Heisig: It’s going to get worse before it gets better…

peckishlaowai Posted in Heisig, Learning Mandarin,Tags: , , , , , , ,
I'm coining the term 'Heisig Dip' ok?

It’s been a while since I said anything about my progress working through Heisig’s & Richardson’s book trying to get a 1500 characters stored in my memory.

I’m not one for inspirational, motivational books but of course one can always make an exception right? So around September of last year when someone talked me into reading ‘The Dip’ a short book by Seth Godin – I agreed – probably because the book is about the size of a lady’s purse and guaranteed to be a quick read.

There are some key messages this book gives, and you can take from it what applies to your life or like me may not have taken that much from it at all. To be honest I felt quite confused after I had read it. :)

The last few days however, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Seth’s little book. What you can take from the book is this – that “Every new project (or job, or hobby, or company) starts out exciting and fun. Then it gets harder and less fun, until it hits a low point-really hard, and not much fun at all. “ And so meet “the Dip”.

How does this apply to Heisig? Well – once upon a time, Heisig was a new adventure too and quite unexpectedly, I did experience “the dip”, something I only thought of or realised a few days ago. The dip for me was a low point in January of this year and I basically had to put Heisig aside for a bit. I must have been over the 1000 mark then. As much as I didn’t want to “cool things with Heisig”, I focused on listening instead for that month. I did this even though I knewthere would be a great likelihood I would not be speaking much Mandarin in Singapore.

I quote some more bits from The Dip: “Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt-until they commit to beating the right Dip for the right reasons. In fact, winners seek out the Dip. They realize that the bigger the barrier, the bigger the reward for getting past it.” I did say the book could leave you confused.

Well. I didn’t quit (not that it was ever an option) and I can safely say, I am past the dip. I am currently at 1293 characters and have just 207 to go.

I’m basically writing this post to say to you – if you have started Heisig or another book that uses a similar technique you will likely start off and find yourself enthralled in a Heisig “love affair” after a 100 characters. 真的.

You’ll be ambitious and that’s great – you should be! The first 500 characters will or may be a breeze. However – you might find the experience a bit lacklustre after a while when you’re a good few hundred in – and if it’s Heisig you’re doing then maybe you’ll also feel challenged around the 750 mark or so. ( I suspect this may be quite normal. Either that or I need to face the fact that I’m just a bad Heisig student.)

To be precise – these are some of the things that left me frustrated with myself after I reached the 750 mark.

  • I became much more aware of my own shortcomings – e.g. my creative ability to come up with creative, fun stories to help remember characters. I of course felt very frustrated with myself as I’ve always prided myself on having a good vivid imagination. I have that yes but you need that and a whole lot creative little stories and then some more. My advice: just keep at it – try a story – if it doesn’t work then go back and tweak it again till it works for you. Don’t force it too much and don’t be to much of a perfectionist. Move on if you want to progress and go back later to those chars that are giving you headaches.
  • My lack of a routine in studying – (I’m still struggling with this one… oh well…).
  • Skipping (near) daily Anki revisions – not that much of a hassle anymore. (I have had to balance this with time for studying new characters. Don’t add too many new chapters if you can’t handle it. Sometimes, you’ll just have to though. Unless you’re a better student than me and can study a little bit every day rather than a lot here and there.)
  • My natural instinct is always to value accuracy over speed. I still wanted to progress faster in order to be able to focus more time on other activities e.g. listening skills. So I experienced yet more frustrated feelings at times… I decided to focus on my own advice in bullet point 1.

You may or may not share my experiences and I’d be interested to know if you too had a little dip, a huge dip or nothing at all in your experiences of attempting a similar “project”.

I think the characters 700 – 1100 was probably the most difficult stretch of the book for me. I anticipate the next 200 to be a breeze again. It’s probably the thought of looking back and seeing how far I’ve come that leaves me happy with this achievement. I realize that completing the Heisig book is such a small achievement in the bigger scheme of Mandarin things…

Even so, I so look forward to the next 207!

Eat. Drink. Mandarin. in Singapore

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

At the beginning of February I spent a few days in Singapore and then moved on to South Africa. As I spent almost the entire month of February abroad, visiting family and friends, I didn’t really study much at all. I couldn’t exactly prioritise my Mandarin over spending time with family and friends I hadn’t seen for ages. (I progressed only with about a 100 characters in Heisig but maintained my Anki revision habit nearly every day during that month.)

At the end of the holiday I reflected that I felt like Julia Roberts’ character in Eat, Pray, Love but with the emphasis on Eat.

I had one or two expectations about my time in Singapore: I knew I was going to enjoy eating in Singapore. In my opinion – there is one place in the world where can you answer with “I’m going to eat!” if people ask you what you’re going to do. If Singapore is the place in question, you DO NOT have to feel like a glutton when you respond with an answer like that!

I knew I’d get limited opportunities too for speaking Mandarin in Singapore – most people have excellent English in 新加坡 (Xin1jia1po1). So to be honest, I spoke very little Mandarin during my trip. Then again – Singapore is very dear to me – so dear that I really just wanted to enjoy the place rather than get frustrated with the fact that I didn’t get enough opportunity to speak Mandarin. Could it be that I love Singapore more than I love Mandarin?

If you’re interested – please keep reading – I’m sharing with you some of my (few) Mandarin highlights:

Zoo directions:
One occasion required me to ask ask a couple for directions to get the 118 bus from Ang Mo Kio MRT to the zoo. They told me they couldn’t speak English and I proceeded to ask them for directions in Mandarin. It really was a very short conversation but believe me – I felt very happy that I was able to ask that in another language – in Mandarin.

Inpromptu dinner conversation:
I was having dinner at Food Republic and had a pretty decent but short Mandarin conversation with two other diners. (One of these diners were actually from mainland China’s Fujian province.)

Sourcing Mandarin materials:
No speaking for this one but I visited a huge Japanese book shop Kinokuniya at the Takashimaya shopping centre in Orchard Road (they’ve got a huge Mandarin selection).

I only bought one book – ‘Making out in Chinese’ by Ray Daniels and I have to say that this has got to be one of the coolest books I’ve ever bought. I’m referring to the content not the cover. When I read the book on the plane or took it out at coffee shops, I imagine I got a few funny looks – but oh well anything in the name of Mandarin fluency right? :) At least now I know how to say:

  • I’m mad as hell! (我火大了/ wo3 huo3 da4 le) and
  • You’ve gone too far (太过分了 / tai4 guo4 fen1 le!

Useful right?

There’s a lot more packed into this little book but out of politeness I’ve left out some of those learnings and leave it to you to discover if you’re keen. Very useful little book in my opinion and should be a quick read as it’s just 96 pages in total.

Asking directions
I had a discussion in the MRT with a Singaporean about learning Chinese and she also stopped me from getting off at the wrong MRT station. (I was on my way to Raffles Mall at City Hall but nearly got off at Raffles Place instead. I did get off at Raffles Place the next day when I had to go to Lau Pa Sat for another eating adventure.) The conversation with her was about 40% in Mandarin and 60% in English. She told me that Chinese students found Mandarin really hard and that it was one of the most difficult subjects they had to study in school. My answer was ‘Great – then there is hope for us laowai!’. (The way I see it you can either you can feel intimidated by conversations like that or look at it optimistically and tell yourself you can do it too.)

Conversations with hotel staff
I had a discussion with one Chinese lady at the hotel – it turned out that I was able to read more Mandarin than her – and I don’t read much at all! I guess this means – whichever way I want to look at it – the bits I do get to study helps and it does pay off.

Like I said I knew I could have done more – I could have seeked out conversations by listening to people, checking their name badges or used riskier tactics like guessing :) etc. but as I’ve hinted before – this time around, Mandarin was just one of the things on my agenda – Not at all my soul purpose for visiting Singapore.

Have you ever visited Singapore or any other Asian country or city where they speak great English? Any place where Mandarin takes the back seat? If so where and were you seeking out Mandarin conversations at all? Or like me – were you there because of your love for that place and what it has to offer and did it supersede seeking out speaking opportunities in Mandarin? :)

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sums up how I feel about Mandarin

peckishlaowai Posted in Learning Mandarin,Tags: , ,

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore this language and I love every waking moment I can dedicate to it.

However – former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd one of my greatest Australian heroes – sums up – so perfectly – how I (often) feel about learning Chinese. Recently a video was leaked onto YouTube that shows him preparing a speech in Mandarin while he was still in government. (The video shows his reactions as he listens to several recording attempts of his speech). Excuse the profanities please. He’s clearly very frustrated with himself – no need to analyse this one too intensely. It’s kind of obvious.

As one could expect, Kevin Rudd was heavily criticized by the media but in my opinion what I see is a pretty mild (and very normal) frustrated reaction – that of a person actually required to use the language for diplomatic impact and influence. A bit of swearing yes… fair enough – but he’s just human after all and gets frustrated just like the rest of us. No one is perfect. Have a look and share your thoughts if you wish.

(PS: This is old news by now but in the last month there’s been ongoing tit-for-tat in the Australian labour party particularly involving the video below, so for more information to see how this video clip relates, read this article ‘Australia Power Struggle Erupts Onto YouTube‘. As I mentioned a pretty mild reaction in my mind but the media somehow always has a way of making things appear worse than they are.)

As you were perhaps not able to get a taste of Kevin Rudd’s humor nor Mandarin skills from the video above, I suggest you have a look at this second video if you’re interested: