For those who don’t know — a Reddit AMA is an open “Question and Answer” session that takes place on Reddit (AMA=Ask Me Anything). Two weeks ago, we opened up our laptops and held our own AMA on the Chinese Language subreddit. The questions ranged from “How does one improve listening skills?” to “How do you pronounce Gwilym?” It was a great opportunity for us to directly communicate with the Chinese language learning community and we plan to continue these AMA sessions monthly… subscribe to our Facebook Events to get notifications on when a session is coming up!
In the meantime, read more for our six favorite questions from the session with extended answers for this blog! Also, don’t miss the exclusive Promo Code for a free month of our Annual Premium Subscription on ChinesePod at the end of the post.
#1: Learning to have an ear for Chinese… outside of China
How does one improve listening skills? Every time I hear a sentence in Chinese, I have to pause the video/audio to mentally parse the sentence and try to figure out the meaning. This happens for all but the simplest beginner sentences. Please note that I have no Chinese friends to practice with, and I’m from Croatia, so even Skype etc is nigh impossible to organize due to timezones. -@Blastimir
Fiona: Advice to improve your listening skills does vary from level to level, but it sounds like you are on the right track. I think the pause and digest method is great because it means you are actively listening for comprehension. I know of very advanced learners that watch political chats shows online and do the exact same thing as you – listen, pause, note down interesting or difficult phrases. So all in all, don’t worry about not understanding everything, it’s totally normal and just part of the process. On that note, one of the best methods for learning to listen is mass input — the type of processing you get when you live in a Chinese-speaking country is the easiest way to dramatically improve your listening skills.
Gwilym: To jump in real quick on the benefit of mass input… when I began learning Chinese in the UK, I actually bought a subscription to ChinesePod. ChinesePod’s lessons were the closest thing to being aurally surrounded by the language… I listened to the lessons during workouts, while folding laundry, on my commute to work. I noticed my ability to process Chinese had improved more in two months then it ever did just working by myself. At that time, the ChinesePod library had one thousand or so lessons so I did quite a few repeats. Now we are coming up on four thousand, so I can only imagine how much easier it would be to pick it up and begin learning what you want, when you want.
#2: How to Study Chinese On-The-Go
I’ve got one hour available each day to study Chinese, with no other time during the day to practice or speak with anyone. I want to learn to speak, read and write. I am a “newbie”. What is the best way to use my daily hour? -@Ard0324
Gwilym: it is quite easy to get in a solid hour-long study session everyday that covers Listening, Character Recognition, Memorization, and Speech… just by utilizing the Chinese learning resources available to you on the internet. Here are my recommendations:
- Listening: I actually listened to ChinesePod newbie lessons on my walk to work back in 2012. That was a 15 minute walk, and luckily the lessons are usually 10-15mins long at that level. I saw dramatic improvements in my listening ability just by making a habit of listening to ChinesePod lessons.
- Memorization: Look into reading books about memorization… they are chock-full of memorization hacks that will be super-useful in general. I highly recommend Moonwalking with Einstein, a book that delves into the world of memory championships. It highlights the guy that started Memrise.com which is another good website for learning chinese characters. Also, make use of Anki for hardcore flashcard study… they have a mobile app that makes it easy to study whenever. I downloaded the Anki decks for HSK1 and HSK2 and used them everyday.
- Character Recognition: There are two apps that I find to be killer for nailing down character recognition. The first of these is Skritter… start with their Intro course, then download one of their wordlists which are divided up categorically. The other cant-miss app for character recognition is Written Chinese. Utilize their app and their blog for some great hacks on memorizing characters efficiently. Also, an awesome new app by Outlier Linguistics just got crowd-funded on KickStarter… I am excited to see it come to fruition.
- Speech: For speaking, at a Newbie level, I would recommend recording yourself when you are on your own. Try and repeat phrases when listening to one of the ChinesePod lessons. Look at objects around you and try to say them out loud in Chinese… If you don’t know the name of it, use a dictionary like Pleco to look it up. When you are in a space that might be awkward for speaking out loud, listen to your recordings and assess how you are doing. When you have gained some confidence in your speech you can try ordering things like Tea if you’re living in Asia or get on Skype and talk to a native.
- Other Tips: I would read up on blogs that teach learning tips. I am a big fan of Hacking Chinese, Sinosplice, Chinese Hacks. One of the best ways to organize all of these articles is by creating your own RSS Feed dedicated to learning Chinese. Check out Inoreader… it is a super easy to use, visual RSS reader.
Dedicate twenty to sixty minutes of study a day and you will be at an elementary level in no time.
#3: Figuring out The Finals
How do you guys differentiate between -an -ang -en -eng in speech? I can hear the difference when hearing these finals one after the other, but in a sentence it seems really tough… -@Blastimir
Fiona: The finals can be very tricky when starting out, but as you build a greater foundation of vocabulary and phrases, you’re going to understand more and more through context. I always advise my students to learn chunks of vocab rather than focusing on individual characters. This will also help you improve your overall listening.
Also, we are starting a video series on Pronunciation that targets those hard-to-learn sounds… subscribe to our blog to be notified once these lessons are released!
#4: Give Me the Scoop on ChinesePod
I don’t really know Chinesepod… first time I checked I remember the dialogues seemed ‘dumbed down’, very unnatural. Surely I’m wrong and you made plenty of interesting podcasts I hadn’t the chance to listen to, so what is your favourite podcast? On all the podcasts you made, which one would you recommend to start with? -@journeytothekanywest
Fiona: This question is a bit tough to answer considering we are now close to four thousand lessons. It really depends on your level and interests. We have such an extensive range of topics for every skill level: from advanced lessons that cover political scandals to newbie lessons that teach you how to say “There’s a Cockroach in My Soup“.
The dialogues are designed to be appropriate for the skill level of the listener… this is why some of the beginner lessons might sound different to a conversation you would overhear on the street — the conversation is slowed down and words are emphasized. The aim is for learners to understand and digest the language rather than throwing them in the deep end.
However, if you listen to the more advanced lessons, the dialogue is spoken with natural native speed. It really depends on what you are after with regards to your skill level.
I would also recommend checking out our “Qing Wen请问” video series… I think this might be an interesting starting point on ChinesePod. Qing Wen means “May I Ask a Question?” and we cover loads of fun and interesting Chinese learning questions from the ChinesePod community that you are almost guaranteed to never learn in a classroom.
#5: Chinese Music for Learning… Hold the C-Pop
Do you have any music recommendations, preferably not c-pop? I’ve found music one of the better and more relaxing ways of learning a new language and am always looking for something new. -@dfjsldkgjsklgjsrensd
Fiona: I chuckled a little when I saw the question, because I’m definitely in the camp where I feel like every KTV trip with my mates ends up being a giant c-pop concert. I think if you are looking for non-ballad/cpop type music you could venture into some classic oldies or you could explore more indie scenes. Here’s an oldie that always tugs on my heart strings: 齊豫 by Chyi Yu
Gwilym: Yea, also check out this collaborative playlist I just put together on Spotify… these are some of my tunes I like…PLEASE add the songs that you love to listen too… the more options for listening, the better 🙂
- from @ChalkyWubnub: One of my favs, too. 鄭智化 – 水手
- from @DryChyne: Give 豆瓣音乐 a try. A lot of indie music and lesser known artists.
- from @Abergall: If you’re into rap, Zhong.tv is a youtube channel that has a lot of Chinese rap. Some of it’s in Cantonese or other Chinese languages, but there’s plenty in Mandarin.
#6: Give Me All Teh Moviez
Which TV comedy shows and/or movies would you recommend for listening Chinese? I loved 赤壁 and 洗澡, but then who didn’t? 🙂 -@Blastimir
Fiona: You have to watch “Let the Bullets Fly”; it is an epic film. You can also check out our most recent blog for more movie suggestions.
If you found these tips helpful, we think you will love the community-based learning experience of ChinesePod.
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