Out of the Blue Vocab Trap

In this post I offer some data, a little rant, and then three stories all meant to encourage us lǎowài-s 老外 not to give up on listening comprehension. I’m often asked, “Is it harder for you to learn Chinese or for a Chinese person to learn English?” Short answer: I don’t know. It’s tough to say […]

FluentU – My Review

I’m very excited to write about what I consider the coolest new listening and vocab resource on the Internet: FluentU The approach is brilliant in its simplicity: take authentic Chinese videos from YouTube (movie trailers, news stories, music videos, sit coms, etc.) and provide English, Pinyin, and Hanzi subtitles. They’re basically answering the question that […]

Eavesdropping is Too Hard

 One of the first things I noticed upon returning to the USA after my first year in China was: Wow! I can understand strangers’ conversations! Many of my English major students get discouraged when they sat in front of two foreigners on the bus and couldn’t understand what they were saying to each other […]

Free Gifts

Alright, pretend when you read the upcoming pinyin you’re really listening to a shopkeeper in Guangzhou. I was shopping for Shèngdàn lǐwù 圣诞礼物 in a big shopping mall in Guangzhou. I found a little silk scarf I was considering and the shopkeeper came over to convince me it was exactly what I wanted. I explained […]

How Old Are You on Mars?

Here’s a pinyin transcript of a recent conversation with a little boy at my favorite jiǎozi 饺子 restaurant. I’ll give you the hanzi and English in a moment, but first try to figure out what was going on just from the pinyin (because when you’re listening to someone speak Chinese, that’s all you really have, […]

I Work in a Trash Dump

One of the main challenges to learning Chinese is the homonym minefield you have to navigate for listening comprehension (mostly due to the tones). If you’re in a real biāozhǔn 标准 Mandarin area, there are 2 kinds of problems that can trip up your listening comprehension, and I’m assuming you already know all the vocabulary […]

Reductions: Missing Sounds

There are various reasons why listening comprehension in Chinese is difficult. In addition to those máfan tones, a homonym minefield, and countless regional accent variations, it’s also important to know Chinese has reductions. Much in the same way English has words that get crunched together and some sounds fall aways (like “going to” becomes “gonna”), […]