Chinese study 2019

Next story: Chinese study 2019, part 2

Learning how to learn a language is hard.

I've been trying to learn to speak Chinese now for about six years with, I think, little to show for it. I can't watch TV and understand an episode. I can't listen to people talk and understand it. More importantly, I can't listen to people talk to me and respond to them, unless it's childishly simple—and even then, there's a limit, and it doesn't take long to reach it.

So there's that. And there's the people I know who speak English as a second language with great results, nothing to give them away but an accent, proving empirically that that it's possible to jump the wall from one language to another—the same wall that I'm beating my head against. I don't have the answer on how to do it right, but I suppose I can just live the process out loud, here, and hope that the exposure causes some some sense of obligation to do it right.

What are some different aspects of learning a language? Speaking. Listening. Reading. Composing. Handwriting. The last two could be the same, but in Chinese, composing something by keyboard is wildly different than composing it by hand. (Never mind aspects like semantics, syntax, vocabulary, etc. I guess I'm really talking about modes.)

Speaking and hearing are the most important pair if you want to communicate with someone else in person. Composing is important if you want to communicate via email, WeChat, website, etc. Reading is useful, but mostly for yourself, alone. Handwriting is fun, but it can be thrown out without consequence, although I enjoy doing it because it looks like magic.

So that's the rough ranking in terms of importance: hearing, speaking, composing, reading, handwriting. Now: what to do about it?


Here's what I'm doing now.

Listening. For pure listening practice, I listen to TV shows on YouTube. It's a good drill, but it's limited.

Speaking. I do this almost never, and never in any sustained way, just a few simple things here and there at home. We'll come back to this.

Composing. Never. I really don't write or say anything new.

Reading. Yes. I do this the most out of all of the different modes. It's (relatively) easy to do because I can pick the speed, and I can stop to look things up when I don't know them. Every week I pick an article and pull out some new vocabulary as a way of discovering words for Chinese Word of the Day.

Handwriting. A little, actually, as part of listening practice.


How should the levels be adjusted? Let's arrange things in terms of effort:

Mode Current effort Should-be effort
Speaking 10% 25%
Listening 60% 30%
Reading 25% 15%
Composing 0% 25%
Handwriting 5% 5%

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