Heisig: 399 hànzì strong…

peckishlaowai Posted in Heisig, Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , , , , ,
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Heisig: 399 hànzì strong...

Heisig: 399 hànzì strong...

Ok so this is where it’s at – I’ve studied 399 simplified Chinese characters using the Heisig & Richardson book – “Remembering Simplified Hanzi: Book 1, How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters”..

(I had reached 225 characters by the end of late September – see this post if you’re interested on my initial findings: Small Victories: my progress in learning simplified characters with Heisig…)

Negative points regarding my progress:

  • I’ve not progressed as far as I would have liked to do nor as I intended to do. I was supposed to hit the 500 mark by middle October. I derailed completely because of work priorities which frankly – will always take priority.
  • The last few chapters I’ve studied – chapters 13 – 17 have presented some of the most trying characters I’ve studied.
  • I’ve certainly gotten more characters wrong when I tested myself at first which means that I needed to go back and revise those characters that gave me trouble.
  • I got lazy during my studies and I paid less attention to a good story / picture. The ones I’d get wrong are without a doubt the ones that I didn’t put enough effort into in the first place. If I don’t want to waste time going forward, I should really focus on the visual story in the future. (This double-touching thing / re-learning is time consuming.)
  • Chapter 17 has been the worst – no doubt. I needed to check back on more than half it about three times. Once again – no clear stories / visuals defined the first time around.
  • I’m assuming that if I’ve found the last couple of chapters trying that the rest that follows will probably be the same. I’m not going to let it deter me however. I’m AM GOING to finish the book – come hell or high water.

My self-testing methods:
I’m using 3 ways of testing myself after I’ve studied a chapter.

  • On paper – I normally write down all the English keywords out of their usual Heisig sequence on a piece of paper and see whether I can identify the character correctly. (Scribble it on paper…) If there are issues – I sort it out by restudying those characters, checking the story again or see if I need to change the story. Once I’m satisfied with a chapter, I move onto Anki for revision.

    The photo I’ve attached will give you an idea of what I’m doing – you’ll probably shudder at my hànzì and I will completely understand it if you do – however really it’s just about the concept and identifying / distinguishing one character from another – not about perfection – not at this stage :)

  • In Anki I’ve got one flashcard set that shows me the character first, and I need to provide the meaning in English only as the answer.
  • The second flashcard set shows me the keyword / meaning and I have to draw the characters – not perfectly – just roughly on paper will do or with my finger on the table to see whether I can “assemble” /remember the character.

Thus… a lot of testing going on…

Some good points (thus far):

  • I’ve made some progress at least…
  • My rigorous testing makes my Anki scores look good :)

    First Anki set (Question: shows character only. Answer: requires me to give the English keyword / meaning.)
    Correct Answers
    Mature cards: 100.0%
    Young cards: 88.8%
    First-seen cards: 91.2%

    Second Anki set (Question: English word is stated. Answer: requires me to “assemble” the character.)
    (I started this deck much later thus none of my cards are mature cards yet.)
    Mature cards: 0.0%
    Young cards: 88.8%
    First-seen cards: 90.5%

So how does it look for me going forward?

I seriously would love to have the book completed by end of December – this is my plan. However I’m only human and will probably be derailed again… so we’ll see.

My 500 mark needs to be reached though before end of October…

And if you’re wondering why I’m at 399 and not 400 characters right now – well, it’s not that I love odd numbers (although I am a bit of an odd one) nor that I’m superstitious. Lesson 18 starts with character number 400 instead of 401. Thanks a lot Heisig… ;)

Well that’s it from me (for this week).

Onwards with chapter 18 / #400….

K2XJ8NX6NGJ4

What’s the worst that can happen?

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: ,
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Tomatoes fānqié 番茄 / xīhóngshì 西红柿

Tomatoes: fānqié 番茄 / xīhóngshì 西红柿 - I think I'll take Kit Kat next time...

The comments in the last post ‘Accidental conversations in Mandarin’ inspired the post for this week ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ when having/starting conversations in Mandarin – a question posed to me by Greg from Mandarin Segments.

In my last post I also mentioned that I met a Chinese lady on the bus who offered to lend me some of her daughter’s Chinese books and I got a chance to meet up with her yesterday. I also promised myself that I’d be better prepared mentally to have an actual conversation with her in Mandarin at our next meet-up and I think I was actually slightly better prepared… progress… I have also tried my first Dr Pepper… literally…

If you’re not familiar with the Dr Pepper ads then here they are: brilliant – have a laugh before you continue on with my lengthy post – sorry I know I take a while before I get to my point!


Now that you’ve had a laugh, I’ll tell you how my visit went to my new Chinese acquaintance and I’d like give an answer to the question / statement: “Have a Mandarin conversation – what’s the worst that can happen?”.

Right. A few things apparently :)

1) You can forget your manners – leaving out ‘qing wen’ when asking someone’s name in Mandarin can have somewhat serious cultural implications – especially when people are older than you are. I was corrected and gently told that Chinese people use ‘qing wen’ when asking names instead of just asking ‘Ni jiao shenme?’. I mean I know this and I know it pays to be polite – and by NZ standards I’m always far too polite. In this instance, I wasn’t at all intending to be impolite – I guess I came over as abrupt and hence impolite. I think I just had a more casual approach in mind. Kind of like ‘I’m called [name]. What’s your name?’ Terrible of me? I don’t know but felt really bad for a few minutes then decided to get on with it and impress them with my sparkly personality and good humour :)

2) You can misunderstand a question, give an answer and inadvertently without intending to do so – tell a lie…

Knowing that I’m never supposed to go empty–handed to a Chinese person’s home when I visit them – I took a humble gift of vine tomatoes and avocados.

I’m not too sure what happened but when I was asked a question about the tomatoes I answered yes – realizing the moment I had replied that I had in fact lied – that I had confirmed that I had been growing the tomatoes myself (which I haven’t done). The tomatoes I gave as a gift were ones I bought but I also do grow tomatoes myself. So this confusion made me a liar – the Chinese lady was so happy and excited about these lovely big tomatoes I had “grown myself” that I felt the timing wasn’t right to correct her about it. It being insignificant in the bigger scheme of things – I left it at that – I mean small white lie right and completely unintentional? When she later showed the tomatoes to her husband and told him that I had grown the tomatoes myself – he was in awe too – and my immediate reaction was to steer the subject in another direction because I couldn’t look her husband in the eyes and misrepresent my tomato growing skills, neither was I ready to deny at this point in time what I should have denied / corrected sooner. Next time I’ll take some Kit Kat or something other with – anything I can’t possibly have grown myself. I am an idiot … most of the time…

Besides me showing the tendencies / initial symptoms of being a habitual liar and forgetting my manners, overall I thought the visit went well, we chatted for 2 hours – way longer than the quick visit I anticipated it to be. Some of the conversation was in Mandarin and most of it in English. It was enjoyable and I walked home with a big smile on my face as I felt so happy to have met these wonderful people.

What will I do next time about the tomatoes if they ask me again? 我不知道。

I feel like this experience of coming over as impolite and “lying” is almost worse than “my most embarrassing Mandarin moment to date” – I guess I actually feel like I’m a bad person…

As for point 1 – knowing about potential pitfalls, cultural sensitivities and the like is important and I think language should never be studied in isolation of a culture.

As for point 2 – well heck I should just improve my listening skills and react faster I think.

Have you ever gotten yourself into a predicament when you tried to put your best Mandarin foot forward and it didn’t quite have the desired outcome? I’m talking about specific situations e.g. misunderstandings like getting tones wrong and telling your best friend you like his mother instead of his horse? Embarrassing or odd stuff like that. What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Have you ever been or felt like an idiot yourself?

For those of you have commented before – thank you :) – I love hearing your thoughts. I’m hoping I’ll hear from you again. If you haven’t commented yet – you have an invitation :)

If you’ve got a good link to share – please share that in the comments too – 谢谢你!

Useful phrases?

Did you have a good weekend?
    Pinyin: Nǐde zhōumò hǎo ma?
    Simplified: 你的周末好吗?
    Literal translation: Your weekend good +question word

Have a good weekend!
    Pinyin: Zhù nǐ zhōumò yúkuài!
    Simplified: 祝你周末愉快!
    Literal translation: Wish you weekend happy!

I am going to Singapore in the near future.
    Simplified: 我最近要到新加坡去
    Pinyin: Wo3 zui4jin4 yao4 dao4 Xin1jia1po1 qu4.
    Literal translation: I near future will to Singapore go.

What are you interested in?
    Pinyin: Ni 3 dui4 shen2me you3 xing4qu4?
    Simplified:你对什么有兴趣?

  I am interested in learning Mandarin.
   Pinyin: Wo3 dui4 xue2 zhong1wen2 you3 xing4qu4.
    Simplified:我对学中文有兴趣。

He is not interested in cooking.
    Pinyin: Ta1 dui4 zuo4 cai4 mei2you xing4qu4.
    Simplified:他对做菜没有兴趣。

Useful vocab:

Tomatoes – 2 options:
    Pinyin: fānqié OR xīhóngshì.
    Simplified: 番茄 / 西红柿

For an explanation on when to use which one please see this answer
In what dialects does Chinese use the word 西红柿 (xihongshi) versus 番茄 (fanqie) for tomato?”

Accidental Conversations in Mandarin

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: ,
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What language do you speak?

In China I didn’t hesitate too much when it came to starting conversations in Mandarin – as long as I sort of had the vocab for the scenario I would have given it a go.

There are several reasons for this: firstly in China it’s the expected thing to try and speak the language if you’re going to live there for a period of time. Secondly, foreigners who accompany you, won’t necessarily laugh at your attempts – after all, you’re sort of in the same boat as they are, which means that they can either be better than you at speaking Mandarin and you can listen to them and learn from them or they can correct you. It really is a kind of a win-win situation.

Starting conversations with Chinese people in a western country is a whole different ball game and much harder for several reasons: you need to do more research about the people you attempt to speak Mandarin with and you need to make fewer assumptions… I speak from personal experience and I will not go into too much detail… but will try and explain my thinking below:

  • Sometimes it’s not always apparent whether the Chinese speakers you meet speak Mandarin or Cantonese or even whether they are Cambodian or Vietnamese Chinese.
  • Sometimes they don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese at all because it was never used at home or there simply wasn’t a need to study the language in a western country. Sometimes asking someone with this kind of heritage and background whether they speak Mandarin or Cantonese can actually touch a nerve – and is a question sometimes best avoided in my experience so I’m careful about asking.
  • Occasionally the Mandarin or Cantonese speakers I meet, don’t appear eager to speak Mandarin to English speakers. As one such speaker pointed out to me, they’re in a Western country and are often here to practice their English.

Even on the odd occasion that I do identify a Mandarin speaker successfully, it’s not that easy for me to just start a conversation with them. I for example don’t feel comfortable speaking Mandarin in front of other English speakers here in New Zealand. I’m not too certain why but I think these are a few possible reasons:

  • I don’t want to be seen as a show-off (even though my Mandarin could hardly achieve show-off status.)
  • Speaking a foreign language draws attention to oneself, and I don’t want to bring attention to myself nor make the person I’m having a conversation with uncomfortable especially when we’re both surrounded by complete strangers.

For these reasons, I don’t have many conversations in Mandarin really… and chance Mandarin conversations are few and far between.

Today however presented a pleasant surprise:

I only occasionally take the bus to work and whenever I do take the bus at my usual time in the mornings, I almost always see a Chinese woman with her young daughter. I normally smile and say hello but never start an actual conversation (for the reasons I outlined above.) Today was no different. Even though I never in the past initiated a conversation with her, I’d still strain my ears in the hope that I’d catch bits here and there when they speak in Mandarin.

On the way back home from work, I took a seat in the second last row and was reviewing some Heisig characters I learned the day before. (I find learning characters on the bus far more comfortable than listening to podcasts – the noise in the bus normally means I can’t actually hear a word unless I give myself permanent hearing loss so I normally opt to entertain myself with reading material instead.)

The bus filled up pretty quickly and soon someone sat down next to me. I looked up, smiled and said hello. It was the same Chinese lady I always see at my bus stop. She returned my greeting. At some point I felt her eyes on me and my book and she almost immediately asked me whether I was studying Chinese and thus our first ever real conversation had begun. (About bloody time too seeing that I’ve been aware of her for nearly a year :) ) Well… it turns out she is from Nanjing – an awesome culturally rich city in China where I spent the year of 2008.

We exchanged a few words in Mandarin and I actually learned a few things in Mandarin from her. As I’m completely out of practice I didn’t strut my Mandarin stuff nearly as well as I would have liked to, but really I have only myself to blame that she assumed I was a COMPLETE beginner.

After all, she was explaining the word 我 to me (and just in case you were wondering – no I didn’t need an explanation for that one specifically – perhaps for others I’ll admit – but not that one :) ). Regardless, it was more important to me that I make a connection with someone and learn a bit about them too rather than solely use the opportunity to practice my Mandarin with them on a single occasion, so we just discussed learning Mandarin in general and I showed her my Heisig book and how the method works and we spoke a bit about Nanjing and the various universities. I will make sure though that I’m better prepared next time and have the confidence to speak a bit more when I see her again!

Learning how to say ‘to take the bus’ in Mandarin is not the only thing I got out of this “accidental conversation”. This weekend I‘ll be going over to her house to borrow some of her daughter’s Chinese books and some audio CDs. She also told me that the Chinese embassy here in New Zealand gives Mandarin books to Chinese citizens for free in the hope that this free resource will help encourage their overseas diaspora in learning Mandarin. I have also made a new acquaintance – someone who seems friendly and interested to help where she can in my cause in learning Mandarin – way more than you’d ever expect from such a chance encounter…

If like me, you find it difficult to start conversations or only suspect someone of being a Mandarin speaker and need confirmation first before you ask them out of the blue, then my suggestion is have some Mandarin resource readily available e.g. Pleco dictionary on Ipad. For the brave it could be audio playing audibly on your Ipod or for the less adventurous, some makeshift Mandarin material e.g. any piece of paper with some hanzi scribbled on it. Once you’ve got that ready: for the more extroverted kind – flaunt it quite openly or for the introverted ones – gently place it in someone’s line of sight and see if you can start a conversation that way :)

I honestly didn’t do any flaunting / strategic planning today to get a conversation going – today’s conversation was a purely incidental one for me as my Heisig book had been in place and visible before my new acquaintance joined me. Therefore, if you’re in an English speaking country, make the most out of everyday situations, do a little bit of “research”, and be slightly prepared and you just might score yourself some “accidental Mandarin encounters” :) .

As for me – if you’ve got any advice or pointers for me then as always – share your stories or comments with me – PLEASE DO SHARE. Any feedback (or criticism) welcome!