Language goals 2018: 普通话 (Mandarin!)

by Inês Carvalho

This blog post is coming a bit late, I know! But I had a lot of work to do, and I also wanted to try out some resources before setting a plan for language learning in 2018.

I suppose you’ve guessed it by now… in 2018 my goal is to learn… Mandarin! Yeay! I want to finally become (relatively) fluent in a non-European language.

I attended a Mandarin course about eight years ago, but after the first year almost everyone gave up, except for two people. Therefore, the university decided not to open a second-level Chinese course.

At the time, I decided to keep learning by myself, so I finished the course book we were using and I even bought the course book for the next level. I was never able to say a lot in Chinese, but I learnt the basics (about A1 level), I could speak a little bit and I studied about 400 characters (“studied”… it doesn’t mean that I actually remembered them).

I stopped studying Chinese in 2011 because I started my PhD at the time and I had no free time in the first semester. In mid-2012 I finally had the time to study languages again, but I wanted to start something new, so I did a short Japanese course and then I started studying Swedish by myself since I was going to move to Sweden in September 2012. The last thing I wrote in Chinese was an e-mail to  a Chinese girl who was renting out a room in Sweden. I don’t think my Chinese was brilliant, but it worked, because out of 35 applicants, she picked me immediately! This is what I wrote at the time:

我叫 Inês。 我是一个葡萄牙学生。 我在LiU大学学习 Gender studies。 我要和你一起住! 我爱 Ryd Linköping, 也在 Ryd 有很多朋友。
我是女人, 没有狗还没有猫 哈哈 I don’t have pets and I don’t smoke!
我认为学习汉语语言和文化很有意思。我只学习了一年仲文, 所以我的中文很差。我的中文很差, 但是我很爱写中文哦。


在中国, 你来自哪里?

I hope my Chinese isn’t too bad :))) Please, take me!! 🙂 Hope my Chinese skills impressed you hehehe just kidding, but I gave my best!!
Last year I realised that I urgently needed to go back to learning Chinese, otherwise I was at risk of forgetting all that I had learnt before!
At the end of 2017 my feeling was that I only remembered very little Chinese. I decided that I would study everything from the beginning but using better resources this time. I think that the resources my teachers used when I first learnt Chinese were outdated. They taught us characters and grammar structures, instead of teaching us useful phrases. When I went on learning by myself after the Chinese course ended, I should have changed the resources and the method. For each word I learnt I always learnt to HANDWRITE the character and I would get upset whenever I couldn’t write them. The problem was that this perfectionism made learning a very slow process. Had my focus been on speaking the language and writing using pinyin (based on Latin letters) to introduce the characters in the mobile phone or computer, I would have been able to reach a much higher Chinese level.
Nowadays I am a  much more skilled language learner than in 2010 (I hope), so let’s talk about language goals and resources.
My goal in 2018 is to be able to use Chinese to speak about areas of immediate relevance (personal information, family, shopping, employment, asking for directions, travelling), express opinions about simple topics or describe experiences and personal interests. Hence, I would describe it as reaching a point between A2 and B1 level. I’d like to aim higher, but I also have a demanding a time-consuming career, so my language goals have to be more modest.
I took some time to do some research on the best learning resources out there. After my successful experience with Italian, I searched for YouTube channels with videos for Chinese newbies and I found these ones:

YouTube channels are an awesome away of learning languages! I don’t have a lot of time to sit and study, so this way I can watch the videos while I’m eating or listen to them while cleaning or cooking. That’s how I learned Italian, and I think that this strategy will also work for other languages.

I also looked for podcasts. For now, I’m following ChinesePod, and I listen to it mostly when I’m on the bus (unfortunately I spend too much time on buses… fortunately there are podcasts!). ChinesePod‘s website is really cool too! I highly recommend it (though I think that at some point you have to pay to use it).

As to course books, I’m starting New Practical Chinese Reader 1. This is going to be my main resource. My plan is to finish this book by the end of February, then study New Practical Chinese Reader 2 for three or four months and then do New Practical Chinese Reader 3. I plan to study four lessons a week at the beginning while the lessons are still easy and there’s more that I can remember, and then slow down a bit as lessons get more complicated, probably to one or two lessons a week.

As to speaking practice, I’ve already found a nice exchange group in Lisbon and I think it’s going to be fun and motivating.

After my first week of Chinese learning, I’m highly motivated and I’ve realised that I can remember so much more than I had thought at the beginning! I told my boyfriend that my goal was to be able to have a simple conversation with a friend of his who is from Taiwan by the end of March, and he has already shared with him my goal, so now I really have to learn Mandarin because I don’t want to disappoint them!

As to the remaining languages, my plan is:

  • recover my C2 Spanish (sniff) and remove as much as possible Italian interference;
  • B and C level languages (i.e. French, Italian, Swedish, German, English, Dutch): listen to podcasts, YouTube videos, movies, maybe read literature in these languages, find language buddies and hang out with them every now and then;
  • A level languages (Japanese, Esperanto): do some Memrise or Duolingo so that at least I don’t forget the basics I’ve learnt. In Esperanto, I want to keep on doing lessons in every once in a while.

You can follow my language progress and tips on Instagram: @ines_wordwideweb

Happy 2018, you language freaks! Or… 新年快乐! 🙂