Language Learning is Messy I

I was just on the phone with my dad (one of the world’s great educators) and we were discussing how learning anything (Chinese, math, music, tennis, etc.) doesn’t always go according to plan. As much as teachers try to write an organized syllabus and learners try their best to pass the tests, the fact is: […]

Gesture Phobia

As I’m sure you don’t need to be told, gestures can go a long way toward communicating when you don’t know the word. I very easily bought a power adapter for my laptop on my second day in China, not because I knew how to say the words, but because I took my power cord […]

The Pinyin Wall

A few people have asked me to comment on the “Pinyin Wall” that learners supposedly reach where it is no longer possible to function using pinyin alone and one must use hanzi characters. My short answer is: I believe the reports of such a wall to be greatly exaggerated. In my first year learning Chinese […]

The Informant

There’s a difference between practicing saying stuff you already know, and actually targeting linguistic problems and tweaking your own Chinese to a higher level. The former can be accomplished in bars and at fruit stands. The latter requires what is commonly known in linguistic literature as an “informant” (see also Terry Marshall’s The Whole World […]

Field Notes

Even though it might seem like a no-brainer to you, enough people have commented on my little notebook that I thought it merited a short post.I rarely leave home without my little notebook: I have a medium-sized notebook so I can write little phrases on one line. But it still fits in my pocket. On […]

Label Your House

During my first year in China, every Chinese person who came to visit me was guaranteed hours of entertainment. All they wanted to do was walk around reading the scores of little post-it notes with pinyin on them.I labeled everything and it paid off: I quickly mastered everyday words like “outlet” (chāzuò 插座) and “toilet […]

Organize your Vocab: Hanzi Web

People always ask me, “How many Chinese characters do you know?” I resist the urge to include some of my students and proudly answer, “About zero.” They’re shocked because we’re speaking Chinese right now. And, to the Chinese, the language IS the hanzi characters. But for us laowai, if your goal is to speak Chinese […]