Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Current State of My Chinese Study

Recently, I've been studying Chinese really well. I still feel far from "fluent" and wish I was leaps and bounds better, but I'm not sure I'll ever feel that great about my Chinese.

I'm beginning to realize more and more that, for me, studying Chinese is a lot like playing the guitar: I'll never be satisfied with where I'm at. I'd be lying to myself if I said that I haven't improved (in both guitar and Chinese), but I just feel so far from where I want to ultimately be.

Although frustrating, I'm not sure that having such resistant feelings towards contentment is a bad thing.

I'm 100% committed to SuperMemo. Avid readers of my blog know that I began using the spaced repetition study method this past Spring.

It is simply unbelievable. I don't know where I would be without SuperMemo. Trying to learn Chinese without it seems incomprehensible to me now. I turned my two best friends in Xi'an on to SuperMemo and the three of us are fully committed.

The following photos show just how strong my commitment actually is:

I'm now up to pile "BJ" on my Chinese flashcards. This means that I've already used "A" through "Z", "AA" through "AZ," and have recently gone from "BA" to "BJ."

By my calculation, that means I have 62 piles of flashcards integrated into my SuperMemo study method. I roughly have between 25 and 35 flashcards in each of those piles. So that means I have between 1,550 and 2,170 Chinese flashcards made.

I'd say that all of those are more or less part of my working vocabulary. Theoretically, I should know the pinyin, tones, Chinese characters, and English translation of every card in every one of those piles. Of course I don't know 100% of all these cards at any given time, but I'm getting there.

In addition to being a Chinese flashcard fiend, I'm still using my text book to develop my skills with the language.

Here are some photos from the chapter I covered last week with my teacher:

This is the last page of the previous chapter. At the end of each chapter, there is a passage with tons of new vocabulary. As you can see, there were a number of new words for me here. There are also a few reading comprehension questions to chew on. This is a traditional Chinese folk story about why the moon often looks so sad.

The beginning of Chapter 18. This is an article about the benefits and drawbacks of living in "the era of cards." The "cards" this chapter is referring to are credit cards and things like that. Quite a timely topic for me to be studying these days.

More of the passage and a cheesy dialog between two students studying Chinese in China.

The end of the dialog and the beginning of the "New Words" section. As I go over the words with my Chinese tutor, a graduate student who I spend four hours a week one-on-one with, I make notes about the words and add any new ones that seem useful to me.

The end of the new words and a few notes on some of the words.

The chapter goes on further with some grammar and then exercises, but I'll just end my posting of the chapter here.

Like I said, I'm by no means satisfied with my Chinese. I'm more conversational, yet still trip up quite frequently. My listening, not something that SuperMemo or studying by myself can help, really needs to pick up. And I'm still quite a ways from being able to read a Chinese newspaper.

But despite these frustrations, I'm not discouraged. I'm loving studying Chinese. At this point, I see it as a life-long commitment. I'll keep getting better and I'll keep having fun with it.

I'm finding the whole endeavor to be thoroughly satisfying.


Anonymous said...

"...but I just feel so far from where I want to ultimately be."--the same feeling as I have about my English study. It is frustrating. But,keep it up! I can see you have a very strong commitment.
Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

I HIGHLY recommend getting Supermemo for the Palm. I'm planning on making a guide explaining how to get it all setup, but I pretty much learned Chinese by memorizing flashcards using Supermemo on the Palm (and I'm actually really happy with my level. :D) [I only have one crappy post with the databases right now] but... Yeah. I have google alerts setup for Supermemo Chinese. That's how I found you. :)

Mark said...

I'm glad to hear that SuperMemo has worked for you and your Chinese! It's working for me and my friends as well.

Honestly, I think I'm too entrenched into the old-school paper and notepad method of SuperMemo to change up to one on the computer. I understand that the computer ones are probably better, but this one is working well enough for me at the moment.

Good luck with the studying!

Fitbrain said...

Could you re post the page about your beginnings with SuperMemo method. I now you previous blog was blocked before the Olympics, but such an experience deserves to be online.

Fitbrain said...

Are you still using paper SuperMemo.

Yanling Han said...

Hey Mark! I felt exiting to know about your blog. It is amazing to see a people from English-speaking country sharing his experiences in China and his thoughts with others. Your articles are excellent and full of wisdom. It is like a confluence of the river of English thoughts and the river of Chinese thoughts. I really appreciate them! lol

Just like your hard working in Chinese, I am recently struggling in IELTS exam - a worldwide English test. Writing is a really tough job for me. Learning a foreign language is never a effortless job. BTW, having a look at the photos of your Chinese textbook, I guess it is my responsibility to inform you that the articles in it is not good and kinda misleading. For example, the wording in the article "The Era of Cards" sucks and some sentences are of incorrect grammar. Furthermore, some prepositions in that article is not correctly used. It seems to me that the author of this book is not quite professional. In short, this Chinese textbook is misleading and I suggest you discard it.

Anyway, I will keep my eyes on your well-done job!

Anonymous said...

what textbook is that? it looks pretty sweet.

Mark said...

The Book is called 发展汉语 and it's published by the Beijing University Press. So far, I've used the first two books in the series. The books are hard, but I've enjoyed them.

canrun said...

Did you but that book in China? Just curious...most folks who bought their books here seem to use NPCR or Integrated Chinese.

canrun said...

Haha...meant to say "buY"

Mark said...

I did buy that book in China. It is the book 陕西师大 (Shaanxi Normal University) uses to teach foreigners Chinese.

I just did a search on for the book and found this link to's list of books:,k:%E5%8F%91%E5%B1%95%E6%B1%89%E8%AF%AD&srclogged=1

Hopefully that link works. Here's another link from the baidu search results:

The books are pretty good. They're a bit formal. I used them in conjunction with a one-on-one class where I learned more colloquial words from my teacher. I think that learning both formal and informal words is a good way to go.