Interesting to get a report card–more on learning Chinese

I'm continuing to learn Chinese (Mandarin) in my spare time. (Although I'm not sure I really have any).

This year I made a change in how I'm doing things. I decided to give the team at Hanbridge Mandarin a try. I'm doing online Skype/Webex based video classes 3 times per week for about an hour, one on one with a teacher. Teachers for Hanbridge mostly seem to be ShenZhen based.

It continues to be fun to keep on with my learning. Last year I managed to pass HSK3 and this year I plan to take the HSK4 exam. I'm a little concerned about it as each level seems to get twice as hard as the previous level. HSK5 seems to be about the level required for university entry in China.

One thing that I've found interesting with Hanbridge is that they send a report card every few months. It feels like being back in school. I was happy with this one and am looking forward to expanding my abilities this year.

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Passed my Chinese HSK3 Exam–Thanks to all that helped

One of my biggest goals for this year was to try to pass the HSK 3 exam. I wanted to do it as a validation of my efforts to learn Chinese.

HSK (Hanyu Shui Ping Kaoshi – 汉语水平考试) is the exam given to foreigners to assess their level of Chinese. (Hanyu is the Chinese language, Shuiping basically means a level of achievement, and Kaoshi is an exam). The organisation that runs it is called Hanban.

There are six levels of exam.

  • Level 1 is "Designed for learners who can understand and use some simple Chinese characters and sentences to communicate, and prepares them for continuing their Chinese studies. In HSK 1 all characters are provided along with Pinyin."
  • Level 2 is "Designed for learners who can use Chinese in a simple and direct manner, applying it in a basic fashion to their daily lives. In HSK 2 all characters are provided along with Pinyin as well."
  • Level 3 is "Designed for learners who can use Chinese to serve the demands of their personal lives, studies and work, and are capable of completing most of the communicative tasks they experience during their Chinese tour."
  • Level 4 is "Designed for learners who can discuss a relatively wide range of topics in Chinese and are capable of communicating with Chinese speakers at a high standard."
  • Level 5 is "Designed for learners who can read Chinese newspapers and magazines, watch Chinese films and are capable of writing and delivering a lengthy speech in Chinese."
  • Level 6 is "Designed for learners who can easily understand any information communicated in Chinese and are capable of smoothly expressing themselves in written or oral form."

While I'd love to achieve Level 6 one day, my medium term goal is Level 5. That's the level required for students entering Chinese universities. But my goal for this year was Level 3. It included 100 points for listening, 100 points for reading, and 100 points for writing. I managed 275 all up, which I am super happy about.

I need to thank all my Chinese buddies on Facebook who endlessly answer my mundane questions about Mandarin.

But my biggest thanks needs to go to all at eChineseLearning.com. Spending an hour one-on-one with a teacher three times each week has made an enormous difference. For most of this period, Amy was my teacher. Amy (and most of the teachers including my current teacher Bella) is based in Wuhan, China. If you have any interest in getting serious about Mandarin Chinese, I strongly suggest talking to them. If you mention me, we both get some free time but that's not my main concern. I'd just love to see more people learning Mandarin. It's going to be (and already is) a very important language in the future. Estimates are that 1 in 4 children born today will be native Mandarin speakers. (And for interest, 1 in 5 will be native Spanish).

I've found that learning Mandarin has already opened up another whole world to me.

Onwards to Level 4 !   加油!

An update on using Rosetta Stone: Studio now isn't very useful and is not great value as an add-on option

I had a surprisingly large number of responses from my previous posting about learning Chinese. An update for those considering Rosetta Stone (www.rosettastone.com) for Chinese, Spanish or any other language that they offer:

I had to renew my "Studio" subscription today and it's now a much worse deal than it was.

It's now $75 for 6 months for Studio sessions.

  • Online classes used to be 45 mins. Recently they reduced them to 20 mins. Given how often people have connection issues, etc. that 20 mins can disappear very quickly.
  • They've also reduced the number you can attend. You used to be able to have 2 scheduled at any point in time. Now they limit you to 2 "group sessions" per month during the period. (You can pay for additional private sessions).

The combination of these two changes now makes it much less useful. Two x 20 min sessions per month is an almost meaningless amount of practice.

They also now automatically change you to auto-renew when you subscribe. They tell you where to remove this auto-renewal but the first 4 or 5 times that I went into that screen, no such option appeared. Later, an option did appear and I used it.

Overall, things just aren't what they used to be at Rosetta Stone. It's now pretty hard to recommend the Studio option where it was a no-brainer before.

FURTHER UPDATE: <sigh>

Even after I renewed, I could not even connect to their "new" service. Although the system processed the renewal, it still tells me it's expired. My online chat person "Siva S" tells me that the problem is that I've purchased all 5 levels of the program. I can't wait till they explain to me how making an extra purchase from them stops me from logging on. Siva told me that they had "renewed" the program. I'd have to speak to Customer Care; they aren't available and then disconnected himself. Impressive (not).

Their website is now full of issues too. It insists that my billing address is in the USA, even though it pretends to accept changes to it.

Overall, it's gone from something that could be recommended (with some limitations) to now being an app to avoid. That's a pity as I liked much of it before.

Book Review: Dreaming in Chinese – Deborah Fallows

Another book that I've just finished reading on the Kindle is Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows. I had purchased the hard cover edition a while back on the recommendation of colleague Ron Talmage but hadn't got to reading it. I was glad to then see the Kindle edition of the book appear. I purchased and read it and loved it.

Deborah spent three years recently living in Shanghai and has documented many of the struggles she had with coming to terms with learning Mandarin and with getting used to Chinese society. I imagine that part of the hassle she would have had was dealing with Shanghai-ese rather than the Mandarin that she would have learned before heading off to China but I could relate so well to so many things she spoke of.

The book is also quite funny. I particularly liked the part where Deborah described trying to talk to an employee (who was wearing a big sombrero) outside a Taco Bell restaurant. She wanted to know if they offered take-away food but her attempts to pronounce the words (even though she had the correct words) ranged from asking for a big hug, to discussing hail.

My favorite part was where she discussed Chinese names. Chinese people will often adopt English names when they move to an English-speaking country, and of course, English-speaking people will often adopt Chinese names when they move to a Chinese-speaking country. The most common way to do this is to try to find a set of Chinese words that are like a transliteration of your existing English name. But it's also important to try to find words that mean something sensible in Chinese, like "Harmony". Deborah made me laugh out loud when describing one of her young friend's boyfriend who decided to choose a name to ward off gui (or evil spirits). He chose the name Fendui. Unfortunately, while it sounded like his name, it directly translated to "pile of shit". Beautiful!

If you have any interest in understanding Chinese society, even if you don't want to tackle Mandarin, this book is a great read. Highly recommended! (10 out of 10)