So… the opportunity came up for me to take up a wild module at uni this term. I looked through quite a few — the ones that sounded like I could be interested in were: darkroom photography, digital photography, and languages. Of the languages it was down to Arabic (because I learned it when I was young, but have forgotten most of it) and Mandarin (because 1- I think it’s a useful language when one lives in Malaysia, and 2- the fact that my dad can speak Mandarin and has proven point #1 to me). As it turned out, the photography modules were all full, and I was told that the Autumn term Arabic module was too much of a beginners’ level for me, since I can already read and write it.
Alhamdulillah, it’s been so, so fun so far. Discounting Arabic, I have never learnt a language from scratch like this and it is such a wonder how every little achievement in each lesson feels fit for a celebration. We learn to write the characters as well as speak and read the Pinyin (Roman) version of the words, so it is always a challenge, albeit a satisfying one.
I thought I would share a few quick online resources that our tutor has linked for us. Obviously this is for my own benefit and reference as well.
- Confucius Institute Online — Pinyin practice, pretty much the first thing you need to go through in order to know how to read the roman version of Mandarin. The tones section is useful too.
- BBC Languages — very interesting short videos on different general topics. I find that it’s useful to go through these after I’ve learned them in class. Otherwise it’s all a bit overwhelming. They also have a tone game (fun), character game (not that fun, writing with a mouse or even tablet is very odd. But you can check and reference the order of writing the strokes, which is useful) and phrase lists with audio. Check out their links section too.
- BBC Schools — simple online guides to basic stuff with plenty of games and videos.
- How do I Learn Chinese — a few songs and games. The songs are VERY earworm-prone, which is both good and bad.
- YouTube: Chinese080808 — lots of acted “scene/situation” videos, good for listening practice. They speak fast!
- YouTube: mistel040106 — aka ChinesewithMike. Classroom-teacher-style videos, but I think he only uses Pinyin throughout.
- nciku — dictionary for writing characters (with proper stroke order)!
A few more realisations that learning Mandarin has brought about:
- Consistency and practice is the key! It’s so easy to feel “lost” (or “blur” as Malaysians say it) in the middle of a lesson, but you really can catch up and get it if you practice. Like our tutor says, 10 minutes a day, every day, is better than cramming for hours on end only when the assessments are coming.
- Games, songs, connect-the-dots, matching cards: these are kiddy “tricks” to make you learn without realising it. And they can totally work for other subjects or skills you’re learning too, if only you took the time and effort to make things fun and interesting for yourself. Actually, a lot of tuition teachers used tricks to help us memorise/remember stuff back in school too. I suppose in school, the learning process was a lot more straightforward compared to a lot of subjects in university level (where you need to think more and it’s not just about regurgitating facts), but in terms of just remembering things; tricks help a lot.
- Don’t ever be shy to ask or to say things out loud (in order to get your tongue used to saying the words, and your ears to get used to listening!). I also have a habit of taking notes of everything so I can refer to them later. Teachers always have more to say than what is written in the PowerPoint slides, so you better capture and collect those gems ’cause you brain ain’t gonna retain those stuff for long.
- It’s good to have supportive and smart deskmates to help you when you’re racking your brains and squinting your eyes trying to remember what that character means…
My “cheat book”: the collection of weekly characters we’ve learnt. I also have the same pages hung in my room for practice. This is my secret to surviving SPM and A-Levels: just hang stuff in your room and read them every day. -_-
All in all, I’m so thankful for this new subject that makes me enjoy learning again. May it also benefit myself and others in the future, ameen.