The Despair of the Serial Beginner
So, I’m working on Chinese right now. All Chinese All The Time. Or, “Mostly Chinese Almost All the Time”. Something like that ;).
You may be aware of how I’ve had an intermittent relationship with Chinese. Starting for a bit, only to stop. So sometimes I wonder: “what’s so different about this time? Why am I going to succeed this time? What about all those other times?”. Well, I proved it with Japanese, so Chinese should be cake, right?
It is, kind of. But it isn’t, kind of. Japanese and Chinese are related, but they are still totally different languages. So again, I wonder: “what’s so different about this time? Why am I going to succeed this time?”. Because I am. Because I decided to succeed. And because there is no such thing as “Chinese”. There isn’t this single monolithic thing called “Chinese” that I am trying to swallow whole. There’s nothing but a finite (yes, there is an end) collection of sounds and symbols that any human being is capable of encoding and decoding. All you have to do is learn these sounds and symbols one at a time. Eventually, you get to the point where you can encode and decode them freely. This, we call fluency. But you never have to tackle it all at once. You never have to do anything superhuman. You never have to concern yourself with the whole. You just have to work on parts. Just be consistent. Just knock in those golf balls/sentences, day in, day out [I like to pretend that my sentences are balls and my cellphone is a club…weird]. Boom. Boom. Boom. The “language” — the whole — will take care of itself, you never have to see or worry about it. All you have to see is this character, this sentence, this moment. That’s all. Quit worrying, quit thinking, quit hoping, quit wondering. Just do. Here. Today. Now. This one. I don’t know if I wrote this for you or for myself. And I know it repeats a lot of what I’ve said before. Oh, well :D.
Sometimes, I also worry about my Chinese pronunciation. I don’t think it’s bad…it isn’t. But, does it sound indistinguishable from a Chinese person? That, I don’t know. But I realized that the solution to that is just to hear more Chinese, and pay attention to it. There’s no magic to sounding like a native speaker — it’s just acting. It’s just doing an impression while keeping a straight face.
Splitting Audio for Aural Snacking
In a previous project notes post, I mentioned that I would rip the audio from DVDs in order to make a radio play-like experience. What hit me at the time I was doing this with Japanese was how long these were. I mean, you rip a DVD, and a typical movie runs 90 minutes, that means you have a 90-minute mp3. I never did anything about this back then; it wasn’t that big a problem. However, now with Chinese, I noticed that I almost never listen to my mp3 player for 90 minutes straight [not because of Chinese itself, but because my daily routine has changed]. This created a situation where I would hear the beginning of something a ton of times, but I almost never got to hear the middle or end.
…Which is bad for three reasons: (1) it’s boring, (2) it’s boring and robs me of chances to get listening practice from the rest of the DVD and (3) it’s boring and often I ended up avoiding listening to the movies in favor of music. The solution that I came up with was to split the 90-minute mp3 file into what is, for me, the perfect chunk: equal parts of approximately 3 minutes and 30 seconds — the canonical length of a pop song. I then put these audio clips on random shuffle. It’s fun, because of the variety [it’s kind of like…”aural snacking” on bite-size chunks of fun, like that cocktail party food with the toothpicks and all the different cheeses and stuff, whatever you call it]; you don’t have to make this commitment to listening to the whole movie from start to finish, but you get to enjoy it in pieces that are long enough to provide great listening practice, short enough that you can’t get bored, and spread out evenly across the entire movie so that you get to hear dialogue from every part of the film even if you don’t invest a full 90+ minutes. Anyway, not earth-shaking, but a fun hack, I think.
There is a completely free program available that does that splitting (an mp3 splitter) here: I looked for a free Japanese one, but to no avail.