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Friday, December 07, 2007

I want to go to Beijing for one month

I heard this quite often: "I want to go to Beijing for one month and study putonghua."

It sounds good, but the real question should be asked is "then what?"

If anybody believes that one month stay in Beijing (or even six months stay) can make a person a fluent putonghua speaker, and require no further study, this person is too naive.

A devoted full month study is excellent no matter where you are. The real challenge comes after that. When you don't have that much of time, when your life goes back to pre-study routine, it's time for you to really concentrate on how you can carry on your study.

I read this sentence in a coffee shop. It's excellent for putonghua learners as well:

You do what you can at where you are.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Training Your Hand rather than Your Brain

I've seen many many people bought a huge stack of Chinese characters cards, roughly 1000 at least, to study. They read each card, trying to remember what the character looks like, and read the explanations, and, try to read the sample sentences, but often failed here because there are too many news words in the sample sentences. Then what happened?

They quickly forgot what they learned.

Leaning characters is a process of training your hand rather than your brain. If you write enough times, your hand will remember each characters better than your brain can. And your hand will remember those tiny details that differentiate different characters. For example: 已, 己, 巳.

Trust your hand more. It's more reliable.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Running in the dark nights

It is said that sometimes people want to get somewhere quickly and they run in the dark nights. The problem is that they are running in the wrong direction. But running itself keep them feeling comfortable and hoping that they are getting closer.

If you want to learn Mandarin as much as you can and as fast as you can. Be careful, and be alert on where you are going. If you want to achieve speaking and listening fluency, reading lots of grammar will not get you there. Only speaking and listening exercises will. If you want to achieve reading and writing fluency, study decks of decks of character cards will not get you there. Only reading and writing passages will.

You don't want to run in the dark nights in a wrong direction. Even you run as hard as you can, you won't get to where you want to be.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Putonghua and local dilect

For lots of Putonghua students, it's their goal that they can travel around China using only Putonghua. It's very doable in many places, but it can also be quite difficult.

I just had a short trip to Wuhan, Hubei. And I was surprised to find out that Wuhan people prefer Hubeihua rather than Putonghua, even when they are talking to Putonghua speaking people. Hubeihua sounds kind of similar to Putonghua, but only to native ears.

I believe it's very difficult for Putonghua students to understand them, especially those who are programmed in standard four tones.

When asked why they only speak Hubeihua, Wuhan people said that it's habit, or it's not enough education. One or the other. They certainly have no problems understanding Putonghua. They just don't want to speak it!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Not satisfied at your progress?

If you have spent at least one hour per day to study Chinese, to review, to do homework and probably watch Chinese programs on TV, but somehow you don't feel you have made any progress.

It could be that you still utter badly pronounced words, or you still struggle to make a full sentence, or you still can't understand the simplest questions when you hear them. Maybe it's time for you to consider that it's your teacher who didn't do a good job.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Moving forward is as important as review

Sometimes people stop learning because they feel that they need to re-study what they have learned before. It's a good idea. But most of time, it turned out to be a trap.

Re-study can be boring, and that leads to low motivation, and that leads to low self-esteem, and that leads to stop, and that leads to abandon, and that leads to totally forget whatever you have!

Feelings sometimes can be very misleading, and waiting for tomorrow's miracle certainly will never happen. The best way is to forge ahead, move on, roll and stop worrying so much.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Is Summer a good time to study?

Maybe not. That's why schools are all closed during the Summer.

There are too many distractions. Good weather, bad weather, sports, TV, movies, trips and meals, etc, etc. To keep a good disciplined study plan is almost impossible.

Do you want to play the leading actor/actress in Study Mission Impossible?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

11 years in China

Over the years, I have met people who have stayed in China for 11 years and don't speak Chinese, and also those who do. Sometimes I'm not sure which type is more impressive. How can anybody resist the temptation of speaking to the locals using their own language?

The gentleman in the picture, Guo Tong, has stayed in China for 11 years, speaks good Chinese, and doing business in China. Chinese language skills are essential to him.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Reading stories

If the whole textbook is full of conversations, dialogs which are supposedly very useful but actually are not (people are not scripted when they are speaking), what can you do?

My suggestion is: start reading interesting stories.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mandarin Songs

Last night I went to a Turkish restaurant for dinner. There had live music. I guess they could be from Philippines, Mexico, or some other tropical countries since they have this nice brown skin.

They sang a lot of English songs. Since it was a small restaurant and also I was sitting right in front of them, they asked me where I was from. After learned I am from China, they smiled and said "ni hao" to me. That was really nice of them. And then, they did something even nicer - they sang two Chinese songs.

One was Qi Qin's "da yue zai dong ji", the other one was Deng Lijun's "yueliang daibiao wo de xin". They did really well, and I was very happy sitting there and listening. Later on they told me it had been a long time since they sang Chinese songs, but they really loved it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How far can good memory go?

Not very far. I have seen people with excellent memory. Quite often, once they see a new word, or hear a new word, they will remember it for as long as a day. That's all there is. If they don't review, or practice in one form or another, they will forget what they have learned.

It's a great advantage for people who have excellent memory, but also a great pit fall. This type of people tend to be over confident and neglect the fact that learning a language requires more than just memory. Learning a language is a journey with commitment.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Object vs Context

Richard Nisbett's The Geography of Thought is a very interesting read. Asians and Westerners are so different in so many ways, and they live in literally a very different world.

He discussed the language effects which I find really intriguing.
Western languages force a preoccupation with focal objects as opposed to context. English is a "subject-prominent" language. There must be a subject even in the sentence "It is raining." Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, in contrast, are "topic-prominent" languages.

I don't know Japanese or Korean, but I do know "It is raining" in Chinese is "xia yu le!"

It's indeed very different. It shows that to learn Chinese, at least for English speaking people, it's much better to learn through context than to memorize a dictionary. And be prepared, learning Chinese can change your world, literally!!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Learning a language is too expensive to waste

Learning a language can be very expensive. Not only the money you paid to school or your tutor, but also the time and energy you committed.

If you started with two weeks program, and four weeks later you forgot everything, all the effort your have made is wasted! It's better that you didn't start it at all. You can use the money, the time and the energy to do something more beneficial, like go hiking or read a book.

My advice is that if you are not sure, don't start. If you have committed, you should carry on for more than one year to not waste anything.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Workbook Basic Level B Available Online Now

Workbook Basic Level B now is available at online store front
It is good for people who have had 150 - 200 hours of Mandarin instructions, and in need of more good exercises, especially listening exercises.

Have fun!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Workbook Basic Level B

The production of Workbook Basic Level B is finished!
This one is loaded with listening exercises.

I always say that listening exercises are crucial and I can't stress more on how important it is to language development. This is good news for anybody who is on Basic Level B, loads and loads of listening exercises are right there! 74 listening exercises out of 120 exercises in total.

This book will hit our online store front soon!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Learn a New Language, Delay Dementia

This article is interesting, or at least to anyone who is learning a new language:

By knowing more than one language, researchers from Toronto say you can delay the onset of dementia symptoms.

The new study suggests that the mental agility required to speak two or more languages may actually stave off mental decline.

The Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto looked at 184 Toronto-area people.

Researchers found that in people who only spoke one language, symptoms of dementia showed up on average at the age of 70 in men and 71 in women.

For those who knew two or more languages, the study found that dementia didn’t appear until age 76 in men and 75 for women.

The study will be published in the February issue of Neuropsychologia.

This article is from, you can read editor's note here:

So, happy learning!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Who had a great New Year?

If you ate, drank, watched a lot of TV, it's time to shake up now!

Did you put exercises into your daily schedule? Did you put your study plan into your daily schedule?

If you did, great! If you haven't, do it today!

As a long New Year celebration and gift, from Jan 1 to Feb 28, right after Chinese New Year, all Intro level audio lessons have 20% discount. Check them out here.