Chinese from scratch at LingQ

Mandarin at LingQ – Week 1

So how much progress have I made so far? I think it’s fair to say: rather more than I had expected!

At the outset, those Chinese characters do seem kind of…well…EXOTIC. But to my great delight, after just two or three lessons (from the Beginner 1 content here at LingQ) I could already start to recognize a couple of them coming up over and over again.

Maybe it actually IS possible to learn 5000 of these little dudes after all? I’m certainly planning to give it my best shot!

I’ve been listening to the downloaded mp3 files – but I can see that I’m going to have to do a lot more listening before I’ll be able to pick out more than the odd word. (I’m not sure whether to go on listening to the first tranche of recordings, or whether to move on to the newly LingQed stuff?)

Things I noticed while LingQing:

#1 Chinese seems to be very uninflected (great news from the learner’s point of view!)

Hence 是 (shi) = “to be, is, am, are”. Other verbs likewise.

#2 Sometimes the verb 是 seems to be omitted (a bit like in Arabic or Russian, perhaps?)

#3 There seems not to be any kind of definite article. There do, however, seem to be some rough equivalents for the indefinite article – several different words translated as “one”, “some”, etc.

#4 Verbs seem to be negated by 不 (bu)

#5 There is a particle 吗 (ma) which seems to function like a spoken question mark.

#6 There is a particle 的 (de) which mostly seems to have a kind of genitive function.

Hence 我 (wo) = “I,me”; but 我的 = “my”. (Very neat!)

So what can I say (i.e. write) in Chinese as of today?

Well, with the help of the Oxford Concise Eng-Mand, Mand-Eng dictionary, here goes:

Q: Steve 是 职业杀手 吗?

A: 是的!Steve 是 罪犯!

(Steve thinks I’m a jerk for writing stuff like this - but of course I’m only kidding! ;-D)

All in all I feel very satisfied. Considering I’ve only been doing this for a few days (I really was a total beginner in Chinese!) I already feel like I’m winning here. If I can keep this up, I may just learn to understand Chinese in the not-too-distant future. Awesome.

Learning Chinese surely can be fun! I know i can’t be objective to say this, but the vocabulary acquisition is very easy. Just learning some simple characters can help you guess at other compound words! BTW, you can consult me if you have any questions regarding to Chinese.

Thanks Roniamk! :slight_smile:

I’m going to try to keep up weekly “reports” on this thread (mainly as a kind of motivation for myself.)

Maybe this thread is helpful, too:

Thanks Hape - I’ll check this collection out. :wink:

Eigentlich habe ich die ersten Lektionen von meinem Assimil-Kursus hochgeladen - und zur Zeit benütze ich hauptsächlich die. (Aber bei einer Sprache wie Chinesisch kann man einfach nie genug vom Anfänger-Content kriegen!)

The truly massive scale of what is required to master the written side of Chinese has kind of caught up with me here!

Learning at a rate of 10 per day, assuming that 50% of them stick…and it would still take me at least 3 years to get anywhere near the basic number required for reading!

Not good! :-0

If you stay with it and do it every day, you can increase the 10 per day to at least 30. Also don’t forget the great flywheel of language learning, the vocabulary you pick up incidentally.

Thanks Steve.

Actually I’m feeling kind of torn in two ways here. I need to give this some thought.


Language learning isn’t linear. When I started with Russian, learning 5 new words a day seemed a fantastic achievement. Three years on, what happens is, I read or listen to a chapter, then work through it on LingQ, and end up with about 100 words that I knew without ever having to learn. In 3 years I have nearly 40 000 known words, nearly half of which I’ve “learned”, the rest were just “known” as soon as I saw them.

How far would 40 000 known words get you in Chinese?

Thanks SBT.

I know what you mean; I didn’t learn German at LingQ, but my experience was more or less exactly the same - especially when I was living in Germany and using the language every day.

But I think there is an important difference with Chinese: the written and the spoken language are somehow two different ‘entities’ - if I can put it like that. In theory, one could learn the English meanings of all of the Chinese characters, and then read a page of Chinese as if it were a kind of ‘remixed’ English. Plainly that just wouldn’t be possible with languages which use a phonetic script!

Now, I’ve no doubt that one could learn SPOKEN Chinese in the same way that one learns spoken German or Russian - but unlike with German or Russian this wouldn’t help a sausage with the written form! You can know 5000 or 10 000 words, but you have no way of understanding them on the page. So basically, you have to learn everything twice over in two completely different ways!

I think this is why diplomatic and military language schools rate Chinese as being so darned difficult! (Because the actual language itself seems to be delightfully logical and analytical.)

I have the same problem with Japanese. I have to first figure out which grouping of characters constitute a word, or unit of meaning, then look them up, get the right meaning (Japanese has a lot of homonyms), get the pronunciation, and then create a LingQ containing pronunciation and correct meaning in context. Then as I read and reread a text I have to click on most words, even ones I’ve “learned”, to check the pronunciation as well as the meaning. Also, as I reread a text, I move from LingQing words to lingQing groups of words which clearly mean something together (like “want to do”).

It’s still the same process, it just has a few more steps and is therefore slower. I need many rereadings of one text before I am comfortable to read it out loud to myself. Just like my kids who will demand the same story every night for 10 nights.

Jay said:

“But I think there is an important difference with Chinese: the written and the spoken language are somehow two different ‘entities’ - if I can put it like that. In theory, one could learn the English meanings of all of the Chinese characters, and then read a page of Chinese as if it were a kind of ‘remixed’ English. Plainly that just wouldn’t be possible with languages which use a phonetic script!”

If your “remixed-English” theory were true, Chinese-English translation engines should work like a charm, but most of them mostly return junk. The truth is that you need to learn multi character words as well as set phrases, the meaning of which you cannot necessarily guess from the individual characters. Furthermore there is some grammar and rules regarding word order that you have to be familiar with before you fully understand written Chinese.

Furthermore, I don’t see a difference between characters and phonetic scripts as far as your “remixed” theory is concerned. The characters (and combinations thereof) are the equivalent of our words expressed using a phonetic script, so if you were to learn the meaning of all words in, let’s say Finnish, you could read Finnish, sort of.

For improving your Chinese reading skills I would recommend to read a lot of graded content on your computer with a dictionary software. You may want to start with beginner content from Lingq or elsewhere. That way you will learn characters according to their importance (since you will see the most important characters more often), and you will learn compound words and set phrases as well. I would not recommend learning a fixed number of characters per day from a character list. For reading skills, context is key and that you don’t get from learning single characters from a list. In fact, learning single characters without context can be highly discouraging and frustrating.

The biggest challenge with Chinese I think is the ambiguity in the sounds due to the large number of homophones and the subtleties in the tones. A well known French TV personality here in China (who after more than 10 years of blood, sweat and tears has achieved an impressive Chinese level) once said that after 2 years of full time learning, most learners will be superficially conversational at best, mainly due to poor comprehension. Some people may claim to be fluent in Chinese and able to hand write and read books after a year or so, well, I don’t believe them, unless they have exceptional talent for learning languages and are extremely committed.

I have a lot respect for your commitment to learn Chinese! Good luck to you and let me know if you have further questions.

I think the Remembering the Kanji method has been extended to Chinese characters. I’m not sure if it was Heisig that did it, or if it was the Remembering the Kanji website fellow. At any rate, it might be worth checking out. I believe it’s called Remembering the Hanzi - although I could very well be wrong about that.

It’s a way to learn the characters as a set without reference to the language. In fact, in the Heisig system, you learn to write (and therefore recognize) all the different standard characters before you even learn how to pronounce them.

I’m not quite sure how they’ve adapted this to Chinese.

I’m actually curious how Chinese is typically written for beginners. In Japanese, you can use the characters in beginner material because you can write the pronunciations in Japanese characters below the Chinese characters.

I know in Taiwan they have bopomofo (or something like that), and in mainland China they have pinyin. Do beginner texts just have pinyin below all the characters?

And, for that matter, how are children’s books written in China? If you bought a picture book, what would you read?

I’ve had a look at the Heisig method. It’s all very well, but it is possible to spend too long memorising words that you will rarely meet.

I notice that Steve says that with Czech he spent the first 2 months creating 10 000 lingQs, and I think that sounds about right. Once you have encountered that many units of meaning, even if you don’t immediately understand what they mean, you have a basis of common (at any rate, common within the lessons you are studying) to start learning from. Otherwise you can disappear down the rabbit hole of trying to learn words from word lists.

As regards Chinese, I suspect that there are a lot of 2 and even 3 kanji combinations that are far more common and necessary to understanding than most single kanji are.

Thanks. If I do continue with Chinese - as opposed to going back to the “easy” option of Russian - then I’ll certainly check out this website. (I did Chinese for a week - and right now I’m doing Russian for a week. At the end I’ll compare results and then decide.)

Okay, maybe the stuff about “remixed English” wasn’t the best way of making my point. I’m not suggesting that Chinese is in any sense like English. Really, what I’m getting at here is that the Chinese writing system is not linked in an intrinsic way to the actual words. In German, if I know the word “bumsen” (jawohl! dein Lieblingswort!) then I’ll recognize it as soon as I see it in any phonetic script. But with Chinese you wouldn’t necessarily be able to recognize a well known word, would you? (That, at any rate, is my understanding.)

I should also say: I really love the Chinese characters. But I’m also spineless hound who shrinks from the truly mamoth task of learning them!!

In fact a native Chinese speaker or a very advanced learner can infer the pronunciation and even the approximate meaning of unknown characters. Deep, isn’t it?

Just because you can read the word “bumsen” out loud, doesn’t give you any idea what it means. Even as an A2 in Japanese, I prefer to see the kanji to get the sense of what a word means. I saw the word museum for the first time and figured out what straight away what it meant - the kanji says something like warehouse of learning. Don’t know how to pronounce it though…

@BST “—Just because you can read the word “bumsen” out loud, doesn’t give you any idea what it means.”

Of course, but that isn’t what I’m saying.

My point is: if one knows a word in spoken German, then one will be able to recognize it on seeing it written down.

My problem, after a week of Chinese, is that I can “hear” certain Chinese words buzzing in my brain, and I know what they mean, yet when I SEE these same words (for example on flashcards) there is complete zero connection between what I know, and what my eyes are seeing! :-0

It really sucks, because you just don’t get this with languages written in phonetic scripts!

ah yes, totally true. I have to write the phonetic pronunciation down in every hint forJapanese, and it really slows down the process.

Yes, it is true for me sometimes because certain Chinese characters are a little bit different or totally different from the ones of Japanese which I learned at primary school. And my problem is that I have difficulties with distinguishing quasi-homonyms when listening to Chinese.

I am feeling that you have certain difficulties with using flashcards.