It’s ironic that as the creator of a language school comparison site, I haven’t been actively learning a language in the past years. But I’m picking up my Mandarin studies where I left this week, and will do so publicly.
As implied in my earlier post, learning a language is always a journey, if not an Odyssey, and the same goes for my learning timeline. As time passed on, I’ve tried many ways to learn Chinese. Now that sounds like none of them wasn’t successful, but that’s not really true, each of the different learning approaches were just the most suitable under the circumstances.
Here is a timeline of my Chinese learning so far:
- 2005 – Bought and used the book and CD “Teach Yourself Chinese“. Managed to learn hanyu pinyin and some basic greetings. Taught all of my Dutch housemates one sentence: 你太太好吗？(Ni taitai hao ma – how is your wife), which is a running joke among us up to date.
- 1 Jan 2006 Was the day of the big move! Still not entirely sober from the night before, I took the Amsterdam to Singapore flight on SIA on the morning of New Year’s Day and arrived in Singapore on the morning of the 2nd. I was to sign the lease for the 3-room HDB flat at Dover that we had managed to find online (S$ 750 / month, can you imagine that now?). I got the keys, bought a few essentials and fell asleep, only to awake at 5am on 3rd January, the day I was going to join the Intensive Mandarin Program at NUS Extension. Still jet lagged, I did some spring cleaning of the house, and took the MRT to Dhoby Ghaut at 8am, feeling strangely awake among the other, still sleepy commuters.
- I took full-time Mandarin lessons until May 2006. At that time, I had managed to find a job and I continued taking part-time Chinese classes for 2 evenings a week. Much of the time, classes were taught by Mrs. Wang, who I consider my best teacher ever. All the way until 2008, the group we were learning in was pretty stable: a diverse group of individuals from all ages and all across the world – Japanese, an Indian, Europeans, English-educated Singaporeans. And we had much fun, twice a week for 2.5 hours. The “boardroom setup” of the classroom helped greatly, too.
- June 2007. Strangely, a breakthrough feeling came while I was on a family visit to my (then) fiancée’s aunts, uncles and cousins in the USA. Being the only non-Chinese in the bunch, I was forced to speak Chinese most of the time with them. At times, this led to great confusion, such as when we going to restaurants as a group, and the waiters could not imagine me being able to communicate with them.
- Early 2008. I dropped out of part-time Mandarin lessons. Mrs. Wang had stopped teaching to focus on her Ph. D., and we had moved to another classroom. Slowly, the old group fell apart and energy levels dropped. Moreover, I was about to start Yago, and that would take up pretty much all my time after work hours.
- On 26th February 2010, I resumed part-time lessons with the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce Institute of Business when I found out that Singapore PRs and citizens can make use of government subsidized Chinese courses. To qualify for the subsidy, I had to take the Business Chinese Test before and after the course. I went in with BCT 3 for speaking and BCT 2 for reading and writing, and after the course I scored BCT 3 for everything. I found it notable, though, that my speaking score dropped significantly after the course (made up by slightly better listening performance). While the teacher was good, the class size of around 25 was too large for me to get the maximum out of the time spent. My speaking confidence was hurt by too many obscure business related words that were useful in the eighties, but not for me or my classmates, many of whom were designers, architects, and IT people. So while I could go on to the subsidized advanced course, I decided not to.
- Now it’s March 2012 and I’ve signed up for in-person live online Chinese lessons with Speak Mandarin. Working with an experienced Beijing based teacher twice a week should be way more intense than taking class lessons. And besides, I now get to focus on what I’m interested in, which should make for a drastically better result. I had my first lesson yesterday. We went through a news article. Which was tough. I obviously still have a lot to learn.
So over time, I’ve tried many different ways to learn Chinese. In summary, there isn’t one best method to learn Chinese. It really depends on your learning style, how much time you have available and what you want to learn. Try it out and find what works for you!