Learning Chinese

Next month I’m heading off to southern China for 3 weeks to help on an education project related to the work I used to do full time.

I worked in China as a consultant for a little while back in the early 2000’s but I’ve only recently picked up on that again and it forms a really interesting part of my patchwork lifestyle. This year I will probably spend about 8 weeks in total in China.

My last trip was to north east China in November 2012 and I was dumbstruck (literally) by the changes that I saw there, but mostly by my apparent lack of any of the tiny amount of Chinese language I previously had. With languages it really is a case of use it or lose it.

So with the trip looming I decided to brush up on my Mandarin and I thought I’d share a little of the process I am using to do that, not because I think you want to learn Chinese necessarily, but because of the techniques and resources I’ve been using. These can be adapted and applied to anything you want to learn, but they are particularly useful for language learning.

First up then is that I didn’t learn English by reading about it. The best way to learn is to do, so I am looking forward very much to having the piss taken out of me in China as I insist on speaking my version of Mandarin in order to improve. But to learn the basics ahead of that, I am using a completely¬† unique Chinese language course which is available for free. If you are interested it’s here.

The unique aspect is that the course is progressive and is focused on speaking and character comprehension as you go. By progressive I mean that each short lesson leads on from the one before to really help you to build language skills and to force you to review previous lessons, as the amount of English used gradually decreases.

So this process of learning to speak, while building association with the written language and forced review is something that I am finding very motivational indeed. Each lesson is short also, which is ideal for helping me too form a learning habit around the course materials.

So, the lessons alone have covered most of the bases of learning Chinese quickly and thoroughly, but in order to make progress as quickly as possible I am using a process of review that makes it even easier to absorb and recall the material at will. This is based on building an easy review tool.

To do this I am using Mindmaps. If you don’t know about Mindmaps, you should tap into some of Tony Buzan’s books on the subject. Briefly a Mindmap is a tool for taking notes in a non-linear fashion, and that allows you to get ideas down quickly in a way that makes later review much easier and intuitive.

So, for each short Chinese lesson I make a Mindmap with a central image that tells me which lesson it is and a main branch for each separate item covered in the lesson.

Coming out from each branch I have further branches for each additional piece of information on each item as it is covered in the lesson along with the associated Chinese characters. This helps me to recall the information as I write it in to the Mindmap and gives me practice in character drawing and syllable association with the character.

I then scan the brightly coloured image into my laptop as a pdf and put the original into a little home made flip pad. The flip pad I can use to review progress and get back up to speed before the next lesson whilst at home. The pdfs then build up into similar digital flip pad on my laptop, that I can access anytime; I will probably use this a lot when I am actually in China to refresh my memory.

The combination of a really well thought out, beautifully delivered online course and a structured Mindmap note taking and review process is proving a very powerful learning tool for me.

I am now applying the same technique to another well delivered online course on HTML, something I’ve been meaning to work on for a long time and its working very well.

Whats your experience of learning new stuff and what are you learning at the moment?

Photo thanks to Dave Morrow via Compfight