Chinese Resources

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sounding like a native (or trying anyway)

Winter break seems to be filled with tons of mini challenges that have been keeping me quite busy. In addition to working on a translation challenge (new post on Friday hopefully), and a news reading challenge (15 articles in the bag so far!), I'm starting a parroting exercise in the hopes of bringing my Chinese pronunciation, speed, and general delivery even closer to a native level.

The idea has actually be festering in my mind every since I saw a video on Youtube talking about 蔣勳's book 《漢字書法之美》. The first viewing blew me away. It wasn't really about the content (although I will be buying his book), but also the way he simply spoke Chinese. His voice, like mine, is deep... and the speed seems perfect for delivering a lecture to eager language learners. After a second and third viewing I decided to figure out a way to work on mimicking him to the best of my ability. He has effectively become my Chinese 發音/口音 muse.

Now, just a month or so later I'm actually on my way. The purpose of this parroting challenge is to see just how close I can come to sounding like this master of Hanzi by the 17th of February, the last day of my winter break. For the sake of making this as public as possible, here is my plan of action.

  1. Transcribe the speech
  2. Split the speech into manageable language chunks (as they are spoken by him)
  3. Benchmark
  4. Mimic every line as close as possible (every single day)
  5. Memorize 
  6. Post results
I worked on step one and two yesterday, and spent around 20 minutes today trying to get a proper benchmark (see my soundcloud upload below). While I'm still way off the mark from the original I was able to get close on speed. Working on the audio file today, made me realize that this is the first time I've actually shared any of my own spoken Chinese on the Internet, or at least since my Chinese was beyond a beginner level, so I'm actually a bit nervous. After giving it a few listens I'm already aware of some tone issues and the crazy pronunciation of the "度" in“適度," but like I said before... it's a benchmark.

I'll be working on cleaning all of those things up over the next few weeks, and I'll probably do a follow-up post before the end.

Well, without future ado, enjoy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

News Reading Challenge: 新聞閱讀挑戰

Winter break used to be about catching up on video games, TV shows, and movies. It used to be about finding a job over break that would put some cash in my pocket. These days, however, winter break is the best opportunity for me to spend heaps of time improving my Chinese.

As the title suggests, one area I'm working on is my news reading ability. After an intense discussion with Olle from HackingChinese, we've outline a few goals for taking our Chinese to the next level in a short period of time. Our short-term/ semi-long term goals are identified as the following:

  • Pass TOCFL (and later the HSK)
  • Be able to produce academic text in Chinese
  • Be able to participate in academic discussions
  • Be able to explain Chinese (grammar, vocab etc. in Chinese)
  • Expand vocabulary beyond current comfort zone
  • Be able to write 5000 characters
 Identifying goals was an important first step, but we also needed to figure out why we weren't already able to do the above mentioned goal, which meant identifying the things that are currently lacking, and then (naturally) coming up with a plan of action.

After taking the TOCFL last year, I already knew where my problems were regarding reading, but I was missing the latter--a proper plan of action. Thankfully, that has all changed, and I'll be ready to face the exam with the confidence and reading speed that I'll need.

So how am I going to do it? That is what my "News Reading Challenge" is all about. Here are my personal goals for this challenge:

  • Read articles in as many different areas as possible
  • Read for speed (pretend it's an exam)
  • Read for content and/or language
  • Plug obvious linguistic holes (but only important ones)
  • Quantity > Quality
In order to accomplish these goals, Olle and I have decided that reading 5 articles a day for speed is an excellent challenge. With lots of other things on my plate, this also is something that I can finish in less than two hours. In order to eliminate too much personal bias, we have decided to stagger the articles we personal choose, so one day I pick five articles, and the next day they are provided by Olle. The articles, all written for native speakers, a selected from the following sources:
Once the five articles have been selected, we head over to the ZH Tool Kit, for a character count. The application also provides a word list, but we are really just after the number of characters that appear in the text we've selected. After that we read. Since we are using this challenge as a way to A) improve reading speed and B) prepare for an exam, we've been timing how fast we can read the article accurately... that means no dictionaries, and now slowing down to work through characters we "might" know. Once I've read the article I record the time it took me to read it and move on to the next.

26.3 minutes of reading with an average speed fo 136.06. It's slow, but a great benchmark.
After reading for speed, it is time to "plug obvious linguistic holes." I'm sure Olle has his own method for doing this, but I prefer to take the text and plug it into Chinese Reader for Mac, an app created by Skritter user Byzanti, and give the article another read. 

This time I look up everything I didn't know the first time, and actually read for details. The great thing about this app is its integration into Skritter's API. Any words that I want to study on Skritter are added with the click of a button. The think I really like, however, is the ability to sort words by occurrences and frequency. While it's not my only guide for what words I should already know, it makes selecting "important" linguistic gaps much easier. 
Chinese Reader's summary interface
After that I can call it quits for the day and move onto another task. Over the past two days I've added 60+ new words to Skritter. Hopefully by the end that number will be reduced. And of course, I look forward to seeing my average reading speed drop dramatically.

I look forward to sharing my results after classes resume on the 17th. I have a feeling the are going to be quite dramatic!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Translation practice 1.0: Seth's Blog

Inspired by Dr. Kubler's lecture on advanced learning strategies (see last weeks post) I decided to try my hand at a translation exercise this past weekend. Rather than pick something I've personally written in English, I used Seth's Blog as inspiration. For the past year or so Seth's (short) words of wisdom have been filling my inbox. His blog covers a wide variety of topics and uses language in a powerful and inspirational way--something that is perfect for translation. By using his words I'm forced to step outside of my own Chinese comfort zone.

I'll be following up on this translation practice in the weeks to come (once finals are done and I've had a week or two to decompress), but for now, here are the results of my first translation challenge:





I learned a few new words like 農場主、 拖延、收割 during the writing process, and can't wait to write another one of these again in the near future. The fact that Seth's post was A) awesome and B) short made this that much more fun to do! Got any suggestions on how to make my translation better? Please leave them in the comments below.

Original post from Seth's Blog:

What do you make? 
You don't run a punch press or haul iron ore. Your job is to make decisions.
The thing is, the farmer who grows corn has no illusions about what his job is. He doesn't avoid planting corn or dissemble or procrastinate about harvesting corn. And he certainly doesn't try to get his neighbor to grow his corn for him. 
Make more decisions. That's the only way to get better at it.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Developing Advanced Language Skills

Part of me wishes I could go back and start my program in Taiwan over again. Not because I got bad grades or didn't learn a lot over the past three semesters, but because there is just so much I didn't know about the program then that I do now. One of those things happens to be the importance of the small lecture series that is always going on in our program. The past four weeks have been very exciting for me in this regard. I've heard lectures for Enya Dai (Associate Professor at Monterey Institute), participated in Taiwan's 2012 International Conference of Teaching Chinese as a Second Language, and heard a compelling lecture from Cornelius C. Kubler (顧百里: Professor of Asian Studies at Williams College).

All of these events have changed my life as a Chinese language student/teacher, giving me new ways to think about teaching, research, and my own linguistic development. I've made some amazing connections with professors, scholars, and students like me from all over the world. I wish that I could go back and start my program over so that I could have attended even more of these events. Since I'm not a Timelord I'll just have to keep calm and carry on (or something like that). 

Today's post, however, isn't really about looking back on missed opportunities, but rather about pressing forward. After yesterday's lecture by Dr. Kubler I realized for the millionth time that there is so much more I can do to bring my Chinese to an even higher level. Dr. Kubler has been studying Chinese for the past 40 odd years, and while he might not have a perfect accent, he speaks Chinese at an incredibly high level... I'd be lying if said I wasn't a little bit jealous. Thankfully, his entire lecture was about developing advanced language skills. While he was speaking from the perspective of an educator, and what we can do to help learners develop high-level proficiency, I was thinking about the question with a personal vested interest.

One thing I felt his lecture was lacking was student accountability for the learning process, but since he was talking to a group of teachers (not students) I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. So, here are a ideas of things we can do to develop advanced language skills, according to Dr. Kubler.
  1. Memorization: It's never too late in your journey of Chinese to memorize 三字經, or 三百首, in fact exposing yourself systematically to this kind of language will help solidify it in your brain for natural recall later. I did this a lot with Tang poetry while living in Beijing, and nothing stops people in their tracks more than a properly quoted line from one of those poems.
  2. Paraphrasing: Open up an old textbook that you've used and see if you can take colloquial sentences and make them formal, or the other way around. Take basic grammar patterns and make them 書面語 etc.
  3. Transcription: Listen to audio files from native speakers and transcribe them into Chinese (or English). This forces us to step away from language we would usually use in Chinese, and helps to solidify grammatical patterns and word phrases that are used by native speakers. 
  4. Get a tutor: I'm not talking about a language partner, or even a person who simply talks to you in Chinese. I'm talking about the kind of person who is anal-retentive about every single mistake you make, someone who will force you to say something again not because it was wrong, but because it is High School level Chinese, not professional. 
  5. Translation: Translate Classical Chinese into Modern Chinese. Translate academic Chinese into colloquial Chinese. Translate colloquial Chinese into academic Chinese. Translate English into Chinese etc. While translation is a hotly debated topic in SLA, there is no doubt that translation of any kind forces you to think about the language in different way, exposing you to a lexicon that is not your own, which can be crucial for further linguistic development. Of course, this should probably be done with the help of a tutor, at least at first. 
  6. Read Scrolling Text: Part of advanced language levels is the ability to read massive amounts of text in a short period of time. This skill is something that must be acquired through practice, it isn't going to come over night. This skill might be developed by taking text and putting it into a scrolling text program, or even watching Chinese TV shows or movies without sound on. 
  7. Parroting: Do you like the way a certain actor talks in Chinese, then why not try to sound just like him? Like memorization, we can work on parroting native speakers to help increase speaking speed, regional accent, and even tones and pronunciation. This again isn't something that will come over night, but it could be very useful at high levels of Chinese. I'll be trying this out in the coming weeks and will be sure to include more details at that time.
  8. Stamina:Increase it! To quote from Dr. Kubler's own lecture notes: the ability to maintain high level of accuracy and fluency over a period of time (often under various kinds of stress) is very important to function at a professional level. How long can you speak Chinese in a single day before you get sloppy? How accurate can you be when giving a lecture or presentation in Chinese? These might not be things that the typical language learner needs, but it is certainly something that I have to work on. I have noticed that after about an hour of giving a presentation in Chinese I tend to get "sloppy" with tones. It is something I'll have to work on. 
The above is not a genearl guideline to language learning, but rather things we need to consider when trying to reach incredibly high levels of fluency in our target language. I for one will be working on these skills for the rest of my life. There is so much more to be said about these individual topics, but today I wanted to just get the big picture idea on the page. In the coming weeks I'll be writing about some of the things I'm trying out to increase my command of Chinese. 

Stay tuned! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Language Recap and 2013 goals

2012 has come and gone. It seems like just yesterday that I was talking about how amazing 2012 was going to be. While things didn't exactly go as planned (do they ever?), I've decided to do a quick recap of what this year was actually like for me as a Chinese language student/ teacher, in as short a list as possible.

Highlights from 2012:

  1. Failed the TOCFL level 5 fluency exam
  2. Passed 4000 unique characters on Skritter
  3. Read all 47 Initial D comic books inside of a single month period
  4. Taught my first semester of Chinese with MyLanguage360
  5. Attended my first ACTFL conference
  6. MC'd 《華語之夜》(A Night of Chinese) in Chinese
  7. MC'd 第十一屆台灣華語文教學會年會的晚宴 in Chinese (and in front of 300+ Chinese teachers and scholars)
  8. Got told my Chinese academic writing style is "cute."
  9. Wrote a 10 page Chinese report (single-spaced) in a single afternoon (and got a good grade on it!)
  10. Read Ender's game in Chinese for pure enjoyment (meaning I didn't look things up)
  11. Scored "Advanced-High" on the ACTFL OPI exam
  12. Got engaged (not language related but way to awesome to keep of any 2012 list!)
So that's what 12 months of hard work condensed into a highlight reel. I learned a lot this past year, and grew as both a teacher and a student. 

Here is what is in store for 2013:
  1. Rock the Hacking Chinese Chinese character challenge (be sure to join us if you haven't already)
  2. Increase personal/ public accountability for all my language learning related goals 
  3. Pass the TOCFL level 5 fluency exam 
  4. Write my research proposal 
  5. Start my master's research project
  6. Find an internship teaching at an American university
  7. Read a Chinese newspaper
  8. Pass 5000 unique characters on Skritter (890 to go)
There are a million other things that I would like to put on this list, but if last year taught me anything, it is that I need to first increase my personal/ public accountability. Once I do that some super focused goals with start showing up.

Stay tuned! 


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