Learning Chinese: 2019 Progress

I have been learning Chinese off and on for many years, but rarely with much seriousness. Most of it was watching shows and absorbing semi-passively. But in the last few years I’ve been thinking about taking a more active role in my learning.

What I want to be able to do with Chinese:

  • Translate my own thoughts/articles (easy ones, not the highly philosophical ones)
  • Be able to access any popular fiction/nonfiction book or online news article I want to read without it being agonizingly slow and painful
  • Be able to speak more fluently (say, give a 5-minute talk on any everyday subject)
  • Write/translate songs

I estimate that I probably have a vocabulary of 2000-4000 words, but that’s a seriously wild guess. I am able to understand most spoken everyday Chinese and read at an elementary level, painstakingly. But I want to improve my speed and comprehension and especially production ability.

2019 Progress

Originally I wanted to test myself and see how much of the Wikipedia Chinese frequency list I understood. After going backwards from the hardest words to somewhere around the middle, I’ve narrowed it down to around 1,000 words I still need to learn. (Of course there’s more, but I need another 1,000 to be able to read more like a “native”)

  • I also copied out 500 unknown words from the iKnow newspaper list and have been using that in my Fibonacci SRS system (although at the moment, I have paused on that to focus on other things like music and Japanese)
  • I’ve been teaching myself using Chinese songs, trying to rewrite the lyrics from memory and making note of which words I don’t know.
  • I also use Readmoo to buy Chinese books to read and participate in their reading competitions.
  • I watch a ton of Chinese youtube vloggers as well as Chinese TV programs from mainland China and Taiwan. Things like Qi Pa Shuo, Zhe Jiu Shi Chuang Zuo, and other competition-based programs are particularly fascinating for me, especially if it has to do with debate/music/the arts.
  • Every once in a while I have a “language partner” that I practice with, although she lets me cheat too often ๐Ÿ˜‰
  • In the beginning of 2019, I was hand-copying a book about writing in Chinese. The goal was to copy half a page per day and look up the words I didn’t know. I quit halfway through the book and the year for now, but the muscle memory was good practice.
  • Since May 2018, I’ve been writing blog posts in Chinese. At first it was 3 x 300-word posts per week, but now I’ve turned it into 2 posts per week: 1) translate 3 pages of a novella and 2) original thoughts on any topic (usually life lessons and language learning) 500+ words.

For the rest of the year, my focus is going to be on Japanese, primarily, but I will continue passive learning in Chinese through internet shows. I’ve also decided to do a deep dive study into homophones/rhymes (using a pinyin/zhuyin chart) as well as radicals (created a Fibonacci system for those).

The pinyin/zhuyin chart will probably be a multi-year project, if I can create enough justification, motivation, and perseverance to finish it. A friend and I will be putting it on her language learning site once we’ve gotten it off the ground.

The idea is to make a chart of all the possible pronunciation of characters in the Chinese language, linking to separate pages that include all of those words with their meanings and most common/helpful uses in characters and phrases. As there are 800+ pronunciations and tens of thousands of commonly used characters, I probably need to come up with a better/truncated system to get to only the most important characters. We’ll see.