Study Plan

I have become aware of this process in my brain:

  1. Think of a sentence in English. For example, “I want to learn to speak Chinese.”
  2. Begin at the start of the sentence and search my mental database of Chinese words (currently envisioned in my mind as scattered, disjointed pinyin, hopefully to transform into orderly rows of Chinese characters) for a corresponding word.
  3. Find “Wo3” readily but not the next word.
  4. Pause to search my brain and consider.
  5. Think, “Is ‘want’ ‘yao’ or ‘xiang’ or something else? What are the tones for ‘yao’ and ‘xiang'”?
  6. Go to Google Translate and type in “want.” “Ah, ‘xiang’ and third tone! Not bad!”
  7. Think, “Okay, ‘go’ is used for an infinitive. What is ‘go’? ‘Qu’? What tone?”
  8. Go to Google Translate. “Oh, good grief. ‘Zou3.’ Okay.”
  9. Put what I have together: Wo3 xiang3 zou3.
  10. “To learn? To learn? What was that? ‘Xue’ something?” Go to Google Translate.
  11. Find “Xuéxí” and give myself an “Awesome!” for the xue2 and wonder what the “xi” is. Make a note to ask my teacher. Decide to ditch the “xi” for now.
  12. Put it together: Wo3 xiang3 zou3 xue2.
  13. “Speak”? I’ve got that! “Shuo!” I *think* it’s first tone but I have some doubts. Check Google Translate. Find “Shuōhuà” and think, “I will *never* learn the difference between “shuo1” and “shuo1 hua4” and just go with “shuo1.”
  14. Put it together: Wo3 xiang3 zou3 xue2 shuo1.
  15. Now for “Chinese”! I know this! I can go with zhongwen, hanyu, or the formal term for Mandarin Chinese, pung something. What are the tones? Let me guess first. I’m going to go with zhong1 wen, han3 yu, and pungyo, but I think that’s “friend.”
  16. Check Google Translate. Think, “Oops, forgot second tone on ‘wen’: ‘zhong1 wen2’.” Skip over “hanyu” because Google Translate doesn’t work for entering pinyin. Laugh when I see “Pǔtōnghuà” for “Mandarin Chinese.” Think, “Not too bad.” Okay, now go to Han Trainer Pro and enter “hanyu.” Think, “Woo-hoo, *way* off on tones: ‘Hànyŭ’! Ah, well.”
  17. Put it together: Wo3 xiang3 zou3 xue2 shuo1 zhong1 wen2. [CORRECTION thanks to my teacher, Depeng: “There is a mistake in Google Translate: ‘to go’ is 去qu2, not 走zou3. zou3 is ‘walk.'” This is why it’s *crucial* to have an expert teacher and why it can be so perilous to be a self-study student of Mandarin Chinese online. Errors abound.]
  18. CORRECTION: Wo3 xiang3 qu2 xue2 shuo1 zhong1 wen2.
  19. Look at the time. Took about 20 minutes to create that sentence, including typing it up and feeding the cats.

What is missing from my study plan:

  • Practice in speaking Chinese with words I know so that I can speak for perhaps 10 minutes in a row – however badly – without pauses for instruction in English. I need my brain to focus solely on thinking and communicating in Chinese. I don’t know if the idea of “muscle memory” is supported by research, but I am trying to create the equivalent of mental muscle memory for continuous thinking and speaking in Chinese. Learning Chinese reminds me of coding in HTML. When I hear English in the midst of my attempt to think and speak in Chinese, I am disconnected from my thinking process. As a result of the interruption, I have to retrace my previous steps before I can begin where I left off. Unfortunate! But it’s the way my mind is currently working.

What I seek from my instructors:

  • Willingness to tolerate the distress of hearing my errors without correcting them – until I am finished! At that time, I will treasure expert feedback and correction!
  • Willingness to tolerate the distress of watching me struggle and not helping me.
  • Willingness to tolerate the maddeningly long pauses while I search my brain, online sites, and my notes to find the words. (I will not be insulted by instructors doing other things while they wait.)
  • Finding a text that we can read aloud together and discuss that provides all three: Chinese characters, pinyin, and English. Further, it needs to be a story – even if only a paragraph long – that helps foster creating narratives in my mind. I am learning vocabulary words and phrases but they are scattered like confetti (or broken glass!) and I’m struggling to make and convey meaning with them. I have found two graded readers at the HSK 1 level available through Amazon in print or on the Kindle – this one about Xiaoming and this one about Guo Guo – but I haven’t found an instructor with access to either of them. I am open to using another text. Chinese-only texts are plentiful but I do not yet read Chinese characters. Also, text recommendations need to have large print/large font options.

Here are the activities and materials I am trying as I attempt to learn a beginning level of Mandarin Chinese such that I can 1) read pinyin and 2) listen to spoken Mandarin Chinese at a proficient enough level to pass the HSK 1 exam. My ultimate intention is to acquire Mandarin Chinese as a second language: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.







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If interested, this is the story of how I got started and my early study plan.

Here is a repeat of the link about a Beginning Mandarin Chinese Conversation Group.

Here is a link to italki instructor Andy Zhang‘s Google docs list of songs, videos, and websites for beginning students of Chinese (opens in a new tab for easy viewing).

Highlights from Andy’s list:

Andy’s Beginning Chinese Playlist:

Andy’s Chinese Songs Playlist:

**Remember that tones are not differentiated when Chinese is sung**

Films for Beginners in Chinese:

Learning Chinese Conversation

Baby Panda’s Magic Tie

A website with full length Chinese movies/TV shows popular in China

Learn Chinese with Movies For shorter films/movies specifically for beginners

Additional Helpful Playlists (For HSK 1)