Sunday, 1 May 2016

Picking up the ball again

So with good intentions, I set out on a journey to learn Mandarin. Remember that? Well mate, BIG changes threw up a barrier to that great aspiration.

Maybe I already mentioned that I'm living in Siberia right now. It turned out that we had to duck home to Australia for new visas during last year. Rather than coming back to Siberia as a student again, I found myself a teaching job and here we all are, back in Siberia, on a working visa!


Well of course, that means I've been busy teaching English, rather than learning Mandarin!

Teaching English has been a huge learning curve for me, and my first year is about to come to a close. But along the way I've learnt a whole ton of things that I can apply to my own language-learning experience.

Those experiences will be exploited as I resume my previous challenge to learn Mandarin Chinese.

The good news now is that Summer holidays will begin very soon and I'll have a stack more time invest in stuff I want to do (as opposed to slaving over a hot keyboard preparing lesson plans).

Mandarin is one of those things I want to do.

So don't go away! Especially if you're a fellow learner. Let's continue on this Journey Into Mandarin Chinese together!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Great Poster! Now I'm a Radical Learner.

Yes, I'm a Radical Learner :-)

Well, that can be taken two ways, though I don't think I'm doing anything "radical" in my learning at this stage, apart from being silly enough to attempt it!

However, I had been looking around for a nice chart I can pin up on the dunny door (dunny = toilet in Aussie English).

I found one for free!

I'm very thankful to the fellow at who took the effort to create and refine this poster. I'm even more grateful that he makes it available for free!

I only wish I had larger format printer, as the A4 size means I have to squint to see the tones above the Pin-Yin words.

If you're after a nice chart and you have the funds (VERY reasonable prices in my opinion), check out his shop.

What are Radicals?

Why are you asking me? Don't forget I've only been at this for just over three weeks!

But let me try to briefly explain what I know so far, and correct me if I'm wrong.

One of the Chinese
words for "Mother".
The red radical is
"nǚ" meaning "woman".
Image from Wikipedia
Chinese script is made of a base set of 214 symbols called "radicals". These radicals get squished, contorted and shoved into different places to form an overall word. They are, therefore, the building blocks for all Chinese words.

Unfortunately for a dumb Westerner like me, these radicals do not "own" their own sounds, so it's not some magical alphabet like the ABCs which we can use to spell stuff.

So the hard work ahead is learning all these radicals, because once mastered, they often give clues to the actually meaning of the word they're used in.

Need an example? How about the Chinese word for TO HIT: 打

This word is made up of three radicals 手, 一, 亅 . The first radical in a word, from my limited experience, tends to be the important one. Here the leading radical is 手 (shǒu) meaning "hand". Hopefully this is enough to trigger your memory, that the word relates to an action using the hand and you then recall that it means "To Hit". If you're lucky.

I'm sure it's a lot more complex than that, but that's where I'm up to now.

I look forward to gaining more insight as time goes by!

What have you learnt? What methods of study to you use to aide memory retention?

Friday, 27 February 2015

Three weeks in, two standout apps

Well I've whipped up my second YouTube clip outlining my progress.

I can't say I'm taking leaps and bounds towards fluency! It's probably quite the opposite. I'm finding Chinese SUCH slow going! I guess if I had one-on-one lessons and all the time in the world, I'd be doing amazingly by now.

However, it's not all bad. I feel I've come a few steps further since Week One.

One of my struggles is memorising such strange sounds and matching them up to something real. I'll get it eventually I guess.

In the meantime, I've been very impressed with two apps. You better check them out too!

So I've continued on with Memrise and ChineseSkill. Check the YouTube clip for a brief overview. I might do something more in-depth later - especially on Memrise.

I've joined a Google+ community of Mandarin Chinese learners and speakers. I've had some great guidance there and feedback to my questions.

I tried to join a Facebook group "Mandarin Chinese Learning & Chinese Culture —— 漢語學習/中文学习/中國文化" but maybe I'm just not awesome enough, cos my request has been left pending for the past 3 weeks.

THEIR LOSS! They don't know what they're missing out on! :-P

OK, well I hope you enjoy my latest YouTube clip. I'd love to hear your feedback.

What apps are you using?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

First YouTube clip posted

This week I've uploaded the first in a series (hopefully) of video updates. Check out my first YouTube clip this blog:

It's been a pretty busy week for me since I began this "Journey into Mandarin" last Friday. It hasn't left me with much chance to study, but I have made some progress nevertheless.

My week was filled with the study of a different language! I was busy in the books (or actually, in the computer) preparing for a Russian language / culture / law exam, which, if I pass, completes the first step of the process in becoming a temporary resident here in Russia.

That's another story.

The fact is though, that Russian and English are quite far removed. Russian grammar is particularly hard for me, as a native English speaker.

However, it's turning out that Chinese involves a complexed NEW set of challenges! Grammar isn't a part of that challenge yet (so far, so good). The lack of a real alphabet adds a new level of difficulty - says I.

That's not where the difficulties end. Enter the tones!

Let's say I do remember how to recognise, for instance, the Chinese character for King (王), and I remember the word is "Wang". If I fail to remember the tone, I'm gonna sound like a tool.

So for WEEK ONE I've just been learning vocabulary using what have become my two favourite apps. Memrise and Chinese Skill. I'm finding that only a very few words hang around in my long term memory (though 1 week is still hardly long enough to qualify as long-term). And by "hang around", I mean both the WORD, TONE and MEANING. The character itself is a bonus.

One thing I have been trying to do, in order to consolidate what I learn, is to try and write the characters as I learn them and occasionally draw a little pic.

For your humour, on the right is a page of my first attempt at Chinese characters. I have no idea at this stage of the correct stroke order. Hook me up with an online tutorial if you know one!

Until next time... 再见!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Top resources I've found so far

Wow, speaking Chinese feels really weird.

Growing up in a small rural town in Australia, I was never really exposed to foreign languages. In fact, I shamefully admit that, in our narrow-minded way, most of us were a bit racist towards foreigners.

If we did chance to see or hear an asian, we would mock the sounds we heard, like "ching chong chow!" and laugh about it. (Note: my attitude changed later on, when I became a huge Jackie Chan fan!)

The fact is, speaking Chinese feels really weird to me. To think those strange sounds can actually fit together to make a word or even a sentence!

So my first couple of days has involved learning the four tones and trying to separate them so they sound different.

I'm used to being able to take a word in English (or even Russian) and say it with different emphasis or intonation and have it still mean the same thing. However, Chinese is way different. It seems I need to stick fairly rigidly to the tones, otherwise I might accidentally call my mum a horse!

So I've gotten myself a chart to help me remember the tones. Here's what Google helped me turn up. I like this picture because it's simple and the tones are numbered.

As I said before, I won't be spending money on this learning project, as I think the world is loaded up with freebies if you're willing to dig.

So far, I've found some pretty good resources for learning Chinese. Here is a short list. I might talk about these more specifically as time goes by IF they turn out to be effective.

WEBSITES: turns out to be quite a find, I think. I can't even remember how I found it. There are free college-level courses on this site, one of which is Chinese for Beginners through the Peking University. is one I have bookmarked and will come back to. It seems to be loaded with useful resources. I was particularly looking for help on how to write in Chinese. rocks! It's an online dictionary with audio and large pictures of the chinese characters. Going back to the base url - - there are bucketload of other nifty tools.


ChineseSkill - (available for iOS too)
I originally went looking for DuoLingo in Chinese, but it turns out it has been a long time in development. Someone in the comments section suggested the ChineseSkill app, and the follow up comments suggested it was a cut above the rest. Check it out!

MemRise - (website:, iOS too)
I was talking to a friend just this afternoon. I knew "spaced repetition" was the big thing in vocabulary learning, but I had never heard of MemRise until she showed me it on her phone. It appears to be much more feature-rich than Anki or other such SRS apps. I like it, though I've only done around 30 mins on it so far.


I've gotten myself a dictionary. I chose the Berlitz Mandarin Chinese dictionary because I really love the font size, the blue headwords, the extra pages of grammar notes on the inside. But MOST of all, I love the quality of the binding, print and pages. The cover is a kind of polymer plastic thingy which feels really durable and weather resistant (like, I could sit my cuppa coffee on it).

So, that's where I'm at after my first weekend learning Mandarin Chinese! I'm pretty pumped about going to uni on Tuesday (I have Monday off) and stunning my Chinese classmates with as many Chinese phrases as I can master before then.

I reckon I'm going to be the class celebrity!

Are you learning Chinese? Or maybe another language?

I'd love to hear about the resources you've uncovered that you feel have been valuable in your learning process. I'm willing to give new things a try!

Comment below with your ideas and links.

Friday, 6 February 2015

First step on the Journey into Mandarin Chinese!

Am I crazy? You tell me...

I'm about to embark upon a personal journey into the orient. I'm determined to learn MANDARIN CHINESE! It may take forever, but let's give it a go, hey?

In fact... this idea is so fresh, irrational and spur-of-the-moment that I haven't even started learning yet!

I realise this is not like breaking new ground or doing something absolutely amazing. However, I'm going to blog my progress for the sake of you readers, and for my own future reading pleasure.

Blogging will keep me somewhat accountable, and I'll be forced to at least make some progress for my own dignity.

And so begins my


If you are learning Mandarin Chinese yourself, you might enjoy watching someone else struggle.

Will you pat me on the back and push me along?

So who am I? What kind of student will I be? Here is a TEN POINT profile on myself and my situation:

  1. I'm an adult. I'm almost 40 years old as I start this challenge
  2. I am married with FIVE kids! (Ages 7 months to 15 years)
  3. Although I'm an Australian, I currently live in Siberia.
  4. I speak a tiny bit of Dutch, which was the first foreign language I taught myself as a teenager
  5. Here in Siberia I am studying Russian at the local university. I guess you could say I'm upper-Intermediate in Russian.
  6. My Russian class is full of Chinese students. I will have plenty of language practice opportunities with them!
  7. By trade, I'm a graphic designer. Though I also love working with children. I also maintain a handful of other blogs.
  8. I have never been to China for longer than a 24 hour stopover.
  9. My career goal is to finally teach English online. Knowing Chinese is probably a pretty clever idea for this purpose.
  10. As you can imagine, all this makes me a very busy lad with very little time for learning Mandarin Chinese.

Above all this, apart from a good Chinese dictionary, I don't intend to spend a cent on my learning journey.


Well, I'll have a pretty good crack at it!

Are you learning a language?
Comment below with your study ideas and success stories. Share your list of free resources.