How to get used to "think" in chinese

I’ve been studying chinese just for 3 months and I’m approaching my first big exam at the University.
I’m Italian and have lived for 2 years in Australia, I’ve been speaking english since I was 5. The main problem I’m having with chinese is that my brain is not set up to use it as a 24/7 language, probably because I’ve not been studying it long enough.

When I want to uso my mother language (italian), i think in italian
When I have to use english, I think in english
When i have to use chinese, i think in italian and then translate it to chinese

Which is not too bad for everyday’s life, but becomes extremely frustrating during exams such as listening and writing.

Teacher says (in chinese): “Miss Wang thinks that Mr Zhang’s wife is a great chef!”
Me:“Uhm…ok…got the meaning. Now let’s write it down. “Miss Wang thinks”…ok, I know how to write that…wait what was the name of the dude…damn…oh I think it was…”
Teacher proceeds to read the second sentence.
Me:“Urgh…”

Has everyone experienced the same and how did you get over it? I guess it’s just a matter of practicing, but if you combine the difficulty in actually understanding what people say, followed by trying to remember each stroke in each character…ugh, I need a hug.

:hubba:

Matter of practicing… I think…

When I was learning English I used to try to think in English. I would use words I know, and when I ran into words or grammar that I don’t know, I mmm~ mmmed through them in my mind to go with the flow of English, and pretended they were right.

That way when I learned the correct way to use them, it became pretty easy to just plug them in and replace the mmm~mmms.

It’s common since you’re still in the early part of learning the language. So your brain adds in a lot of translation steps before it makes any sense to you. As you start to get more familiar with it, the translation steps will be reduced and you’ll find yourself instantly recognizing and even being able to respond in Chinese without even having to think about it.

There have been times in the past where someone has asked me a question in Chinese and I’ve blurted an answer back without thinking about it, only to later wonder where I got that answer from. Turns out that my brain had heard that phrase used in this context so many times that it automatically started using it without even asking for my permission!

So keep at it, and keep exposing yourself to Chinese - and you’ll slowly find your speed improving.

When it comes to speaking I’m (reasonably) fine, as long as people use words that I know and don’t speak too quickly or mixing Taiwanese words in the mix xD
The main problem comes when I have to mix listening and writing. Apart from the words that I use in pretty much every sentence, there’s a lot of words for which I need to first think about their meaning and then (try to) remember how to write them It makes the whole procedure terribly slow, resulting in a bad outcome.
Eh, I guess I need to give my brain more time!

You’re LEARNING Chinese.
Memorizing rules. Memorizing words. Plugging the words into the rules and desperately outputting sentences.
You’re doing it backwards to what your brain wants.

If you acquire Chinese by first understanding things, over and over, you will cut out the using-the-rule step. That’s what takes time. That’s analytical. We don’t want to analyze when we’re using a language. Analysis is for Linguistics. Immediate direct use is for language.

More listening. More reading. More listening. More reading. And all of this of things you CAN understand. 100%. Not “kinda sorta” understand. Not “I can work it out with a dictionary”. That’s the fuel your brain needs to be fluent.

It is worth noting that most University classes do not value this approach, becuase it doesn’t make people who can pass the test at the end of each unit. However, out of 100 people who start in 1st year University level Chinese, how many become fluent? Ten, maybe? Probably fewer. It depends on what your goal is. For some, passing the University tests and getting the credit is also a goal as it is important for their degree. But in terms of becoming very good at Chinese, for most people, it’s not the best way.

[quote=“Ibis2k12”]
Teacher says (in chinese): “Miss Wang thinks that Mr Zhang’s wife is a great chef!”
Me:“Uhm…ok…got the meaning. Now let’s write it down. “Miss Wang thinks”…ok, I know how to write that…wait what was the name of the dude…damn…oh I think it was…”
Teacher proceeds to read the second sentence.
Me:“Urgh…”

Has everyone experienced the same and how did you get over it? I guess it’s just a matter of practicing, but if you combine the difficulty in actually understanding what people say, followed by trying to remember each stroke in each character…ugh, I need a hug.[/quote]

Are you practicing to be a stenographer or secretary?

I’ve taught people dictation skills, but with a more realistic aim (the ability to take messages, where people are actually forgiving and will repeat their sentences for you), and I’ve generally noticed that students need about one full sentential repetition for every five or seven words. Based on a sentence (I’m guessing): “王太太覺得張先生是個非常好的廚師。” I would say that your teacher owes you one repetition before she continues to the next sentence. She should also wait until she notes that most students have stopped writing.

Memory is a huge factor here, no matter what your fluency level is.
Think of using your native language to take a message for someone on the phone. You need to hear a few repetitions for basic sentences or notes. Why would it be different for Mandarin?

I’ve generally had the view that I wasn’t fluent in a language until it dominated a conscious dream. At about that point (three years in with Spanish, and nothing in Mandarin after two), I’ve made the permanent gains that I need for free reading and listening.

It’s not a matter of practicing. Even if you were a native Chinese speaker, you’d need a slowed pace and some repetition.

You might suggest that another Chinese teacher subject her to the same exercise. She probably didn’t try doing this from the student’s perspective, and so doesn’t have a clear sense of timing.

What? A few reps for a basic sentence in the L1? I don’t think so. Not for anyone with normal aural memory.

In the L2, it is a matter of internalizing the language. Within the confines of normal working memory (7 items,generally, but language is somewhat different as something like “the” is not an item for a native speaker of English, it just “is”) acquired language is no problem. Memorized language, however, is.

But dictations are easy to administer and easy to grade, so they are a quintessential favorite on the buxiban scene in Taiwan.

Yes, especially when timing is insufficient, and you’re pressured to write further material afterwards, as the OP mentions.

Just try it sitting at home. By the time you’ve reached the fifth or seventh word (or OWC term) in your list, assuming someone is just counting to ten in their heads, and then moves to the next sentence, you won’t be anywhere near finished with the handwriting. Also, the second sentence will affect your retention of the first one.

I’ll tack this to reasons why I self-study.

[quote=“ehophi”]
Just try it sitting at home. By the time you’ve reached the fifth or seventh word (or OWC term) in your list, assuming someone is just counting to ten in their heads, and then moves to the next sentence, you won’t be anywhere near finished with the handwriting. Also, the second sentence will affect your retention of the first one.[/quote]

That’s not how dictations work. They are typically repeated 2-3 times, and there is no requirement to finish the first sentence while the second is being read. And that is for unenlightened FL teaching in Taiwan. Native language “dictation” of a single sentence is no problem at all for someone who is literate and writes regularly, provided they have normal working memory.

[quote=“ironlady”][quote=“ehophi”]
Just try it sitting at home. By the time you’ve reached the fifth or seventh word (or OWC term) in your list, assuming someone is just counting to ten in their heads, and then moves to the next sentence, you won’t be anywhere near finished with the handwriting. Also, the second sentence will affect your retention of the first one.[/quote]

That’s not how dictations work. They are typically repeated 2-3 times, and there is no requirement to finish the first sentence while the second is being read. And that is for unenlightened FL teaching in Taiwan. Native language “dictation” of a single sentence is no problem at all for someone who is literate and writes regularly, provided they have normal working memory.[/quote]

Maybe we should let the OP tell us how the dictations work at his place. I’m still betting on short-term memory failure from excessive simultaneous input (overloading his magic number).

There is pressure to finish a first sentence while a second is being read if one anticipates more than a few sentences, say, ten, which seems to be educators’ factor of choice for virtually everything.

I’ve been studying it for a bit longer and I’m still finding it hard. Oh wait that’s not what you wanted to hear right? :slight_smile: Occasionally for very basic stuff I can spit out a sentence but if I think about what I’m saying I get myself in trouble. When it’s more complicated and I try and remember the grammar rules for how to construct a sentence well things tend to go pear shaped :noway: Is it a sign of progress that occasionally I get part sentences in my head?

Not having to write in Chinese at present but remembering tones is still a major headache, especially given they can change under some circumstances - yi (1) can be everything bar third tone I think so it’s not enough to memorise a character but tones for each word. I’m assuming it’s my lack of familiarity too. I find words I don’t know/remember plus Chinese spoken too quickly causes me great problems. Even when I’m completely familiar I don’t always understand quite what’s being said - grammar, implications and associations all play a part. I know a classmate of mine was asked something about his home and he was really confused because where he usually stays and where his home is are two different places.

[quote=“Ibis2k12”]I’ve been studying chinese just for 3 months and I’m approaching my first big exam at the University.
I’m Italian and have lived for 2 years in Australia, I’ve been speaking english since I was 5. The main problem I’m having with chinese is that my brain is not set up to use it as a 24/7 language, probably because I’ve not been studying it long enough.

When I want to uso my mother language (italian), I think in italian
When I have to use english, I think in english
When I have to use chinese, I think in italian and then translate it to chinese

Which is not too bad for everyday’s life, but becomes extremely frustrating during exams such as listening and writing.

Teacher says (in chinese): “Miss Wang thinks that Mr Zhang’s wife is a great chef!”
Me:“Uhm…ok…got the meaning. Now let’s write it down. “Miss Wang thinks”…ok, I know how to write that…wait what was the name of the dude…damn…oh I think it was…”
Teacher proceeds to read the second sentence.
Me:“Urgh…”

Has everyone experienced the same and how did you get over it? I guess it’s just a matter of practicing, but if you combine the difficulty in actually understanding what people say, followed by trying to remember each stroke in each character…ugh, I need a hug.[/quote]

[quote=“Bibliophile”]
Not having to write in Chinese at present but remembering tones is still a major headache, especially given they can change under some circumstances - yi (1) can be everything bar third tone I think so it’s not enough to memorise a character but tones for each word. [/quote]

See why starting with acquisition of the spoken language is advantageous? You don’t have this problem. It doesn’t really matter what tone a syllable is, as long as you are pronouncing it correctly. The only ones who need to “know” (be able to state) what the tone is are teachers and the students they are testing on this knowledge no one can really use except in telling other people how to pronounce things. (For most people. If you become some kind of uber-analytical Chinese linguist, that’s another story.)

Add a dedicated, specific “directional gesture” (a gesture that incorporates BOTH the semantic/meaning part of the word and the tone contour – I’m sure I’ve posted on the boards about this before, ad nauseum) to each word. That cements the tones into the learner’s head very effectively. It’s sort of like quizzing someone on chemistry in Chinese – because the names of the elements carry radicals that are “gas”, “mineral” and so on, there’s no point in ever asking a Chinese student whether oxygen is a gas or a solid. Since the directional gesture includes both the meaning and the tone, and is specific to that word, recalling the gesture gives you all the information you need.

You can’t do much about “assumptions” – like when your classmate was confused – other than just spend more time with the language and people who think natively using it, but teachers in a class have complete control over familiarity. It all comes back to repetition. The brain desperately needs repetition to acquire language, but that is not something teachers like to do. Repetition from the brain’s perspective means 70-100 times for a new word in a new language, and literally thousands for a new pattern, not the 5-10 times you generally get in a textbook. And that repetition ideally should be unexpected – in novel contexts and uses, so that your brain is engaged in negotiating the meaning, and DOES successfully negotiate that meaning. That’s what comprehensible input is.

Schools want “progress”, which means “how many books did we finish?” They ignore the fact that despite the finished books and completed exercise pages, the students cannot use the language and have not, in fact, mastered much of what was “covered”.

i grew up speaking taiwanese, but i didnt do any thinking in taiwanese, I dont think i did any thinking at all.

I then went thru the american school system and i started thinking in english.

I picked up mandarin but i still thought in english.

i do not think in mandarin. I still think in english (or not at all it seems). :slight_smile:

I speak fluent mando but i dont feel a need to THINK in mando.

True :confused: Not to mention all those people who want to talk with me and start to use Taiwanese instead of Mandarin…geez my life is already difficult enough -___- when I’ll get back to my country to visit my family, if I’ll ever meet some taiwanese student I’ll talk to him in the weird dialect from my city…PAYBACK TIME ! :laughing:

My final exam went pretty well, especially the part that I mentioned in my original post. Basically the first time that the teacher said the sentence I was mostly focused on the meaning of the whole thing, and during the first repetition I started to write down the characters. It will still take time to make the step from:“Hear chinese-translate it in english-understand-think about how to write it” to :“Hear chinese → understand → write it”.

加油 xP

I am a native Cantonese speaker with a bit of Mandarin exposure when I was young, as my parent came to Hong Kong from China before the civil war.

When I first went to work in Taiwan, I could only speak and be able to hear about 20-30% of mandarin. My first year there was horrible because I needed to teach in Mandarin. I was even laughed at when I couldn’t distinguish between 四 死 屎 斯 屍. See Cantonese people have lazy tongues; instead, they use nasal and glottal sounds often. Recognizing which part of your mouth is involved in pronouncing a word is important.

Then, I started to watch a lot of television (especially those game programs and talk show programs which are fun anyway) and listen to mandarin songs. When I left Taiwan after working there for four years, I was told I could speak like a native Taiwanese person. Of course, I believe I only speak 90+% of mandarin RIGHT. When I was at an airport in the U.S., I once bumped into a Taiwanese. He somehow thought I was a Taiwanese because of my almost perfect Taiwanese accent (which Mainlanders hate, including my mom, who can speak 90+% Cantonese and got laughed at by me often). :frowning:

The other trick to learn Mandarin is to spend like 20 minutes to talk (or think) to yourself in Mandarin in bed right before you fall asleep. If you always argue with people in Mandarin, say in politics (not advised though cause politics is a taboo in Taiwan), Your Mandarin will improve even quicker.

BTW, I have never had a single Mandarin lesson in my entire life. Even today, I don’t know any Mandarin phonics (which I will learn soon in order to compare Cantonese to Mandarin effectively). However, I somehow managed to translate the Mandarin sound system (also grammar system) into the Cantonese sound system. There are certain fixed rules for the translation from Cantonese to Mandarin, even to the native Taiwanese language, Min nan. I believe this kind of translation applies to any two languages.

For example, ignoring tones, 花 is Fa in Cantonese, Hwei in Min nan, and Hwa in mandarin. The same translation of F to H applies to 輝 which is Fai in Cantonese, Hwei in Mandarin. Similar translation patterns apply to other groups of words. Somehow when two related languages change over time, they divert according to some fixed patterns, just like the languages originated from Indoeuropean.

Of course, I also memorized all the special cases, like “擴” which has a “ng” ending in Cantonese but a “ok” ending in mandarin which is not common cause “廣” has “ng” ending in Cantonese, and also “ng” ending in mandarin. “廣” and “擴” are both 形聲字, meaning that their sounds are derived from part of the character, “廣”, with an “ng” ending.

If you are a non-Chinese, however, you definitely need to learn the phonics cause you don’t know any Chinese characters, not to mention their meanings. But recognizing patterns, memorizing special cases, talking to yourself and to Mandarin speaking people, watching TV, and listening to songs are critical to everyone who want to learn Mandarin, whether you are a Chinese or a non-Chinese.

Arthur Hau
Oregon

[quote=“Ibis2k12”]I’ve been studying chinese just for 3 months and I’m approaching my first big exam at the University.
I’m Italian and have lived for 2 years in Australia, I’ve been speaking english since I was 5. The main problem I’m having with chinese is that my brain is not set up to use it as a 24/7 language, probably because I’ve not been studying it long enough.

When I want to uso my mother language (italian), I think in italian
When I have to use english, I think in english
When I have to use chinese, I think in italian and then translate it to chinese

Which is not too bad for everyday’s life, but becomes extremely frustrating during exams such as listening and writing.

Teacher says (in chinese): “Miss Wang thinks that Mr Zhang’s wife is a great chef!”
Me:“Uhm…ok…got the meaning. Now let’s write it down. “Miss Wang thinks”…ok, I know how to write that…wait what was the name of the dude…damn…oh I think it was…”
Teacher proceeds to read the second sentence.
Me:“Urgh…”

Has everyone experienced the same and how did you get over it? I guess it’s just a matter of practicing, but if you combine the difficulty in actually understanding what people say, followed by trying to remember each stroke in each character…ugh, I need a hug.[/quote]

Me, exactly the same, well almost … my mother tongue is Dutch, but I listen to Chinese, think in English not Dutch and than try to do … basically I learn Chinese translating to English, all of my notes and tests and communicating.

Which still, to me, begs the question: what good is mastering this skill, other than passing exams? What situation in real life is this preparing one for?