Walhallavagen

Just an ordinary girl's life

Tag: chinese study

Duolingo + Index Card Workflow

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I’ve been working with this kind of setup for a while now, and since it has served me well I thought I would share it here.

I discovered soon enough that I wasn’t making many progresses by practicing Duolingo skills the traditional way. This is the kind of problem I’ve had with spaced repetition systems in the past as well – they work great at first but after a while they become a bit dry and my retention rate starts dropping significantly.

Active recalling is always best than passive memorisation, so whenever I can I try to follow this simple but much more effective system for both Chinese and Japanese:

  1. I create an index card for each single skill than I want to work on. On the top left I write ‘C Duolingo’ or ‘J Duolingo’ so that I can distinguish between the two languages, while on the top right I write the name of the specific skill I’m practicing (Activity 1, Food 3 and so on)
  2. on the index card, I write in English all those sentences I would like to try and actively remember
  3. I keep adding all new sentences as you usually don’t encounter them all at once

This is what may be considered the preparation phase. You do this once and then your index card is ready and you don’t have to add anything more. The proper study and recalling phase starts now:

  1. the next time I want to practice that specific still, I first take out my index card and start working with that. I first try to say the sentence in Chinese/Japanese out loud, then take a pace of scrap paper and write down the translation (this way, I also practice characters)
  2. I go on until I’ve translated all sentences on my card
  3. I fire Duolingo and check both translation and pronunciation

That’s basically it. As you can see is definitely nothing super long and complex, and it doesn’t require a lot of preparation. It usually takes me about 10/13 minutes to review a single skill using this system, but the retention rate is much much higher than simply using Duolingo on my phone or computer. This way I also feel a lot more engaged in the language and thus I enjoy myself much more while studying.

 

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Language learning at the beginning of the year

Word of the year or my LL approach is: relax. No rush, no pressure, no drama. I’m taking it easy.

I think that’s the only possible way for me to fit in both Chinese and Japanese in my schedule. If I try too hard with one language, I’ll end up by neglecting the other (and feel bad about it).  I find it easier to sneak in bits and pieces of both when I don’t put too much pressure on myself. So that will do for the moment.

In terms of resources, I’m mainly using my Duolingo + index cards system for both Chinese and Japanese. I should probably do a separate post about this, as for now it’s proving quite useful.

Sometimes I also try to read a few passages in Chinese from my Confucius class textbook, to keep my vocab fresh and get familiar with new grammar patterns. I’m not doing specific listening exercises at the moment, but I’ve been watching 河神 (Tientsin Mystic) more regularly lately and it feels like a good practice to get used to different accents and inflections.

Switching to Japanese, I’ve watched Flavours of Youth on Netflix – and I really liked it. This format is probably better for me to get back to the habit of watching anime, rather than having 27-episode long series to watch. I also like anime with a more mature storyline, I’m probably a bit too old for school dramas 😅

 

/All over the place kind of post/

 

 

Post HSK3 reflections

Of all the things the I was expecting to happen for HSK, arriving late at the test definitely wan’t one of them.

Oh. Well.

😅

Considering that I’m never ever late (not for trains/planes, not for tests, not for doctor appointments, again, never), this feels even more ridiculous. There have been a number of factors working against me and all independent from my control – but anyway, this is what happened. Which means that I lost the first 10 questions of the listening part.

I lost more than that actually, because by the time I was sitting in the class I was so angry and dumbfounded that I found it very hard to focus on the ongoing audio track.

So, yeah. That didn’t go well.

I won’t deny it, I was extremely disappointed at how things turned out – I’ve been talking about taking HSK3 for almost two years now, and this definitely wasn’t the way I wanted it to unfold. It was supposed to be a rewarding and exciting experience, and it was not.

Anyway. I’ll get the score that I get, and move on. The significant other encouraged me to consider whether it could be worth taking it a second time, but regardless of the outcome I’ve decided against it. Right now I don’t have the right mindset to prepare for it again, and I’d rather focus on the next target than sulk over it.

So, drama and incidents apart. How was the test?

Well, I can say that I found it exactly the way I expected it to be – doable but still challenging. Reading was ok, characters ok, writing ok even though there was a sentence to reorder that caught me slightly off guard (something that never happened while I was doing the mock tests).

Listening was hard, and I’m not surprised. Partly because as I said I wasn’t exactly calm and focused enough for it, partly because listening is always difficult for me. I’ve improved a lot, this I can say, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

In general, HSK3 is where things start getting serious. By this time I think people start to decide whether they want to keep studying the language or not. Since there’s no pinyin in the paper and you also have to write characters, you either are in or out. I noticed a lot of improvements in my language level while studying for this test – 600 characters is not huge but they definitely can bring you much further than the 300 of HSK2.

Overall I enjoyed immensely studying for this test and, even if the experience has been a bit unfortunate this year, I absolutely haven’t lost my motivation in keep studying Chinese. I’m getting close to feel more confident with the language, and I love it even more than before. I’ve been preparing a HSK3 study resources blog post for quite some time now – I don’t know whether I’ll be able to complete it before new year since I’m quite busy these days, but in case you’re interested wait for it because it’s coming out sooner or later.

Next target now is HSK4 in 2 years time. I’ll take care of getting to the venue at least an hour earlier next time, that’s for sure!

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!

好久不见!

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 Summer Goals Review

 

Good news: during the months of August and September (so far) I’ll be following meticulously my summer study plan, and I’ve also tracked and evaluated my progresses in my planner.

Bad news: I’m behind on all accounts, meaning, I have completed not a single task on my list ._.

Breaking it down:

  1. finish one audio course: I completed the first round, which was listening to the first 15 tracks of Learn Chinese 888, and I’m about halfway through the second phase (reviewing the notes and transcript from the dialogues). I haven’t completed the third phase, which is listening to all the track a second time and see how much (if?) I’ve improved my comprehension.
  2. review all HSK 3 words and characters: about halfway through it. I started well and strong but then slowed down a lot. As usual, the first 200 characters are much easier to review than the following 400.
  3. finish studying all A2 grammar points on Chinese Grammar Wiki: this is the goal I failed the most at, I think I’m not even at a third of the process. It takes a lot of time and a lot of focus, and I realised I can’t deal with more than 3/4 grammar points a day.

Now, I’ve been in Italy during the last 10 days so I would had probably accomplished more if I had been home instead, but I still wouldn’t have completed everything on the list.

What is good about this is that it’s super helpful to realise how much I can actually get done in a week/month. Plus I’m super happy that, even if I didn’t complete it, I was able for once to follow a clear, goal-oriented study plan.

So now: today is the first day of fall (YAY!), and we’re also slightly more than 2 months away from the test. My plan is:

  • in this last 7 days of September, focus on finishing the listening course (notes and audio tracks) + the wordlist. I want to have all the characters reviewed thoroughly at least once and then keep them fresh until the exam;
  • from October 1st (marking exactly 2 months before HSK 3), start with a proper fall study plan – which will probably be divided in two (a plan for October and a plan for November). It will have its own post of course.

I’m still overall happy about the progresses I’m making, but time is passing fast and I need to start thinking about wrapping things up, which is kind of scary. It is also true that pressure can be a quite valid form of motivation 😅

 

Back home & the status of my Language Learning

It’s 7:10am and I’m sitting at my desk with a cup of steaming herbal tea and a blanket.

When we left Florence yesterday afternoon it was about 32 degrees Celsius. By the time we landed in Edinburgh, it was 8° with strong western winds and pounding rain. Ha!

Feels good to be home anyway.

While I was in Italy language learning wasn’t exactly my focus (stuffing my mouth with delicious fruits and veggies and seafood was – though for some reason I didn’t have a single ice cream 😟 NO. FREAKING. WAY.), but I haven’t let it slip away either. I’ve maintained my 189-day streak on Duolingo [kinda proud of it if I do say so myself] and I’ve also been fairly active on Instagram this time, which is something I don’t do for likes and followers but rather to keep myself accountable/inspired/motivated.

So this has been my study routine/attempt while I was away:

  1. as mentioned, I practiced Chinese Duolingo everyday. Sometimes I did just one lesson because I had too much of the rest going on, sometimes I managed to do 3 or four skills in a session. I found it to be a pretty useful resource for when I’m out and about and I don’t have either the time or the occasion to spread out dozens of notes and textbooks on my desk.
  2. for grammar and listening, I’ve re-started attending the HSK3 prep course on Coursera since I hadn’t finished it last time. I have to admit I’m already a week behind (😅😅😅), but I was nice to have a quick and easily accessible resource like this for those few times I felt like having a bit more in-depth study session.
  3. I also found some time to have a look at Chinese resources in a big bookshop downtown. I know that this doesn’t technically count as study activity, but considering how much I love books in general, browsing bookstores it’s always a good motivation boost for me – so it does count in a way.
  4. unfortunately, I haven’t studied a single word of Japanese while I was away. Considering that I had limited time and limited resources, I consciously decided to give priority to Chinese (only 72 days to HSK3!!!). I expect that less and less time would be devoted to Japanese from now to the date of the test, but I have plans for it once I’m finally done with HSK3.

There are a lot of things I want to do and I’m excited about this fall. I want to intensify my commitment to language learning in general, starting with doubling efforts for Chinese. In a couple of days I’ll post about how my summer goals went, what I want to do next and my fall study schedule. My to do list for the day is quite long so I’m happy I took advantage of my habit of waking up before 6:30am to write this blog post 🙂 #earlybirdpride

(A kind of) Full Immersion Weekend

I honestly hadn’t planned to do another weekend of full immersion, but I ended up doing something of the sort anyway 🙃🙃🙃

I didn’t use anything new in terms of resources, as it seems that my current study workflow of Duolingo + HSK3 wordlist review (and Anki) + listening practice on YouTube + Chinese grammar wiki is working pretty well for me at the moment.

I think what has changed a lot lately is that I’ve been feeling a lot more connected to the language and the culture in general. This is giving me a boost in motivation and commitment, and I actually enjoy immensely my study sessions, instead of feeling like they’re something I *have* to do (even if it’s just for myself).

The significant other and I are going to Italy tomorrow to visit family and friends and have a lot of good food, so my study routine will be inevitably slowed down a bit. I’ll do my best not to completely lose momentum, though I also think that sometimes is good to take a break and give our braincells the time to process information.

Plus I can always pay a visit to some bookstore in Florence, they often surprise me with juicy language learning related goodie.

I’m also thinking about the tons of gelato I’ll eat while home and I’m like awwwwwwwww 😍

*totally unrelated*

On other news, I’m currently watching the Netflix Korean drama Black. I’m at episode 5 right now and I’m slowly starting to get into it – though I’ve already picked up some flows (at least based on my tastes). I really enjoy the crime/mystery part and I find the male lead extremely captivating and fun – while on the other end the female lead’s story bores me to death ._.

I’m kind of sick of watching always the same drama with the same heroine who for some reason is hated by everyone in her life (I can think of at least other 3 dramas with similar situations, and I’ve not watched that many in total), and I’m also sick of the already-seen young and handsome heir who looks like an idol and who is the son of an illegitimate affair of the head of the house, so that the other siblings hate and despise him. All of this is a huge no-no for me, and I honestly wish they would have just decided to focus on the crime/mystery bit.

Anyway! It always feels good to surround myself with East Asian stuff, be it books or movies or dramas or textbooks (lol). Hope I can keep up the good work!

{Chinese Book Review} Mandarin Chinese – English Bilingual Visual Dictionary

I’m very happy to be writing my first language book review today (as promised here) 🙂 I definitely feel like a proper LL blogger now!

Since moving to Edinburgh I’ve been willing to check out the various resources I have available through the local library system, and this one book caught my attention. The concept is definitely not new – a thematic visual dictionary with words clustered according to their semantics.This one is the 2018 edition, but the dictionary itself has been out for quite some time now.

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Upon opening it, you find a visual table of content listing all topics you will find in the book:

After that, there’s a brief introduction (both in Chinese and English) on what to expect from the book and how to use it. It also reminds you that there’s a free app you can download and use to follow along with the book.

Then you jump right into the core of the book. As shown in the table of content, there are different themes (family, work, leisure etc) and for each theme you get a certain number of pages analysing the vocabulary for that selected theme. For example, if you’re interested in sports you have a volleyball subsection, a football subjection, a swimming subsection and so on and so forth. There are also some boxes offering additional vocabulary insight.

Towards the end of the book there’s a ‘Reference’ section with useful information like how the calendar is structured, how to read the time, name of foreign countries etc.

After the Reference part, there’s a very very small section showing some grammar points and the so called ‘useful phrases’.

Finally, the index (in Chinese first, and then in English).

 

Comments

This is a very thorough and well researched visual dictionary, with great graphics and a very in-depth approach to the themes selected. This said, I have mixed feelings about this kind of resource in language learning.

Reason number one is the fact that lists of words are known to be quite a dry way of managing vocabulary assimilation, as words are better learnt and remembered in context rather than in lists (though having pictures and images surely help).

Reason number two is that you need to know how to connect the words you’re studying, otherwise your learning is going to be crippled by the fact that you don’t how how to actually use them. For example, if I learn how to say eyeshadow and nail polish, but I don’t know how to say to apply eyeshadow or nail polish, my learning is incomplete and it doesn’t really allow me to express myself in more complex ways.

At the same time it is true that I often find myself at loss when looking for a specific word in a regular dictionary, as I’m usually provided with more than one result and I’m never sure which one is the right one to use in that specific context, or the most common. So in this regard a resource like this could prove useful.

Final remarks

I think this can be an useful tool to broaden one’s vocabulary knowledge, but with a word of caution. Simply learning by heart all the words listed in the various section wouldn’t do much for one’s progresses in the language, but using it alongside other resources could result in a significant vocabulary booster.

I think the best way to use this book would be to select a few topics of interests, focus on a handful of words and integrate them with useful verbs and sentence patterns through the use of monolingual dictionaries like Bing. I reckon it’s better to master a few words than knowing a bunch you can do very little with.

Personally, I don’t think I’m going to buy this book. I find it very handy to have it accessible through the library system, so I plan to pick it up from time to time for a few, focused sessions of vocabulary study. I may consider buying it if it weren’t available at the library though.

 

Planning for the last quarter of the year

[Back To School Kind of Post]

Happy 1st of September! And happy -21 day till fall and -114 day till Christmas 😛 seems like I’m really ready for the colder months to arrive.

So time to grab pen and paper and decide what I absolutely want to accomplish before December 31st.

2018 has been an important year for me, under many respects; there have been a few big external changes (like moving to Edinburgh), but mostly I think I’ve witnessed a huge evolution in myself and the way I approach things in life. The jump in the number of books I’ve managed to read this year is just one display of these changes.

It’s not always easy to quantify my goals since the majority of them are on-going projects (Chinese, books, blog etc), so one of the things I’ve really worked hard on this year has been trying to identify a few concrete benchmarks I could work towards.

The Tools

To plan for my goals (while keeping in mind the bigger picture) I use Trello; this is my second year using it for this scope and I’m going to stick to it. Every year at the end of December I create a new board called ‘2018 (or whatever year) Goals’ and then create 4 lists:

  1. yearly goals
  2. quarterly goals
  3. monthly goals
  4. motivational quotes

In each list I create multiple cards. For example, in the ‘yearly goals’ list I create a card for every area of my life I have goals for (Chinese, personal, wellness etc) and in each card I create checklists to further break down my tasks. In the last list I just collect photos and graphics form Pinterest with inspirational quotes to keep me moving throughout the year.

I then plan for my goals at the micro-level on my weekly and daily pages, which are both on paper and on Google Keep. There’s still a lot of room for improvement in my system, but overall I can say that after a lot trial and error I’ve become much better at using my daily planner to try and achieve things in the long run.

The Process

As I rule, I try to review my goals every quarter, and then every month and every week. The monthly step can sometimes be overlooked (though I would like to work more on that in 2019), but the other two for me are essential.

The weekly review is a GTD concept that I think everyone is pretty familiar with, so I don’t need to spend too much words on it. I’ve failed at doing my weekly review for a very long time, but I think the main reason was the fact that my system was too complicated and all over the place. Now that I’ve managed to make things simpler and easier, I’m able to perform my review almost every Friday afternoon without fail.

The quarterly review is also important because it keeps me grounded on what the ultimate goal is and makes me realise whether I’m setting my goals too high or too low. I think one of the main reasons why I wasn’t always able to make progresses in my Chinese studies was because I didn’t realise that I can only accomplish so much in a 4-month timespan; when you star failing at reaching your goals quarter after quarter, you definitely learn something.

Another reason why a quarterly review is essential is because goals do change. In general (= I thought I wanted to do something in January, now it’s May and I’m realising I’m not interested anymore), and also at a more specific level – I still want to learn Chinese, but maybe I want to use different resources and I don’t want to finish studying that specific textbook anymore.

Sept – Oct – Nov – Dec 2018: What I want to accomplish

🍎 Chinese

My big goal for this year is HSK3 which will be held on the 1st of December this year so it mostly overlaps with my last quarter. I usually talk about my exam preparation in separated and dedicated posts, so I won’t add anything more here.

🍎 Reading

I’ve reached my target of 25 books a while ago, so I’m much less concerned about numbers right now and more interested into finding interesting themes for my reading experience. In particular, before the end of the year I would like to

  • read most of the books shortlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction
  • read most of the books shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize
  • finish 3 books I had put on hold
  • read 3 more non-fiction books
  • read a couple of classics
  • read a fantasy over Christmas

🍎 Music

Synthwave is a big passion of mine, not just as music but also as an aesthetic choice and a way of life; in this last months of 2018 I would like to read more about its origins and themes and also make sure to listen to the full discography of a few favourite bands of mine, namely

  • FM 84
  • Lost Years
  • Timecop 1983
  • Midnight
  • Tommy ’86

🍎 Wellness

I’ve fallen out of my routine of, but not of my love of yoga – so main goal in this area is to go back to a regular practice. I also have some health condition to follow up with and I want to get it done before the end of the year.

Near our home there’s a lovely public park that would be perfect to start a running routine – I’ve been thinking about it for quite some time, maybe instead of approaching it as a ‘I’ll start it next year’ kind of thing I could for once start now.

🍎 Habits

I’ve worked really hard on establishing healthy and productive habits this year, so I don’t want to push it too far; successful habits established during 2018:

  1. waking up between 6:00 and 6:30am
  2. morning yoga (to go back to, at the moment of writing)
  3. doing something related to Chinese everyday
  4. reading everyday
  5. movie night on Thursday
  6. eating reasonably healthy
  7. daily planning
  8. sharing my language learning experience on Instagram
  9. weekly review
  10. night time routine
  11. going to sleep between 10:00 and 10:30pm

Habits I would like to implement/enhance in the next 4 months

  1. spend less time on the phone while I wake up and
  2. journal instead
  3. be more strict about the 5 a day rule
  4. establish a sushi/Wagamama night with Asian dramas
  5. eat less cheese

🍎 Japanese

I don’t have specific plans for my Japanese apart from keep studying it (almost) daily on Duolingo. All my focus is on Chinese right now and I already find myself confused between the two sometimes (especially with numbers), so for now I don’t intend to increase my effort on it. I will surely give Japanese much more space in 2019.

🍎 TV

Things I absolutely want to watch before the end of the year:

  • Black (Korean drama)
  • On children (Chinese drama)
  • Fire walk with me (Twin Peaks movie)
  • Cold Case season 7
  • Boys over flowers (Korean version)
  • Reply 1994 (Korean drama)
  • Falling skies season 1
  • Mortal kombat
  • The vengeance trilogy by Park Chan-wook
  • Princess Mononoke

 

Closing note: the aim of this post is not to brag about how good I am at setting and accomplishing goals. First, because I’m not – and second, because I come from *years* of not knowing how to properly set and track my goals. So this is more to show the world that if I have gotten better at goals setting – well, any one can. Seriously.