How the hell did anyone learn Chinese 20 or 30 years ago?

I use the following to learn Chinese:

DR eye
NJ Star Communicator
NJ Star Word Processor


I use these EVERYDAY. Also use various other websites and software when required.

I’ve got laptops, PDAs MP3 players etc. I use Skype and MSN to practice typing Chinese and conversation.

I can’t imagine how the hell I could even attempt to learn Chinese without this vast array of weapons.
Much respect going out to anyone who has managed to learn without these. How did you do it?

By the way, does anyone know when Pleco 2 is coming out?

I used the following to learn Chinese:

Talking to people.

Computers and software can be useful learning aids, but nothing substitutes for getting out on the street and communicating with people. Isn’t that what learning a language is all about anyway?

Yeah, couldn’t agree with you more, but there does come a time when you want to be able to read! :laughing:

Drinking with Taiwanese, hand-written flashcards, Jackie Chan movies, studying taekwondo and kung fu in Taiwan (no English), dating, and extensive every day interaction with people who didn’t speak English. I learned more Chinese in the first two years here than I have in the 15 years since.

For thousands of years, people have learned to read without electronic gadgets. Your fun little toys are completely unnecessary to the task. :stuck_out_tongue:

I learned to read Chinese by picking up elementary school Chinese textbooks (written for Taiwanese and PRC students) and, well, just reading them. :idunno: Lots of dictionary lookups were needed, since unlike a local kid, I didn’t have many of those words in my spoken vocab, and a number of LE partners were very helpful. Eventually, primers were replaced by news clippings, comics, magazine articles and so on; then came longer pieces – the Crouching Tiger script, some light novels, etc., then serious stuff.

I’ll admit that I found an electronic dictionary with handwriting recognition a convenient tool, as it allowed lookups without knowing which part was the bushou, and faster lookups regardless of whether I knew where to find the graph in a dictionary. But it wasn’t necessary, and later when it eventually wore out I didn’t replace it.

I have Dr. Eye but don’t use it. I prefer paper dictionaries, as I can write useful notes in them easily (including archaic forms).

I learned by taking an eight week crash course at the LDS Missionary Training center*, moving to Taiwan to sell religion, reading the DeFrancis texts in the morning and keeping notebooks full of vocabulary I picked up on the streets. Like Dragonbones, I went through the elementary school texts, though I did that after I had fluent spoken Mandarin. I later majored in Chinese literature, and spent a summer abroad in Shanghai and Beijing. The capstone was doing business in China and Taiwan for several years, along with taking translation and interpreting jobs off and on for years.

It isn’t that hard, doing it the old-fashioned way. It just takes a bit of discipline. My motivation was a deep distaste for my own ignorance.

*The Chinese I learned as a missionary in Taiwan stuck with me. The Mormonism did not.

I think it would have been like this: you talk to people, listen to the radio, watch the tv. Besides that, there must have been some study books for starters.

Then, once you have your basic Mandarin, you’re in. You can pick up elementary / high school books in Chinese (for natives) that teach Chinese language, grammar and everything.

It was fairly simple for me really. I just didn’t learn much.

I just memorised a bunch of stuff from books.

  1. Look at it.
  2. Remember it.
  3. Don’t forget it.

If you do, go back to step 1.

This was the way I learned French, Old English, Old Icelandic, Latin, Thai and Chinese. I learned the ‘dead’ languages first, which really affected my language learning processes.

Think about your own thinking and learning processes. I am almost completely unable to concentrate on Chinesepod advanced and I never remember any of it. I can read Chinese better than I speak it, which is pretty lame.

I’m learning Russian right now. Ha.

I started with the selected Chinese moral tales and a very battered dictionary. After that I had a book which traced a few hundred characters back to the tadpole script, which I found useful. Repetitive writing of characters in small boxes in the correct stroke order, like the kids do. I drank a bunch of beer with people who didn’t speak English and just tried to get along with them. Then I found comic books for a link between colloquial speech and the written word, a lot more useful than the textbooks written by whiny old mainlanders.

In hindsight, the beer drinking was probably the most useful.

Flash cards. Paper ones. The old way, where you wrote them out yourself. (No offense to those supplying neat printed ones these days, of course.)

I remember coming home from Shita to our little rented Japanese style house on Lishui St. (demolished this past year and paved over into a parking lot, RIP lovely house :frowning: ) and looking in on one of my housemates. He had a desk on which he kept piles of flashcards – eight or nine piles, all at least a foot thick (I am not making this up).

Last I heard, he was translating for Sinorama, or whatever it’s called these days. Guess some of those cards stuck along the way.

We also used to have to make friends with Chinese waiters in the States for help with translation jobs. There was no one else to ask in a timely manner. You’d go and have lunch and try to get seated in the section with the guy you knew had an MA in physics in China, then ask your question when he brought the bill.

I love my PDA and other newfangled learning aids, though. I can memorize things faster than I could then, and it’s easier to fit all my vocabulary into my pocket, if not into my head.

The linguistic achievements of those who posted in this thread are very impressive. But getting to that level takes a great deal of very hard work, and I’d say a certain aptitude. Learning Chinese is never going to be easy, but I think that current Chinese learners would be a bit silly not to take advantage of the learning aids there are out there now. If you’re going to put all that time into something, you might as well do it as efficiently as possible.

I’m a lazy guy with a poor memory, but even so I’ve managed to learn about 3000 words in a year on an average of around 15 minutes a day study time. Using Plecodict and Supermemo on my PDA, I look up new vocabulary (heard or read) instantly and enter it into a database, after which it comes up for review automatically at optimal intervals. I’ve also got databases of common and very useful words that I’m working through. I can review and learn vocabulary any time I have a few minutes spare. They’re words I can and often do use for practical purposes in conversation and when reading, too.

The Rosetta Stone software was also very helpful, and I’m getting a lot from the Chinese Pod podcasts.

There’s no point in making things harder than they need to be.

That could be me. A voluntary course at high school in southern Germany (60 min. a week) with the teacher bringing text copies of learner’s cassettes he got from I don’t know where. After a year, he had no more time to continue the course and I went to the nearest East Asian bookshop to buy some basic dictionaries and learners’ textbooks from the Foreign Language Institute (now University) in Beijing. The nearest East Asian bookshop was in London, UK!
What followed was 2 yrs of basics at the Chinese dept. of a University in Germany (using a Chinese trad. textbook published in Germany by a teacher from Taiwan). Then plunging into the cold water of “real China”, in Jinan, Shandong, at the time a backwater “village” of over a million inhabitants. An absolutely boring place with nothing to do but to go to classes with teachers from Shandong and Anhui whose accents we hardly understood. So I spent most of the time sitting in my little room studying for myself: trying to read texts, marking the characters/words I didn’t knew, looking them up and writing them down on a list with pinyin and English/German translation. Then memorising them, again and again. Maybe I wouldn’t have done that, if Jinan had been a more interesting place - I had nothing else to do! Well, yes… cheap food, Mongolian hotpot in winter and Jinan was conveniently located at the intersection of the main railway lines north to Beijing, south to Shanghai, east to Qingdao and west to the rest. And that’s what I did: extensive travelling, trying to communicate with anybody I met, trying to grapple with the accents from all kinds of provinces. I got to know some students at the Chinese university to practice my speaking and listening comprehension and - yes, dating helped to (in China and Taiwan).
But then word spread that Chinese language teaching in Taiwan was much, much better. So I gave it a try and after a year and a half I left Jinan (Sept. 1983 to Febr. 1985) for one more half year at Fu Jen University. It was comparatively expensive but very effective. Since then I’ve been in love with Taiwan and came back regularly. I went back to Germany for my degree and have been working as a freelance translator and interpreter for Chinese ever since. And after my Taiwanese wife got her degree from a German university we moved back to Taipei 4 yrs. ago.
Now I’ve begun to learn Taigi using a textbook with accompanying CD (and dictionaries from the Taiwanese bookshop on Xinsheng S.Rd. (Taiwan e diam). I’ve copied the contents of the CD to my MP3 player and take it with me whenever I go out. I don’t quite dare yet to approach locals in Taiwanese, I’m thinking of taking some classes to practice pronunciation, tones and - what a nuisance: the tone changes!
Make use of technical gadgets if you like using them, if you think they save you time or are more convenient but don’t give in to the illusion that they will spare you the effort of memorising and practising with native speakers! And the driving force of memorising is the constant urge: “I want to be able to say this word, I want to be able to utter that sentence!”
Good luck and have fun!

One on one tutoring helped.
A series popular in the states started w/ transliterations, e.g. ‘ni hao’. Then characters were introduced.
Listening to recordings was boring but in retrospect helpful. Try a summer session in the ‘host language city’

Does one have to be a mormon to avail oneself of their language training centers? Seriously. It’s legendary how quickly mormons learn languages. Do you think they would ever consider accepting an outsider in their training program if I promised not to drink beer or coffee or have sex with their girls for the duration of the program? Are those programs only offered in Utah?

In a similar vein, I heard years ago that the AIT had an outstanding, highly successful, crash-course mandarin training program, I think near Yangmingshan. Any idea if that still exists, or whether they would agree to train an outsider?

Q: How the hell did anyone learn Chinese 20 or 30 years ago?

A: With the same frigging textbooks they do now -only that they split them thinner even more nowadays, to get more money!

Complaints aside, the good old flascard method is quite reliable. Making your own word lists, word clouds and associations, helps a lot. Reading stuff that interests YOU is the best. I started with magazines like Taipei Walker, then on to the local equivalent to Cat Fancy. To each his/her own.

Chatting on the Internet polishes your typing skills. However, the most important technological item is the humble TV. Movies, but especially, the news -if you can stand them- because they are repetitive. I relied on VCR a lot -until it broke.

I haven’t checked any of the resources quoted by the OP. I have a cute software designed for kids to lear “educational sayings” or cheng yu, and Far East’s vocab builder, but I rarely do them.

I did the flash cards and all that starting 20 years ago (God, it pains me to say that) and didn’t start using computers to aid my learning until the past couple of years.

Not coincidentally, my reading ability plateaued for a decade or more. It was just too hard to inch along and I was too lazy.

This time around in Taiwan, though, I’m delighted to find that I can copy online text directly into an online dictionary, and then download the result directly into a little e-book machine I carry around. It’s not really different than what I’d do offline, except the same volume of text would take me hours a day instead of minutes.

So after two decades of off and on learning, I’m finally reading newspapers. Hooray!

I didn’t start that long ago (2000), but didn’t use much computer help for the first years (only figured out how to type Chinese in year 3). DeFrancis’ books, flashcards I made myself, tapes. The old-fashioned way. Classes, language partners. Later on, longer texts, and now novels. I use a lot of online dictionaries now, but I also have a big paper one that I use and love.

I began learning in October 1983. For the first 2 months it was rote memorization of phrases with a little bit of struggling conversation added in a couple of times each week. All this was in the US.
Then I hit the island being a little bit cocky that I could speak a bit of basic Chinese and realized in one day that everyone was speaking hundreds of times faster than I had ever listened to. After that it was mostly day-by-day living, on the street conversation with the locals and such, and writing down, reviewing, and trying out new words and phrases as I heard them. I remember hitting sort of a turning point about 3 months on island where my understanding and speaking kind of blossomed. Then I started flash cards and reading with the 1000 Basic Chinese Characters box and the “Read Chinese” books, and bo-po-mo-fo elementary readers. Back in the states my reading has really suffered due to lack of practice, but my conversational language has stayed with me.

Go to Chinese school if you want to be able to read and write Chinese, earlier the better…worked for me and a few 100,000 other people… Didn’t do it till 4.5 years after I got here and it was a big regret of mine because my speaking and reading/writing level were totally out of whack.

Seriously just pay the money and go to school. Take six mths or a year off, try and make mornings/evening free for a year or so and just do it. It’s not all a drag and it makes a change of routine. You will eventually get to newspaper reading level. The advantage is that the teacher gives regular tests and puts a bit of pressure on you to follow a schedule, it’s the most efficient way for most people. Reading and writing Chinese is not neccessary for living in Taiwan but if you want to make yourself independent and open up that world around you that’s nothing better. I once got a letter in Chinese from the court here related to a lawsuit, read through it and could tell that it was notice that the lawsuit has failed, wow that was a good feeling!

What’s all this stuff about learning words individually, that’s the easiest way to forget and it’s hard to make them useful if you don’t know if they are verbs/nouns and how to integrate into sentences. I usually learn words individually from looking at subtitles on TV/movies and checking on a paper dictionary.
The computer tools are useful to some degree too, I agree, especially that Dr.Eye and dictionary.