has improved from last month. Still hovering around HSK2. Can produce very basic introductions, descriptions, questions. Although, whether my tones could be understood is still unknown lol.

Reading [拼音: HSK3 / 汉字: <HSK1]
Reading pinyin was going very well early in the month but I cold stopped once I began learning characters. Already, characters have started “popping” and no longer look like squiggly gibberish. My brain is assigning meaning. Hopefully by next month I’ll be ready to start reading.

Writing [拼音: >HSK2 / 汉字: <HSK1]
Well, you saw my attempt at writing at the top of this page. I texted all my co-workers wishing them a happy new year and spring festival. Despite the errors, at least a few very much appreciated the effort!

Cultural
Nothing specific that stood out. Slowly learning more about geography and holidays. I miss reading TCB. Some of the things I’ve learned about (sorry no specific details because I have forgotten them): Wolfberry traditional medicine, revival of traditional chinese wrestling, a glass viewing platform constructed over the largest sinkhole, Xian bell tower, Tibet’s first and only aquarium, etc.

Personal Goals (list of ongoing and completed goals as of February 12th 2021)
Ongoing goals:
HelloChinese Immersions: 434 / 524 / 524 lessons
Read 500 HSK1-4 TCB articles: 235 / 500 / 500 articles
Heisig RSH Vol I: 286 / 1500 / 1500 汉字
Study: 374 / 5000 / 5000 hours

Completed goals:
✓ HelloChinese Maincourse [14 Oct 2020 - 29 Nov 2020]
Last edited by Dr Mack Rettosy on Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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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Re: Mack's log: Mandarin, damn the torpedoes!

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Thu Feb 18, 2021 2:03 pm

Small milestone, I've had my first encounter with a new word whose meaning could be inferred using knowledge of characters.

军训

军 - the top primitive is 'crown' over the lower component 'car', invokes the story of a royal chariot, which cues my memory to remember the keyword "army" [Heisig's #320].

训 - the left primitive is "words" and the three strokes on the right as a primitive mean "stream", invokes the story of a stream of words telling someone to do something, which cues my memory to remember the keyword "instruction" [Heisig's #352].

So, 军训 means military training or something to that effect. I encountered this word through my hellochinese immersions. Apparently at the start of Fall semester, highschools and universities require freshman students to participate in two weeks of 军训. They march, sing, do drills, etc. the HC immersion gave the impression that the students don't enjoy this, but some like it because it helps the cohort get to know each other better, like a team building exercise.

军训 is pronounced jun1xun4, although I'm not memorizing pronunciation yet so how components contribute to sound is still missing for me, but hope to learn this when I start reading.
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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Re: Mack's log: Mandarin, damn the torpedoes!

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Tue Mar 02, 2021 3:53 pm

I'm trying to organize my thoughts on the pronunciation of tones. My approach to tones is turning out to be divergent from the broader Chinese language learning community. Yes, tones are challenging. Yes, tones are essential. Yes, tones require deliberate practice. But... I think a lot of learners place the wrong sort of emphasis on tones.

When I first begun asking my colleagues for pronunciation help (e.g. a name that has been romanized without pinyin), I would ask explicitly what tone each syllable should have, but would never get a straight answer. It took a lot of explaining and speaking the word to agree upon which tones were being used. Eventually, it became easier to just show them the word, listen, mimic the pronunciation, and only after assign tones. This suggests something really important: Native speakers don't think about tones the way learners do, instead they've internalized the tones as different sounds and assigned different meaning.

I've finally managed to get an intuitive grasp on tones. It was during a long walk listening to this Everyday Chinese video on repeat. In it, an HSK3 word is spoken, then spoken in a sentence, then the translation, then spoken in a sentence the final time (an aside, it's excellent passive comprehensible input material). A sentence was spoken where a child asks for her mother, 妈 (ma, 1st tone). A few sentences later, a sentence about the safety of riding horses, 马 (ma, 3rd tone). The differences between the two struck me as obvious. 妈 is spoken in a high flat tone, like a baby would ask for their mother, maaa! 马 starts low and goes high and is shorter sound, maaaa, like the neigh of a horse. Seems hard to confuse the two now, they're just different. It took the juxtaposition of two same syllables with two different tones, each with their own meaning in the context of their own sentence, to finally understand tones like a native might.

Of course "ma" is perhaps the simplest example one could make of this. What's more primal than a child calling for her mother and not the domesticated animal outside? There's a long way to go before I can distinguish multi-syllable words. E.g. 北京,背景,背静. Běijīng, Bèijǐng, Bèijing. Beijing capital, background, secluded. Just need to put in the comprehensible input..

That's all for now. Just grinding away at Heisig and wrapping up the HelloChinese app. In two weeks I'll give a five month update.
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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Dr Mack Rettosy
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Re: Mack's log: Mandarin, damn the torpedoes!

Postby Dr Mack Rettosy » Sat Mar 06, 2021 6:00 pm

I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy, I am as giddy as a drunken man!

Goodbye HelloChinese, the app is complete!

HelloChinese immersions: 538 / 538 / 538 lessons; 1 Dec 2020 - 6 March 2021

My full attention now shifts to characters, reading, and mass immersion. Currently I have two short-term goals: Heisig's Vol I (characters) and reading graded news articles (TCB in characters). I'm thinking of ways to set a new short-term goal for mass immersion. I have a large list of candidate TV shows and youtube channels that are of interest, so I'll need to create a list to progress through. More on that later.
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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