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Working without a net - Learning Chinese

Popularity 1Viewed 5257 times 2013-6-6 02:10 |System category:Life| Learning, Chinese, alone

In a previous blog entry,, I talk about trying to learn Chinese alone.

In English, the phrase "working without a net" means that you are working without any safety checks or any help - that is, if you make a mistake there's no way to recover from it. That's how I feel sometimes trying to learn Chinese.

The audio CDs for my textbooks and workbooks arrived today so I can use the audio to do the workbook exercises. It's comforting to find that the "normal speed" dialogs actually feel slow to me after going to China so many times, and even the "fast speed" dialogs are not too fast for me to understand.

Because I am a college professor (though in a completely different field), I managed to convince the publisher of the textbook I am using to learn Chinese to send me the answer keys. I promised to keep the keys to myself, so please don't ask me to share them. So, now I have the answer keys and the audio needed for the workbooks so I can finally check my work!

However, that alone is still not enough. I'm not worried about pronunciation, because I have been told by many people that my pronunciation is excellent. I am worried about knowing if I am learning correctly. One problem with written answer keys and checking your own work is that there is often more than one way to say something, especially in Chinese. I can try to avoid some of that by making sure I only use words that have been covered so far in the textbook, such as using 可是 because it is used in the book even though I've learned from my friends that 但是 would be more natural in most of those situations.

For example, one exercise in my textbook gives me phrases and asks me to arrange them in order to form a sentence. The sentence is something along the lines of "I'd like to invite you to dinner tonight, how about it?" (Not exactly natural English phrasing, but it communicates the Chinese syntax well.) I interpreted that to mean that I was asking the person to join me tonight for dinner, so I wrote *我请你今天晚上吃饭,怎么样?*  (the ** indicate that something is or may be incorrect). The "correct" answer in the answer key is 今天晚上我请你吃饭,怎么样? Can anyone tell me if or why the placement of the 今天晚上 matters? To my English-speaking mind, placing 今天晚上 first indicates that I asked you this evening (the time when I asked the question was this evening), while placing it after 你 (again, to my English-speaking mind) indicates that I am asking you about eating dinner this evening.

Does anyone have any suggestions for how I can know when the differences between my answer and the book's answer is just a minor difference and when it is significant? What is the scope of 今天晚上 in either sentence (that is, how much of the sentence does it directly modify)?

The approach I am going to take for now is to note the differences and to ask my Chinese friends and colleagues for help when I'm stuck. This goes back to my previous blog entry where I talk about having help with reaching goals. There are some things that are just much easier to learn with help, but not all of us can afford the time or money to take a year off from work and go study a language full-time.

Does anyone else have any ideas on how to deal with these issues in language learning?

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Comment Comment (2 comments)

Reply Report pawel.tsai 2013-6-7 12:34
You are in China right? Just speak Chinese as much as possible. One day, you will find that it is just a habit why People used to say 今天晚上 at first.
Reply Report querist 2013-6-8 01:48
pawel.tsai: You are in China right? Just speak Chinese as much as possible. One day, you will find that it is just a habit why People used to say 今天晚上 at firs ...
I'm in the US right now. I travel to China twice each year, but I live in the USA which makes it hard for me to have opportunities to speak Mandarin.

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Ph.D. in Computer Science (Security) and also a physician, I travel to China on business a few times each year. I am learning Mandarin (and some Cantonese because I travel to HK and GZ) and intend to take the HSK in 2015 (before I turn 50).


Recent comments

  • Just a short note 2014-5-10 10:24

    Vocabulary seems to be the hardest thing to learn. Chinese grammar is logical, but learning vocabulary (especially to read) is a challenge when I have few opportunities to speak the language. I really wish I could live in China for a while.

  • Just a short note 2014-4-2 12:16

    good luck to you.

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