I thoroughly enjoyed my challenge of learning Arabic in three months. I’m very happy that I made a considerable amount of progress in a relatively short period of time. I will definitely come back to build upon my foundation in Arabic at some point … but for now, I have given myself a new challenge…
I have always had an interest in the Chinese languages, specifically Mandarin. I enjoy the musical quality of spoken Mandarin and am eager for the opportunity to speak a language in tones. I have always been mystified by the beauty and complexity of the Chinese script and long for a better understanding of it. Chinese culture is fascinating and the thought of being able to travel independently “off the beaten path” in China makes me swoon in anticipation. I enjoy Chinese cinema and would love to be able to understand movies in Mandarin without reliance on English subtitles. Last, but not least, how could an amateur linguist, such as myself, not have some knowledge of the most spoken, native language on earth; a language spoken by nearly one quarter of its population? Thus, my next challenge for myself is to learn Mandarin Chinese.
I will attempt to reach the Interagency Language Roundtable level 2 or “limited working proficiency” in spoken Mandarin Chinese by June. What exactly is an ILR level 2 you might ask? The ILR scale was developed by the United States Government to provide a language proficiency scale that was objective and applicable to all languages and all Civil Service positions. The scale is also unrelated to any particular language course or curriculum. An expansion of this taken from the ILR website : http://www.govtilr.org/skills/ILRscale2.htm
The speaker :
- can handle with confidence, but not with facility, most social situations including introductions and casual conversations about current events, as well as work, family, and autobiographical information
- can handle limited work requirements, needing help in handling any complications or difficulties; can get the gist of most conversations on non-technical subjects (i.e. topics which require no specialized knowledge), and has a speaking vocabulary sufficient to respond simply with some circumlocutions
- has an accent which, though often quite faulty, is intelligible
- can usually handle elementary constructions quite accurately but does not have thorough or confident control of the grammar.
- is able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements.
My plan of attack is as follows.1. Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese – 90 lessons. ( 2 months) The Pimsleur method is ideal for a language like Chinese where the grammar is relatively simple ( no inflections, genders, or verb conjugations) and pronunciation is vital. My biggest criticism of Pimsleur with other languages has been that there is far more repetition than necessary and not enough emphasis on grammar and vocabulary. The whole course in total only teaches 500 or so vocabulary words which is far from what is required for working proficiency (despite what Simon and Schuster claim on the Pimsleur website) . For Mandarin, however, this is an advantage. The tones are drilled with relentless repetition until they come out naturally and effortlessly. I have heard that mastery of the correct tones is arguably the major obstacle to Westerners speaking passable Chinese. Pimsleur does a great job at establishing this foundation. I have already completed through unit 20 so I’ve only got 50 to go. Thank goodness my library has all 90 units so I don’t have to shell out the $700 for the complete course! 2. FSI/DLI Standard Chinese a Modular Approach – 9 modules ( 6+ months) This course has gotten great reviews from several successful Chinese self-learners and for good reason. This is an incredible course and it is free! What Pimsleur lacks in grammar and vocabulary is easily made up with this course. There are probably 3000+ pages of material ( I haven’t counted) and at least 2000+ vocabulary words contained in this monster course. There are also nearly 100 hours of mp3 recordings which accompany the texts. The only downside is that the entire course is transliterated into pinyin so no instruction in the Chinese script. Still, this is a small shortcoming for such a wonderful ( and free!) resource. I have no perception of how long it will take to get through each of the modules so I may need to adjust this timeline accordingly. 3. Script practice with Anki and Beginning Chinese Reader by John DeFrancis (6+ months) I just love Anki. It is easy to use and has a wealth of shared decks. Lucky for me a noble scholar added Chinese decks with the 3000 most frequent Chinese characters! Thank you whoever you are! They are divided into sub-decks of 500 which makes the task a little more manageable. I have also gone through the first 10 Lessons of Beginning Chinese Reader ( again, thank you library!) Even though this text is nearly 40 years old it works for me. It’s not flashy, there are no illustrations, there’s just Chinese in easily digestible lessons of 10 characters. People often ask why I jump around so much between different languages rather than sticking with one to complete mastery. I guess it all boils down to curiosity. I am inherently curious about different cultures, people, music languages and so forth. If I stuck with one language for a decade or so, it is true, I would be the master of one. But, just think of all the other languages and opportunities to learn about other cultures I would pass up as a result!? Nah, I like the “jack of all trades” approach!