Just an ordinary girl's life

Tag: self learning chinese

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!

{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.


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).



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.


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!


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 🙂