Tuesday, December 16, 2014

90 Day Challenge: Time for a do over!

Well, my intentions of practicing Mandarin Chinese for 90 days straight has failed.  It is difficult for me to write that considering how well I was doing for awhile.  I made it through Pimsleur I in its entirety, and then completed 18 lessons of Pimsleur II before the my train of language learning came to a screeching halt.   Actually, that is not entirely true.  I continued to work on Memrise and even started doing Anki as well.

I think that this was my problem.

I should have stuck to the plan and done Memrise and Pimsleur only, but instead I started changing things up, add more into the mix.  This was a recipe for disaster because the workload became to great.  The motivation started to go away as well because I am just too nervous to ever speak in Mandarin!

So what now?

Pickup where I left off and keep going.  That is the only thing that I can do.

Wish me luck!

Friday, October 24, 2014

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 30

I did it!  I am 1/3 of the way through my 90 day challenge.  I had only one or two days that I missed due to how  busy October has been, but I caught up easily and am back on track!

After 30 days, how do I feel about this challenge?  I feel both encouraged and discouraged.  I figured that this would not be easy and I was right.  Here are a list of things that I have found to be discouraging & encouraging over the last month:


  • It's hard to stay motivated.
  • Learning new vocabulary is a long process with not many immediate results.
  • My ability to come up with sentences on my own is severely lacking.  I'm not sure if this is because of my lack of a full vocabulary, or if I am just trying too hard to get it perfect, therefore causing nothing to flow out.
  • I don't feel like I have really grown by leaps and bounds as I thought I would in this time.
  • I was hoping that by this point I might be able to have a basic conversation with a native speaker with a reasonable level of confidence, but I don't think that I have reached that point yet either.

  • I have learned quite a few new words.
  • Pimsleur has been a consistently helpful tool.  I don't think it will take me near as far as I would like to go, but it has been a good constant study friend to me.
  • Memrise is probably one of the easiest ways to learn new vocabulary and the spaced repetition that it provides is wonderful.  It's a fun way to learn, that's for sure.
  • I am understanding more words when I hear them in movies or when I see them on everything from jars of food to Chinese literature.  I still have a long way to go, but it is nice to recognize things here and there.
  • My children have learned more Mandarin as a result of my 90 day challenge.  It is fun to think that they could be so much further than I am if they keep it up in years to come.  Ah, to have a mind like a child!
  • People think it's very cool that I am learning Mandarin.  That's a fun aspect of this whole thing as well.

So what now?  Tomorrow I am going to start up Pimsleur's Mandarin II and do that for the next 30 days.  I'm also making my way slowly through the HSK set on Memrise.  I am in the HSK 3 vocabulary right now and so I am going a bit slower, given all the new words.  I would like to add something else to my practicing, but I don't know what that could be considering my time constraints.   Maybe I will try to utilize iTalki more.  If anyone reads this and has ideas of how I can get over some of the hurdles I mentioned above, let me know.  

If anything, I am happy that I have done what I set out to do and don't plan on stopping any time soon.  Here is to the next 30 days!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 15

I haven't written anything or posted any videos for a few days, but rest assured, I have been practicing!  

I am still doing Pimsleur everyday for 30 minutes and have reached Unit 15!  It is hard to believe that I have been consistent for two whole weeks.  Even when I was studying Mandarin at the university last year I wasn't this intentional with learning the language.  What I enjoy about Pimsleur is that it is a slow build, but it's not totally boring either.  In most audio courses that I have listened to, it is strictly vocabulary drilling and phrases.  Pimsleur seems to do it all at once in a very natural way.  I had read that you should listen to Pimsleur or other courses when you are not doing anything else.  In other words, no driving or distracting activities of any kind.  At first I didn't think much of that, but I actually agree with it wholeheartedly now.  It is very difficult to learn a language in a passive way, at least it has been for me.  I really have to concentrate to have it sink in, and if I zone out or get distracted I may miss something and become confused before I know it.

Anyway, I like Pimsleur a lot so far.

Memrise is also going really well right now and I have stuck to that every day as well.  The more words I learn the longer each session is, but I am definitely making some progress.  I just completed HSK 2 vocabulary today in fact!  151 words planted in my mind.

This brings me to 348 words (and some phrases) stored in my memory somewhere.  Memrise tells me that they are in my long term memory, but we'll just have to see about that.

I can honestly say that I think I have a good program going on here and am looking forward to the end result.  If it's even possible, I think it would be great to have finished Pimsleur Mandarin I, II & III by Christmas and to have about 2000-3000 words or more stored in my memory by then as well.  I am also going to make more of an effort over the next few weeks to have more conversations in Mandarin so that I actually use what I am learning!  I will try to post more videos as time allows.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 10

Another good day!

Pimsleur was good too!  I'm feeling good about this language learning thing!

Friday, October 3, 2014

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 9

I am still going strong!

After a rough few days of language learning, today was a good day.  I did Pimsleur Lesson 9 and really enjoyed it.  I am really liking the spaced repetition that Pimsleur does, and while some words are difficult to make out at times, for the most part it is a very well done product.

I am also really glad that I changed from 500 Characters in Memrise to the HSK course.  It is so much more gratifying and I really feel like I am attaining more of what I want.  In just a day or two I have already completed the HSK 1 vocabulary, which I was very familiar with.  The one problem is that I learning all of this vocabulary in Traditional and now I am learning it all over again in Simplified.  They aren't too different so far, but there is enough of a difference to throw me off sometimes.  It feels good to plow through a whole unit though!

Finally, I started having conversations with some people on iTalki yesterday and have been writing in Chinese back and forth.  I have no idea what they are writing some times but Pleco has saved my life more than once so far.  I even had a 40 minute conversation with a guy in China that was mostly in English, but we said a few thing in Chinese as well.  Good times.

Here is the video summary of the day.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 7 & 8

It has been a very busy couple days which means that Chinese learning had to lose some priority.  I still did Pimsleur yesterday, but that was it.  Not Memrise.  This was actually a good thing because I think that the 500 Characters course I was doing was not really coming through for me.  I discovered an HSK course instead that gives me full words instead of single characters, which is much more beneficial for my level.  It's more enjoyable and less tedious.

Language learning is a real challenge, and doing it every day is, as Steve Kaufman puts it, an endurance run.  Think "marathon".  I suppose that at this point I have been learning Mandarin Chinese off and on for about two years.  In my language journey I have hit many walls, and sadly I can't remember getting over some of those walls in the time I have spent on this language.  I still feel that I have to think really hard to form sentences and so I am wondering if Pimsleur will help give me some confidence there.  Ultimately, I just want to be able to look back at these 90 days and see some real change.  Real growth.

Here's hoping!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 6

I hope this starts getting easier soon!

Seriously, this challenge is going to melt my brain into goo before the year is up.  Pimsleur taught me a few cool things, and I wrote down most of what I learned in this lesson today:

Would you like to eat something
No, but I would like to drink something
Yes, I would like to eat something
I don't understand what you are saying
I don't speak well
Where is Long Peace Street?
Do you know?
No, I don't know.
Not located here
Not located there
Where do you want to go to eat? Ni xiang qu nar chi?
My place (wo nar)
I would like to go to your place to eat.
I also would like that.  (ye)
when? (shenme shihou)
now (xian zai)
When would you like to eat?
later (guo yi hua'er)

There are other things as well, but this was mainly what was taught.  Memrise is a really great tool, but it is probably the most challenging, tedious, and time consuming portion of my study.  My hope is that I will be able to do some more enjoyable things with my learning once I know a little more vocabulary (ie. watch movies, read books, etc.).  Here is my current progress in Memrise thus far:

Check the video below to see me fail miserably at speaking.  Good times.

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Daughter the Language Learner

I have been borrowing Mandarin learning materials from the local library like a mad man lately.  One of the things that I borrowed was a video for kids called Learn & Play with Mei Mei.  Imagine a Mr. Rogers type show but teaching Mandarin to little kids.  It's fun and all four of my kids watch it from seven years old down to two years old.

At the dinner table tonight, we thought our youngest daughter, Morrow, was singing a song while she ate.  We were wrong.  She was actually counting from 1-10 in Mandarin!  She can't even count from 1-10 in English yet, at least I don't think she can.  Maybe she's holding out on us.  Anyway, I wanted to try and get her to do it on video so we could remember her skills.  She's cute either way.

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 5

I decided to try to get my language learning done in the morning while I was feeling a bit more energetic and that was a good idea.  I don't know if I would have made it through Memrise otherwise.  I did charactes 275-300 today both for the English translation and the pinyin.  This was a beautiful sight to see...

I am realizing that I tend to mess up characters that look very similar.  I am sure that quite a few people have that problem, but it really bothers me.  One stroke added and it's a completely different word!  Anyway, Memrise is always a bit of a slog, but feels good when I finish it each day.

Pimsleur added a bit more today, this time introducing the word 想 (xiang3) which means to think, or to like to.  The sentences that were practiced in the lesson were ones like 你想吃一点儿东西吗? 我不想,可是我想喝一点儿东西。 Basically, that means, Do you want something to eat?  I don't, but I would like something to drink.  Chinese is interesting in that it can be very complicated, but very simple at the same time.  It's tricky like that.  More tomorrow!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 4

This was a rough one today.  Pimsleur changed it up on me and added quite a bit of voacbulary, some of which I knew, but some that I didn't or was of a different dialect than what I had learned.  Not a huge deal, but I always disliked Northern dialects, specifically because of the "-er" at the end of some words.  It just sounds weird to me.

On top of that, Memrise was hard today as well.  Oh well, it should only get easier...right?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Help me RescueTime, you're my only hope...

Tim Challies recently posted some helpful apps and tools he uses from time to time in helping stay organized and on task.  One of the tools he mentioned is called RescueTime.  Basically, it keeps track of what websites you go to and what software you use during the day.  The kicker is that it tracks how long you are doing those things and at the end of the week, sends you an email telling you how bad good that you did.  You can also look at the dashboard on the RescueTime site to see how things are progressing.
It will be good to have accountability in this area since I now work from home.  The free version only tracks what you do on your computer, but the premium version allows you to track other things as well.  I'm sticking with free for now, but here's hoping I see some improvement in not being as easily distracted.

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 3

I have reached day 3 and things are progressing well.  My current plan is to do one unit of Pimlseur, followed by two units of Memrise each day.  Why two units of Memrise?  In the vocab list that I am using they do twenty-five words at a time, but it is broken up into two sections: Character to English and then Character to Pinyin.  It is a lot of work doing two in one sitting, but I think it's the best way to move forward right now.  I have an app on my iPhone called ChineseSkill which is a Duolingo rip off, but it's free and works great.  I also have an app by Mindsnacks called Learn Chinese which I have used before, but even though the games are fun, I seem to go through it very slowly.  We'll see what happens as the days continue.

I am really looking forward to tracking my progress here.  Hopefully I get better and better.

Friday, September 26, 2014

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 2

Day 2 is complete.  Mostly refresher stuff.  Nothing new so far, but it's still really helpful.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

90 Day Language Learning Challenge: Mandarin Chinese - Day 1

I really want to become better at speaking, reading, and writing Mandarin Chinese. Time to challenge myself and get my act together!  Video explains the plan.

Return of the Blog

I am going to keep this short and sweet. The old blog is out, behold the new has come!