Just an ordinary girl's life

HSK3 Preparation Progresses

Subheading: very slow but very steady, too.

I would be lying if I said I’m making huge improvements in my Chinese overall, but I’ve found a stable study routine and this is helping a lot (even just from a psychological perspective).

My study process revolves around few simple steps:

  1. Duolingo for vocabulary and sentence pattern (currently, 93-day streak)
  2. Hello HSK vocabulary and sentences list: for, well, vocabulary of course, and also characters practice
  3. Hello HSK listening practice (super good, because it’s really similar to the pattern you find at the actual test, but people speak at a faster pace so you get the chance to really train your abilities)

And that’s it. I know I should be reading more, writing more, listening to more diverse content but hey, I only have so much time I can dedicate to Chinese everyday and it has been a while since I realised I can’t do everything at once.

I’ve also started a new weekly revision project so I’d rather see how that goes and if I’m able to keep up with that before having dreams of grandness.

Plus considering for how long I’ve struggled to find a good and sustainable studying routine (a couple of years at the least) I’d rather savour the moment and go on with what I feel it’s good, even if it’s not much.


Glasgow Trip [January 2018]

Non Language Learning related (and, let’s be honest, also a bit useless) post.

I went on a trip to Glasgow back in January (yes, hello good timing), and I’ve been willing to share the few things I got in that occasion ever since 🙂

The reason why I’m particularly proud of this mini haul is that Glasgow is like WOW when it comes to shopping and retail (even better than Edinburgh, IMHO), so despite having billions of different kind of temptations, I managed to keep my shopping to a fairly low level 🙂

So these are the few things I absolutely couldn’t resist buying:

  1. Harry Potter tote bag with Hogwarts insignia (Primark)
  2. Pusheen unicorn thermos mug (Paperchase)
  3. iPad case (Paperchase)
  4. A6 lilac lined notebook (Paperchase)
  5. Harry Potter cauldron-shaped mug (Primark)
  6. Pusheen stickers (Paperchase)
  7. Unicorn blue dust pendant BECAUSE SERIOUSLY (Paperchase)
  8. Staedtler fineliner and crayon, both in pink (Paperchase)

Always on my journey towards simplifying and decluttering, I also took the chance to bring with me a few beauty samples (mainly body lotions) that have been sitting in my bath cabinet forever and to use them up. It was actually a good batch, I liked them so much that I’m planning to try out a few in full size!

We also explored the city in terms of its culinary offering (did I ever mention that I’m a foodie?) and we were definitely not disappointed 😃 Glasgow is actually a very vibrant and colourful city, and the fact that is less than an hour away from Edinburgh makes our move there even more interesting 😀

I shared a few photos from that trip on my personal Instagram account (like this one), in case you’re curious 🙂


June plans

After 10 days spent visiting family and friends, I’m now back to Scotland and kind of ready to face the most stressful time of the year for us – house hunting, job hunting, house move, travel across Europe and everything else.

I’m trying not to get completely swallowed up by all these technicalities and to still find time for my language studies, yoga and reading/drama watching time.

With only 178 days to go before HSK3, I know that this is the time to get seriously serious about my preparation. Either I do it now, or I don’t.

But I still have to attend to all these other grown-up matters so planning, timing and prioritising are essential skills right now. Things to focus on during this month will be:

  1. find a house in Edinburgh, something that should be exciting but is actually boring and stress-inducing. I hope to be done with it asap
  2. complete decluttering process, as I don’t want to waste time packing crap I don’t even use anymore
  3. go on a trip to Edinburgh with L. (house hunting, again) and try to enjoy it rather than stressing out
  4. keep up with Duolingo for both J and C (I’m currently on a 84 day streak)
  5. empty the freezer
  6. manage to complete my Goodreads challenge of 25 books by June 30th
  7. go on a cinema & Burger King date with L. (though our schedule is so packed it honestly won’t be that easy)
  8. finish listening course on Hello HSK

I’ll try to come back to this page every couple of days to keep myself as accountable as possible. Plans don’t really work if you don’t constantly reference back to them.

On a completely different note, we’re having the best weather possible here in Scotland and I’m feeling so blessed 🤩 I have a huge window in my living room with a seatable (? it’s probably not a word) windowsill on which I spend most of my afternoons looking at ducks and herons. Summer was already setting off while I was in Italy, but here it’s like the perfect endless spring at the moment and I’m so loving it ❤️

Listening to: FM Attack – Astrowave [full album]
Weather: sunny and windy
Drinking: champagne and apricot loose leaf black tea

Current focus and routine implementation

Following this post and this post, I’m still in the process of refine and redefine my study workflow for both Chinese and Japanese (though Chinese is the main focus at the moment).

A few steps I’m trying to implement right now:

  1. keep my language learning log updated; I started countless times to keep a record of what I study and when, but I’ve never managed to keep up with it properly. Being able to see what I’m doing day by day and week by week is not only inspirational but also essential in the forming of study patterns and routines. I moved my LL log to OneNote so that I can have all my J and C related stuff together and available even on the go; so, come on, this should’t be that hard.
  2. exit the challenge mindset and keep focusing on my progress; I have to admit, I got caught in the ‘wanting to be the first in my club this week on Duolingo’ syndrome, which is just plain silly, since doing 6x times a certain skill is not necessarily what my study level needs at the moment. I was always one of the best in my Japanese and Chinese classes (please note: this doesn’t mean that I was the one who actually knew how to use the language with proficiency; I simply got the highest scores), so it kinda hurt my pride to see other people climbing the ladder higher than me, but hey. Seriously? Time to move on.
  3. review, review and keep reviewing; especially characters, since I may have forgotten that I need to be able to write 600 of them by December 1st, if I wanna pass HSK3. So instead of going on and on, let’s have a look at what I’ve covered so far and try to strengthen it first.
  4. more listening practice, I’m begging myself; really, I started off good and then derailed yet again. It’s a pain in the neck and it constantly reminds me of how much I still suck at the language, but it will just keep increasing if I don’t do something about it right now.

With only 193 days to go before HSK3 😱, setting up a solid study routine that I can keep up with in the upcoming months seems even more compelling. I’m starting to feel the pressure, but maybe not even enough 😣

Small adjustments

Following my spring cleaning manifesto, I started making order around me – including in my language learning process.

I tried to analyse my study behaviour and discovered that 80% of the time I study languages at a place that is not my desk (bed, windowsill, coffee shop etc). This means, I seldom have the chance to use pen and paper to jot down grammar and vocabulary notes.

I said this before, but I’m just not able to write properly if not while I’m sitting at a desk. I wish I could be one of those amazing people who can just write everywhere in a super neat way, but I’m not, and I hate to read from a sloppy handwriting.

So, rather than forcing myself to change my study routine, I’m simply changing the way I take notes. I still need to do some note-taking by hand of course (plus character practice!!!), but I discovered that the majority of the time I can easily write things down digitally on OneNote.

What I do is basically

  1. study things on the iPad (Duolingo, Decipher Chinese, Youtube etc.)
  2. take notes on the iPhone via the OneNote app while I review materials

Then, when I have the time and the will, I go to my desk and format my notes to make them look a bit prettier and more organised. But it’s by no means an essential step, I can easily leave them as they are if I just can’t be bothered (most of the time).

This goes to show you (me) that sometimes the solution to a problem is just within a hand’s reach, we only have to let go of certain aesthetic ideals (beautifully handwritten notes) and useless external interferences.


I’m finally (drum roll please) on episode 15/16 of Strong Girl Bong Soon and plan to finish watching it by tonight. It started off well but lost its appeal after a while. I really liked the female lead (for once), she’s strong in all senses and she doesn’t let other people boss her around. Still, there are too many gender issues and feminine disempowerment attitudes that bug me too much.

Plus the romance was super cheesy, too many absurd plot choices, very badly written male characters – and, for goodness’ sake, does every single male lead have to be RICH AND HANDSOME? Can we have a *normal* love story with *normal* people for once?  Seriously -.-

Maybe I’m just watching dramas that target a different audience. Still.

On other news, yesterday was my birthday 🙂 and I spend the day reading, studying Chinese and setting up the AMAHZING iMac that I received as a gift 🤩 Overjoyed!


Spring Cleaning

A few days ago I went back to Leo Babauta‘s blog and read a few posts on simple living and goal settings. It had been a while since I read something from Zen Habits and honestly I felt super rejuvenated and motivated afterwards. I immediately started craving for a simpler, less cluttered life (again).

A couple of days after that, I read this post from Inhae which hugely resonated with me and it felt a lot like the kick in the ass I just needed. I want to stop the junk from coming into my life and fogging my thoughts with its looming presence.

And I can’t deny that one of the reasons I’ve often procrastinated with my language studies in the last couple of weeks was the fact that I didn’t feel like I had a clear enough space around me to do so. Go figure.

So, it’s time for spring cleaning.

  1. Anki. I haven’t used it in a while since I started studying both C and J on Duolingo (which is a sort of SRS in its own way), but I really feel I need to go back to it. I have way too many decks and a lot of cards that I don’t use/review anymore. Time to clean things up drastically, and also to read the complete manual once and for all as by talking with Inhae I discovered I’m missing out on a lot of cool features.
  2. My stationery/Language Learning basket. I bought a rectangular white-with-black-stars stationery basket on Amazon back in February to keep my notebooks, planners, pens etc organised. It has worked fine for a while, but as it often happens it has recently evolved into a messy den in which i just dump everything I might need to use soon. Time to clean it up but also to re-evaluate what I need to use and what not, which brings me to the next point.
  3. Studying and planning workflow. I’m always on the lookput for better, quicker and simpler ways to do things, so I want to review both resources and processes and have a better system in place.
  4. Stationery boxes. I have a lot of stuff, too much really, and I definitely don’t need everything right now. I keep switching between some notepads and pens, but a lot of other stuff can honestly be just stored away.
  5. Bathroom hanging organiser. I take my skincare and shower routine very seriously, not just as a conscious effort to keep my skin clean and clear, but also as an act of kindness towards myself (it’s one of my favourite self-pampering moments). I want to re-organise the content of my pouches and declutter them from everything I see I don’t really use for a better and more satisfactory skincare experience.
  6. Closet. I’m leaving a huge clothes review and declutter session for when I’ll be in Edinburgh, since I still have to figure out how the weather is going to be there (though I doubt things will be much different from here). Still, there are a few worn-out clothes and shoes which I know I can’t keep anymore and that I definitely don’t want to pack and bring with me in my new house. So, yes. Another thing to do.

I also want to seriously start selling some of my stuff online. I have quite a few things that don’t really fit my lifestyle or that I simply don’t use anymore – but as I’m also worried and concerned about waste production and environmental issue (some of them are also pretty new), I’d rather not throw them away. Any suggestions on which platforms are best to sell stuff in the Uk would be highly appreciated 😁

I still have a huge decluttering project that I need to tackle: the review of my digital space. Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, Mega, external hard disks – they’re just a huge huge huge mess and I don’t even recall what I’ve stored where exactly. This is definitely not something that I can manage in one sitting so I’ll probably leave it to a less hectic moment in the future. In the meantime, I’ve completed a big cleaning of my macbook and I’m also progressively clearing my iPhone of all photos (I prefer online storage and backup for those).

I think I’m in love

I downloaded many Chinese apps [especially related to HSK] over the course of years, but I seldom bother to even open them (I’m already overflowing with too many resources for too less study time).

Some mysterious force of the universe has brought me to try and open the most recent one (this) and, honestly, it blew my mind.

Now, to be fair I have to say that I’ve been using this app for just a couple of days, so I may be slightly carried away and too precocious in my judgement. Still, at this very moment it feels like I found exactly what I’ve been looking for.

For now I’ve tried only the listening section (as always, my greatest weakness) and I’m finding it EXTREMELY useful. There are different topics covered by a variable number of classes; each class has its own vocabulary and phrases + a practice section. What I truly love about this app:

  • you don’t just have the vocabulary list related to a certain topic, you also have the most common expressions related to it (for example, on the ‘time’ section in addition the words for hour, minute etc you have explanations how to say ‘how long does it take to…?’ etc);
  • audio tracks for both vocabulary and set phrases are provided;
  • the test format for the audio part is very similar to that of the actual HSK3;
  • full transcript of the dialogues is also provided.

A word of caution, the content is not 100% free of charge; you can either buy the complete lessons or pay them through the coins you earn by accessing the app everyday. I plan to use it pretty consistently so I think I’ll be able to use my virtual coins to pay out many of the locked courses.

It’s still pretty much a work in progress, but let’s give it a serious try!

Wicked Habits

Everyday I discover new reasons why, despite the time and effort that I put in it, my study often fails.

I think it has to do once again with having an OCD, type-A personality and the resulting obsession to strive towards perfection. [I already talked about this here].

Let’s take again Duolingo as an example. With the new crown system (I’ll talk about that in a later post), I found myself with tons of skills to review from the very basic levels. Many of them are really repetitive and kind of pointless for me (as shitty as I may be with Chinese, I honestly don’t need to repeat 15 times how to say ‘hello, thank you, goodbye’), so much that they feel like a true waste of time.

Now, what would the focused and goal-oriented person do? Ditch ’em and skip directly to the interesting and useful part.

I am, on the other hand, focusing on getting every single skill completed because I really, really can’t stand the view of a lot of ‘unfinished’ lessons at the very top of the learning three.

See what I mean?

It’s once again a matter of priorities. Do you want to learn Chinese or do you want your Duolingo to look pretty?

And it’s also a matter of falling into the illusion of learning one more time – I’m practicing on Duolingo = I’m dedicating time to study Chinese = I’m making progresses. Not much the case, since I’m basically repeating the same stuff I already know time and time again.

Is it really that hard to care about the right things, even in language learning?


The significant other has 4 night shifts in a row starting tomorrow (Monday), which means I can use the additional solo-time to watch a few things he usually refuses to watch with me. My list at the moment includes:

  • a Korean movie on Netflix, Psychokinesis
  • the 2001 miniseries on the Mists of Avalon [3h long, it’ll take me a few nights to finish 😅]
  • episodes from either one or the other of my currently watching Korean dramas (Strong Girl Do Bong Soon and Something in the Rain)

I also updated my Drama roll [it was about time], which has made me realise how few dramas I’ve watched since 2014 ._. 2017 was particularly bad in this respect, hoping to do way better in 2018!


Listening to : Midnight Fighters ~ Dreams
Weather : warm and springy
Drinking : peach & elderflower infusion


Short trip down memory lane

In late March 2009 I made two discoveries destined to change my life forever: I started following a personal blog written by a woman who was passionate about Japan and Japanese, and I entered a manga shop for the very first time.

I wasn’t new to 漫画 as a thing (I’d been actively following the MTV Anime Night for a few years already, and back in high school I had a classmate who would lend me many of the manga she bought), but it was the first time I was solemnly committing to it.

This was pre- language learning, pre- scholarship for studying in Japan, pre- Chinese, pre- social media and, well, pretty much pre- anything else.

But it was spring, and it was warm and sunny, and I’ll never forget the feelings of those days.

That’s why for me spring is an always will be my golden season of language learning. It all started then, and has remained ever since.

In these 9 years, superfluous to say, I’ve become a very different person from what I was back then. I don’t read manga or watch anime that often anymore (I don’t even remember when was the last time I did either of those things tbh), and my overall approach to Japan and East Asia in general has changed deeply.

Still, I’m happy to say that with everything that has happened and changed in my life in all these years, somehow I’ve managed to remain true to myself by not letting go of what was truly important to me: Japanese, language learning, Asian cultures and languages in general.

So when I feel disappointed at myself for not having chased some of my dreams until the end, I can actually re-read this post and remind myself that I didn’t betray the real dream, and that I’m still fighting for it. Every single day.


Hello again

It’s been a while – more than I wanted, as usual – but I’m back more or less. I’m dealing with some life stuff at the moment, nothing life-threatening of course but stress-inducing and annoying nonetheless. Let’s say that I have a few months of hustle and bustle ahead, and this will inevitably impact my study commitment as well as my presence on the blog (and my mental health… that’s for sure -.-).

I have a couple of longer posts that I’ve been willing to write for a while now, but I guess they’ll have to keep waiting. I don’t have the mental energy to engage in bigger undertakings right now, and I’d rather spend my spare time studying Chinese (or Japanese!), if I have to be honest.

Plus we just had the best springy (and probably warmest) week of the entire year and now we’re back to kind of winter so I definitely need some time to cope with that.

I think I’ll focus on shorter and more regular study updates for a while. Oh, and I’ve also been pretty active on Instagram lately, in case anyone is interested.

My approach towards pretty much everything right now is less talk, more action (though in my case ‘less plan more action’ would probably be more appropriate). Like, how long I have been thinking about starting studying Japanese again? If I’d used the time I talked or even thought about that for actually studying I’d be fluent by now. So I stopped talking about that, and started studying Japanese again for real.

On Duolingo, which kind of sucks, ok, but we all know that getting started is always the hardest part. Chi ben comincia è a metà dell’opera.


On totally random news – I finished two fruit infusions last week (thanks goodness, one was Whittard’s Toffee Apple and I truly hated that) and started three new teas in the last two days. I also finished reading two books last week and I’m about to finish another one, I decluttered part of my wardrobe and defrosted the fridge, started watching Twin Peaks season 3 with the plus one and finished up a couple of skincare products.

Keeping active and getting things done prevents me from freaking out too much.

Speaking on tv series, I’m on episode 11 of Strong Girl Do Bong-soon (and, honestly, I’m getting bored), while today I watched the first episode of a new Korean drama produced by Netflix (this) and I loved it! Would this be The One Drama for 2018? It’s definitely too early to say, but I got a really good feeling from it 🙂


Listening to: Amarante – Don’t Look Back
Drinking: Peach Dream Tea