I have recently crossed a few milestones in my Chinese study. The most mechanical of which is that I re-enlisted in chinesepod for a fourth year. I also did something that is getting increasingly difficult with each passing week; I have studied all of the lessons in Cpod's archive (with some caveats). The third big milestone is that I recently took the HSK.
Cpod is still fun and has become my primary resource for learning Chinese. I was past newbie stage before CPod existed, but I think I would be further along if Cpod had existed when I started. I have yet to spend a single day in traditional class. Ken posted a question on how to encourage newbies. I would have been the kind of newbie he wants, had Cpod been around at the start, but I'm afraid the motivation to continue studying comes from within. I simply pick the most appropriate study materials I can find. I think there is not much Cpod could have done to light the original fire, but availability of interesting and fun materials keeps the fire from being extinguished.
As to studying all of the lessons, retention is a different matter. If I had every word from every lesson on the tip of my tounge, I would be fluent, which I am still not. Although, I think there are still many things that a native speaker would know the exact words for, that I would not. I think the sum of the material available on Cpod is still not equal to the amount of material one would encounter growing up and being educated in a Chinese speaking environment. As to the caveats, ok, I haven't more than listened casually to the Media lessons, by studying a newbie or elementary lesson, I just mean that I listen long enough to make sure I know the words in it, and there were some early advanced lessons that disappeared and I didn't save a copy when I had the chance.
The HSK was more interesting to attempt than I thought it would be. When I tried the sample test, I found I had to improve in three areas: listening to a short dialog and getting its meaning on the first hearing, improve my reading speed by not stopping to look things up when I encountered an unrecognized word, and my ability to write characters by hand was near zilch. I don't know if I passed, yet. I left the test feeling that I might not have, but I think the discipline of preparing for the test did improve my Chinese. (I could score around level 4 on the practice tests, but the actual test seemed harder.)
Well, the experiment will continue.
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