Learning Chinese

At some point during 2015 I heard about the China Australia Millennial Project (CAMP). I didn’t have any particular interest in China outside of general news and life. I do love meeting people doing inspiring things though and CAMP seemed like another good place to do that.

I applied for CAMP and sort of forgot about it but a few months later I heard back and was told that I had made the second round cut. What followed next was a few months spent learning about entrepreneurship, business and China/Australia relations. CAMP finished in June during the Vivid Ideas festival in Sydney where all CAMPers met in person for the first time and tried to bring their plans to life.

Good times overall.

This is probably the first time I considered learning Chinese as a language. I’ve wanted to learn a second language for a while but never really committed to anything or found much passion in a language. I’d considered Asian languages before but struggled to find the right mix of intellectually interesting and practically useful. The more I spent learning about China the more interested I became in learning it and after CAMP I was looking for something to take up a bit more of my time.

I plan on mainly using Chinese for reading, writing (digitally) and speaking/listening to native speakers who’s English isn’t very good. I don’t expect myself to be doing much handwriting as I barely do it in English so I can’t imagine there’s much of a use case for writing that often.

My first step to learning Mandarin was enrolling in classes at CAE in Melbourne. CAE offers classes for a ton of language with differing levels of difficulty. I began in elementary level one in July/August 2015.

Classes are great but only practicing for 2 hours a week isn’t enough so I make sure to keep up with all homework in class and do a bit of extra reading in the book. I try to think of Chinese sentences while I’m out and about. I then translate these and add them to a list I have just to keep my skills growing and use new words in my vocabulary.

I’ve used some apps like HelloTalk or iTalki to begin talking to native speakers through text. My girlfriend loves to give me a hard time that I’m not talking to enough native speakers so any time we’re near Chinese people she’ll start telling them to only talk to me in Mandarin. I think HelloTalk and iTalki are both good apps but I find it hard to stick with them for too long as the conversations seem repetitive and never seem to go very far in either English or Mandarin.

My favourite app for learning characters is AnkiApp on iOS. I find it’s a great tool for revision and practice. I’ll then use the new words or characters in the sentences I mentioned above.

I joined several Chinese social media websites and made sure to follow plenty of Mandarin language Facebook pages, mostly for news. This means that I’m constantly being forced to read characters and keep the language at the top of my mind. I think after I learn more characters and feel a bit more comfortable I’ll change my phone’s language over as well.

The last way that I’m learning the language is to leverage things I use already such as IRC and the Hashtag Nomads chat group. I spoke to levelsio about creating a Mandarin language channel in Hashtag Nomads, which we now have with people discussing things in Mandarin as well as discussing China on the whole. Freenode’s IRC network has an existing Mandarin channel with many native speakers as well as learners. It’s great to be able to add a bit of Mandarin practice to something I was already doing.

After three terms and starting my fourth now I’m certainly still a beginner when it comes to Mandarin but the future is exciting. It’s a great language to learn with some really rich history from ancient times through to modern. I’m looking forward to speaking with more Mandarin speakers and learning more about China. I’ve been planning a trip to Mongolia/China for the last few years and it would be great to go over with some knowledge of the language.

About Nick

Melbourne based web developer that loves building front-end systems with anything from vanilla JS to React. Infosec student and active learner. Subscribe to the blog

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