Some of these practices are common sense and well known, others are relatively unknown, and a few are picked up after awhile. But after seeing what worked here, getting feedback from existing users and searching the boards after a few years of subscribing, talking with fluent and native speakers, here’s what seems to work for users that want to seriously learn Chinese reasonably well (or any language for that matter). These 12 are a collection of various study strategies that subscribers said worked for them at various times. Notwithstanding the usual disclaimers around “everyone’s learning styles being different”, these recommendations will offer you working Chinese if you put them into practice and stick with them:
1. Put the time in: 1 hour per day minimum or more. Don’t bother with a couple of minutes here and there. You’ll only end up forgetting that little bit you practiced, and have to learn it all over again.
2. Constant pace: no 3 hours on one day, then nothing for 2 weeks: almost the same thing as in number 1, but here, you stress study over weeks and months.
3. Shadow like crazy: thanks to Simonpettersson, I was introduced to this method, and though it’s challenging, it also works. A practice discussed at length by Antonio Arguelles, this is a method that requires you to speak over a lesson so that you hear yourself making the same pronunciation as the speaker. One of the greatest reasons to have a Cpod subscription is that it allows you to download lessons into a portable format and shadow.
4. Speak out LOUD – worth it. Thinking along with the lesson is not the speaking practice you think it is. Hearing yourself make verbal mistakes with the cpod lesson is valuable feedback, and why cpod is a very valuable tool.
5. 10 new words/day- challenging, but doable. Going through a cpod lesson at the newbie level is probably giving you 10 new words at first, then less than 10 words.
6. Review and consolidate regularly - probably need to do this weekly at least, maybe daily for more effectiveness.
7. Practice speaking to others – speaking forces you to put together sentences that are of your own making, forcing you to work though grammar and sentence structure. All good practice.
8. First time learners: DO NOT USE PINYIN AT FIRST – fluent speakers that learned well recommended this approach, and I buy it. Nothing destroys tones faster than learning pinyin as a starting point. Best to learn using Chinese pod lessons, and listen to them over and over. I recommend 100 hours worth of listening time before even looking at pinyin. After 100 hours, pinyin is a helpful tool on the path toward mandarin understanding. Not before. I remember the first time I heard zhun3 bei4 in a lesson, and seeing it in pinyin was significantly different from what I thought the pronunciation was. Further, native speaking Chinese kids do not learn pinyin at first either.
9. Goto China, or at least plan to go to China – nothing motivates deeper study of Chinese faster than planning a trip to China. Once you realize you’re going to China, you move from casual interest to “holy cow, I’m going to need this!” shifts into overdrive.
10. Speaking first, characters second - only focus on the characters first if you can pick up characters with as much speed as you can pick up spoken words.
11. Integrate speed and accents over time - technique over speed.
12. Get an mp3 player. I can’t bring myself to use the “i” word but using the cpod lessons on the go makes reviewing, speaking out loud, putting the time in, constant pace, and shadowing easier. In fact, it’s really hard to shadow correctly without an mp3 player.
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