Chinese learning habits for 2017

This year I have resolved to take a more deliberate and structured approach to my Chinese language study. I’ve also found a way to gamify my habits to help keep me motivated.

Study task types

I have come up with a weekly plan that has a list of study task types for each day of the week. Each weekday I am going to do:

  • my SRS study (e.g. Skritter, Anki), and
  • active listening practice (mainly from textbook audio at this stage).

SRS is designed to be used daily and is the primary way of acquiring new vocabulary (the most important thing). I view listening ability as my weakest area (especially considering how important it is) so I really want to put a lot of effort into this.

On some other days of the week I also have:

  • reading practice (currently using my Mandarin Companion graded readers), and
  • my regular Chinese class (2 hours on one day a week).

I haven’t specified a fixed minimum time I need to spend on these study tasks because I’m more concerned about forging the habits themselves, but I’m using ~10 minutes as a guide right now. The task types allow for a bit of variance, so I can easily swap in new audio (for example) resources.

Gamifying the habits

To give me more motivation to complete the habits every day, I have started using Habitica. For anyone that has played an RPG video game, it should look familiar.

Characters from Habitica

The idea is that you create a character and enter in your list of habits (daily/scheduled tasks, to-do items or repeatable habits). Recording the completion of your habits will give more experience points (XP) to your character and you will level up. Not completing your daily habits will result in you losing health, risking your character’s death and resulting in a loss of XP. You also earn gold to buy more powerful equipment for your character, which helps them lose less health for missed dailies, get more gold from completed tasks, etc.

Habitica is available via web and mobile app, so I’m easily able to tick off my tasks as I complete them even when I’m out (e.g. I often do my SRS task on the train to work). The health system is good because I feel that I can skip some dailies if I really need to, but I can’t keep doing it for too long otherwise my character will die.

The year of the rooster

I hope the combination of some (not too much) structure and some gamification will make for some good progress in this upcoming year of the rooster 🙂 新年快乐!

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All about tea

I never used to drink tea or coffee but due to my interest in all things Chinese, tea piqued my interest. In fact, over the last year or so I’ve developed quite a tea-drinking habit. There’s a lot of info out there about tea but this post will just cover the major things I find most interesting about it.

Tea with tea leaves

What is tea?

  • Essentially, all types of tea (black, green, white, etc.) come from the same plant: Camellia sinensis. The difference is in the processing of the leaves.
  • Herbal ‘tea’ is not actually real tea — they are tisanes and aren’t going to be talked about here.

Where did it come from?

  • All tea originated from China, where it has been drunk for thousands of years.
  • Its Chinese name is 茶 (pronounced “chá” in Mandarin, but more like “tê” in the dialect of the area of China where it was exported to the West.
  • It arrived in Europe during the 1600s. England wanted more of it so badly that they went to war with China over it in the 1800s and started growing their own in India.
  • Today, China and India still the top two countries for tea production, but many others now grow it.

Gaiwan with tea leaves

Why is it so popular?

Tea is the second most consumed beverage on the planet (after water). There’s a number of reasons for this.

  • It contains the drug caffeine, which raises alertness but is addictive.
  • Many cultures have developed strong tea cultures and social norms that perpetuate its consumption.
  • Tasting different teas is interesting because of how different one tea can be to another (thanks to variances in cultivar, location, altitude, processing, storage, etc.). This is similar to wine tasting.

Where can I learn more?

Pouring tea

Parting thoughts

  • In my opinion (obviously this is subjective), for maximum tea enjoyment I recommend:
    • avoiding tea bags — use quality loose-leaf tea;
    • avoiding tisanes and flavoured teas (e.g. tea scented with flowers/herbs); and
    • brewing gongfu style.
  • You can follow my Instagram account where I post about my tea adventures.

Podcasts for Chinese current affairs & history

There are two great China-related podcasts I listen to that I really enjoy and feel compelled to share. I find them both quite entertaining and I highly recommend them for anyone wanting a to learn more about the country.

Sinica Podcast

The Sinica Podcast logo

Hosted by Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn, this podcast deals with current affairs in China and is great for keeping your ‘finger on the pulse’ of major issues there. Each episode they have special guests with expertise in the topic being discussed, and the hosts themselves are extremely knowledgeable.

Kaiser in particular is a very entertaining host (a former heavy metal guitarist) and, as a Chinese American who has spent much time in both countries, has unique insights that are often missed by the predominantly western (albeit highly informed) viewpoints usually expressed on the program.

The range of topics is extremely diverse, but some recent examples include nationalism & censorship, China’s ideological spectrum, China’s millennials, the Tianjin explosion and hip hop in China. In fact, it was through listening to this podcast that I discovered the next one…

China History Podcast

The Chinese History Podcast logo

  • Topic: Chinese history (both ancient & modern)
  • URL: Facebook, iTunes, web
  • Average episode length: ~40 mins.

Hosted by China history enthusiast Laszlo Montgomery, this is a topic-based podcast with topics ranging from overviews of particular dynasties (e.g. the Tang) to notable historical figures (e.g. Deng Xiaoping), events (e.g. the Opium Wars), major cultural things (e.g. tea, Daoism) and more.

Being topic-based is great because it means you can jump around to topics that interest you (which may be several episodes long) instead of having to listen to everything from start to finish.

Laszlo does a great job compressing complicated and vast topics down into manageable chunks that can be easily understood. He typically uses multiple high quality historical sources and the episodes are presented in an entertaining way. He also has a good working knowledge of Mandarin, so is able to pronounce Chinese words quite accurately.

Whilst the full transcripts of episodes aren’t available, he does provide the key terms used (including their Chinese characters), will helps if you want to dig into something you’ve heard further by yourself.

Both podcasts have taught me so much, helping me establish a decent basic understanding of China. I’ve been able to use this as a springboard to dive into more details in particular areas when needed. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do!