Self Reflection: What’s my Current Level?

After my eye-opening trip to China, I still consider myself at a beginner level. Not full-on newbie where I’m still constantly struggling with tones and pronunciation, but instead still struggling with holding anything more than a very basic conversation. I feel I’ve made a decent improvement since I began, but I don’t feel comfortable calling myself an intermediate learner just yet due to my speaking and listening abilities.

Here I’ll outline everything I have done so far, giving you an approximate total as to how much time I put into each activity.

Groundwork

Before I began Pimsleur I worked through a small chunk of FSI. Without realising, I actually completed the resources module first rather than starting with the orientation module. I think looking back this was actually a great idea, the lessons on pronunciation and Romanization were a priceless foundation for me.

I believe this is to thank for my fairly decent use of the four tones and ability to recognise Chinese speaking and write out the pinyin.

Time spent: ~40 hours

Early Level Speaking

I raced through all 3 levels of Pimsleur in about two months, completing around 2-3 lessons per day which would usually take me around an hour and a half per each.

Time spent: ~140 hours

Reading and Writing:

After I finished Pimsleur level 1 I started using Skritter, I managed to find pre-compiled lists of all vocabulary for all 3 levels of Pimsleur and worked my way through them, doing between 1-2 hours daily.

I figured it would be most efficient to learn how to read and write characters I knew how to speak first. The trouble with Pimsleur is a lack of vocabulary so Skritter has been a great way to help fill in a number of gaps.

I have now finished these lists and have also finished HSK 1, 2 and 3 lists, working my way through 4 (there’s a big jump in the number of words at this level, it will take me a while). I opted to study HSK vocabulary, as the majority are useful and high frequency words.

According to my Skritter statistics I have learned to read and recognise 890 characters and 670 words.

Time spent: 80 hours

One to One Lessons

Also after Pimsleur I began having one to one lessons on Skype via a teacher I found on Italki (referral link). I find her very helpful, as it gets me speaking more and she’s very good at explaining grammar.

After each lesson she records all questions, answers and sentences that were said throughout and sends them along with a document including characters, pinyin and English translation. This allows me to add everything I want into Anki with ease, so I can work on drilling it into the old brain.

Time spent: ~30 hours

Anki Flashcards

Towards the end of my time with Pimsleur I began using Anki, which now occupies a large percentage of my study time. I first began adding cards that showed the Chinese characters for words and then on the reverse side, the English translation.

This was good to a point but once I got stuck into Skritter I found less of a need for it. I focused my attention on speaking because I feel that I have trouble finding the words to express myself when I usually do know them all.

Currently my most used decks are using cards I made from my Skype lessons. They show a sentence in English and then I attempt to translate them. On the reverse the audio plays along with showing the character and Pinyin. I think it is soon time for me to drop Pinyin all together as it is a crutch that potentially is hindering my listening ability.

Time spent: ~40 hours

Listening

To work on my listening ability I have been going through Chinesepod Intermediate levels. I found a few of them very easy, some challenging and a few very difficult for me to understand.

I’m starting to get into the habit of using Audacity to chop out just the dialogue and then play these on repeat over and over while reading through the transcript. I feel this is very slow progress but from what I’ve read listening is the hardest skill to develop and arguably the most time consuming.

Other listening has involved going through some practice HSK listening tests, I’m not bothered about taking the HSK test for a while but they do provide a good way for me to listen to material where I should know the majority of words due to my Skritter usage.

I’ve also watched a number of Chinese films trying to focus on the dialogues, though I have not taken an active approach of pausing and taking note of unknown words and sentences (which is most of it)

Time spent: ~30 hours

So, adding it all up plus an extra chunk for things I haven’t accounted for here. Total time spent: ~400 hours

How I feel about my current level

I’m happy with how it’s going. The main thing for me is that I’m still enthusiastic about learning more, despite what many might consider slow progress. At school I was terrible at Spanish and French so I may just not have that flare for languages, but I’m confident that with determination and daily study nothing will stop me from reaching a high level of Mandarin.

If I had to define my level, I’d say I could just about scrape a pass with HSK level 3, through as far as I’m aware this test does not grade speaking ability, which to me is the most important reason for learning.

I’m hoping the immersive environment in China will give me that push I need to break this plateau of being unable to express myself, which may be in part a confidence issue with speaking a different language.

At the moment I’m very much full on with Chinesepod listening, Skritter, weekly Skype lessons and sticking to my flashcards (though this is becoming harder and harder to maintain).

I’m considering buying New Practical Chinese Reader soon, though I do not know which volume to get just yet. Any suggestions to my study routine or learning materials would be much appreciated.


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