Category: Language learning ideas

A site for those learning to read Chinese. 

The information below is from the above site:


Welcome! You are here to review strategies for learning language. A “strategy” is a method or approach to learning. Applying different strategies may help you achieve success with improving your language skills. Learning strategies are organized below into five numbered categories. Click on the links to learn more about each category. Click on the Click to See Examples next to a learning strategy to see examples.

1. Getting information into your memory.

  • Make lists of vocabulary words, and read through them a couple times.
  • Remember a new word by what how it sounds.
  • Group new items by meaning or function, so that they are associated with each other and/or with a concept.
  • Connect new items to something they remind you of.
  • Take notes to clarify and create associations.
  • Group word sets by subcategory to add information that may help you remember.
  • Use images and pictures to create connection.
  • Take a set of words and phrases to build a story (alone or in a group with other learners).

2.  Getting information out of your memory

  • Find out information for yourself using inductive reasoning (going from specific to general).
  • Make and test hypotheses to add to your associations, network of meaning, and experience linkages.
Interaction with Others:
  • Interact with native speakers to create a rich network of tangible experiences.

3.  Managing your feelings

  • Get perspective on your situation.
  • Reframe your mistakes.
  • Manage stress.
  • Get away from a stressful learning task.
  • Find what you like.
  • Change what you don’t like.
  • Chunk big tasks into smaller ones.
  • Look at your successes.

4. Managing Your Learning

  • Set goals for learning.
  • Plan. Think about how to plan your learning.
  • Monitor. Keep an eye and ear on what you are doing and how well it seems to be working.
  • Evaluate. From time to time, take a more systematic view of what you’re doing.
  • Re-plan. Start the process again.

5. Making meaning by using the language

  • Analyze. Take information apart.
  • Synthesize. Put information together.
  • Experience the language. Use what you learn.
  • Negotiate meaning directly by means of phrases like ‘I don’t quite get what you mean,’ or ‘Do you actually mean to say that?,’ or ‘No, that isn’t what I meant.
  • Negotiate indirectly by evaluating others’ responses to what you say or write.
  • Use inferences and read between the lines.
  • Verify your guesses.
  • Compensate. Fill gaps in knowledge or experience.
  • Vary your strategies.
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1. Getting information into your memory.

These are the ways you make sure that information gets into your brain and stays there. A useful way to look at these techniques is to evaluate whether they are surface or deep strategies.
  • Surface strategies are those you use when you don’t need to make a major cognitive investment in what you are trying to remember. Surface strategies are usually not very helpful for remembering things for more than a short time.
  • Deep strategies are the ones you use to make linkages among what you are trying to learn and other things such as other concepts, images, sounds, and so on. The denser the network of links between the new item and other things, the more likely you are to remember the new item. Common deep strategies are:
    • Association: This is almost literally making links, directly.
    • Elaboration: This is an indirect way of making links, through adding more to what you are learning. Most elaboration consists of material that is more familiar to you than what you are learning.
      • Discovery: A special kind of elaboration is finding it out for yourself. This is something that inductive learners tend to do on their own, fairly naturally. At some mental level, the process of induction that they have used to figure out the new item and how it works, and the hypotheses they have made, tested, and may still have unresolved, all add to the associations and network of meaning and experience linkages.
      • Interaction with Others: Activities with others in the language you are learning are likely to create a very rich network of links, many of them very tangible and experiential-visual, auditory, situational, kinesthetic, olfactory, emotional.
Deep strategies do not happen automatically. You need to keep your eyes and ears open and think about what you are hearing or reading.
  • Play with new material.
  • Try it out.
  • See what happens if you change a form or use a synonym.
  • Ask native speakers if what you say means what you want it to say.
  • Focus on one or two things that you are interested in improving or learning, listen for them and their variants, and try them out.
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2. Getting information out of your memory.

Once you have gotten something into longer term memory (see Getting Information into your memory), it will not do you any good unless you can retrieve it from storage. There are two main ways that people retrieve what they have learned, recognition and recall. Recognition is normally easier than recall, because for the former, you only have to make a yes/no choice (this is or is not the thing I’m looking for). For recall, you have to dredge it up with relatively little cuing from memory.
  • Recognition: This is what happens when you see or hear an item you have learned and say (at least) ‘this is familiar’ or (more extensive memory) ‘yes, I know this and exactly what it means.’
    • Multiple choice items in learning activities and tests take advantage of recognition to take away some of the effort that would be involved in recall so that more can go into doing something with the item, even if it is only selecting it from a list.
    • Retrieval in reading and listening is usually recognition. The item is provided on the page or in the listening passage or conversation, and your primary tasks are to remember that you have it in your inventory and interpret it as appropriate to the context in which it occurs.
  • Recall: Recall is calling something back from your mental storage area so that you can use it for production, either in speaking or writing. Your network of links that was created when you learned the item (and which gets richer every time you hear, read, or use it), is your best path back to the item. Thus, the more associations and elaborations you have for an item, the more quickly it will come back for you to use. For example:
    • You want to describe the route to take by car to go shopping. Your language has several different verbs for kinds of motion, and you need to select and use the correct one for this situation. Perhaps you have learned them by associating a simple picture with each verb. Then, if the verb does not come immediately to mind, you will bring up an image, which may trigger the word.
The techniques you have used to get the item into memory will be the key to retrieving them. The more links in the memory network the item has, the more the paths you can use to track your way back to it. So if you forget one path, you have alternatives. If you have made associations with something you already know, you will start from the more familiar thing. If you have elaborated, you may start from the added material to get to the new material.
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3. Managing your feelings

When you are learning something new, your feelings can make a big difference to how effectively you use your abilities. When you are anxious, you may lose capacity. Conversely, feeling motivated and able to accomplish a task can make the whole process come more easily. The sets of feelings for this purpose are:
  • Anxiety: This is fear: of failure, of looking bad, of disappointing a teacher or yourself, etc. It can eat up your ability to take in, retrieve, and use the language you are learning, because so many of your resources are devoted to self-protection. You may find yourself avoiding useful learning because of the potential (perceived) threat to your sense of well-being. Here are some of the things you can do to manage your anxiety and stress:
    • Get perspective: Get some distance from your situation. See yourself in the light of next year, or five years from now. Will this be so important then?
    • Reframe: Turn your lemons into lemonade. For example, when you make mistakes, keep in mind that if you aren’t making mistakes, you are probably playing it too safe and may not be learning much. That’s much more productive than beating yourself up for not remembering.
    • Manage stress: Notice what happens when you start getting stressed out. Do you begin to have a short fuse? Do you shut down? Learn these signs, and when they begin to show up, be prepared to take steps to reduce the stress. Talk with a friend. One of the most important ways to manage stress is to …
    • Get away from it: If you are in a class, a short bathroom break may do it. In other cases, you may need a weekend or more. Take a study break and so something you enjoy. (You can also use this as a reward for accomplishing a task you set yourself.)
  • Motivation: This is the desire to do something, because there is a reward or punishment (extrinsic motivation) or because it makes you feel good to do it (intrinsic motivation). Motivation is a powerful force for or against learning. If you are motivated, you will put up with more of the frustration that is inevitable in learning something new, especially something as complex and seemingly endless as a new language. If you lack motivation, you are likely to give up faster and take fewer learning risks.
  • Self-efficacy: This is the sense you have that you can accomplish a task. Something like the power of suggestion, it changes your point of view of setbacks. (Everyone has setbacks when learning something new.) If you don’t have a good sense of self efficacy, you may attribute setbacks to being ‘no good at this.’ On the other hand, if you do think you can do it, setbacks will seem like temporary obstacles to be overcome, and you will think of ways to do that. For example:
    • Chunk: If the task seems overwhelming, break it down into pieces you think you can accomplish. Instead of trying to learn all the noun cases for recall and production (speaking and writing), start with recognition, and try for one or two for production. If a reading passage is very long, first see what you can get out of the first and last paragraphs. Success breeds more success.
    • Look at your successes: There’s nothing like taking a look at what you were trying to learn at an earlier stage of your learning, e.g., a few weeks or months ago. Notice how easy it sounds. That’s what it will be like later, when you come back to what is giving you trouble now.
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4. Managing your learning

One of the things teachers often do for students is they organize their learning for them. They provide a syllabus, have lesson plans, and assign homework. If you don’t have a teacher, you have to do this for yourself. In fact, even if you do have a teacher, you need to do quite a lot of this yourself, because no teacher can structure learning ideally for all of his or her learners. Managing your own learning is also called ‘self-regulation,’ and research suggests that it is a key to successful learning. Furthermore, the more you can regulate yourself, the more you can keep learning when you leave the classroom, and the more effectively you can work while you have a teacher. Managing your learning involves a four-step cycle:
  • Setting goals: Decide what you want to get out of your learning. It’s better if you can be fairly specific; for example, it’s not very helpful to say ‘I want to learn Spanish.’ Instead, it would be better to say, ‘I want to learn Spanish in order to negotiate contracts for Embassy housing.’ At an even more detailed level, you might say, ‘I want to learn how you express these ideas about contracts in Spanish.’
  • Planning: Now that you know what you want to do, think about how you are going to do it. Do you need to get more information (e.g., grammar, or how you greet a business contact, or how long to make social small talk before getting down to business)? What are the possible steps you can take to get what you need? What are your resources (textbooks, helpful native speakers, grammars, dictionaries, the Internet, etc.)? What sequence do you think will be helpful to you in using these lists?
  • Monitoring: Keep an eye and ear on what you are doing and how well it seems to be working. Notice how you feel, so you can keep motivation up and anxiety under control. If you seem to be going off track, change course. It might help to keep a learning journal that serves as a kind of conversation with yourself.
  • Evaluating: From time to time, take a more systematic view of what you’re doing. What seems to be working well? Does it always work? When does it and when does it not? What isn’t worth the time and energy it costs you? Is there a different way to do it? Do your activities fit in with your goals? What’s worth keeping, what should be changed, and what should be dropped? Are there some new things you can try?
  • Replanning (start process again): Think again about how you are going to go about your changed plan. Set up sequences of activities or revise existing ones, if you need sequences. Then go and try it and go through the same cycle, over and over again.
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5. Making meaning by using the language

Making meaning is another way to refer to making sense of things. The sense may be of language structure (which has a major impact on meaning), of the content of a listening passage, or of things you hear and say in conversation, for example. Making meaning is in fact what it means to actuallyuse language.
While you are ‘making meaning,’ you are also ‘getting it in’ and ‘getting it back.’ Language use provides all sorts of opportunities to get exposure to language items, make linkages between them and other things, recognize them when you hear or see them again, and try to use them. There are a great many things that come under making meaning; these are some common examples:
  • Analysis: Take it apart. What are the bits and pieces? How do they fit together? What changes can you make and still have something that makes sense to a speaker of the language? How do those changes shift the meaning? Break up words into prefixes, roots, and suffixes. What are the interchangeable parts of a sentence? What is the sequence of a narrative story structure?
  • Synthesis: Put it together. Make up sentences, using material you are learning. Put together stories. Write a sequel to a new item you have read (make it up). Combine new and old material into something completely new.
  • Experience: Use it. Look and listen. What happens when you try something? If it’s causing misunderstanding, figure out what’s wrong (ask a native speaker if you can) and try to fix it. Are you always conveying what you want to indicate? Are you getting what a speaker or author is trying to say?
  • Negotiating meaning: An important aspect of using language is the negotiation that takes place to clarify meaning. Even among native speakers, meaning is negotiated all the time: ‘I don’t quite get what you mean,’ or ‘Do you actually mean to say that�,’ or ‘No, that isn’t what I meant.’ As a non-native learner of a foreign language, you will be negotiating meaning all the time, but directly by means of phrases like the ones above, or indirectly by evaluating the responses you get to what you say or write.
  • Inferencing: Sometimes you have to figure out meaning that isn’t stated directly. What are the cues that indicate that someone is saying something indirectly? (For example, in English, we often talk about ‘our friend’ when we don’t want others to know who is the subject of our conversation.) What are the words that indicate emotion, how someone feels about what they are talking about. They might not say outright that they are angry, but they might well cast their descriptions of something in negative terms, or attribute ill will to a person they are angry with. Another term for making inferences is ‘reading between the lines’: that is, picking up something that is unsaid directly but possibly implicit in what is said or written. Keep in mind that an inference is a guess and is therefore subject to verification.
  • Compensation: Compensation strategies are usually ways to fill gaps in knowledge or experience. For example, if you don’t know a word, find one that is similar in meaning, look for another way to express your idea, or use a general, ‘whatchamacallit’ type of word. If you are listening to material that is full of language you don’t know, listen for the things you do know, make educated guesses, and ignore the details.
  • Varying your strategies: If you keep doing the same things over and over to learn, you may find them becoming stale, and you may be missing out on some good techniques that would make your learning more effective.
    • One good way to find new strategies is to look up the ones that are suggested for learning preferences opposite to yours. So for example, if you prefer to learn by looking at the big picture first, try starting with the specifics and work up. That might give you a new picture of what you are working on.
    • Most of the time in LangNet, you are working through a sequence of preparatory activities to help you get everything from a text or passage. Try pulling up a content object and reading it with no preparation at all. Do it first without a dictionary, then go back and read in more detail. How much can you get? If you do this from time to time, you’ll get better at it.
    • Observe or talk to other learners. Are they doing something you’d like to try?

Richard asked me these questions:

  • What are the 3-5 basic skills that every language-learner must master? 
  • How does one measure progress in each?  
  • What resources allow progress in each?

I honestly don’t know what basic skills every language learner must master.

I can think of a lot of skills but I also think that these same skills are needed in most new activities that you would choose to invest in. If I answered this question and then failed in my language learning quest then it may just undermine my credibility.  🙂 I really do not know and I do not have the answers. And to think that before embarking on this journey, I used to spend a lot of time (really a lot of time) researching on how to learn Japanese and no straight forward answer was ever given.

Many suggested I move to the country where my language is spoken. I tried and for reasons beyond my control I never did  make it to Taiwan. Others suggested I get a Chinese speaking boyfriend. I doubt that my French husband would understand such a move. “Sorry chéri, I now have a preference for all things made in China, you are relieved from your conjugal duties”. Others suggested I attend classes and that is what I wanted but my work prevents me from doing this. So the next best thing, was creating this blog as a way of tracking my progress and every 6 months read and analyse my diary and create a roadmap for the next 6 months. I do a lot of planning and executing.

So really, the number one skill to nurture would be record keeping before changing countries, ditching your spouse or paying for traditional classes.

From my humble experience, I believe that it is important to know what and how you are learning. Language learning can be divided into

  1. listening
  2. reading
  3. speaking
  4. understanding
  5. writing
  6. dreaming  <– take breaks to avoid this one

At the beginning of your journey, you may choose to just concentrate on understanding (aka comprehension) and that is fine.

Imagine you had a pie chart and in the first month of your language learning you spent the bulk of your time listening. This is what I did. I spent two hours a day on Chinese. That amounted to 14 hours of learning per week and an extra 70 minutes of ‘other things’.   In each hour spent on Chinese, 50 min was spent on listening and repeating words, 10 min on reading while listening (to prepare me for the character learning phase) and at the end of each exercise, I would seal my daily language learning with 10 minutes of listening to all the lessons without pausing. The grand total was approximately 130 minutes of Chinese per day.

OK, here’s a visual pie chart of my daily learning strategy for the month of December and most of January.

Learning strategy for week 1 to 9

End January, I changed my strategy to including writing and I spent 2 hours per day excluding the weekend on learning new Chinese material.

My new routine is:

I pick up my book, learn the dialogues with the audio, then I read the French dialogues  (my book is for francophones learning Chinese), visualise the conversation and say it aloud in Chinese. In the past, this lasted 5 days of frustration and not understanding where I was making a mistake, I used to read the dialogues and sight translate. I did really well but I was not internalising the language. Now, I read the dialogue, pause, remember what I am asked to do, visualise and say it aloud in Chinese. After translating aloud, I write down the translation in hanzi, then once I have spell checked and corrected the grammar, I compare my French to Hanzi translation with the book’s Chinese dialogue.  I now focus on two hours per day of dialogue learning, dialogue vocab building, dialogue internalising, memorising as well as writing. I then work through one to three chapters of my Chinese character book once a week. If I go too fast, I will forget because I am not using a reader to reinforce my learning nor am I going fast enough in my dialogue book to come across what I am currently  learning in the character book.

I do have a reader  that I will start using in the near future. I do not own a paper Chinese dictionary yet.

The new learning chart for february 2012 looks like this:

10 hours/week on new material from the book. On the weekend I revise, that is a further 4 hours of revision. There are 90 lessons in my dialogue book. I am currently on lesson 18.

I use:

  • the dialogue book as a way to gauge  my progress,
  • the Hanzi book as a way to know exactly how many characters I have learnt,
  • translation as a way of internalising the dialogue (I do so aloud).

Future activities

I will use the dictation exercises (listen to dialogue then write Hanzi) as a way of knowing how well I spell. Of course, I do all the exercise drills in the book (yes sometimes boring!!!!)  and will continue to do so over and over again. How will I do this? Well once I have completed a lesson, I will write it down on a piece of paper and add it to a little box. Each lesson completed will go into this happy box. Once I have reached lesson 25, that’s when I am going to pick three pieces of paper from the box and practise all skills.

It is very easy to lose what you have learnt, and I think this ‘game’ may be a good way to make it stick. On some days I learn one dialogue lesson and on others I learn three, well chances are that now I won’t go beyond one dialogue per day because the dialogues are getting harder and I am not in the mood to switch to Chinese class 101 lessons just yet. 😀

In sum, RECORD KEEPING is the surest way to quantify your progress. It may seem at times that you are getting nowhere but as long as you invest the time, I think you will experience a breakthrough. Record keeping ensures better time management which in turn should have a positive impact on your learning experience, right?

Apparently I need 300-800 hours for basic HSK level (HSK is the Chinese proficiency test). Well let’s see,  in maths terms,  300 hours/14 hours per week = 21 weeks. That is a little less than 6 months to reach the basic HSK level. The next HSK 1/2 tests are scheduled for the 19th May 2012 in Nantes, Rennes and Paris in France.

Something to think about.

How to speak Japanese



How to speak Japanese without saying a word


Naruto for Spanish speakers


Speak Japanese! Advice for learning Japanese

I came across this book entitled Effective electronic gaming in education by Richard E. Ferdig.

I have not had the chance to read it yet, I hope to do so when the time is right.

Why is this book of interest to me?

Firstly I love culture and I like teaching which to me means sharing knowledge. Sharing culture can only be done through language and I feel that that is the main reason why I love languages. Through hard work, language gives me the possibility of accessing another world and being a part of it. Secondly I like this book so far (I have read the introduction only) because it is centred around gaming. I love games, I was such a loyal gamer that I played World of Warcraft regularly, had a human mage, elf rogue, and dwarf hunter all to level 60 as well as other characters. I had serious objectives that I needed to attain and alternated between French and British realms. I learned to play WoW and picked up the vocabulary surrounding the MMORPG in French and English. I am fluent in WoW. I also managed to pick up a rare purple sabertooth mount after lots of work and no help from bots. These feats may not seem like much but I played WoW the day it came out in France and a year later I had several level 60s and then I stopped. This experience revealed quite a few things I did not know about myself:

  1. I don’t lack dedication but sometimes I cross over to the other side and become a techno hermit. I have learnt to manage this particular behaviour. My biggest accomplishment was stopping my addiction in 2005 and replacing game work with home work.
  2. When immersed in something I love, I learn everything about the immediate environment. I was a regular on WoW fora looking for tips on how to %*$ and carried out extensive research on the professions to choose and the skills sets I needed to nurture. For example, elves by nature can become invisible, it seemed logical at times to train as a rogue, stealth being an asset and then pick up leather working or poison-making as a profession. Leather working because rogues could only wear leather and anyway rogues are fast killers and so on.

So imagine if I had played a game like WoW that was just as fun and picked up a language that was useful in the real world, sky’s the limit. I must say that in WoW you do manage money, work in teams, sometimes you become Guild leaders and sometimes you become the fairy Godmother, I was more the latter than the former. I used to hang around low level instances (level 10 to 20) as a level 40 mage helping friends and strangers complete their quests which is what I loved doing the most. So one could say I am a not-for-profit oriented mage. Therefore, there is no shortage of real world skills within the world of WoW and leadership is an important part of WoW when going through instances and killing your xxxx millioneth Orc.

All this to say that true MMORPG style games as a language learning tool would be a Godsend to visual learners and language aficionados.

Cindy Chen 朋友 sung by Layinka


I got sidetracked from studying today because of this beautiful song.

I could not find the karaoke version (as usual), here is a duet with Cindy Chen (you may not hear her though).

I love this song but it is very sad.

Enjoy it!!


You xie hua bu yong shuo chulai
Wo zhidao ni yiding hai zai
Shangxin de dengdai
Anjing liulei rennai
Kanzhe ni zheme bu yukuai
You shihou wunai bushi yinwei wo bu mingbai
Shi pa ni hai mei fangkai

Ni xuanze ziji chengshou
Rang shijian zhaodao chukou
Bu renxin kan ni kun zai xuanwo
Name shiluo
Ruguo ni mei fa fangshou
Women jiu yiqi zouguo
Wo dang ni de peiban
Yiqi fendan

Ni de shangtong
Wo neng ganshou
Dasheng ku chulai
Yinwei zhi you wo neng mingbai
Yu de tiankong
Cai neng
Chuxian caihong
Kandao de weilai
Wo zhi xiwang ni neng HAPPY