Learning Mandarin Chinese

A few days ago on Saturday I wrote about how I planned on keeping language lust in check and how I would try out devoting a small amount of my time on learning Mandarin as a sort of side project. I have now started learning Mandarin as of a couple of days ago. I still focus the same amount of time on Japanese but so far I’ve had to subtract 1 hour of Japanese listening to make room for 2 hours of Mandarin listening, so not a huge deal I think. Now, Mandarin is definitely harder to pronounce than Japanese is, however there are good online resources for Mandarin pronunciation which make it easy enough. A little practice and I think I’ll be fine. Now my only remaining concern is tones, I know lots of listening will probably help but I am not quite sure on how to go about learning tones of Mandarin words but I will worry about that later.

For now I am learning Zhuyin and Pinyin. One might ask why I would learn Zhuyin as well as pinyin and the answer is pretty simple. Because I think Zhuyin is better than pinyin for associating Mandarin sounds with a writing system; also Zhuyin can act as a reading aid for Taiwanese children’s books which I would like to make use of. The only reason I am learning Pinyin as well is for Mandarin input on my computer and phone and it is also good to know for dictionaries and other learning materials.

I find it interesting that mainland China doesn’t use Zhuyin even though they created it and use Pinyin instead, I don’t understand the reasoning for this. Pinyin has inconsistencies which make it harder to learn than Zhuyin. Zhuyin does present some difficulty since it uses unfamiliar characters to Mandarin learners but I have already learned most of them pretty well in a couple of days. Also I figure if someone is learning Mandarin it’s silly to be worried over the unfamiliar characters since, if someone ever wants to learn to read Mandarin they are going to need to know the hanzi(Chinese Characters) anyway which is a far larger task than learning Zhuyin. Concerning hanzi learning I will be learning the traditional characters for it’s easier to go from traditional to simplified rather than the other way around. The reason for not learning just simplified is so I can read Taiwanese books, websites, subtitles, etc.

Since learning Mandarin is a side project my progress in the language will undoubtedly be slow and I’m okay with that, I’m mostly learning it as a way of keeping language lust at bay, because otherwise I might be tempted to stop learning Japanese altogether in favor of learning Mandarin. Now that is not what I want to I will try out learning Mandarin on the side and see how it goes, if it turns out to be a bad idea then I will give it up and learn solely Japanese and if it’s good then I will continue learning Mandarin as a side project and in the future I may do it again with a different set of languages.

 

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How Much Japanese Do I Know?

This is something I think about once in awhile and I’m going to attempt to settle this question right now. How much Japanese do I know? Honestly it’s a tough question but simultaneously an easy one as well. Right off the bat I can somewhat answer it with NOT MUCH! Which is really quite a shame since the I started learning Japanese in December of 2014, however it was very off and on and I don’t think I ever consistently learned Japanese for more than 2 weeks at a time! I know sad right. I really struggled to stay consistent with it. I then stopped learning it altogether for several months of 2015 after a few off and on bits in the beginning of the year. But then sometime mid year I decided I would give it another go. I started strong and would try to do as much deliberate practice of Japanese everyday while at the same time greatly neglecting listening to the language. I think though this stretch of time was the longest I had held in for but then I missed a day of practice and then I would try to make up for lost time by doubling my workload, which in turn because it happened multiple times, I started to associate a negative feeling with learning Japanese and would put it off until bedtime. So bedtime would come and I dreadingly started with Japanese and since I was already tired it was even worse, only worsening my association with Japanese learning even further. Soon I started missing more days and trying to make up for the work but to no avail. Shortly after I stopped doing anything remotely Japanese. Next time I touched Japanese it was September of 2015 and I wanted to try again. Again I had lofty goals and tried really hard everyday for a bit, after all I had a lot of make up work to do, but then again the same thing happened and I gave up. Now 10 months later I am back on the grind but this time I am listening to 8-10 hours of Japanese a day and I still have a fairly high workload but I am going about it in a much more productive way and if I miss a day I continue the next day as if I hadn’t. There is no attempt made for trying to make up for a missed day, I simply do as much as I have set a plan for(or more if i feel like it) and that’s it. So far it’s been great I don’t dread the work I have to do each day but instead I enjoy it a lot. I put on a good movie in Japanese playing in the background and I get to work and it really is enjoyable for me. When I do srs reps on surusu I no longer just do them, I set a 2 minute timer and try to do as many as I can in that 2 minutes then i take a 10-45 second break. I have found this to make the experience much more productive and far more enjoyable, productionwise it has reduced the time it take me to do all my srs reps at least 2 fold. Now to the point of this ramble, I estimate that from all my off and on Japanese learning I have probably done 2 and a half months worth including the time I have recently got back into learning Japanese. So what does mean for how much Japanese I know. Well not much actually but having now caught up on all my reps and surpassed them too, I have gone through about 600 sentences, now this doesn’t mean I have those sentences memorized but to a fairly good degree I know them passively. Meaning if I read or hear them I am likely to understand them. Okay, how much does 600 sentences translate to Japanese ownage? I would say probably 8 or 9 percent of all the Japanese I need to be able to understand for decent Japanese proficiency. Now that is not much at all! However I am okay with that, I know it takes time to learn a language and I am actually quite happy with the progress so far despite my failures in the past. 失敗は成功の元!Failure is the root of success! I like the fact that for example I was able to recall that sentence without too much effort! Now that is progress and I enjoy the feeling. I still don’t understand most things but occasionally I will hear a phrase that I had learned and I understand what was being said and it feels awesome. I look forward to when I am better, of course, but I enjoy this moment that I am in and it’s beautiful. In the past I may have failed but this time I am determined to stick it out and learn Japanese and when I am proficient I will continue learning and continue to seek to be better but all the time I will be happy with my current progress. So that is it really, to answer the question of how much Japanese I know, I’m not certain but not much! Probably 600 sentences worth, and who knows how many words that is.:) But in another 3 months I might have 1000 more sentences in my passive knowledge and I will be just that much closer to becoming an ace at Japanese!

Keeping Language Lust In Check

First off, before I start I’d like to express that I love learning Japanese and I most definitely want to be proficient in Japanese. However I seem to have this undying lust for other languages, most especially Mandarin. It is incredibly tempting to split the time I have each day to learn Japanese in half in order to also learn Mandarin. I am unsure of what to do. So I have pondered this quandary for a bit. Perhaps to keep my lust for Mandarin at bay I could dedicate a small amount of time each day to actively work on it; but I would continue doing the exact same amount of effort and time into learning Japanese. This is how I envision such a thing would work. Let’s say everyday I commit to actively learn Japanese for 3 hours each day, I would continue to do that but I would add in an extra 40 minutes of active Mandarin learning each day in addition to the 3 hours of Japanese. As for the passive learning part I would continue listening to Japanese for 10 hours a day and add in just 2 hours of Mandarin listening a day. Now this might indeed be a bad idea but I’m  considering trying it out. If I were able to retain this kind of schedule then I would likely still reach language proficiency in Japanese at the same time as I would have before, say in 2 years time. Now one might ask ‘why not focus that much more on learning Japanese instead?’ Well that’s a good question, however I thought about that and have concluded that for me I have found that going over what I usually do for Japanese; I in a way get sick of learning Japanese but I often still have energy to do more language learning but just not of the Japanese variety. So taking that into consideration perhaps I could take on Mandarin at the same time without reducing my Japanese learning. One concern I have though is being able to include the extra listening, for I for the most part am already listening to Japanese whenever I can, which is about 8-10 hours each day. I think in this area I would struggle the most to add 2 additional hours of foreign language listening. Perhaps I would have to compromise here and listen to 2 hours less of Japanese so that I could fit in the Mandarin listening. And if I did that, Would I still learn Japanese at the same rate or would my progress slow down by a fraction? And if it does indeed cause my Japanese progress to slow down by a bit how much would that be by 20%? 10%? Perhaps 5%? There’s no way of really knowing. How much of a decrease in Japanese acquiring speed am I even okay with? I would say 5% would be an acceptable amount of decrease as that would only mean a couple of months slower if I am to assume it’ll take me 2 years to learn Japanese. Also another question remains, how much benefit would I reap if I spent that small amount of time each day to learn Mandarin? Well let’s do the math 40 minutes a day for 2 years would equal about 487 hours of Mandarin learning. If such a different language from English such as Mandarin takes 2200 hours to learn then after 2 years of learning Japanese, and Mandarin on the side, I would still have 1713 hours left of Mandarin learning(Hypothetically). This would mean that I would have just under a year and a half of Mandarin learning to do to hypothetically learn the language. So to sum it all up to learn Japanese and Mandarin to decent proficiency it would take 3 and half years rather than 4 years if I learned them separately with the added bonus of keeping language lust at bay. Of course this is all hypothetical speculation and real world results usually differ quite a bit so all I have left is to put it to the test, maybe test the waters a little at first and if it seems to be working fine then I will go ahead and do it. And after 3 and a half years I guess I’ll know if it worked.

Learning Several Languages at Once

Sometimes during my language learning I want to learn more than just Japanese. Sometimes I think that maybe I should learn Mandarin at the same time as I learn Japanese. I rationalize that it can be done and perhaps it would be twice as fast as learning them separately. Now I do think it can be done, however I don’t think it is any faster. I think if I tried learning both languages simultaneously then I could easily get overwhelmed and surely one language would automatically get more attention or maybe trying to balance both would lead to quitting altogether and that is definitely not desirable. Let’s suppose that I could handle learning both Japanese and Mandarin at the same time. What might that look like? Well let’s assume that I have 5 hours a day that I can spend on direct language learning. If I was just learning Japanese I could spend all 5 hours on Japanese everyday, but if I was learning both Japanese and Mandarin simultaneously then I would perhaps split my time down the middle and spend 2 and half hours on Japanese and 2 and a half hours on Mandarin, if I need 2200 hours in both languages to be proficient then after 880 days I would be proficient in Japanese and Chinese(Hypothetically). Now here’s the main issue I have with this picture, it would be almost 2.5 years of intense learning everyday before I reached proficiency in either language. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on just a single language at a time and learn Japanese in about 1 year and 2 months? That way in half the time I would already have one language under my belt and therefore I could reap the benefits and the pride of knowing a foreign language and then perhaps I would be more motivated to learn Mandarin even more plus having the confidence to learn another. And perhaps after learning 1 foreign language already I could learn a second even faster. But maybe I’m wrong and learning 2 at once is a better way. Maybe one could learn 2 at once if one language is hard and the other once easy and on the harder language they focus 80% of their time and on the easier one just 20%. For example one might learn Japanese and Spanish at the same time, spending 80% of their time on Japanese and 20% of their time on Spanish. I don’t really know but perhaps that could be a way to successfully learn two languages simultaneously.

*Note* I in no way have the energy(nor time) to actually spend 5 hours a day on active language learning(especially two at once). Three hours a day is probably more accurate but I suspect most can only get away with 1 or 2 hours a day on direct language learning. So based off my figures above Japanese and Chinese would take about 4 years(hypothetically) only worsening the situation.

Importance of Listening to your L2

Recently I have gotten back into acquiring Japanese, for awhile I stopped all Japanese learning, not because Japanese is too hard but life just got in the way. But now I am back and it’s amazing how much Japanese vocabulary I have retained even after such a long hiatus with zero time spent with the language or doing srs on surusu. This time around I aim to be much more consistent and to listen to a lot more Japanese. Before, I focused probably too much on doing srs reps and not enough on listening to the language and I quickly burned out.

Since I have been back into learning Japanese I have been listening to far more than I did before and I have noticed that I understand much more than I thought. Lately I have bought several Japanese dubs of American movies that I am already familiar with and I have found that doing so is a very fun way of getting Japanese exposure. It also is useful in picking up new words since the story is already known and it’s easier to hear new words where memory of the movie and my current Japanese vocabulary serve as a guide to pick out new words more readily than listening to some other form of Japanese audio.  I then will look the word up and select a good short sentence using the word and put it into surusu for later review.

I would like to stress that most of the time I am not actively listening to the audio and yet I still mysteriously reap benefits from listening all the time. Even as I type this I am listening to Despicable Me in Japanese and I am sure it is helping despite not paying attention to it. Now I must admit that previously I never understood how passive listening to anything could possibly be helpful, but now I understand that it really is. It’s hard to explain though, but it’s like the more I hear Japanese the more Japanese my brain becomes and therefore the easier it is to hear individual words rather than just one long string of unintelligible words. Even unknown words become much clearer to hear and consequently can be looked up and put into surusu and then slowly acquired. And next time those words that you learned are heard you hear them clearly and you understand them. It’s an amazing feeling to hear a word you learned earlier and understand it perfectly and it’s even better to hear a whole phrase and understand it!

Frequent listening as either passive or active listening really does seem to be the key to understanding a language. I seriously doubt that I could ever understand Japanese without listening to it. Even if I spent hours a day cramming away on surusu trying to learn all the vocabulary that I needed, I would still not understand any Japanese because my ears and brain would not have the sufficient training to do so. Although doing so would surely help with reading which would be a good thing, but I am not aiming to only be able to read Japanese, I want to do everything I can do in English in Japanese. So in order to understand in a similar way that I do with English I need to clock those hours of Japanese listening. Of course though I still need to do plenty of reading and srs but those things should not take precedence over listening to the language.