Learning Mandarin Chinese with Fluent Forever Methodology

Hi. I'd love to hear from anyone else who's using, or thinking of using, Fluent Forever's methodology to try and study Mandarin Chinese. I've been poking around and browsing in (it'd be too much to say "studying) Chinese for a while now, not very seriously, and FF has inspired me to make a more determined stab at the language. But from what I have learned about Mandarin, I think there will be some real challenges in applying FFM to the writing system. Which is not to despair. From what I've seen, Chinese has two particular challenges for English-native learners: the pronunciation system & the writing system. (Whereas vocabulary & grammar are no more than ordinarily difficult.) I am particularly looking forward to using the pronunciation trainer to work on the pronunciation system, since that is one of the real challenges. (Everyone talks about the tones, which is a real thing, but the phonemes are also really hard, making lots of distinctions unfamiliar to English-trained ears.) But the writing system is a whole 'nother thing. GW writes in Chapter 3 that "when you're not sure about the way your language sounds, you're stuck learning two languages instead of one". I think this is inevitably true for Mandarin Chinese; learning the sound system just keeps you from having to learn three languages (the oral one, pinyin and hanzi). GW has some optimistic notes about the phonological elements of Hanzi, but I think they are, well, unrealistic. The phonological elements are unreliable, often missing, and often wildly out of date. So this creates a unusual challenge in learning Chinese. Anyway, I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this, or experiences, or techniques. Thanks!

* Originally posted by Stephen.

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  • Hi Stephen! I really want to hear from folks setting into Chinese or Japanese myself (please chime in here!), but just a resource to check out: http://fluent-forever.com/logograms. It's an updated plan of attack for Japanese, and it's what I'm planning on doing as soon as I begin that language in October. I'll also be blogging about learning Japanese once I start, and discussing the modifications I make as I make them, because I'm fairly certain I'll be changing things around to adapt to the particular challenges associated with Kanji/Hanzi.

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
  • Hey Gabriel,

    I am tinkering with your method and tools. My objective is getting started with Mandarin Chinese.

    At the moment I am thinking about skipping the phonetic part waiting for your decks to be available. In case I have to build my own phonetic decks I am wondering:

    - Would you approach it from the phonetic differences between the four tones as highlighted in the tone charts like the one below? Would you create the cards based on those slight differences?

    - Or would you rather start with the radicals at the link below?


    * Originally posted by matteoc.
  • Hi Matteo: I'd do both, first starting with the phonetics, and teaching myself tone distinctions (bā vs bá) and phonetic differences (ji vs qi vs xi). You won't need to test ALL possible combinations of tone and phonetic difference; just get enough to teach yourself the idea behind tones and start to recognize them, and then enough to get all the new consonants and vowels into your ears.

    Then I'd start into the radicals, memorizing them with pictures that either have to do with their meaning or are just arbitrary mnemonics.

    I just finished my Chinese and Japanese model deck, here: http://fluent-forever.com/logograms/

    It's a draft, but it should be a useful time saver (if a bit complex to look at!)

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
  • I'm studying Cantonese, inspired by your minimal pair pronunciation trainer decks I recently started creating cards quizzing me on characters I frequently mix up that look like this:

    Front: [Picture of Fruit] (Sound: gwo2) 果 or 東 ?

    Back: 果

    * Originally posted by Ryan.
  • Ryan: Neat idea! Please let me know how it goes. There's a *possible* risk with cards like that, in that they might strengthen the connections between 東 and fruit/gwo2. (Principle 8 of this article: http://fluent-forever.com/create-better-flashcards/ ).

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
  • On the subject of your last link: I have found plenty of mobile apps that somehow help in tone recognition and some are quite polished and gamified, but none follows your principles.

    I will start developing tone cards, trying to keep the number of cards to a minimum but making sure I am not missing any of the major sounds any of the subtle sound differences.

    * Originally posted by matteoc.
  • There's a lot of material to let you *hear* the intitials, the finals and the tones, and a fair amount to let you compare the tones (in isolation), but not a lot to let you compare the initials/finals.

    The best I've found is this:
    With similar tools for tones & finals at the link.

    It's a useful tool, but it doesn't allow direct comparisons (it's only set up to test all intitials (etc) at once), and it has a slightly limited repertoire of words that start to repeat (not using minimal pairs, so one's ear tends to cheat & go on other sounds). Best I've seen though.

    For tones, there's this too:

    I, for one, have found making Wyner-style phonology decks *tough*. One problem is that for some phonemes there simply *aren't* minimal pairs... even though they *aren't* pronounced the same, e.g. q/ch in pinyin. (There's a commentator here on this thread that talks about it: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/15277-the-difference-between-q-and-ch/).

    What can I say? I'm really eager to start using GW's deck...

    * Originally posted by Stephen.
  • Apologies if this question is answered elsewhere on the website, but are the Mandarin and Cantonese pronunciation trainers also going to include tone practice as well?

    * Originally posted by Ryan.
  • @Ryan: Yes!

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
  • Hi, I am learning Japanese as well. I was wondering how to handle politeness levels in the 625 words. For example, mother could be haha or okaasan. haha would be would be when talking about your own mother. okaasan would be when talking about someone else's mother or addressing your own mother. To avoid synonyms, do you just pick one?

    I have also done Heisig, but was disappointed by not being able to pronounce anything when finished. I think adding the pictures, mnemonics, pronunciation, ... all at the same time will create a better connection.

    * Originally posted by Kevin.
  • @Kevin: Yeah, in the beginning, I'd *tend* towards picking just one (or at the very least, I'd delay learning one of those two 'mother' translations for a few days so that they don't get too confused with each other).

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
  • Hi Gang,

    I've recently picked up FF and I have to say I'm loving it. I'm only about halfway through the book at this point but I'm amazed at the wealth of information it's already exposed me to.

    I'm a native English speaker learning Mandarin. I've been studying on my own using a variety of study materials for several months and have even been lucky enough to have found a native Mandarin speaker through Craigslist from whom I receive roughly an hour of instruction per week.

    One of the biggest challenges I have faced is remembering things that I learned weeks ago but haven't revisited since. I'm confident that the method's given in FF will alleviate that problem. I am now starting my own Anki deck to learn from.

    One thing I wanted to share was a website I use while making my cards, http://www.mdbg.net/ . They've got many useful tools there but the feature I find incredibly useful for making Anki cards is that their pictures showing stroke order for Hànzi are animated GIF's rather than either Flash or separate images for each stroke. This let's me put an animated drawing of each character directly into Anki. For me at least, seeing the character being drawn makes it more memorable than looking at a series of static images.

    Here is the code to add that page to the multisearch iMacro for Chrome. Just insert these lines before the last line (which is (TAB T=1")

    TAB T=5
    URL GOTO=http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php?page=worddict&wdrst=0&wdqtm=0&wdqcham=1&wdqt={{!VAR1}}

    Hopefully this will be some help to others learning Mandarin.


    * Originally posted by Hacksaw.

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