In my last post, I explained a bit about the Chinese language so that you know what I mean when I say I am “learning Chinese.” This post is about why and how I am learning it.
Learning Chinese is a big goal of mine this year for a number of reasons. First, it is helpful for surviving day-to-day on the streets in Beijing. Second, learning Chinese is key to deepening my understanding of Tian and her culture and to building strong relationships with her family, the ultimate goals of my trip. Third, I believe that learning Chinese will help me professionally in the future as China takes on more prominence as a world player in the next few decades.
Another reason why I am excited to learn Chinese is that I have a lot of resources and experiences to draw on throughout the process:
- After having successfully learned and used French in high school and college, I have some idea of what it takes to learn a foreign language and confidence in myself to do it again successfully.
- After eight years of being a teacher and six years of being around foreign language teaching (the BSP office was right in the middle of the foreign language wing at MPA), I have a sense of best practices for teaching and learning languages.
- It also doesn’t hurt that I am dating a Chinese woman who also is a Chinese teacher.
So that’s why I want to learn Chinese. Now for how I want to learn it. That’s really where the fun begins. On September 1, 2009 I began my Chinese study routine, which if successfully completed will leave me knowing about 2,000 words by this time next year. Anecdotally, that’s enough to read and “get the gist” of most newspaper articles.
Here’s a quick look at some of the major parts of my plan:
- I am referring to my entire Chinese vocabulary as my “Word Bank.” My “Word Bank” exists both in paper form and in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
- Each week, I deposit the new words I learn into the Word Bank using a special “Deposit Slip.” The Deposit Slip serves as both a test to prove that I know all aspects of the word and also as a reference of all past words learned.
- Each week I pick a special theme like giving directions, family, school, work, telling time, etc…
- On Sunday Tian and I pick 30-40 words from various parts of speech that all are useful for that week’s theme. I organize them into five groups of 6-8, one group for each weekday, and make flash cards for each word.
- Each weekday, I review the words in the morning with Tian before I leave for work, practice writing them all day, write 5-10 sentences with the word each night, and then say those sentences to Tian to practice my pronunciation.
- On Saturday, Tian and I do a final review of all the words I learned for the week. We also try to go to an actual situation to use them (i.e. the market or bus stop).