Five TPRS lessons and I feel at ease with Chinese.
When I was in eighth grade, I remember telling my friend who sat behind me on the bus. “Hey! Chinese must be really easy to learn! It’s all just a bunch of short sounds.” And then he replied as “No! Each word is a fricken symbol.”
Honestly after learning Chinese characters from Remembering the Kanji, I feel at ease with Chinese characters. My tutor and I still haven’t gone into the characters yet, but that’s fine by me. I know eventually I’ll get it easily. And besides that, I still haven’t fully learned all of the pinyin.
And why not? I’ll tell you this; I have not explicitly studied pinyin at all. Therefore, I only know how to pronounce what my tutor has told me. And low and behold, I have no trouble with pinyin. I’m not making loads of pronunciation mistakes by trying to read first. Read that sentence again.
After she uses a new word in the story, my tutor gives me words in the chat-box with a quick translation like this:
huAxue — ski
manG — busy
DiDi — younger brother
GAOXing — happy
And she uses them to ask the story. She asks and doesn’t tell the story because we create the story together.
How does this happen? From my previous story, I already know words. So she says a few things that I know. And then I hear and see new words with their translation/interpretation that are added to the story. She repeats things in different ways and asks questions, so the language is always running through my head, and I see the story in my mind. She also gives me clues by gesturing (which also helps with tones) as well as word associations.
All of these things are running through my head to develop an understanding of the story. They say spoken language is nothing but sounds with meaning. The story, the written words, the quick translation, the pop-up grammar, the questions, the statements, and the constant repetition with variation all work together to create the necessary comprehension(meaning for me) of the input(sound).
At the end of our Skype session, this time she asked me to retell the story. And I did! There was a lot going on in the story, so I had to remember exactly what happened. I remembered little details and I was able to describe things in the story on my own spontaneously. I didn’t memorize anything. It came out naturally.
This is not to say i was perfect. I was still a bit slow, because I got too excited about knowing what I’m going to say and then I doubted myself. Also, sometimes I did take a second to search for the word in my head. And, I made a few grammatical errors, but I soon realized after I said them (and they were tiny errors) that her word order was different.
Also, I was sleepy during the lesson. So even though i was exhausted, I was able to suck up all of that language. And why shouldn’t I have? Parents tell their children stories before they go to bed that helps them acquire language. Why should it be any different for a foreign langauge story?
It’s after all of this that she sends me the written story that we made together. I actually first listen to the recording of the story first to refresh my memory. And then after, I go read it.
And now, onto the next interesting lesson. We will build more details about our story and I will acquire more Mandarin!