It will only take 17 minutes to read this post!
My name is Michael Michelini and I am VP of business development and marketing at the parent company of Written Chinese. Today I’m going to share my story of how I have improved my Chinese learning. I’m embarrassed to say I have been living in China now 8 years (since end of 2007) and I am not happy with my level of Chinese. I try to pick up a word here or there, I never took formal training. I came to China for my business, and never knew how long I would be here – originally I thought it would be six months to a year, but now I’m married with a son (you can check a previous article I shared on Written Chinese about my love story in China if you’re curious). So I cannot keep delaying it.
Joining Written Chinese Has Inspired Me to Pay Attention to Characters
I have to admit, I was not convinced I needed to ever learn Cd_ios_280.pnghinese characters. And I believe that is true for a lot of Western men in China – at least those entrepreneurial or business types like me. We’re not into culture and history of China – we are here for business. But again and again I hit roadblocks in doing business here because of my Chinese language skill limitations. Joining Written Chinese in November, I was convinced I had to do something about it – the months prior to joining Nora here had been explaining to me that learning just pinyin and sounds would only get someone so far – to really learn Chinese you have to get the characters to sink in. Well, finally, her words sunk in for me.
Bought an Online Training Package
It was Cyber Monday last November, and I was sitting next to my friend Manu who showed me a Cyber Monday special for Udemy where courses were deeply discounted to about 20 us dollars for the day. I was convinced I needed to develop my skills by learning how to learn online more proactively so I jumped in and surfed different courses. Typing in ‘learn Chinese’ I found Felix’s Learn Chinese course and quickly signed up. Luckily he also teaches characters, and even though he says in his introduction that when he first taught Chinese he skipped over characters, but then he noticed how much better his students were doing if they learned characters too. He believed in this philosophy so much that he named his course Domino Chinese – as Chinese Characters are the building blocks of the Chinese language. Lucky for me, Written Chinese syncs up perfectly with that philosophy. While he recommends Pleco dictionary, I of course am partial to using my company’s Written Chinese dictionary app instead, and normally dedicated a couple hours each Sunday afternoon to learning Chinese.
How Do You Most Effectively Learn?
I know you may be resisting to learn Chinese characters – it is hard and there are so many to learn. But really, while I still only know about 100 or so, I can pick up sentences in my daily life and as Felix says in his course: your knowledge builds on itself overtime. Another reason why I like characters is that I learn things by writing them, not by listening, so having accepted this fact, I write the characters over and over in a notebook. But I’m not just talking about learning Chinese by writing – I am talking about – that is how I learn. In school, if I take notes, I learn as I write them – and when I study for a test, I go to my notes and I re-write them – I summarize them – I consolidate them. This is how I built it into my brain. Now that I have been studying characters for about five months, when I speak Chinese and listen to Chinese, I try to visualize the characters. I speak now, and I almost see subtitles from a movie on the bottom of who /what I’m looking at. So my advice to you is to decide the best way to learn for you. Do you learn by watching, do you learn by reading, do you learn by listening, or do you learn by writing? Maybe a combination of all. Speaking Chinese is another challenge, because even if I know the word, pinyin, and character, Chinese people cannot understand me because I do not have my tones right! Jeez, I have the character, the stroke order, the pinyin all correct – but I can’t remember if I am supposed to be increasing my voice level when I start the word or decreasing it when I speak. It is like singing, and those who start to learn should notice their throat being a bit sore from rising and lowering your voice as you speak the tones. Now I prefer learning characters over spoken Chinese and when I listen to someone else speaking to me, I have to go and write the character down or at least visually see it somewhere in order for me to understand it.
Put It In My Morning Routine
I am waking up early every single day now, I am making a habit of waking up at the same time every day and having a morning routine. Pat Flynn’s podcast with Hal Elrod has inspired me for this part. As I have developed the Miracle Morning over the months – I have learned I can also add more parts to it – and in February I added learning three to five characters each morning. So I went back to the Domino Chinese course outline and took all the characters and choose a handful of characters to learn each day. In order to control my time, I put a countdown timer on my phone for 20 minutes and try to wrap up my studying regardless of how far I get. Normally I get to four characters, but sometimes more and sometimes less.
Review Yesterday’s 3 – 5 Characters
First I quickly review the 3 to 5 characters I learned the day before, writing them once each in my Chinese learning notebook. Hopefully, I have no problems and I don’t need to check how to write them again. If I’m having trouble, I go back and restudy those I have issues with and highlight them as difficult words.
Put my Phone in Offline Mode
I put my mobile phone in offline mode so that I don’t get too many distractions. And because the Chinese Dictionary by WCC works in offline mode (sweet), I don’t need internet. I am normally in the foyer or garden of my apartment complex at 7am when I’m doing this. For each Chinese character on my list I do the following:
Check the Stroke Order
As I write these characters out I check the stroke order or ‘Writing’ tab in the Dictionary app for the character. I watch it quickly and try to write at the same speed for one or two characters repititions. After a couple of quick tries I see how much I messed up and then slowly write it the correct way. Finally, I try to write it without watching the stroke order. Tip In the WCC app, it doesn’t automatically repeat the stroke order – simply tap on the character and it will repeat again. I had to ask Nora for this tip 🙂
Check The Radical Breakdown
Also, to help me with the understanding of the character, I check the radical breakdown. This way I can see the building blocks of that character. As a math-subject-over-culture-and-language-subject kind of dude, I like this logical idea that words are built on other ones. Sometimes it is a stretch to make a logical connection, but sometimes it is really easy. For example, the other day I was learning the character 饿 (è) which means ‘hungry’ and is used very often in the Chinese language. I learned this word years ago, verbally, but never knew the character. If you break down this character into its radicals, it has 2 parts One part is the radical for ‘food’, 饣 And second part is ‘me’ or ‘I’, 我 So the character for ‘hungry’ in Chinese is literally ‘food me’ – pretty logical don’t you think? Now this is a word that will be hard for me to forget, and it has so much more meaning to me rather than just having to remember ‘UHHHH’ means ‘hungry’.
Look at Example Sentences
In the mobile app, we also have example sentences and other common words (known as bigrams) that contain this character. Sometimes learning these bigrams helps me remember the actual character. Other times, because I have been casually learning Chinese for years, and now know the ‘Character breakdown, or the individual characters that make a common phrase, I am able to understand more of the spoken Chinese I have picked up. I’m becoming more and more confident with the language.
Write The Character for 2 – 3 Rows in my Chinese Writing notebook
Now, this is where the bulk of the learning comes. I write my chosen character over and over in my Chinese learning notebook. I do this to learn. I do it until my hand gets tired, which is normally two or three rows on the notebook. I’ll take a break – look at the characters over the rows – hope they are all matching – and move on to the next character. I Repeat this until my timer goes off 20 minutes later, and hopefully I have studied 3 to 5 new characters.
Add to an Excel Sheet (Google Doc)
I am in love with Google docs more than ever, even though it is blocked here in China. When I’m in a foyer garden of my apartment complex it still works in offline mode. So I pull up my Chinese character journal and add my progress. Tip You can copy mine below if you want to use it 😀 Notice I have the columns listing the date – I even write down the start and end time of my studying! I am counting the days I have been doing this to show my progress. I like to write it in my computer; the actual character, the pinyin and the tone. I have notes after it to show what mistakes I made. By tracking my studying, it makes me more accountable and responsible – it kind of makes it more of a game. I also feel so much more fulfilled and proud of myself when I look back and see how many characters I have learned.
Go Back Home For Breakfast
I go back to the apartment for breakfast, and I have now involved my wife Wendy with my learning. I show her my writing notebook and give her my highlighter. She tells me which words I am not doing correctly and other ‘inside’ information. Though she thinks learning characters might not be the most efficient way to spend my time, and that I should just speak to the family in Chinese, for me, I learn much better by following this system. Though I do still ask her for words in daily life, now I usually look at the character and try to learn it by writing it.
Add Comments to the Living Web Dictionary
The development team at Written Chinese worked really hard on making an English to Chinese web dictionary and we just made some big updates in the new year. We added the Discus commenting system so you can see what other Written Chinese users are saying about a specific character. While it is just getting some traffic now – we are excited for the long term as more and more people add their ideas for learning and remembering characters. So when I find a way to memorize or remember a character – I go there and leave my comments. For example, I mentioned the character 饿 (è) before and how to remember its meaning. I went to that character on the site and left my comment. You can check it out here in the screenshot or actually go to the page. Normally I do this from the kitchen table at breakfast after discussing with Wendy (and when I’m on wifi), and I hope to add more and more as I go. So I hope you guys can come to the living web dictionary and share those characters you are having trouble with or those you have mastered.
Flash Cards on The Go
When I’m traveling (which is pretty often), I also try to strengthen my character learning by using the Written Chinese Flash Cards Mobile app. It is free for a limited amount of characters and if you like it you can upgrade to the full version (which I did, honestly pay for – no inter-company hookups in the App store!) While this doesn’t follow the order of characters I am studying (from the Domino Chinese course), and introduces me to new characters, it is still helpful and keeps my mind thinking about Chinese characters throughout my day.
Sunday Weekly Review
A weekly review, like anything, reviewing is how you really strengthen your learning. I picked Sundays as I am almost always at home for a few hours in the afternoon. Between playing with my kid, I have my laptop nearby and I check over the characters from the week. I also watch more online learning from Felix, and am ready to move onto the next level soon!
It’s Amazing How Little This Cost!
Actually as a new member of Written Chinese, I think we need to look at how we are making money – we give away so much for free! All of this I mentioned I have used is free!
- Web Dictionary = free
- Mobile Dictionary = free
- Flash Card App = free version, paid for more characters
- Domino Chinese = Udemy price
- Google Docs = free
So this drops the excuses of needing things. It really is about setting aside the time to study. Wake up 20 minutes earlier each morning and follow this routine – I think it will help for sure. Create a habit that is hard to break – for me, I expect to do this the rest of my life! Crazy I know, but it’s true.
How Bad Do You Want to Learn Chinese?
We all know the Chinese economy will continue to grow. I know you’re saying I have more of a reason to learn than you may – as I have a Chinese wife and a kid together here. But still, learning at least some Chinese (and not saying some Japanese to a Chinese business person at an important business meeting in USA) will help for sure make you stand out from your competitors. I will also keep more regular progress on my personal blog at Mikesblog.com and I hope this post helped you out. I may also share more ways that I have been learning Chinese on the Written Chinese blog, it is just about how much is too much for you guys about my own personal Chinese learning journal. Did this help, do you want more? Let us know in the comments below!
If you’re interested in learning Chinese, you can check out our WCC Dictionary!