I'm Learning Mandarin
By Mi Kai
The goal of this podcast is to help you learn how to learn Chinese. I’ve been learning Mandarin independently outside China while working full time for five years. Each episode I will be discussing a new topic regarding how best to learn Chinese, drawing on stories and insights from my experience. For more content please subscribe and visit my blog at imlearningmandarin.com
My First Ever Podcast Discussion Recorded Entirely in Mandarin Chinese! 中式礼貌和英式礼貌有什么区别？
Today’s episode is a very special edition in which, for the first time ever, the discussion is recorded entirely in Mandarin Chinese. For some background: Last Christmas I wrote a blog in which I set my new years’ resolution. And the goal for 2022 was to work hard on my speaking skills and get to a level within one year where I’d feel comfortable recording podcast discussions in fluent Mandarin. So after several months of hard work, I’m finally ready to post my first episode - and hopefully the first of many - in Chinese. I’m joined by my Chinese friend Katherine who is a keen language learner and a graduate in translation studies. She’s currently studying a masters in English literature while living in the UK. A few months ago she came on the podcast to talk about Chinese polite culture and common attitudes Chinese people often have towards learners of Mandarin as a second language. Today we chat about all the ways ways in which Chinese politeness differs from British politeness based on Katherine's experience of living here for over a year.
October 29, 2022
Mandarin Retreat: This New Language Learning Initiative Aims to Replicate the Experience of Total Chinese Immersion Outside Chinese Speaking Countries
Links: Join the raffle here: https://mandarinretreat.com/hc-raffle/ Hack Chinese: https://www.hackchinese.com/ My blog documenting my experience of joining a Mandarin Retreat: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/08/14/i-tasted-full-immersion-for-the-first-time-on-a-weekend-mandarin-retreat-and-you-can-too/ -- Regular listeners to this podcast will be aware that a common thread running through many of the topics we discuss here is how to create an optimal language learning environment while studying Mandarin from outside Chinese speaking countries. So on today’s podcast I explore the topic of immersion with the founders of a groundbreaking new language learning initiative. It’s called Mandarin Retreat and it’s organisers Karl, Ryan and Esther (who are also regulars on this podcast) aim to enable Mandarin learners of all levels in the UK to replicate the experience of living in a totally Chinese speaking environment for an entire weekend. The immersive weekend trips take place in Scarborough in the north of England. Small groups of native Chinese speakers and Mandarin learners are brought together to enjoy a weekend of walks, eating and fun activities all 100% in Chinese. I recently attended one of the first ever retreats and found it was a real boost to my spoken Mandarin. As I documented in a recent blog, it was the first time I’d ever gone a whole weekend entirely immersed in the language. By the end of it, my Chinese was noticeably more fluent than it had ever been before. Now, Mandarin Retreat are partnering with the space repetition website HackChinese.com to host a raffle giving UK based Chinese learners the chance to win a free place on a weekend trip. For full details and to enter the raffle visit the link in the description: https://mandarinretreat.com/hc-raffle/
October 02, 2022
Tolerating Ambiguity: How to Cope With Not Understanding When Learning Chinese
Links: Blog discussing the study Karl mentions demonstrating tolerance of ambiguity plays a decisive role in language learning success: https://sla-materials.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-tolerance-of-ambiguity.html My podcast discussing the Input Hypothesis and Comprehensible Input with linguist Professor Karen Chung and founder of Hack Chinese Daniel Nalesnik: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/08/22/does-stephen-krashens-input-hypothesis-comphrensible-input-work-for-learning-mandarin-chinese/ My blog on how graded readers helped me learn Chinese: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2021/03/17/why-im-a-fan-of-chinese-graded-readers/ -- New language learners often find it difficult to cope with the experience of not understanding. We’re used to being in situations in our native language where we can understand almost everything perfectly. To go from that to suddenly being bombarded with words, phrases and grammatical contractions that are totally alien and incomprehensible to us can be quite jarring. Yet studies have shown that having higher tolerance thresholds for ambiguity can be a decisive factor in language learning success. So on today’s podcast, I invited two friends, Karl and Jorge, to discuss how they’ve learned to cope with not understanding and how we can all Chinese learners can develop our tolerance of ambiguity to make our the process of acquiring Chinese smoother and quicker.
September 20, 2022
How to Overcome the Problem of Chinese Tones
Links: For more information on the UK Mandarin immersion weekends visit: https://mandarinretreat.com/ Check out my in-depth guide to tones here: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/12/its-never-too-late-to-learn-chinese-tones-heres-how/ -- If you ask any Mandarin learner which aspect of the language they find most challenging, it’s highly likely they’ll give a one word answer: tones. For years I would have said the same. Tones did not come easily to me and like many learners I neglected them for years thinking I could get away with it. In fact I only really started taking tones seriously around four years in and it took months of retraining my brain to perceive and produce tones properly before I truly felt comfortable. I regularly get asked about how learners should go about learning tones so I thought this topic probably merits an episode in itself. On today’s podcast I’ve assembled a group of Chinese learning friends who are all at different stages of learning and have interesting insights to offer.
September 05, 2022
Does Stephen Krashen's Input Hypothesis & Comprehensible Input Work for Learning Mandarin Chinese?
Links: To learn more about the UK Mandarin immersion retreats visit: https://mandarinretreat.com/ Blog with information about the immersion retreats: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/08/14/i-tasted-full-immersion-for-the-first-time-on-a-weekend-mandarin-retreat-and-you-can-too/ Essie Birt's Twitter: https://twitter.com/Essie_M_B -- Professor Stephen Krashen has arguably had more of an impact in the field of modern language education than any other living academic linguist. His Input Hypothesis – a group of five hypotheses developed in the 1970s and 80s, argues that comprehensible input is the key component required for successful second language acquisition. Language education in schools and universities has traditionally been based on the belief that practicing speaking, vocabulary memorisation, repetition drills and grammar rules are the keys to learning a second language. According to Krashen, however, studying information about languages in the form of grammar rules and practicing speaking through repetition drills are of marginal importance. Instead we acquire languages when we understand messages through reading and listening to our target language. If we follow his principles, our task as language learners is simple: seek out reading and listening material we find compelling and comprehensible, then consume enough of it until we’ve internalised the language. If we get enough comprehensible input appropriate to our level, our comprehension skills will consistently improve and our ability to speak the language will then gradually emerge. The online language learning community is full of influencers and learners – myself included – who have been inspired by Krashen. The likes of Steve Kaufmann and Matt Vs Japan (who I interviewed for this podcast) are examples of what can be achieved when Krashen’s principles are applied successfully. But Krashen is not without his critics and there are question marks over how applicable his ideas are to learning Mandarin. Can Mandarin pronunciation and tones be acquired through comprehensible input alone or is in necessary to learn rules, use rote memorisation and repetition drills to become proficient? And what about grammar? Can we acquire Mandarin to a high level without deliberately studying grammar rules? In this episode I want to take a critical look at the input hypothesis. To do so I’ve invited two Mandarin learning experts, both of whom have appeared on this podcast before. Professor Karen Chung is a linguist with decades of experience working at National Taiwan University. Daniel Nalesnik is the founder of the leading flashcard website hackchinese.com Together we explore the strengths and limitations of the input hypothesis in the context of learning Mandarin.
August 22, 2022
What's the Big Deal About Sentence Mining?
*To contact Karl about his sentence mining app email ActiveLearningApps@gmail.com *For a full guide on sentence mining visit: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/07/03/your-ultimate-guide-to-chinese-sentence-mining-in-5-basic-steps/ *Join the I’m Learning Mandarin Facebook Community on: https://www.facebook.com/groups/imlearningmandarin/ Last Christmas I set myself a new years resolution to improve my spoken Chinese to the point where I’d feel comfortable recording podcast interviews in Mandarin. Of all the methods I’ve used this year the one that I feel has helped me the most towards my goal is sentence mining. The term basically means collecting large numbers of sentences conveying key grammatical structures before revising them later. Each time you’re watching a TV programme or have a conversation with a native speaker, you listen out for sentences you feel you might want use yourself and record them down in a document or using flashcards. The idea is that by collecting and learning hundreds of these sentences you will start to develop 语感, or a deeper sense of the language. I recently wrote a guide to sentence mining for my blog and in this episode I’ve invited a few of my Chinese learning friends – Karl, Ryan and Jorge – to share they’re approaches and discuss how the technique has helped them.
August 07, 2022
Benny Lewis on Learning Mandarin in Three Months, Embracing Mistakes and Why He Doesn't See Himself as a Language Learner
Links: Benny's Blog: https://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny's Ted Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0x2_kWRB8-A Benny's Book on Learning Mandarin: https://www.amazon.co.uk/LANGUAGE-HACKING-MANDARIN-Learn-Mandarin/dp/1473674271 My Blog on Learning Tones: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/12/its-never-too-late-to-learn-chinese-tones-heres-how/ On today’s episode I interview arguably the world’s most popular language learner, the one and only Benny Lewis. To many listeners, Benny or Benny the Irish Polyglot as he’s also known, will need no introduction. He first began blogging over a decade ago at a time when the online language learning community was still in its infancy. His engaging style and optimistic message that languages is about communicating, having fun and embracing mistakes stood in contrast to other polyglots whose methods seemed more dull and academic. Through his blog, books and Ted Talks Benny brought the idea of self learning a new language to millions of people, many of whom had been put off by bad experiences at school. In 2012 ago he set himself the challenge of becoming fluent in Mandarin within three months. Ten years on I caught up with Benny to reflect on his Chinese learning experience as well as discuss his approaches to language learning in general.
July 24, 2022
Announcing The Chinese Writing Contest: Your Chance to Become a Published Mandarin Author
Links: Details of the Chinese Writing Contest: https://www.mslmaster.com/index.php/8-contest/196-chinese-writing-contest Link to last years contest book: https://mslmaster.com/index.php/9-books/222-easy-to-read-chinese-short-stories-book-1 My blog on Chinese literacy: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2021/11/07/can-you-be-literate-without-writing-chinese-characters-by-hand/ On today’s episode I talk to inspirational Mandarin Teacher and founder of the website www.mslmaster.com April Zhang. April is also the brains behind the annual Chinese Writing Challenge, a competition for Chinese learners of all levels, who are invited to write a story using only 320 characters. The winners of the competition will then have their story published in a book. Last year, 82 submissions were received. The best 17 entries were published. These newly published authors were from eight different countries and regions around the world. This year Imlearningmandarin.com are proud collaborators of the competition. So I encourage all of you to take part to connect with other learners from around the world and for the chance to become a published Chinese author. I spoke to April about her background in teaching Chinese her inspirations for starting the competition as well as details of how those interested in participating can enter.
July 10, 2022
Achieving a Near Native Chinese Accent with Professor Karen Chung (Podcast)
Links: Karen's Ted Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQEWEPIHLzQ My Roadmap to Learning Mandarin Tones: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/12/its-never-too-late-to-learn-chinese-tones-heres-how/ On today’s podcast, I chat with a very distinguished guest. Someone who has designed a technique she believes can help learners of any language achieve near native accents. Karen Chung from the USA has lived in Taiwan for more than 30 years and for most of that time has worked as a linguistics professor at the National Taiwan University. In 2018 a Ted Talk which she delivered in flawless Mandarin received over a million views and brought her methods to the attention of a large international audience. In the video she explains her accent training technique which she calls the echo method. The method which is based on her own learning experiences takes advantage of our echoic memory. First we listen to a sentence or phrase in our target language, waiting for the audio to replay or echo in our minds, before finally mimicking it out loud. Doing it this way allows us to mimic native speech much more closely than conventional listen and repeat methods. In this podcast, we explore her own language learning journey, how she learned Mandarin to such a high level and why she disagrees with conventional language learning opinion which argues accents don’t matter as long as we can more or less make ourselves understood. She also kindly agreed to give me a brief demonstration of her method to help improve my own Mandarin accent.
June 26, 2022
How This Medical Student Became Totally Fluent in Chinese Within One Year While Living in the UK
Links: I'm Learning Mandarin Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/imlearningmandarin/ Will's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7LmgMa8XhIusF7RI7YI_KQ/featured Will's interview in chinese: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CggHugyhyJU My Blog on Interviewing Will: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/06/04/interviewing-this-master-of-oral-chinese-made-me-rethink-everything-i-believed-about-language-learning/ My Blog on learning chinese tones: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/12/its-never-too-late-to-learn-chinese-tones-heres-how/ On today’s episode we delve into one of the most remarkable language learning stories I’ve ever come across. It’s the story of Will Hart, a 20 year old medical student who on the eve of the first UK lockdown in 2020 had never been to a Chinese speaking country, had no Chinese family and had never had any meaningful contact with the language in any form. Fast forward 12 months and he posted a short video to YouTube speaking with the kind of fluency many people fail to reach after more than a decade studying the language immersed in Chinese speaking countries. Recently, a second video appeared on YouTube in which he was interviewed in Chinese at length at the 1.5 year mark. Watching that video I was astonished by how fast he had progressed. A lot of people upload videos claiming to have reached fluency in as little as six months. I've written previously about why I'm usually not a fan of this kind of content. But Will's case really is different. His Chinese is genuinely phenomenal, as any native speaker or advanced learner who hears him speak will confirm. So I decided to invite him on the podcast to see what I could learn from his methods. What he told me is, I believe, utterly invaluable to all Mandarin learners, especially people with an interest in making their learning as efficient as possible.
June 12, 2022
Mental Health, Language Learning & the Psychological Highs and Lows of Learning Chinese
Links: I'm Learning Mandarin Language Exchange Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/imlearningmandarin My blog on learning Mandarin tones: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/12/its-never-too-late-to-learn-chinese-tones-heres-how/ Karl's blog on using flashcards to learn Chinese: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2021/03/10/how-useful-are-flashcards-for-learning-mandarin-vocab/ Many listeners of this podcast are people who, like me, get immense joy and gratification from the language learning process. However, it’s also worth being aware of the psychological pitfalls which those of us studying Chinese intensively commonly fall into. On my podcast today I discuss this issue with two friends who have both experienced the ups and downs of Mandarin learning. Karl Baker is a language app programmer who has appeared on the podcast before. Esther Spiering is a UXP designer who is currently on a secondment from work during which she is self-studying Mandarin intensively. We talk about dealing with comments and judgments from native speakers, coping with those moments when we failed to live up to our expectations of ourselves and much more. If you enjoy this podcast please subscribe on Apple, Spotify or on imlearningmandarin.com to have new blogs and podcasts pinged straight to your email.
May 31, 2022
The Final Verdict. How Effective is Duolingo Chinese?
Links: My blog on DuoLingo Chinese: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/04/07/i-completed-duolingo-chinese-heres-why-you-shouldnt/ My blog on the best apps for learning Chinese: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/20/thanks-to-these-apps-self-studying-chinese-is-much-easier-than-ten-years-ago/ Karl's flashcard app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=spaced.repetition.mandarin.chinese.learning.vocabulary.builder&hl=en_GB&gl=US Karl's Twitter: https://twitter.com/mandarinbaker Teo's Twitter: https://twitter.com/_TeoValdes On today’s podcast we discuss the world’s most popular language app, Duolingo. I’ve long been a critic of Duolingo, having spent a ridiculous amount of time completing the Mandarin Duolingo Tree as a beginner. I’ve previously blogged that I found my progress during that time to be almost imperceptible and subsequently discovered other learning tools which I found to be far more effective for learning Chinese. So on today’s podcast I wanted to open up a balanced discussion about the pros and cons of DuoLingo Chinese. Joining me to discuss this are two guests with experience of using the app and fascinating perspectives. Teo Valdés is a Doctor of Education candidate at American University. He is an experienced language learner and Spanish teacher who has also studied Mandarin. Karl Baker is a language app designer whose free flashcard app Mandarin Vocabulary Builder is available for android phones.
May 15, 2022
Matt Vs Japan on why your accent matters, Stephen Krashen, the input hypothesis and much more
Links: Matt’s YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/MATTvsJapan Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/mattvsjapan My blog on how to acquire Chinese tones: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/12/its-never-too-late-to-learn-chinese-tones-heres-how/ My blog on the importance of accent: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/04/24/is-matt-vs-japan-right-that-your-accent-really-matters/ On today’s podcast we have a very special guest, the YouTube superstar and fluent Japanese speaker Matt Vs Japan. Matt is a well known face in the language learning community who has risen to prominence thanks to his insightful YouTube videos which explain how he managed to reach a near native level in Japanese in the space of a few years, all the while while living in the US. Like me, he is a big fan of the linguist Stephen Krashen and is on a mission to popularise language learning methods which prioritise the importance of getting lots of reading and listening input. More recently he has also taken a keen interest in the question of how we should go about acquiring native-like accents when studying a new language as an adult. We discussed all this and much more in a very wide ranging interview, one of the most fascinating interviews I’ve ever done.
April 28, 2022
Debate: Is Talent A Big Factor in Language Learning Success?
Links: My blog on Language Talent: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2021/09/03/why-i-dont-believe-in-language-talent/ My roadmap for learning Chinese tones: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/12/its-never-too-late-to-learn-chinese-tones-heres-how/ On today's episode I debate the concept of language talent with two guests. Yong Jun is a PHD student researching the philosophy of language. Katherine, who has appeared on the podcast before, is a Masters student in translation studies. Both guests are language learning enthusiasts and have ample experience of learning languages to high levels. We discuss whether it's meaningful to talk about having a gift for languages and whether it's true that some learners really are more gifted than others.
April 17, 2022
Is Chinese Harder Than Other Languages? Interview with Langaholic
Links: My best app recommendations for learning Chinese: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/20/thanks-to-these-apps-self-studying-chinese-is-much-easier-than-ten-years-ago/ Alej's Langaholic YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg3WIz-1ezXsIsGQqWBlwEA Alej's Twitter: https://twitter.com/Langaholic My Twitter: https://twitter.com/MischaWilmers It’s often said that different languages shouldn't be compared with each other in terms of difficulty. I understand this sentiment but also think it’s useful to be aware of certain key differences between the challenge of learning Chinese compared to that of taking on other languages, particularly those more closely related to our mother tongue. Many learners feel disappointed when they compare their speed of progress to that of friends studying other languages. You might see people online who appear to have reached fluency in Spanish in under a year while you still don’t feel fluent in Mandarin after several years. It can be easy to wonder if there’s something wrong with you as a learner. The reality is that there’s nothing wrong with you and there may not even be anything wrong with your learning methods. I think it’s helpful to be aware that there are particular challenges involved in learning Mandarin which make it, if not more difficult than many other languages, then certainly more time consuming. To discuss this topic with me on today’s episode is polyglot Alej, also known by his YouTube name Langaholic. Alej has taken on a number of languages, including Mandarin, and is in a great position to explore how the challenge of learning Chinese differs from other languages.
April 04, 2022
Mastering Chinese Listening with Lei Lei
Links: Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/imlearningmandarin Lei Lei's Blog: https://mixitwithmandarin.wordpress.com/ Blog on mastering tones: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/12/its-never-too-late-to-learn-chinese-tones-heres-how/ Blog on Netflix Chinese: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/03/04/how-to-learn-mandarin-with-chinese-netflix-shows/ Blog on best Chinese learning apps: http://imlearningmandarin.com/2022/02/20/thanks-to-these-apps-self-studying-chinese-is-much-easier-than-ten-years-ago/ My guest today is called Lei Lei. Lei Lei is a blogger and Mandarin Chinese learner who writes about the process of learning Chinese to a high level. After stumbling across Lei Lei’s blog a couple of months ago there were a couple of things I which I thought would make for a great discussion. The first point something we have in common which is that we are both bilingual learners. Lei Lei was brought up in Canada and was educated in French whilst English was always used in the family home. I was interested in exploring how being bilingual has affected our approach and attitude to language learning. The second point was that Lei Lei has written a very insightful blog about reaching high levels in listening proficiency. With so much focus on tones and characters, listening is perhaps the most underestimated aspect of Mandarin learning in terms of difficulty. The number of homophones as well as high variety of accents spoken across China and Chinese speaking countries means becoming good at listening doesn’t happen overnight. Luckily Lei Lei has some great tips on how to reach impressive levels of listening comprehension which we can all learn from.
March 20, 2022
“Wow! Your Mandarin is Awesome!” Decoding Chinese Politeness
Anyone who has learned Mandarin will be familiar with how encouraging Chinese people tend to be towards those of us who take an interest in their language. For the most part this is great. All we have to do is say 你好 in order to be showered with praise and encouragement. But at times it can also be quite tricky to navigate the unwritten rules of Chinese polite culture. To the new Mandarin learner it isn’t always clear when praise is sincere as opposed to merely small talk. Throughout my learning experience I’ve also found it a challenge to get honest feedback on my Mandarin as opposed to exaggerated and undeserved praise. On today’s podcast I invited three of my language buddies, Helen, Mingna and Katherine. Helen, like me, is a fellow Mandarin learner while Mingna and Katherine are both students from China. Together we explore how Chinese politeness can impact language learners in both positive and negative ways.
December 08, 2021
Benjamin Zephaniah on Learning Mandarin Chinese
For Today’s podcast I had the honour of interviewing a very distinguished guest. Benjamin Zephaniah is best known as one of Britain’s favourite poets. He is also a political activist, playwright and novelist who has been listed as one of Britain’s 50 greatest postwar writers by the Times newspaper. One of the lesser known aspects of Benjamin’s life is his interest in foreign languages and in particular Mandarin. In his Autobiography, the life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah, he writes about his decades long exploration of the Chinese language and culture. I wanted to find out more about why he took on the challenge of learning Chinese, how he went about doing so and why he believes language learning can be a powerful tool against bigotry and war. Links: For more blogs & podcasts: imlearningmandarin.com Benjamin's Website: https://benjaminzephaniah.com/ Benjamin's autobiography: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Rhymes-Benjamin-Zephaniah-Autobiography/dp/1471168921 Dreaming in Chinese, Deborah Fallows: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dreaming-Chinese-Deborah-Fallows/dp/1780720858
November 11, 2021
Expectations Vs Reality of Learning Chinese (With Luke Truman)
On today's podcast I discuss how expectations often differ from reality when learning Mandarin. My guest is YouTuber Luke Truman who has been documenting his journey of learning Cantonese and Mandarin for four years. His experiences have given him some really interesting insights into studying using immersive methods, the limits of learning through input alone, how to improve pronunication and much more. Links: Luke's Channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/LukeTrumanFTF What 80% Comprehension Feels Like: https://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2016/08/25/what-80-comprehension-feels-like The Echo Method Ted Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQEWEPIHLzQ
October 29, 2021
Learning Mandarin with Graded Readers
On today’s episode I discuss a topic I have previously blogged about: graded readers. For those who aren’t familiar, graded readers are books intended for beginner-intermediate language learners. They are typically set at different levels according to the number of words used. They enable Mandarin learners to start reading extensively with as few as 100 characters and I benefited from them immensely in the past. My guest today is Mandarin learner and entrepreneur Jeff Pepper from Imagin8 Press, a company he set up which publishes Chinese graded readers. His readers cover a diverse range of topics from novels to classic Chinese philosophy. I started by asking him how his own experiences of learning Chinese inspired him to start creating his own graded readers. Anyone interested in Jeff's readers can check out his website at https://imagin8press.com/
October 17, 2021
The Key Predictors of Mandarin Success
On today’s episode I discuss learning Mandarin with a man who has not only learned the language for himself, he’s also observed the trajectories of hundreds of other learners over the years. Max Hobbs is Marketing Director at the leading Chinese language school, LTL Mandarin. He first came into contact with Chinese while backpacking in 2014 and he has since continued to study Mandarin whilst working. His position at the school has given him a real birds eye view, observing and documenting the stories of numerous students over the years at the school he works for. I found it really insightful to talk to him about his learning experiences and in particular his observations of which attitudes and traits are the strongest predictors of a successful Mandarin learner.
September 25, 2021
Overcoming the Intermediate Plateau
As an intermediate Mandarin learner, one of the main challenges I face is acquiring lower frequency words. In any language the most frequent few thousand words account for over 90% of words used in daily conversation. Mandarin is no different and, although I typically understand the vast majority of words in a sentence, it’s those rarer words which can throw me off. So how can we overcome the intermediate plateau and learn enough low frequency words to become proficient? That’s where today’s guest Andrew Methven comes in. Andrew first started learning Chinese whilst on a backpacking trip in China in 2002-03. He eventually went on to train as a translator and interpreter, before joining a startup in the UK focussed on China. More recently, he started the newsletter: https://slowchinese.substack.com designed to help intermediate and advanced learners fill in key gaps in the vocabulary. Every week Andrew shares new words, phrases, idioms, colloquialisms and slang with the goal of helping readers maintain and improve their Chinese, while staying up to date with latest language trends. Andrew’s experiences of backpacking through China as well as his insights into overcoming the long intermediate plateau are fascinating and insightful.
September 10, 2021
Learning Mandarin in a Global Pandemic
The global pandemic has has a profound influence on the way we study languages. On the downside, restrictions have made it difficult to travel abroad. Yet the ongoing crisis has also led to record numbers of people taking on a new language. On Today’s episode I explore the theme of learning Mandarin during a global pandemic with Chinese learner and friend of the podcast, Adam Morris. I first met Adam on a dream trip to China in 2018 organised by the Confucius Institute where we were both studying evening classes at the time. Following the trip Adam decided to study a Bachelors degree in Chinese at the University of Leeds where he now in his his final year. In January 2020, his year abroad in Shanghai was dramatically cut short half way through and he was forced to return home to Leeds. I wanted to talk to Adam about his story and learn how he managed to overcome adversity and make the most of a difficult time for all language learners.
August 28, 2021
Learning Characters with Hack Chinese
One of the most daunting aspects of learning Chinese is the sheer number of characters required for basic literacy. It’s estimated that comfortably reading a newspaper requires around 3000 characters, whilst an educated native speaker will typically know in excess of 7000. Memorising such a high number of characters is not an easy task. But modern technology has made it easier than it once was. In the past, Mandarin learners had to rely on physical flashcards to review characters and commit them to memory but today a number of space repetition apps come with sophisticated algorithms which make the learning process more efficient. Whilst these apps have facilitated the learning process they are still far from ideal. SRS apps are typically not very user friendly and most of them are not tailored to learning Mandarin characters in particular. On today’s podcast I talk with Daniel Nalesnik, a Chinese learner who got so tired of badly designed apps that he decided to to create a new system himself. Hack Chinese (www.hackchinese.com) is a space repetition learning system designed specifically for Mandarin Chinese. According to Daniel, using the website for just 10-20 minutes per day to review vocabulary can help you grow and maintain a bank of thousands of characters. I have been using Hack Chinese myself for several weeks, and I’m impressed with how user friendly and efficient it is. So I wanted to get Daniel on the podcast to discuss his insights into learning Chinese and motivations for designing his system.
August 15, 2021
Acquiring Mandarin: Naturalistic Immersion or Structured Learning?
Traditionally, highly structured approaches were favoured in classroom environments. But it’s fair to say today’s online language learning community has waged war on this idea. Language should be all about fun, enjoying yourself. The influential linguist Stephen Krashen argues that the most effective way to acquire a language is to expose yourself to content which you can comprehend and immerse yourself in activities which you enjoy. The more time you spend doing this, the more you will gradually progress closer and closer to fluency. I myself have been heavily influenced by these ideas and I think I’ve benefited from them immensely. It was largely through immersing myself in content I enjoyed that, despite not living in China, I was able to self study to a level where I could comfortably engage in meaningful conversations with native Chinese speakers. But, I have also learned from experience that relying too heavily on immersion alone when studying Chinese has its limits. This is particularly the case when it comes to tones and characters, two aspects of Chinese which many learners find hard to master. To discuss these issues with me I have invited a guest who is a friend of the podcast, Lionel Rowe. Lionel speaks fluent Chinese which he acquired while living in Beijing for a period of seven years. His learning methods were much more structured than mine, particularly at the beginning, so I thought it would be interesting to discuss our different language learning experiences with him on the podcast.
July 25, 2021