An Accidential Experiment

This language learning experiment came as an accident: poor time management with a busier schedule, less time on Chinese.

About three months ago, I was watching a Taiwanese drama I really enjoy 《光陰的故事》(Time Story; loose translation so don’t quote me on that!). It’s set in roughly 1970’s Taiwan, which I believe to Taiwanese is kind of like the 1950’s is to Americans (Which always bothered me: women were still expected to be housewives, civil rights hasn’t existed yet.. really? That’s our ‘ideal’?). Kind of like this time when everyone was good, people were happy, and summers were cool and bright. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I love period peices like this, and it’s a fun way to get a bit more background on life in Taiwan.

And anyway, I like dramas that are slightly more realistic. Everyone looks like average people; not super stars. I don’t know, it’s just more believeable.

That aside, I used to watch it for hours everyday (actually to avoid doing SRS reps 咳!咳!). I found my listening and speaking increased dramatically and I felt more confident in my speaking. My watching method consisted of just, well, watching it. I never paused to use a dictionary. I just enjoyed it. Gradually I could feel my vocabulary increasing as there was a lot of repeating words, or words I picked up form outside the drama that I saw repeated. I “mocked” the way characters speak—usually you can always, ALWAYS, find one character that you like the way they speak, so I pick to mimick them. In this case, it was 陶復邦. You start to pick up some of their mannerisms, which are native mannerisms. It’s great!

Then, I moved. Got a new job (full time, as mentioned before), and I eventually just stopped watching it entirely. Months later, I feel my speaking and listenin has gotten a lot worse and isn’t what it used to be. I listen to a lot of music, but it didn’t help nearly as much. This just proved to me:

You can’t stop. Seriously. DON’T STOP.

Variety is good. Music: awesome, but mix it with material that has actual speaking in it (dramas, news, TV shows, etc.). I used to believe music was the only way. It is a great help, but ultimately, you can’t sing your way through immigration issues, you need to be able to talk to them.

Unrelated benefit: they use a lot of Taiwanese, a very native language of Taiwan in the drama. I picked up a decent amount from the series just by listening and getting the meaning from the Mandarin subtitles. Fun!

Related link: 《光陰的故事》Ep. 1 Part 1/10

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6 thoughts on “An Accidential Experiment

  1. podcasts dude…there’s as many different genres as there are genres of music so its easy to find something you like. Plus the variety of subject matter coupled with the “explained in layman’s terms” nature of most podcasts aimed at a general audience makes it easy to gain some basic vocabulary from a wide number of subject areas, academic disciplines, interests, etc. There are sports podcasts, news podcasts, political podcasts, psychology podcasts (both “pop psychology” and the real stuff), science podcasts, history, comedy, gen. interest (both ungendered and gendered), romance/relationships, fiction, poetry, religion…basically if you can find a section for it in a bookstore, you can find one or many podcasts about it. Very easy way to dramatically increase the variety of your language exposure in a format that is highly portable, generally short enough to listen to in short periods (commute to work, on lunch breaks, etc). Podcasts got ya’ hookup.
    *Oh, and if your on IRC, or if you aren’t, you oughta stop by #ajatt sometime, @irc.rizon.net.

    • Huh, I haven’t used IRC in years, nor did I know there was #ajatt, I just might have to check back into that.

      I had heard podcasts mentioned before, but I seem to be rather unable to find any good ones for Chinese. I’ll double the effort though, you kind of won me over with the variety of topics! Sounds perfect for my commutes!

      Thanks for your comment!

  2. I completely agree! The same thing happened to me when I was watching between 2 – 4 hours of Cantonese movies every day. I didn’t even have to give it my full attention either. I’d watch a movie through once, then leave it on repeat for the rest of the evening! I found that if I learnt a word elsewhere, I’d never remember it unless I heard it repeatedly used in a movie. 加油!

    • Yes, you’re right! Like words in textbooks, they’re segmented into chapters and rarely seen outside of that chapter (usually each chapter focusing on one “topic”–politics, airport, etc.). Besides, movies are more fun 😛

      Are you currently in Hong Kong now? Been there a few times recently–all in Kowloon. LOVE the food and Hong Kong style milk tea–wow. Amazing.

  3. You’re absolutely right, you should never stop.

    I’ve been looking for some good comedy shows in Mandarin though. Do you know any good sitcom style shows? The closest I’ve come to is 武林外传, but nothing set in the modern day really.
    I’ve been having to watch some dubbed American shows, but I’d prefer to watch something funny originally in Mandarin. Are there any good shows you know of from Taiwan and the Mainland?

    • Mostly what I watch are dramas or cartoons (they don’t really have the ‘sitcom’). There’s a few comedy dramas out there, if you’re interested I can send those to you. Of course, there’s always Stephen Chow’s movies 😉

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