Culture and language 文化和语言

So, after a discussion on “The future of yiguoliangzhi 一国两制 #wodeshudian”, time to get back to language learning “technicalities”.

This will be a much shorter post than usual, as it is basically to share some choices about… choices- metachoices, if you want, about which language learning material makes sense.

My primary aim is to expand the vocabulary fast, to be able to read or at least find material worth reading in Chinese (the secondary aim to continue my use of Chinese learning as a kind of daily meditation).

I do not know about you, but my weakest point is associating the right tones with each character depending on the context- no small matter, with Chinese, and therefore I am “inventing” some material, also because I simply made the choice of using for my B1-B2 training a book from the same authors of the A1-A2 version.

Obviously, using the Android applications that I referred to in a previous post (Mobile phone university 手机大学 can help to overcome my weakness, but using Chinese movies with dual-language subtitles (allows to further expand voice recognition abilities.

I am now shifting from A1-A2 to B1-B2 (second run, the first one was focused on the grammar), while “fixing” the vocabulary covering HSK 1 to 3 (the latter should be equivalent to B1, more or less)- also if my spreadsheet listing words I saw across various courses and other material now lists… almost 1500 words (HSK 1 and 2 should cover about 150 words each, while HSK 3 a further 300- so, in terms of vocabulary, if I were to be able to use each character or word correctly, my list is most definitely an overkill- but closer to what you need to at least understand newspapers’ titles).

I will probably find a way to share that list, once completed and cross-checked (I found some interesting discrepancies between various dictionaries) up to at least HSK 4 (B2), as I have some business material in both Chinese and another language that I can use to expand that list with something that could be relevant in a general business conversation.

Along with that, I selected a course that, building upon those books but from a different author, adds business vocabulary.

It focuses almost exclusively on trade, INCOTERMS, etc., but it seems that in Italy business Chinese is considered to be only focused on import/export, as this is the third book on business Chinese that I found in Italy focused just on that… not exactly my cup of tea, but I will learn that too.

My concept of “culture” within the context of language learning is simple: if you are an adult, start adding something that is familiar to you, i.e. look for vocabulary that is relevant to subjects that you know something about, as soon as you get past the basics.

If your aim is just to pass exams, instead stick to books and courses, so that you can avoid spending too much time expanding your vocabulary beyond what you target exam requires (each level comes with a list).

The latest addition to my list of books actually claims to cover also the material required for the generic BCT (Business Chinese Test) level 3 and 4, but after a couple of months to try get used to the additional vocabulary, by mid-September I will probably do another round with a grammar book to check if the basic structures are “fixed”, before returning to it later this year.

Somebody would ask why I did not use the FSI introductory course (that is freely available online), and the reason is quite simple: to get used first to vocabulary that is closer to what is required by the first few HSK exam levels, as my idea is that, if you cannot get a personal teacher for the first steps with a foreign language, it is better to do it through books etc., up to the point when you can pass an admission exam to at least the intermediate level; FSI is nice, structured, but… old.

Anyway, I will test also other courses, via French and English, including at least one Assimil course (in French), as usually their books have an advantage: each exercise is coupled with solutions and explanations, while most of the other books are often material to be used in classroom courses.

Even some books that are supposedly structured for self-study are nowadays inviting you to… subscribe to the associated online website and courses, if you want to really complete the course.

An obvious issue with courses is that, once you start repeating the material, you become maybe proficient- but just on the voice of your teacher (or the CD/DVD that comes along with your book), and risk remembering dialogues, not understanding them.

You can obviously buy further material, but there are other options: once you complete your course, go on YouTube and look for videos at the same level (there are plenty of “sample lessons” from people offering online courses), or start looking around for university courses online (e.g. has a series of courses with MP3 audio available online, and other universities offer Chinese writing courses that include video material with the teacher talking in Chinese).

As for business vocabulary… long ago I registered my email addresses on mailing lists from Hong Kong and Mainland China, and I keep getting a daily quota of announces for courses, announces that I use… as an informal way to cross/check how my understanding of Chinese is gradually expanding; you can also register to industry-specific mailing lists, or for jobs in specific industries, so that you can start getting used to relevant vocabulary.

Also, eventually you can have a look at the Chinese version of Wikipedia, on a subject that you know something about (there is also some Chinese learning material).

If you completed Headstart2 and a separate A2 course (this should bring to you “awareness” of around 1,000 characters), you can also start having a look at the Chinese version of Xinhua., and cross-check specific news with the English version- you will slowly start to build patterns.

I think that by the end of this year I will have reviewed over a dozen different courses by using them, and therefore I should be able to have a better idea of which course, if I were to start from scratch, I would you if my first language were English, French, or Italian.

So, around with the word list, maybe I should also share a bibliography…

Anyway, if you have suggestions, let me know: I will have a look and act as a “guinea pig”, and then share the results and feed-back.

Meanwhile… have a nice week!

PS Please read the introduction to understand how to use this website 🙂


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