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 paper” (wèishēngzhǐ 卫生纸)
- It reinforced the tones. Seeing them visually while just sitting around eating helped a lot. (I arranged all the prepositions of location on my refrigerator door.)
- It helped me start to think in Chinese. By just seeing the thing (a window) and thinking “chuānghu 窗户,” my brain learned to bypass that English word “window” completely after a while.
I also made a picture of a human body and labeled body parts (I can’t draw very well so it was actually quite “kǒngbù 恐怖” (“horrifying”) as my Chinese visitors put it).
Later I even started writing notes to myself from my imaginary older brother in Beijing. Ping (as I called him) had a key to my house and would come in and leave pieces of advice or warnings like:
- “nǐ chà diǎnr wàngle dài yàoshi 你差点儿忘了带钥匙” = “you almost forgot to bring your key” (on the inside of my door)
Teddi went a step further and posted his lists of “confusing cousins” and “random confusers” above his sink. Whatever it takes to get those tones under your belt.
Tip: buy the real Post-It brand sticky notes. The Chinese-made ones seem to sit in the package plotting little competitions as to who can be the first one to fall off the wall. They don’t even stick to themselves when folded in half!