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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Benefit of Learning

There are great benefit in learning. I read this before: learning is the greatest investment you ever made to yourself. But when it comes to Chinese, I heard some different stories. One of them is very convincing at first.

Quote: And don't you watch the news? According to CCTV, all foreigners want to learn Chinese. Well, you can't exactly believe what you see on CCTV. There are some people who wish to learn Chinese, but it's more for something to improve themselves rather than to help with their career or something. So, the people who want to learn Chinese are usually students. There are a lot of Russians up here in Harbin who want to learn Chinese to help them with their careers, and some Koreans and Japanese. But when you compare the number of Chinese people studying English to the number of foreigners studying Chinese, it's a miniscule percent. Usually western business men don't want to bother to learn Chinese. They figure Chinese should learn English to do business with them. And some people think that China will become the next economic powerhouse. Once the standard of living goes up in China and things start to become a little expensive, the foreign companies will pull out of China and find someone else who is cheaper to exploit, thus crushing the Chinese economy. Nope, I'm sorry to say this, but I doubt if there will ever be a large number of people who wish to learn Chinese. Mostly because the written language is too difficult and the tones make it an almost unpronounceable language.

So, if things really come true as my friend predicted, there will be vast number of people who will learn. Think if a Chinese person is the big boss of IBM, don't you think at least half of the company will learn his native language?

As the rate of Chinese company are buying foreign companies going, maybe in the next twenty years to forty years, speaking Chinese will be a ticket to get a job.

MSL Learning Center

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The power of listening

When learning Mandarin, many people are facing these two common problem:

1. When they read a text, they understand. When they listen to it, they don't or not as well as when they read.

2. They are always afraid that their pronuciation isn't good enough. The joke of addressing mother as horse seems has a greater impact on people than I though of. (It actually never happened. I guarantee you!) There was a girl I met last year. She told me she took some Mandarin lessons before. I said that was good and asked if she liked it. Then she told me that at the end she hated it because she was so afraid to speak because her teacher corected her pronuciations of every word when she was trying to speak. It was like setting up a mental block that she will never be able to say those tones right or pronuce 'j, q, x, zh, ch, sh, r' in the teacher's way (the pefect way). She cried once or twice and eventually gave up learning. That was really sad. I told her it really was the teacher's fault. That teacher has no teaching ability but to demonstrate perfect pronuciations.

These two problems can actually be traced to the same source: Students probably didn't do enough listening exercises. This is a very transparent answer to the first problem, but seldom do people realize that listening can help (truely help) their pronunciations and their understanding of this language in general.

Most of the time, students are very vulnerable because they really rely on teachers to guide them and help them. So how can teachers truely help them?

Over the time, I have developed a theroy in regarding the above two mentioned problems. It worked remarkablly well with my students: increasing their listening exercises.

There are certain things teachers need to pay attention to is:
1. Don't let the students listen to TV all the time, especially not Intro or Basic level students.
2. Listening script must contain no new words or a maximum one or two new words to students.

With the help of Grace, we have pull the resources together and published Mandarin Express Intro Level A workbook. It has 55 compatible listening exercises. It's available now at MSL Learning Center. The cost is HKD132 (incl. 2 CDs).

After a certain amount of listening exercises, I found my students not only improved their pronunciations, but also more confident in speaking, and as a bonus to me, they have greater faith in me as well.

MSL Learning Center

Monday, August 08, 2005

3 mis-conceptions in learning Mandarin

To learn a new language is always rewarding. I have met people who speak 5 or more languages! I would think they don't have time for other things except learning new languages one after another one. But amazingly, all of them have other more focused careers, like sales and marketing, architect, researcher, etc. Learning actually accelarated their careers!

More and more people start taking Mandarin lessons. So many people approached me and asked,"I want to speak Mandarin as fast as possible. I want to have conversations with Chinese people. "

This goal is very attainable as long as you are aware of these 3 mis-conceptions:

1. If I go to Beijing, I will learn very fast.

I have met many people who went to China for 3 to 6 months, and came back with fluent inappropriate Mandarin. And many mistakes are fossilized and very hard to correct. I don't understand why their teachers didn't correct them!! Although all Chinese people will figure out the meaning, they all know it's bad Chinese. Make sure you don't learn 20 - 30 new words or characters everyday, five days a week! It's a pity to see so many people tried so hard capturing so many new things, and eventually only a very small portion learned. Both time and money are wasted.

2. If I listen to Mandarin everyday, I will understand it.

You should listen to Mandarin at an appropiate level to you everyday, then you will understand and improve. There was a study that put babies in front of TV sets for months to see if they can speak the target language. The result is NO. By immersing yourself to the sound of Mandarin won't help you understand it better. The most effective way is to listen to tailored listening exercises. The process is gradual. One day you will find you can understand Mandarin TV programs, Chinese movies etc., effortlessly.

3. If I learn 1000 characters, I will be able to read.

It will be true if given a condition: the extensive usage of these 1000 characters. I have seen people are learning characters by flash cards, one by one. But this is the most inefficient way to learn reading Chinese. Only one tenth of your effort can produce some substantial result. For example, Japanese use around 1500 Chinese characters in Japanese language. But if give a text written purely withing these 1500 characters, Japenese people wouldn't understand it.

Be aware these pitfalls. Study smarter is better than study hard. Follow a good structured program, and follow good skillful teachers, are proven the fastest way to speak Mandarin.