My 6th and 7th Mandarin Chinese TPRS lesson

(spoiler: They both went very well.)

Doing TPRS is AMAZING! It is not without effort, mind you. Let me be clear: There is no magic pill to langauge acquisition. You need to focus and try to understand.

Some things can kill your ability to focus and understand the langauge. Dr. Krashen calls this the affective filter. That is, if you are under a lot of stress, haven’t eaten, or are just really sleepy, you will have a harder time acquiring the langauge than someone without these affective filters.

But of course! It’s so simple! If we are more relaxed we’ll have an easier time processing what’s going on in the langauge.

Processing the Puzzle; My 6th Chinese Lesson

On my 6th lesson, I noticed something very interesting. My tutor said a sentence to me. In my mind, I was trying to understand the meaning. I understood the meaning of all of the individual words. But then, I noticed I could not hold all of the words in my mind at the same time and I could not understand the meaning as a whole.

This is very telling of why studying only vocabulary is not the answer. Of course we must learn vocabulary, but without the proper acquired patterns, we cannot fully understand what is being said. It costs too much processing time and energy for your mind.

I told my tutor this. I also said that it was so much easier reading because while reading I had time to figure out all of the pieces and put them together. But when only listening you need to store it all in short term memory to work with.

My mind was processing the words one at a time. As a native English speaker, in English I process whole phrases and even whole paragraphs at a time. This is why friends can sometimes finish each other’s sentences. Our brains are used to each other’s speech patterns. Our brain is trying to figure out the pieces of the puzzle before we see all of the pieces.

If we have never seen these pieces or similar puzzles, we’ll take longer to put them together in our head.

It’s just like how they say a chess-master will see a win in 7 moves while a novice is still trying to figure out his next move. I am a master of English, but a novice in Chinese.

Why is this knowledge useful? It’s useful because it gives me understanding of how we acquire spoken and written langauge. We need to hear those patterns over and over again before we can connect patterns and form longer sentences. It’s the same with reading, but usually you have more time to read as the book has all the patience in the world where a speaker’s patience is limited. <– long sentence

My 7th Chinese Lesson

My next lesson was quite awesome. We started to include time a little more in this one. Also we added some new words to continue on with our story.

Each time I get more familiar with words that are used. For example, I am very familiar with the possessive particle. (Maybe it’s not really a possessive particle, but it functions like the Japanese の)

At the end of our lesson she gave me English sentences and I had to interpret them. I noticed I made pronunciation mistakes, because I was using what she had written down and read from that. I don’t think I had fully acquired the words that I read such as the word for home. The pronunciation mistakes only stuck out like a sore thumb to me because everything else was pretty good. Although, it was slow.

But again, it’s because I was still acquiring them. It takes time for the patterns to be fully internalized. And also, interpreting is hard! It’s a very different skill altogether. What goes on when I interpret?

First, I have to hear the English and hold all of it in my mind. That’s the easy part. But then while holding that, I have to figure out the vocabulary and how the patterns go. I remember her voice when I search for the patterns in my head. When I looked for the word for home/house in my head, instead of trying to remember, I quickly picked it off of the screen-shared whiteboard. Again, this was because I haven’t fully acquired that word yet.

A Quick Read After the Lesson

After our lesson she asked me some questions about me learning characters. I said “Yes, I would love to get into characters! Can you write the story for me in both pinyin and Chinese characters?”

And she responded “Oh no no no no~ Here check this out.” And she pulled up a book written especially for me. There were only a few words here and there that we hadn’t gone over in the book.

She started reading slowly while moving the cursor. And at that very moment an amazing thing happened. Because I had two pieces to the puzzle, my mind was only focused on the last piece. That is, because I knew the meaning and the reading, I could easily focus on recognizing the Chinese characters.

This is sort of the reverse of how I learned Kanji. Instead I used Heisig’s RTK1 to learn to recognize the meaning and how the character is drawn. I picked up how to read the kanji by friends reading to me, and reading shonen manga (manga with furigana) among other things.

I think it did help a bit that I studied Japanese Kanji but, I didn’t easily get confused. My mind was like, “This is Chinese, man.” I didn’t even think of it as Japanese. Just like how Latin is written with the same characters as English. In high school Latin class, I never got confused.

So she read the Chinese to me and after a while, my mind picked up the pattern and I was reading along with her. Just like how as a kid, my mom and dad would read to me. At that age, I slowly started to pick up on the patterns and before I knew it, I was off and reading on my own!

How simple is that? You learn to read by having somebody read to you, and then they read with you. It’s not magic. No need to complicate things.

I love TPRS because it just feels so organic. Like it’s the way languages were meant to be taught.

Later the next day, my Chinese friend called me on Skype. I told him one of the stories in Chinese. I was much more comfortable speaking at this point about the story. I was still a little shaky on a few words (mostly due to self doubt) but it came out. He was amazed I knew what to say in the right order/right way.

And most importantly, it was all good fun! 😀

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