I stopped using CFL materials when I finished my B.A. in Chinese back in the States. I don’t like relying on text books for learning a language except for learning the most fundamental things. When I came to Taiwan and enrolled at the MTC, I used the high school Guowen books used by Taiwanese high school students here, and other than that, all of my Chinese learning has been through reading non-CFL materials (newspapers, academic articles, books on Chinese literature, etc.) I note down vocabulary that I don’t recognize and make lists/flashcards (if I’m not feeling too lazy), and of course speak constantly. I have very few foreign friends, live with my Taiwanese boyfriend, and all of my communication with my classmates, professors, co-workers, etc. are in Mandarin. That is THE best way to develop a strong command of the language without sounding like a text-book or dictionary. There were plenty of grammar patterns that I wasn’t clear on after I graduated with my B.A., but after hearing them and seeing them in context enough times, you naturally pick them up. The same goes for vocabularly. I think buying a buch of CFL text books and tapes is a waste of time and money, especially if youre already living in Taiwan or China, which is a 24hour Mandarin classroom.
Either that or Taiwan has started blocking access to PRC web sites in retaliation.
Appreciate the view from the heights, I am about half way into ShiDa book ONE…
Damn, after reading the last couple of replies on this thread I feel absolutely depressed. I realise I’ve only just recently started to wade into the magnificent pool that is Mandarin but it seems almost like an insurmountable climb.
Okay, I agree. Talking in Mandarin to folks around you and friends is the best way to learn, but herein is also a problem. Shouldn’t one first try and build up some decent vocabulary first? Otherwise how the hell to you communicate, nay, understand anything that’s being said to you? Sometimes I kinda understand what’s being said to me, but I’m left clueless as how to answer the generous soul standing before me. A Taiwanese friend of mine suggested making an agreement with my girlfriend whereby certain days are English days and other days are Mandarin days. That all good and well, but how am I to understand what she’s on about half the time on said Mandarin days?
Chin up, Bismark.
Don’t feel depressed just because there are other westerners who started out on the path of Mandarin study ahead of you. Some people had a huge head start, completed formal studies in the language and so on. We all have different backgrounds, aptitudes, and needs re: Mandarin.
Myself, I am just a teacher who started studying in earnest in order to survive in a place like Taoyuan. I’ve adjusted my goals upward as I’ve met them. I started out simply wanting to be able go out by myself. Once I met that I put the bar a bit higher. I’m constantly readjusting my reason for studying. Now it seems my reasons are:1) to enable me to have more meaningful relationships here with people who have difficulty communicating with me in my native tongue and 2) to gain greater literacy in order to be aware of what’s going on around me. I’m not sure my goal is to get to a point where I don’t have a need for other waiguoren. I’m not the go local type. In the end, though, Mandarin study helps me feel like my time here is leading toward something; it makes me feel like I’m moving forward somehow.
Just remember this: It’s not a competition. Your learning process is a personal journey. Try to enjoy it as I have. Don’t worry that others may be better at it than you.
I agree that you should try to get a baseline before plunging in and having all Mandarin days with your girlfriend. Perhaps you can have a modified system, wherein she can start off slow, sticking to basic things in situations where the meaning is self evident. Perhaps she can start asking “you what would like to drink?” in Mandarin when you go to coffee shops or other such basic things. Anyway. I hope I’ve been helpful in some way. Happy studies.
Don’t expect to understand 100% of what people are saying right away. That’s a good way to get depressed really fast. First, try to get the main idea of what they’re saying to you, and then slowly build up from there. Try watching Taiwanese television programs and news and try to pick up as much as you can. You’ll find that you understand more if you’re first aware of the context. Build up vocabulary as you go along. If you don’t understand a word or phrase when you’re talking with someone, ask them. Taiwanese, I’ve found, are good at explaining things in much simpler terms … and/or always carry a pocket dictionary with you. When you learn new words, phrases, or whatever, try to use them as much as possible until they become ingrained in your mind. While you’re doing this, keep plugging away with your books until you feel even more comfortable, but once you get past Shida book 3, try going out on your own without relying on the books. I’ve felt the same way as you before, and still sometimes do. Sometimes my professors talk really fast and in very academic-style language that takes me a while to pick up. That keeps me frustrated, but after more exposure, you get used to it! GOOD LUCK!
Good advice for our students of English, too.
Yep, somedays it’s easy to get frustrated, but then there are other days when you pass a street sign or something and you can actually read and understand what it says. And that IS a pretty amazing feeling.
What I find amazing though is how when you can say a few simple things in Mandarin people automatically assume you can speak fluently. Like today I went to get myself some tea and grub near my school in Luhju. I managed to be able to ask for yi bei lu cha and yi ge han bao. The next thing I knew the lady was engaging me in a very spirited conversation
However, although I couldn’t really respond much other than the odd word or nodding my head I did get the general idea of what she was talking about. It was a rather nice feeling.
Also have any of you ever had this experience? I’ve found that when out on my own and forced to communicate my needs and wants I generally don’t have a problem. (Except for the odd occassion where I was misunderstood and sat looking at food I didn’t really want but ate anyway). But usually when I have a Taiwanese friend with me (a crutch if you will) then there almost always seems to be a misunderstanding. Unless of course I allow my Taiwanese friend to do all the communicating.
“Fundamental things” is a pretty subjective thing. Just what is it that you consider to be fundamental?
I think you are making a rather sweeping statement. Are you familiar with the materials I linked to? There are plenty of things that even an advanced student would have a difficult time learning without being “helped” to focus on and acquire them more quickly by good materials or a skilled teacher. Repeated exposure within the environment of the target language doesn’t necessarily lead to efficient acquisition for many bits of language. I think that still holds true even for the advanced learner. On the other hand, some vocabulary or grammatical structures, even for advanced learners, can be nailed on the first pass by a skilled teacher or the use of well written materials, whereas being exposed to them dozens of times outside the classroom still may not result in them being acquired. I call it the “dead bang” effect. A learner hears/sees it and then practices it in a way that is conducive to acquisition, and then it is pretty well forever burned onto their hard drive.
Teaching at a technical college in Hong Kong, I deal with a lot of upper-intermediate and advanced students who begin the academic year with notions similar to yours: that they should be using nothing but authentic materials and that they don’t have much to learn from a teacher or ESL materials. That attitude changes very quickly once they notice that they are acquiring and firmly retaining language structures that have dogged them in their independent study and interaction with native speakers; some of these kids did secondary school in an English speaking country. They realize that a well thought out, staged clarification of a language item followed by equally well thought out and staged practice plants the seed so much faster and deeper than anything they could have done on their own or interacting in the language environment. And this does not lead them to become teacher or ESL material dependent. Instead, the better ones figure out how to structure their interactions in the target language to mimic the way they are picking up things from their teacher or materials. Now of course you may not have needed as much of this as the average student. I seem to remember you writing elsewhere that you already had a few languages under your hat before you started with Chinese, so I imagine that your language learning strategies were already pretty well developed compared to the average student. Do drop hints of that when sharing your learning experiences with people here who are at lower levels. Most people still need some focus on form even when they are quite advanced. Quite often, that focus can be better achieved with a good teacher or good CFL materials than through relying on yourself and language input that is not necessarily focused on what you want or need.
Actually, the books used in year three and four at BLCU contain the same type and level of readings found in upper secondary and first year university courses on the mainland. The difference is that the exercises are written with the second language learner in mind. I wouldn’t say that secondary school materials are a waste of time, but the language tasks in them are often not suitable for the second language learner. Some of them are too easy, some are too hard, and some just don’t focus on the things that the non-native needs to focus on. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “relying” on a book that is better suited for the learner’s needs if it accomplishes the goal of getting the non-native learner to read, understand and acquire the same language that the native gets in his secondary school books.
I agree and disagree with this statement. Considering the very narrow focus of the Shida books, a student would hopefully be seeking out interactions in which he can learn things that aren’t covered in the books long before he gets to the third one. Those interractions may be on the street or they may be with better written materials that provide a lot of context and something approacing natural input. However, there are still a lot of things (i.e., different types of writing and reading strategies) that the third book just doesn’t give a student. A student could pick those things up by using secondary school books, but I think he could pick them up faster by using some advanced CFL materials. How much he uses depends on his purpose of study. If a guy’s main purpose for learning Chinese is to be able to shoot the shit with people in his Taipei restaurant, then there’s not much sense in him going into reading a bunch of literature oriented CFL books. However, if someone wants to attain advanced professional proficiency that he’ll use in, well, a profession, then I think he could do that more efficiently by using materials like the ones I’ve described above rather than just using secondary school books for natives and other authentic materials. I think a student who has finished something like the third Shida book is ready to start doing stuff with authentic materials within his field of interest, but he would still profit from the use of some of the better CFL materials that are now out there on the market.
This is of course the decisive factor. If the learner’s prospects of getting laid on a normal basis and winning the odd lover’s quarrel depend on his ability to communicate fluently and accurately in the target language, then there is every chance that he will reach a high level of proficiency. Toss out the Shida books ASAP. Get a companion.
As usual, Jive Turkey, you make some very excellent points. Just to clarify, what I meant by “fundamental” things were the most fundamental grammar patterns, vocabulary, and around 2,000 characters (which is supposed to be what you’ve learned after 3-4 years of Mandarin in university). My reading/writing sucked when I got here. The way I improved was by forcing myself to get through a three books on the history of Chinese literature (as preparation for the entrance exam for NTU). After getting through that (took about 6 months), my reading level approved dramatically. I’ve been able to maintain that because I have to do a lot of reading for my classes, a lot of writing, and am forced to learn and retain advanced vocabulary, grammar, structures, etc. in my writing and oral presentations if I’m not to look stupid in front of my classmates … and of course being able to win arguments with my boyfriend … hehe So, basically, I forced myself into the “sink or swim” approach. I had a certain level I wanted/needed to reach by a certain time, and CFL text books were not going to get me there. When I’m not too lazy, though, I still do write down new vocabulary, idioms, etc. and try to memorize them, and I do occasionally review lessons in my old literary Chinese books.
Little Buddha…You go girl…
With a little practice and much study, maybe one day I will also be able to win an argument with my girlfriend in Chinese.
Er…Then again, you CAN NEVER win an argument with your girlfriend…
Thanks, Jive Turkey. Though I must say I don’t like language tapes, except for beginners and intermediates. After that I can only see harm, not benefit. I think watching TV, VCDs, DVDs is the only way for an advanced/fluent student, no? What you relate about teaching ESL rings a bell with me in the opposite direction. My students (uni English majors) are still mostly dependent on ESL materials, especially for listening. I tell them to use ESL stuff if they want, but their homework is to listen to real (authentic) English. I’ve gone so far as buying tape sets available here on the mainland for VOA and BBC (though VOA is probably not authentic English, technically) and lending them out to my classes.
LittleBuddhaTW, what you say is generally true, but if one does not have regular access to practice in all four language areas (readwritespeakhear) and at various levels, then certain skills will atrophy. To repeat what I said in an earlier post, I started reading real Chinese books two years or so ago, after finishing book 2 of the Shida series and Taiwan Today , yet I have used CFL materials all along and still do. Otherwise certain skills and areas of knowledge/vocabulary begin to fade. I use them less now and only need to focus on the areas of neglect. I supect I will always use them to some extent for review and clarification.
Also, not everyone is a full time MA student in Chinese literature at a Chinese speaking university in a Chinese speaking country with a Chinese speaking significant other.
Three days ago at my weekly private Chinese class we were discussing the lunar calendar in China and the West and then whether Confucianism is a philosophy or a religion (though it was originally a writing class . . . ). At the end of the lesson I commented to him how nice it was to get to speak Chinese for something more than ordering food and daily chit-chat, something I pretty much don’t have the chance to do with the people I encounter.