Just an ordinary girl's life

Tag: chinese self learning

HSK3 impressions beforehand

I’ve been doing quite a few mock tests in preparation for next Saturday, and these are my first impressions / expectations on how the exam is going to be:

  1. listening. This remains the hardest part for me. I practiced quite a lot in the last few months (though maybe not in the most efficient way) and, yes, I can see a certain improvement – but it’s still the bit I feel less confident about. I’m usually able to catch the keywords within the dialogues, which allows me to pick the right answer most of the time, but I know I will have to work more on this skill in the future.
  2. reading. Doable, but a bit trickier than expected. I tend to slip in 2/3 stupid mistakes that could be totally avoidable if i just paid more attention to the question. Also, sometimes I find a word that wasn’t on the official word list – so I can just pray this doesn’t happen in the actual test.
  3. writing. Based on the exam drills I’ve practiced with so far, this seems to be the easiest part (it’s also the one that gives less points). The ‘reorganise the sentence’ exercise is usually pretty straightforward, and the characters you’re supposed to write by hand are among the easiest (but I still managed to write 运 instead of 云 the other day, ha!). Just hoping I won’t be asked to write 葡萄. That would be interesting.


So, overall I think I can pass this test without too much stress. Whether or not I’ll do it well, that’s another story. But right now I’m super impatient to get myself tested and see what my actual Chinese level is!


大家好!It’s been a while 🙂 Life has been busy (when isn’t) and there has been just a lot going on with the new house and the new city and HSK and everything else.

I have been fairly active on Instagram, and if you want to catch up with my musings on how things have been going with my Chinese studies you can find those here. But I never intended for Instagram to take the place of my blog, so I’m ready to get back to the good old habit of writing about my Chinese adventures.

So after having talked about it for almost two years, I’m now on the brink of finally taking HSK3. I am scared as much as thrilled, but all in all I can’t wait to have it done.

I’m going to be absolutely honest with you: I’m not completely prepared for this exam. I’d say I’m 65/70% ready. Which is good enough at the moment, though the perfectionist that is in me can’t help but feel a bit disappointed.

There are a number of reasons for this, and the number one is that self-studying a language is damn hard. I deeply underestimated how difficult it actually is to devise and follow a clear and logic study plan, and how easy it is instead to think you’re doing a lot we’re you are actually not doing that much.

I struggled a lot in learning both how and what to study,  which means a lot of the time I spent on books and other resources didn’t give back the expected results.

If I could go back I’d do so many things differently – but to be completely honest right now I’m much more interested in what I can do next than in looking back. Seems like I learnt something at least 😅

If there’s one thing I’m super proud about is that I didn’t chickened out and registered for the exam anyway, even if I knew I couldn’t do as good at the last time. Again, for one like me that always wants to have top marks and be the first in her class, this is a huge huge improvement.

I guess my focus and interest is now much less academic and much more towards the real language. And I have to say that now that I’ve mastered at least 600 characters I can see a huge difference in my understanding level when I read things written in Chinese. This is giving me the main boost to keep going and start seriously using the language, not just studying it.

There will be other posts on the whole HSK3 experience of course, for now I just wanted to check in and let everyone know that I’m alive and well 🙂


PS: I’m about to finish watching Black and I can say that after a slow start it has picked up a lot!

Chinese Full Immersion: Weekend 1


I usually have a lot of ideas for my language learning studies, but I often fail at following up with them [reason No. 1 is the ‘this idea is so good, I want to wait for the perfect moment to apply it’ kind of mind-frame]. Can anyone relate?

Well, I’m happy to say that, for once, I did follow up and actually put into practice one of those project. So, this past weekend I finally experienced my first Chinese full immersion study session.

What is a CFI?

This is surely not my original idea. I think the first time I came across the concept of full immersion in language learning has been by reading Khatsumoto’s blog, but honestly I don’t think it’s his original idea either.

While I don’t think that full immersion with books, anime, dramas, comics etc can substitute more structured forms of learning (like textbooks), I do think that being surrounded by different mediums and tools in the target language can be extremely beneficial – and I also think it’s something I’ve definitely not been doing enough as of lately.

Basically, CSI for me means two things:
1. dedicate an insanely amount of hours to study my target language over a pretty short period of time
2. use a great variety of resources (like those above-mentioned)

What did I use for CFI?

I think the kind of resources I use will vary with time [also to keep things a little more interesting/challenging], but in this particular session I used a combination of what I’ve been doing regularly in the last couple of weeks and a few new stuff.

My regular resources:

  • Duolingo – I’ve talked about it several times (flaws and glitches included) so I don’t need to go into much details here; it’s my very basic source of vocabulary/sentence pattern, plus a low level listening practice (basically, getting used to tones and inflections)
  • Learn Chinese 888 – They have a youtube channel and also a website with the dialogues transcripts; I use this resource as listening practice (obviously) as well as for vocabulary and sentence pattern
  • Remembering Simplified Hanzi – this is the system I personally use for characters review, but it’s not the only nor surely the best one; I’d say that it’s pretty similar to a radicals-based learning system, and the two pretty much go hand in hand

Ad hoc resources I used for CFI:

  • Chinese Grammar Wiki – this is a staple in my learning routine, though not something I would refer to everyday. I think a good grammar immersion is very helpful in boosting my confidence with the language, so I thought it was something worth using during my project.
  • Mandarin Chinese-English Bilingual Dictionary – I’m usually not a huge fan of this kind of ‘thematic’ photographic dictionaries, but I think that their value mostly depend on how you use them. I picked up this one at the library and I thought to give it a try. I’ll review it separately, but for now I can say that I’ve enjoyed broadening my vocabulary in certain specific sectors of interest (like skincare and makeup).

I also wanted to make use of my Netflix subscription and watch On the Children with subtitles but in the end I didn’t have the time to do so. I’ll save it for the next round!

How did I like this experience?

I honestly enjoyed myself immensely. Though I was motivated to do this, I also expected to have to push myself to a certain extent – but it turned out I really really wanted to sit down and study Chinese so that wasn’t even necessary. I appreciated the opportunity to use different kind of resources and different mediums, and instead of feeling like my study was all over the place I had the impression it was actually all coming together. So overall was a really pleasant and rewarding experience.

Notes for Next Time

Because, yes, there definitely will be a next time! First of all, I realised that, even if you have 2 entire days at your complete disposal, there is a lot of time you can’t actually dedicate to study – even if you want to. Basically, life has this very bad habit of getting in the way 😝 So, yes, I need to be realistic about how much I can get done without being disappointed by the fact that no, I can’t study for 12 hours straight.

Another thing to take into consideration, though it may sound funny, it’s the weather. This past weekend I knew that the plus one had to do some work from home, so we didn’t have anything specific planned; plus for once the weather decided to cooperate (when for some reason we can’t go out much during the weekend there’s usually a blistering sun -.-), and it actually decided to rain for two consecutive days 😏 this gave me the perfect motivation to grab my blanket-and-tea combo and get down to study!


We are now pretty close to the end of August and I can feel the taste of fall in the air already. Autumn and winter here in the north of Europe mean a lot of long, dark, cold days – perfect for hot chocolate AND full immersion language learning sessions 😎 I haven’t scheduled my next one yet, but if it keeps raining like this I fathom it will be pretty soon!


Summer Language Learning Goals

We are already 2 months into summer, I know, but since during the last 3 years June and July have been moving months for me, I never quite got to set my summer goals for my language learning. So, with 41 days to go before fall, I’m going to set my small-scale summer goals for Chinese and Japanese.

Review my overall HSK3 plan

Every hiatus I take (voluntary or not) breaks the continuum of my study flow, which means I often find myself not knowing exactly where I am at and whether or not I’m making the desired progresses. So first thing to do now is to sit down, review the notes I wrote on OneNote about all the points that I need to get covered before HSK3 and start making a detailed monthly and preferably weekly plan of what I want to get done. HSK3 is too much to bear without a clear plan, I’m well aware of that now.

Finish studying all A2 grammar points on Chinese Grammar Wiki

Grammar is the aspect of language learning that bothers (and bores) me the less. I actually find it pretty relaxing to sit down with my notebook and the right soundtrack, writing down sentence patterns and rules. While I was preparing for HSK2 I found a system for studying grammar that, at the time at least, seemed to work for me: reading about grammar points from different resources (textbooks, online courses etc), writing them down into my Midori Traveler’s Notebook with example sentences and reviewing them constantly. The review part is essential for my learning process. So my goal now is to finish studying all A2 points before tackling B1 and have them constantly reviewed by the beginning of fall.

Complete at least 1 listening course

I’ve been playing with different audio resources lately as listening is my weakest skill (I said this a billions times). I’m discovering *surprise surprise* that is not easy to make tangible progresses if I don’t take the time to study all the new vocabulary I encounter in the dialogues, so my summer plan for listening is to take the time not just to passively listen to audio tracks but to actively take notes on the new vocabulary / sentence patterns I come across and build my way up from there. For this reason I want to at least complete one of the many courses I started following, this way is actually easier for me to check my progress and to have a clearer idea of what I want to focus on next.

Do a few full-immersion sessions

There’s only one thing that keeps us going with language learning: passion and motivation. We can set all the best possible routines, but if we keep going on autopilot without actually feeling the language it becomes just a dry exercise of rote memorization. I am an anthropologist, so it’s only natural for me to believe in a holistic approach; meaning, I feel motivated what I can see that the whole is more than just the sum of the single parts, and that everything integrates harmoniously and flawlessly. When I see the role that Chinese (and Japanese) has in my life, the way studying and progressing in the language makes me feel, discovering every day new cultural nuances etc. – that’s what brings me true motivation. For this purpose I think a couple of full immersions sessions in which I dedicate myself full time not just to the language but also to the culture and lifestyle of my target country can be extremely beneficial.

Use anime and TV shows for passive listening practice

Despite my best intentions, I haven’t been watching anime in a good while now. There are a few interesting titles on Netflix though, and the fact that it offers Japanese subtitles can probably do the trick. My main focus is on Chinese right now – but I still like to find time for some side Japanese study. I don’t want to go crazy with grammar and written practice at the moment as I know I won’t be able to sustain that – but again, listening has always been my weakest spot in Japanese too, so why not starting from there? This way once I get back to study the language properly I can start from a not-so-shitty listening comprehension set of skills.

I’m going to fetch my planner and start working on my schedule right now – I honestly can’t imagine a better way of spending such a rainy and humid Sunday ☔️

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!

Christmas and languages and family and food


This is the most wonderful time of the year and I’m blessed enough to get to spend it with my loved ones (though the significant other is working on all major holidays -.- bummer).

I guess this year I got a lot of wake up calls about, well, a lot of things. I’m much more aware, in general, of the reasons behind many of the things I do. I don’t plan to change my life dramatically from January 1st, but I honestly feel like doing things with a different approach – and I already started.

Language learning wise, I’ve managed to study 1.5h of Chinese almost everyday in December. Studying everyday is not only essential to acquire new knowledge – it’s also key to keep up the motivation and love for the language itself.

I would like to create a even deeper level of language and culture immersion in the upcoming year – if anyone has recommendations on books about Chinese (intended as both PRC and Taiwan of course) society and culture please please please let me know!

I hope you can spend a peaceful Christmas with your loved ones eating super succulent food, listening to Michael Bubble festive compilation and, of course, studying your favourite Asian language!

Merry Christmas everyone ❤️🎄🎅🏼

Getting serious about studying: HSK3 prep and Chinese study in general


I think I get it now.

After my resolution about getting serious in studying for HSK3, I spent 3 or 4 days wasting time while trying to figure put the best approach to learn new vocabulary / grammar / whatever.

But now I get that HSK3 is a completely different experience from HSK2, for a number of reasons, and I should adjust my study process accordingly.

In essence, my approach ‘if you want to study for HSK3, don’t study for HSK3’.

I’m not trying to be smart or anything 😅

The point is, HSK2 was pretty much at my reach. Considering that at the time I hadn’t been studying Chinese seriously for almost a couple of years (the only activity at the time was RSH), but also considering that while attending classes I studied hard and with a lot of motivation, I had retained enough knowledge to approach that level of examination. And in fact I did pretty well.

All I actually needed to do was reviewing things I already knew (vocabulary and grammar alike); in the vocab section there were 5 or 6 words max that I didn’t previously know, so there was no huge amount of study or memorisation.

HSK3 is a whole different story.

First of all, my classes experience further away in time now – with all their flaws and limits, classes are still a good source of language immersion and self discipline.

HSK3 has three new challenges for the Chinese student: the sentence order exercise, longer texts to read and character writing practice (+ 300 new words and 汉字 to learn by heart). This is not reviewing anymore for me, it’s actual study and memorisation material – and there’s a lot of it.

So here’s my take on the subject: you can study for a specific exam if your overall preparation is more or less at the same level; you can’t do that if you know you still have to progress a lot in the language before reaching your target.

That’s why I was saying I can’t actually study for HSK3 at this time: I need to study Chinese overall, with characters and sentences and listening and reading and grammar and everything else I would do in class. I can keep HSK3 words and characters lists as a reference guide but I can’t focus only on that.

I have to get my bearings of Chinese study in general; then, I will be able to focus more closely on examination papers. And move forward.


My night study routine

I’m not a night person by any means. After 6pm I start feeling hungry, slack and distracted. After 7pm I’m usually sleepy and slobby and I categorically refuse to talk about anything mentally challenging. By 8pm the only activities I can bare to carry out  are crawling from the kitchen to the bathroom (skincare!) and then from the bathroom to the bed.

Still! Sometimes I can find my night owl stamina and be productive language learning wise even after 9pm. (This usually happens when the significant other has the night shift at work and I find myself wandering and wondering how I should put this me-time into good use).

It still doesn’t mean I’m working all my way up to 12am, let’s just be clear; by 10 I’m usually off smearing my face with Banila Co. Clean It Zero anyway . But since I can’t stand doing many consecutive hours of Chinese study, it’s an additional time frame that I dedicate to reviewing the day’s lesson and consolidate some learning material.

So here’s how I like to do things recently:

a. first, tea (or herbal tea). I have plenty to use plus I need the warm kick if I want to face an additional study session (it’s almost winter here people). Hot beverages have the psychological power of helping me keeping my focus for a little longer, and they always make me feel motivated. So, yes, tea is a must.

b. second, ambient music. This is one the biggest arguments between me and the plus one, as he claims he can’t concentrate while listening to music. I’m exactly the opposite, nothing distracts me more than silence and music has always helped me to isolate from everything else that’s happening around me. Of course not all type of music will do [I’ll probably avoid something like this], but I have plenty of chill out / Buddha bar / study and concentration playlists to choose from. Lately I’ve been a lot into synthwave, and this is definitely one of my staples in my language learning routine [plus those endless videos are so hypnotic 😵].

c. third, a process to follow. One of the reasons I’ve been progressing so slowly in these Chinese learning years is that I’ve often found myself at a loss to what to do exactly with my Chinese resources. I haven’t figured out completely my  LL style yet [grandma here is slow you guys], but something that I know for sure is that I need a mix of writing [not necessarily fancy notes, or notes that I need to keep/revise] and repeating, otherwise nothing will stick. I’m trying a mixed approach of studying grammar, vocab and sentence patterns through phrases and context, and for now it seems to work. So instead of losing 20+ minutes trying to figure out what the best way of using my time would be, I just sit down, drink my tea and get sh0t done.

d. create the right ambient: physically, but also mentally. When I sit at my desk and before start studying, I like to lit a scented candle, turn on my Himalayan salt lamp and tidy up my space, so that I can have a clear and nice environment to get to work. But candle, tea, relaxation music: they are not just terribly mainstream [I am no innovator here], they are also extremely mundane. What is really essential, the point of all this, is my motivation and my love for the language. It’s the feeling I get when I remember a certain word, when I’m able to write down a 汉字 without having to look it up, when I can translate a complete sentence or I get a tone right. It’s the profound feeling of connection that I feel with the language, the culture, and the other people in the world who share the same passion I have. Candles and teas are just appendages, surely nice and cozy, but still appendages.

e. feel good about myself. This is my time, my space. I’ve shared it already in my post about the perfect drama night: I’m not just looking to feel good in the moment while I’m actually studying, I want that feeling of wellness to linger – because I’m time time off to do something good for myself and I want to savour it. I’m dedicating time to my passions, meaning, I’m actually sitting at my desk at 9:17pm doing something engaging for my brain, instead of just crashing on the couch with a cream soda watching yet another episode of whatever on Netflix. So yes, I think I deserve to feel good about myself.

f. go to bed before it’s too late. Studying at night it’s great since it’s one of the quietest times of the day, but overdoing it can have some unpleasant side effects. I know roughly how much time it takes me to go through my skincare routine so even if I feel like going on studying,  I always ensure to have enough time to complete my skincare routine and read my current novel before going to bed.

I guess I can consider this as a sort of self pampering activity: I dedicate time to something I love doing (studying Chinese) while listening to good, relaxing music and drinking my fave beverage; it’s also something that makes me feel good about myself so definitely improves my overall mood.

This just goes to show how we can pamper ourselves without spending a dime by just focusing on the things we really love and need in our life 🙂


Chinese mood and LL immersion

Noodles and books. Can you even think of a better combo?

I honestly can’t.

Today is a beautiful cold and sunny day and I’m enjoying the sight of autumn nature here from my window.

November weather is perfect for language learning =)

I’m immersing myself as much as I can in the language, trying to use all the resources that I know I can enjoy and that don’t feel too much of a constriction.

What I’m using in order to create the perfect Chinese-learning environment & mind frame:

– Chinese beauty vloggers (especially Rainie Tian)
– Chinese pop music (this in particular is what I’ve been loving in the last couple of months)
9 seconds / Eternal time drama (ok this is actually Korean XD but it still serves its purpose of creating the perfect Asian context)
10.000 sentences method, which practically means ‘studying vocab and grammar in context’
– chow mein noodles and fried chicken (nothing can put me in a better study mood than food – especially NOODLES)

Sometimes I can go even a couple of weeks without doing anything Chinese related. But this is and will always be what I love doing the most. LL is not 100% of my life of course, I have a lot too many CROSS interests to be honest; but Asian languages are without doubt a HUGE part of who I am, and going back to them always, always feels right.


Currently listening to this fall compilation 🍂

Chinese reading challenge ~ October 2017

I’ve been keeping an eye on Hacking Chinese monthly challenges for quite some time now. I wanted to join them more than once, but you know, the usual carousel – no time, too busy, too tired etc. etc.

I was on the train to Aberdeen on Friday when I received an email with the remainder to subscribe to October’s Chinese reading challenge. And for once I said, why not?

So I signed up straight away before I could change my mind 😅

The challenge per se is pretty simple: you set the goal you want to achieve during the month (in terms of hours spent reading), and you log your activity everyday. There’s a leaderboard so you can see how others are doing, which can be an additional factor of motivation and stamina.

It’s only day 5 of the challenge, but I’ve to say I’m doing pretty well 🙂 you know when you find yourself thinking ‘this is exactly what I needed‘?

Let’s be honest, my Chinese study sucked this year – and what hurts the most is that I don’t even have a good reason for that. I started with a lot of motivation and effort at the very beginning of the year, taking HSK2 almost on a whim, and then I slowly faded away.

It’s not easy being a self learner. I thought it was, but I was deeply wrong. And sometimes, it’s even more difficult when you have too much time on your hands. Plus if I really have to be honest, the RSH challenge hasn’t helped much.

I think reading is a very important step in every LL process. So I feel like this is seriously the right kind of undertaking I can hugely benefit from. It gives me purpose, a clear plan of what needs to be done, and also a certain satisfaction.

I’ll talk about the resources I’m using in further posts; for now I would like to invite all fellow Chinese learners to join the challenge if they haven’t already, it’s not too late!