When my wife and I were first studying 汉语 (Chinese) last fall, we both felt that we wanted to take a long-term approach to language learning. Most people who travel in China for only a couple months focus primarily on their oral/listening skills. Even those who plan on staying for a year or two will adopt a similar approach. And this makes sense. Learning how to read and write requires extra time.
Knowing that we wanted to full immerse ourselves in the language and culture, we decided to learn everything at once – reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It obviously requires more work and means moving at a slower pace (than just learning how to speak), but it’ll hopefully give us more comprehensive understanding of the language.
I’m a very a detailed and methodical person in general, so this has been reflected in my studying habits. If you were to equate language learning to building a pyramid, I’m the guy who grabs one brick at a time and makes sure that each brick is arranged neatly before placing the next brick. My wife, on the other hand, would be the one to throw a ton of bricks onto a pile and then arrange them afterwards.
We’ve been living here now for three weeks already and I’m still trying to figure out a study routine that works for me. I’m sure my study habits will evolve over the course of the next couple years, but for now here’s what I’m involved with:
My wife and I each have private tutors who we meet with 1-on-1 four times per week for two hours per day. That’s a total of 8 hours per week. At the moment, I’m using Chinese Express: Joy Chinese in 3 Months as my “curriculum.” My tutor does a great job expanding on the material, particularly when it comes to introducing extra vocabulary not included in the textbook. I’m working through one lesson per day, with the expectation to complete the book within the next month. My goal is to learn as much as possible before transitioning to a local university this coming fall.
If you sat me down in front of the average Chinese TV show, I’d probably understand about 5% of the dialogue. So for now, I’m sticking with a show called Growing Up with Chinese, which is primarily in English but teaches commonly spoken phrases in Chinese. I will also admit that I sat through an episode of Dora the Explorer that was dubbed into Chinese. Somewhat helpful, but probably not a show that I’ll continue watching. My goal is to get to the point where I feel comfortable watching Chinese TV.
I’m extremely interested in learning about Chinese culture and current topics about China, and I enjoy listening to podcasts while working around the house or commuting around the city. About a month ago, I came across two podcasts which I highly recommend.
The first is called Important Chinese Things with Jenny Zhu. The main host is Chinese, and the co-host is an American guy. What I love about this show is how Jenny (and any Chinese interviewees) switches back and forth between languages, speaking English maybe 80% of the time and Chinese 20% of the time.
The second is called China Hang-Up. This one is hosted by three American expats living in Beijing, and they talk about all sorts of current issues, from Chinese journalism to employment for foreigners. It’s all in English and is extremely informative.