Learning Chinese 學中文

What got me started/reminded again about this life-long goal is when my friend @FrankLam tweeted about ChineseCubes. In the sea of new ways to learn that most difficult language to learn, ChineseCubes is more “hands-on” and could be revolutionary… or not. I wondered how many of the 40 characters in that set I knew already…

The latest learning site that captured my fleeting interest was introduced via an interview on SinoplicegotCharacters. I couldn’t figure out what was so special about her lessons, concluding it was pretty normal methods once you got beyond her pretty infographic.

In a nutshell, this is my Chinese education:

  • Mum’s hand-made flashcards on textured stock paper and cut with pinking shears. The primary education, of course, was from her speaking exclusively Cantonese to me because her English is never as good – her Chinese is pretty proper as she doesn’t swear and tries to avoid vernacular/low-class (jook) speech.
  • One summer I spent in Hong Kong, Mum hired a proper Beijing Mandarin speaking tutor for me. I was a delinquent student – would you believe that? – and she believed in corporal punishment.
  • Another summer I spent in Hong Kong, Mum sent me to math classes. Come to think of it, I wasn’t learning Chinese since I would have been several grades behind my age. I was also sent to calligraphy and watercolour classes, also not language-focused.
  • There was one summer (my memory begins to fail me now so I’ll say it was after the 11th grade) where my Chinese identity turned on and I spent the summer cramming Chinese vocabulary, totally voluntarily.
  • In the late 1990s, I was in university and amongst Chinese classmates for the first time and had access to Chinese malls where I would amass a collection of 200 CDs and Chinese radio. I listened to HK Pop almost exclusively and endeavoured to learn songs although I would never, ever sing in front of people.
  • Back when access was much more open, in the mid-2000s, I listened to the ChinesePod dialogues. The only one that stuck is the one one that means “I’m not telling you!”
  • For one semester some time in the late 2000s, I took a Mandarin for Cantonese Speakers course at Langara, because I know I didn’t need to start from the very beginning with either speaking Mandarin or reading characters. I’m a proud Cantonese speaker and wanted to surrounded myself with the like – but my classmates were all immigrants from Hong Kong and while I got stuck halfway through the course, it’s like a lightbulb switched on and they were suddenly fluent. Frustrating.

I read somewhere that during the Cultural Revolution (or perhaps it was the subsequent reform period), an educational regime was created in China to rapidly bring about basic literacy. The program entailed learning something like 3,000 characters in three months and then the student can read a newspaper. I’ve always wanted to know that I knew those 3,000 characters for certain. Whether I would actually put my knowledge into practice was another story…

So, I’ve had this idea on the back-burner for a couple of years and all will be revealed in the following post.

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