Teenager James Corl is on a mission to learn Chinese in 3 months with the Add1Challenge. This is his update after one month.
It is hard to believe that I am already one month into my Mandarin mission! The days are going by too quickly for my liking, and I am nervously awaiting the day where I must give my Day 30 video to the entire Add1 Community!
Obviously Mandarin is far different from the Romance languages I have previously studied, but there is a quality about the language that I really like. Though I still have to find out what that quality is. Maybe it is the tones that give Chinese its musical, songlike rhythm. Or perhaps it is the characters, with their intricacies and meanings only to be deciphered by those who know their secrets.
Most likely, it is the history and the culture of the Chinese people which draws me closer to Mandarin. From Confucius to Jack Ma of Alibaba, China and the people who inhabit it have been changing the world, providing it with new inventions and processes that have had a ripple effect across the globe.
That being said, this has been the most difficult language that I have tried to learn! Although it is true that I love the language and its features, there are several features that make this tongue the toughest I have ever learned. In this article, I’ll go over:
- The resources I have been using so far
- Things I may have to adjust going into my next month
My Day 0 Mandarin Video
I’m learning Mandarin as part of the Add1Challenge. At the start of the Add1Challenge, every student is required to post a Day 0 video, showing the their current knowledge of the language.
Here is my Day 0 video, an entire 17 seconds long:
In the video I say: “Hello, my name is James. I am American. I love to eat American.Thank you; I love you all!”
As you can see, my Chinese at the start was far from perfect. Just take a look at the line where I said Wŏ ài chī fàn méiguó (“I love to eat American”), instead of saying Wŏ ài chī shuǐguǒ (“I like to eat fruit”).
The Resources I Used to Learn Mandarin
To start the Add1Challenge, I began to do a few different things to kick off my Chinese learning. One tool that I used was Memrise.
It just so happened that I have always wanted to extensively use Memrise, and I had my opportunity to! Most of the beginning days of my learning were spent on the site and app, pouring over Chinese character after Chinese character.
In the beginning, I liked using Memrise. I felt that I was making a lot of progress in my Mandarin, and I was encouraged by the number of words I had “mastered” or were “works in progress”. The analogy of learning a word to the growth of a flower was pretty creative, in my mind.
After 2 Weeks, I Needed to Try Something New…
However, as I continued to use Memrise alongside my lessons (twice a week with my teacher), the value I found within the program diminished. A full disclaimer: I am not trying to discourage usage of Memrise. Many people have used the program, and it has worked for many learners of many languages across the globe.
In my case, I fell into the passive learning trap. I wasn’t spending enough time actually using the language, and had just been learning vocabulary that didn’t mean anything to me at the present moment. Fortunately, I caught myself in this state about two weeks into the challenge, enough time to alter my strategy Something needed to change!
Just when I was going to message a fellow challenger to ask for ideas one what to do next, the Add1Challenge crew swooped in to save me! Not in a literal sense, but through the help of a Mini-Challenge. Three of these take place during each Add1Challenge, and they’re designed to get all of the challengers ready for the finale of the challenge: the all important 15 minute conversation with a native speaker.
The first challenge involves scheduling time to chat with with native speakers, and preparing some phrases that you’re likely to use during these conversations.
My First Conversation in Chinese
I did not think that I was ready for this at all. Nevertheless, I booked my first 30 minute conversation. For the first time since learning Italian, I was a little jittery before the conversation.
From the beginning of the conversation, I felt that I was climbing uphill. I relied heavily on my Cheat Sheet. Hearing a language so foreign to my ears was a sensation that I haven’t felt in a really long time. Everything had to be slowed down, I took my time to respond to questions, and by the end I was extremely exhausted.
Even though I was very tired at the end of my conversation, I felt really good too! My list of phrases that I had created was used less and less as the exchange progressed. Many of these phrases, I found I now knew by heart: Through sheer usage of them, over and over, I had memorized them!
Feeling pumped after, I decided to up my Chinese game: I wanted to do a full, hour-long conversation in Mandarin! Without reservation, I found another tutor and booked an hour long slot. I thought to myself: if I already did a 30 minute conversation, why not a 60 minute talk? Just add 30 more minutes and I would be at 60 minutes! How hard would it be?
As the talk quickly approached, I was met with a mix of nerves and excitement (it was mostly excitement). I wondered what we would talk about, and the new vocabulary and grammar I would pick up during our talk.
For the first few minutes of this second conversation, I reverted back to my list of set phrases. But as the chat progressed, I began to think in Chinese! I picked up so much new relevant vocabulary to me and my daily routine that I began to piece things from the discussion together with words I had previously learned!
By the end, I was not even thinking about speaking or listening; I was just doing it! I found this to be a welcome occurence for my Chinese learning. Nothing boosts my confidence more than being able to speak competently in a foreign tongue.
Where Do I Go From Here? My Plans for Month Two
From here on out, I will do more active learning with Mandarin. Apps like ChineseSkill will get more of my time, as it includes vocabulary that must be then translated into English. If this sounds familiar to another language learning app in the marketplace, you are not mistaken! ChineseSkill has been dubbed as the “Duolingo of Chinese.”
One thing I may try in the upcoming month is listening to Chinese podcasts, such as ChineseClass 101 , as I have never tried podcasts extensively and would like to see what they offer. Continuing to take and participate in formal lessons will be a vital part (as it has been in the past) of my learning journey.
These are a few things that I will do this upcoming month to help me with my progression in the Chinese language. However, nothing can help me more than speaking the language. I have a theory behind this: since Chinese is so foreign (more so than European languages) to my mind, I have to put in extra effort to learn every new word, as there are far fewer cognates and similar grammar structures.
Here’s an example: in mid-July, I was taking two lessons a week. These were solely to absorb vocabulary and grammar, and with minimal Chinese conversation. My tutorr is phenomenal, but for some reason, every new word was forgotten in, I kid you not, two minutes! My retrieval was dismal. I just figured that it was just a part of learning Mandarin.
After my two hours of conversation the previous week, had another lesson with my tutor. The difference in the lessons was like night and day! I was able to remember new words at a lightning pace, and I recalled some words from my previous lessons with the teacher. Amazed, he told me that he could tell that there was a difference from our previous lessons (he specified that it was for the better ;)).
I hope that this update has helped you understand some of the struggles I am having, what I am doing to fix them, and, of course, the fun that this challenge has provided me with. If there is one thing I’ve learned from learning languages (apart from the tongues themselves), it is this: if you are not having fun doing something, then it is not worth doing.
Every day before my school day starts, my dad tells me three things to me: “Learn lots, work hard, and have fun!” I sincerely believe I have met that goal every day in my Chinese studies- and I can’t wait to do all of that in the upcoming 60 days of this challenge!