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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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Why study Chinese?


Ever since I was young, I’ve had an interest in Chinese language and culture. However, it’s only been within the last year that I’ve actually taken the plunge and started learning Mandarin. So far I’ve just been doing it in my spare time, but progress has been slow.

Why am I choosing to study Mandarin? Many reasons!

一 It’s only fair

Having been lucky enough to learn English as a first language, I could get by without learning another. This is unfair to the billions of other people who are burdened with learning our popular but bizarre language. If they have to learn English, I should have to learn something else.

二 It’s practical

There are a lot of Mandarin-speaking people. More specifically, Australia has a large population of Chinese-speaking people. In our 2011 census Mandarin overtook Italian to become the second most popular language spoken at home (behind English, obviously — and Cantonese was in fifth place). Living in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, I’m surrounded by lovely Chinese people and, in my experience, they are delighted to see someone putting in effort to learn their language and connect with them.

三 It’s different

I studied German for 3 years in high school and quite enjoyed it, although I did feel like I was cheating a bit because English and German are closely related. Mandarin shares no perceivable common ancestry to English. The two main differentiators being that it’s a tonal language and the writing system uses logograms instead of a phonetic alphabet. I get the feeling that if I can learn Mandarin, I can learn any language.

四 It’s standardised

My very first Chinese friend was a Hong Konger who spoke Cantonese, so I initially looked into learning this. Unfortunately the more I looked into it, the more it seemed like a risky choice. Unlike Mandarin, the Cantonese dialect is not well standardised, and learning resources are much more difficult to come by. Also, many Cantonese speakers know some Mandarin anyway.

五 It’s special

No one really expects a westerner to be able to speak Mandarin (in Australia, at least). This has the added benefit of people being quite prepared and understanding of mistakes 🙂 Even as a white person, I find it quite amazing to see us speaking it fluently. Perhaps the best-known Chinese-speaking westerner is Mark Rowswell (Dashan / 大山). Watch him go!

Over the last year I’ve been studying with a textbook I bought on a friend’s recommendation and some apps I downloaded to my phone. Some Chinese friends at work have also been encouraging and helping me along the way.

This year I’m hoping to pick up the pace. My girlfriend pre-paid for some one-on-one Mandarin lessons for me as a birthday gift and this post from Hacking Chinese has inspired me to focus on writing more. My first goal is to be able to order food and maintain very basic conversation, but I definitely have my work cut out for me there!

This blog will be used to share my experiences on this journey, including the tools I use and the experiences I have along the way. Hopefully it ends up being educational (or at least entertaining) for some people out there!