Walhallavagen

Just an ordinary girl's life

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!

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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?

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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

 

 

Super quick update

Just checking in real quick to share a really cool youtube channel I found a few days ago called Slow & Clear Chinese,  where you can listen to audio tracks on different topics at a very very beginner-friendly speed.

Every track has a first part in which the speaker reads a story at a very slow pace and with extremely clear pronunciation, followed by the same story re-read at normal speed. In addition,  you can find the complete transcript in the video’s info box.

You can clearly see that a lot of work and effort has been put behind every video and the overall quality is really high. That’s exactly the kind of practice I was looking for, as it’s the perfect way to both get accustomed to the spoken language and learn new vocabulary from a wide range of different settings. Absolutely brilliant.

As I shared this morning on Instagram, I’m planning to keep up with listening for a few more days and then switch to intense reading practice next week. Still going strong on Duolingo (I plan to finish all lessons by the end of this month) to keep vocabulary and colloquial expressions fresh. An overall A1 + A2 levels grammar review would be much needed as well, let’s see if I can fit it in somehow.

Still snowing here in the Highlands, no spring for us no more, nope.

 

Listening to 에브리 싱글 데이 (I’m freakin’ loving it!)
Watching: Strong Woman Do Bong Soon (no wonder)

 

Kickstarting Spring: current study workflow

Not that I can call the current weather exactly spring tbh (we’re expecting snow tonight – AGAIN), but yes, even if I keep wearing the same clothes I’ve actually been wearing for the last seven months, I can still feel the change in the air. Plus we have so many hours of light during the day now that loafing about in blankets and darkness is not an option anymore.

Since last week I’ve been working hard on my Chinese study routine, polishing and refining my workflow and the kind of resources I want to use at the moment. I know that if I want to successfully handle HSK3 I need to broaden and deepen my knowledge at 360 degrees – studying just for the test is not going to work anymore.

So I’ll just leave all HSK3-related resources (apart from listening tracks) for the last stage of the review process while I try to delve into vocabulary and grammar.

I’m following a pretty easy, quick and (for the moment) effective workflow:

  1. vocab/ grammar practice on Duolingo with notes. I talked about how I’ve changed my approach to that app in my previous post, so I’m not going to repeat myself here. I listen to the audio, jot down any vocab / grammar pattern / characters that I want to focus on, and then constantly review previous materials to keep my memory fresh.
  2. listening practice with ChineseClass101 on youtube with notes. I discovered that CC101 has a YT channel with some interesting resources – specifically, long audio tracks divided by levels in which you listen to a dialogue first and then pick up the right answer among the pictures you see on the screen (example here). My listening skills are still pretty low but I’m working really hard on them right now.

As I said in my previous post, I have to avoid focusing too much on keeping on always the same routine. I think for the kind of study sessions that I have the ideal would be one week of focus on grammar and vocab (plus listening), followed by a week of focus on reading (plus listening). I was reading an article about the importance of continuous input this morning, and I was considering starting using LingQ for my combined reading and listening practice. Anyone who has used the app and has some thoughts about it?

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On a totally random note, yesterday I finished reading the third book of the Bitterbynde saga which brings me to exactly ten books finished since January. I know that compared to the reading pace of many book-lovers out there it sounds almost ridiculous, but for me is a pretty good achievement. Even more so since I’ve actually enjoyed all the books I’ve read this year!

I’m also on episode 15/16 of Hello Monster/I remember you, which means I’m preparing myself to be on mourning once I’ve finished watching it. Can I just list one more time all the things that make this K drama absolutely amazing?

  1. plot
  2. OST
  3. character development
  4. mental thriller vibes
  5. character interactions
  6. strong female lead
  7. AMAZING bromance
  8. mystery and suspance
  9. a sense of ‘reality is more complex than just black and white’
  10. casting
  11. EXO references
  12. and I could go on and on

I need to watch more crime and psychological thriller-style dramas. As usual any recommendation would be more than welcome.

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On another random note, I would like to do some spring cleaning and decluttering but since I know I’ll live in this place for just another 4 months I’ve lost all motivation ._.

Anyway, I just had a peach and lime 150 gr yogurt (is it yogurt or yoghurt in English?) pot as you can’t truly have spring without some peachy flavour in your life!

 

Weather: (kind of) sunny
Listening to: Spaceinvader – Acceleration
Drinking: Starbucks peach iced green tea
Currently reading: City of Fallen Angels (Shadowhunters 4)

 

Still getting it all wrong

Sometimes I wonder how I managed to be successful in school, considering how bad I am at self-learning languages right now.

No, seriously. How did I do that?

Let’s talk about Duolingo, for example.

Since a couple of days ago, my approach was: I do it first thing in the morning, while I’m still in bed, so that I’m sure not to forget about it, and so that I don’t lose my streak, and so that I have another thing to cross off my to do list for the day.

It’s not wrong per se. But can you feel how dry of all this is?

The point is not striking through items on my to do list. It’s not having a 52 days streak. It is (or should be, at this point) to gain knowledge, to develop and expertise, and even more importantly to enjoy the process.

It’s easy to see how I got it all wrong.

Funny thing is, I kept having the same approach for, like, weeks. I know perfectly that I’m not learning much, I can totally feel it – still, I keep going. I seriously can’t figure out what’s wrong with me.

Anyway, now, new approach!

I’m trying to make to most out of my Duolingo practice, which basically means giving more attention to new vocabulary and grammar patterns (though Duolingo is definitely not the best resource for learning grammar).

Instead of doing it in bed, I now use the app while seating at my desk, with my notebook/macbook/ipad open in front of me so that I can take notes on new characters, pronunciation and stuff like that. I mainly use OneNote for this purpose, though I sometimes take notes on paper as well.

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 12.16.10

I also try to give more space to revision. I know that many people in the language learning community claim you shouldn’t waste much time revising the things you already learnt but rather concentrate on continuous input – unfortunately this approach doesn’t really work for me. If I don’t review what I studied the day / week / month before, it’s like it never happened. I’m not yet at the stage in which I can reinforce my past knowledge by just reading and consuming materials meant for native speakers.

One thing that I have to be careful with is the trap of using always the same resources and focusing too much on revising past materials. Moving forward too fast is not helpful and can undermine my foundations in the long term, but getting into the rut of repeating always the same things is equally dangerous. Language learning is pretty much a balancing game, and we all know that in medio stat virtus.

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I’m still watching Hello Monster / I remember you and I’M. JUST. LOVING. IT. SO. MUCH.

I can’t believe how perfect everything is in that drama, from the characters to the plot to the actors to the OST. I bloody love it and I already know this is just one of a numerous series of rewatch sessions.

On the wake of this renewed passion for K dramas, I started watching Strong Woman Do Bong Soon on Netflix. Not as great as IRY of course, but I’m honestly surprised by how much I’m enjoying it. I think it’s mostly because it finally has a female lead that I truly like and respect 🙂

I still have to finish watching CSIC. With only 4 episodes left I really don’t know what I’m waiting for to finish it – apart from the fact that I never feel like watching it ._.  I love crime stories but this one in particular never really caught my attention. It has all the potential but it’s like it’s always holding back; I still want to finish it though, and move on.

 

Listening to: Fuzgati ~ Neon Noir ♥
Weather: sunny and rainy at the same time
Drinking: loose leaves chai tea ♥

So this is how it’s going to be from now on

I’ve realised something in the last couple of years. Learning a language independently is HARD. It’s hard to have a regular schedule, to test yourself, to keep the motivation up.

It’s even harden when you don’t feel like you live in a place that can support your commitment. No Chinese related events, no language courses, no resources at the library at the moment. I’m not someone who constantly needs a network of people in order to do things, but sometimes it feels a little too lonely even for me.

I hope at least this beat will change once we move to Edinburgh. But for now, I have to roll up my sleeves and figure out a way to rekindle the spark on my own.

The day before yesterday I shared on Instagram how I think I should approach this momentary falling-out-of-love stage of my learning process. The answer is: total self immersion. I feel detached and unmotivated mostly because I don’t have enough Asian stuff in my life.

I need more books about contemporary Asian culture and society, more dramas, more music, more food. Motivation tends to feed itself, so the more the better. And also more direct involvement rather than passive consumption of materials and resources – which simply means, using more Chinese in my daily life.

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Speaking of dramas, last month I finally managed to finish watching Goblin. I have mixed feelings about it – I loved some of the characters and there were a few absolutely hilarious scenes (plus the ending of episode 13 was reaaaaaally moving). The OST was impressive as well.

This said, I found the first 7 episodes quite boring and slow; the characters just seemed to be going in circles and I noticed a wide rage of always-repeating situations. I’m also somewhat meh about the last 3 episodes, I think they dragged it a little too much. A more dramatic end would have broken my heart, but also left a bigger impact.

In order to fall in love again with K dramas (as I realised I was often ‘forcing’ myself to watch Goblin for the sake of finishing it, rather than for the enjoyment), I decided to start rewatching one of my favourite K dramas of all times [Hello Monster / I remember you].

Oh boy. This is a drama with capital D!

I actually have to force myself not to binge watch it because I love it so much that I just can’t stop. Does anyone know any drama similar to this one? Any recommendation would be much appreciated 😇

 

Life updates and various bits&pieces

I’ve been away from this blog for longer than I thought/wanted, as it often happens. But I’m not gonna bore you people with all the ‘things will be different from now on’ (they won’t) pep talks.

Last month, the significant other has been offered a job in Edinburgh, starting August 1st.

So, yeah. We’re going to move to Edinburgh.

>>>insert happy emojis here<<<

Edinburgh is such a vibrant and dynamic city, literally bursting with cultural activities and incredible energy – THERE’S JUST SO MUCH TO DO. Theatres, concerts, events, festivals, fairs, libraries, shops, food, you name it. I’m so so so happy I’ve actually already started looking for accommodation 😆 (and also found and lost my dream house in 24h -.-). I would love love love to find an apartment in Stockbridge or Dean Village, but I think they’ll be out of reach for us in terms of budget (Edinburgh is pretty expensive in terms of house renting, at least for Scotland’s standards).

Of course I’ve already checked the area and found both the local Confucius Institute and Japanese society 😎

At the same time, I know I’m going to miss the Highlands a lot. The nature and scenery here are literally breathtaking, people are lovely, and everything is just so enjoyable. I’m going to miss living close to the city centre and at the same time being able to have river Ness and the parks at only 10 minutes of walk away.

The truth is, I just feel so blessed to live in a country in which we can find ourselves at home everywhere we go. Everything in Scotland is just amazing and I just can’t be grateful enough for how lucky we are.

I just hope this will be our last move for a while since packing and unpacking is seriously exhausting – plus I’d like to settle and start being more involved in local projects and activities, something I can’t do if we keep moving every year.

This said, there are going to be some consequences on my language learning plans as well. I know I said that I was most likely going to take HSK3 in April, and there’s nothing in this world that I hate more than changing plans and go back on my word, but in the light of the recent news I don’t think this would actually be the best course of action.

My plan was to sit the test in Aberdeen (since there are no HSK test centres where I live), which is 2,5h by train away from here. I was doable of course but not ideal, plus it would have been impossible for me to attend the free preparation classes they were offering there. And after the test, I would have had to go back to Aberdeen just to pick up my certificate.

(Which reminds me: I never went to get my HSK2 certificate from Confucius Institute in Florence. HA!)

Now that I know I’ll be living in Edinburgh soon, there’s really no point in going through all this fuss. I can conveniently sign up for the test there, attend all the prep courses I want – and, why not, I may even consider to attend a proper Chinese language course at Confucius institute there, either before or after the test. It’s definitely cheaper, more practical and strees-free for me.

The only downside is the for some reason in Edinburgh they hold examinations only three time a year, which means the fist available spot will be Saturday 1st December ._. considering that I took HSK2 in February of 2016, it would mean almost 2 years later. Oh well. I guess I’ll just swallow my pride and get over it.

 

Studying with words and phrases: current decks

I’ve mentioned here and there how I’ve been playing with Duolingo and Memrise lately, in order to improve my vocab and be able to put words in the right context. Both D and M have their pros and cons of course, even though it depends a lot on the kind of decks you decide to study (for Memrise, as on Duolingo you only pick the language).

When I first started off, Language Learner Enthusiasm got the best of me as usual and I started studying a lot of different courses at once (-.-). I’ve now narrowed down the material I’m currently using so here’s the recap:

  1. Chinese course (Duolingo). Well, I already said that you don’t really have a choice on Duolingo, you complete all the levels for your target language and when you’re done you just keep reviewing them (actually the review part starts way before having completed the course). There are a number of things that I find annoying about Duolingo, but it’s still useful practice. I’m currently at 71/88 stations, so I guess Iit’ll take me another month to complete it, and then I’ll just keep up with the review.
  2. Chinese for HSK3 Part I: Paking University (Memrise). This is the vocab review for a HSK3 prep course I started attending on Coursera a couple of months ago (still have to finish it). It’s very convenient having flashcards for all new words already prepared to review (instead of having to manually put them into Anki or a similar systems), and it’s even more helpful if you follow the lessons on Memrise along with the classes on Coursera. There are a few technical issues with this course (like audio track doing weird things), but overall I’ve been enjoying it (especially since it doesn’t use a lot of pinyin). I’m currently at 8/30 lessons, so way to go.
  3. Mandarine Chinese 2 (Memrise). Completed! Though I want to keep it reviewed since there were quite a few words it took me a lot of time to master and I don’t want to waste all my good efforts. It’s a bit annoying that the number of words to review increases exponentially day by day, but I’ll manage.
  4. Mandarine Chinese 1 (Memrise). Completed as well, but I have yet to start reviewing it. There were quite a few words/phrases I never really learnt properly, so I’ll go back to it once I finish my current open deck.
  5. French 1 (Memrise). This has actually nothing to do with Chinese or other Asian languages but since I’ve been studying it steadily for more than a month now I thought it was worth mentioning. 16/18 lessons, so I’ll start French 2 before the end of the month.
  6. HSK level 3 (Memrise). I barely started this deck and then set it aside because I wasn’t making any progresses. Tbh I don’t remember exactly what wasn’t working for me at the time (maybe too much focus on characters’ radicals?), I’ll just take the time to retry studying with it and decide if it’s worth retrieving or to toss it for good.

I also started a Remembering simplified hanzi course (Memrise) but I didn’t like it, again for reasons I now can’t remember. I guess that it’s pretty easy to evaluate whether you’re actually making progresses with a certain course of not, and that’s the beauty of these apps imho.

On whether it makes sense to study both M and D at the same time, I honestly cannot say. They’re pretty similar so in the end I think it’s more a psychological factor (I’m studying with two apps = I’m making more effort) than an actual growth of your progresses. For now I don’t find it too cumbersome, so I’ll keep up with both of them – but I wouldn’t have any problem dropping the one or the other.

Maybe it makes more sense to study a deck on one of the two, and then when it’s done keep it reviewed while studying a new course on the other. When I first started reviewing my French on Memrise I thought to start the course on Duolingo as well, but than I changed my mind and I kept working just on one app for the time being. I’ll try the French deck on Duolingo when I’m done with French II on Memrise.

Of course those are by no means sufficient to really progress in the language, but they are a quick and easy way to ensure you practice your target language everyday (and they’re way more fun and appealing than Anki).

_ _ _

I’m now at episode 9 of Goblin, and the story is finally starting to get moving. Gong Yoo is just amazing, Lee Dong-Wook is great support character and I absolutely adore every gag between Kim Shin and the grim reaper.

This said, I find the female lead somewhat annoying (as usual). She’s not worse than others tbh, but still, I wish I could have seen a stronger female character for once. Plus I’m a bit sick of these characters with super extra mega hyper miserable lives who are hated by literally everyone. I mean, seriously.

So yeah, I like it, but I’m still not loving it. I know that it’s a great product and I honestly wish I could feel super hooked, but I’m not. I wish that at least the story could be a little less slow, it has been 8 episodes of almost nothing ._.

_ _ _

I think I’m going to have vegetarian nachos tonight, watch something quick on Netflix and then be in bed by 8 for my reading session before sleeping. Today the weather was super cold and sunny and I was dying to go out for a walk. I hope to have another chance tomorrow, as I’m planning a 6:30 walk in the park 🙂

Currently listening to: Lany ~ Made in Hollywood
Currently wearing: New Retro Wave tee, black jogger, pink socks