Xīn Nián Kuài Lè (新年快乐) everyone! Xin Nian (新年) is “New Year”. Xin is new and Nian is year. Kuai le (快樂) is happiness, joy, delight, or rejoicings. So “Happy New Year” in English is “New Year Happy” in Chinese: Xīn Nián Kuài Lè! 🙂
So, a new year, new goals. Well, not so much “new” goals, but I am changing my approach a little bit. Nothing is changing with Pimsleur. I’m still plugging away at finishing a lesson every day or two until I am finished with all 90 lessons. 1/3 done!
I am, however, moving away from the FSI/DLI Standard Chinese, a Modular approach and substituting the DLI Basic Course ( available here: http://jlu.wbtrain.com/sumtotal/language/DLI%20basic%20courses/Chinese%20Mandarin/ ) . Why you may ask? The DLI course is slightly more current (1989 compared with 1983) but has better quality recordings. The material between the two is nearly identical until the latter half of the DLI course where it really takes off in terms of depth compared with the Standard course. The major difference that I have found is in the recordings. The overwhelming majority of the FSI/DLI Standard Chinese recordings are in English whereas the DLI Basic Course recordings are almost all in Mandarin. With such little time to devote to daily language studies, I need it to count! I need to be immersed in Mandarin, not English. Here is where the DLI Basic Course comes through. These recordings were developed for the DLI officers so they could immerse themselves in Mandarin outside of class. Thus, they were able to increase their exposure from 6 hours a day (classroom alone) to around 9 hours a day (classroom plus tapes) . So, for the standard 80 week program, the homework tapes would bring them from a total course-load of 2400 hours (assuming 30 hours a week) to 3600 (assuming 45 hours a week). Recall the minimum 2400 hours of study required for competence in a “Level IV” language such as Chinese. The DLI Basic Course tapes consist mostly of a relentless barrage of Mandarin spoken at natural speed (read: FAST!!!) with various accents of varying intelligibility to my novice ear. Quite the challenge, I must confess!
I’m starting with Unit 7 which is about the same corresponding level to where I left off with the FSI course. My goal is to master a MINIMUM of one unit a week x 26 weeks which would put me at Unit 33 in July. That is about 65% of the way through the entire course which should give me a pretty good command of spoken Mandarin by this Summer.
I have also been resistant to a well known method of learning the Chinese writing system called : Remembering the Hanzi: How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Chinese Characters by James W. Heisig. :
This book teaches the most common 1500 characters using stories and mnemonics so as to cement the meaning and method of writing each character in the students’ heads. I have been resistant to using this method but so many of my peers have enthusiastically recommended it, that I decided to take a look at it.
My main critique of this method is that it does not teach the “sounds” associated with each character, only the “meaning” of the character. This is INTENTIONAL for the method to work. It separates speaking and writing. This is something completely foreign to me, a native speaker of English, where a word’s pronunciation is forever linked with its written form! I had always wondered why Chinese programming is always broadcasted alongside Chinese character subtitles. It now makes sense. “Written Chinese” is almost identical whether it is Mandarin, Cantonese, Wu, Hakka, Min, Xiang or Gan ( some of the mutually unintelligible dialects of spoken Chinese) . The way each character is pronounced by these different dialects is completely different. A Mandarin speaker would probably have no clue what a Cantonese speaker was saying to him, but if he wrote it down, it would be perfectly clear! (assuming the Mandarin speaker had knowledge of the Traditional character set…) This course teaches the meaning of each of the character and links it to a little story so it is not forgotten. Some students claimed they have learned 1500 characters in 4 weeks using this method. The link between the character and its sound comes later in the learning process after the student has more of a spoken vocabulary. That is, after all, how we all learned our native languages. Who learns to write their language before they can speak it?? So, OK, I’ll give it a try. The material does go fairly fast so I should be able to master the 55 lessons by July. example:
This one is easy! You have one mouth making no noise (the choirmaster) and two mouths with wagging tongues (the mini- mum for a chorus). So when you hear the key word sing, think of the Vienna Boys’ Choir or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the character is yours forever. 
Here we see our famous magic wand hanging, all on its own, below the ceiling, as you probably already guessed would hap- pen. In addition to giving us two new characters, the two shapes in this and the preceding frame also serve to illustrate the difference between the primitive meanings for ceiling and floor: it all depends on whether the single horizontal line stands above or below the primitive element to which it is related. 
If I have any spare moment to relax (slim chance) through all this. I’ll attempt to do a little bit of Beginning Chinese Reader. I found recordings that follow the text – word for word. It is nice to listen and follow along with the text. It helps with my rapid character recognition and comprehension and it is (believe it or not) somewhat relaxing!
OK THEN! Here it is, the updated schedule!
- Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese II and III : one unit every 1-2 days
- DLI Basic Course : one lesson a week – minimum
- Remembering the Hanzi: two lessons a week
- Beginning Chinese Reader : bonus with free time
- Find Chinese conversation partners once the new semester commences 1-2 x / week