Fun and Culture – Week 10

I spent a lot of time updating my sources and graphs this week, so I hope you’ll check them out.

After a few very busy weeks, I’m looking forward to catching up on my Mandarin viewing. I’ve already gotten started, with about 45 minutes yesterday and 65 minutes today.

Yesterday, I spent about 15 minutes watching official Shanghai TV. I’m wondering if this time was misspent, however, since I read that in Shanghai, Shanghainese is spoken, which is not even mutually intelligible with Mandarin. The only question is, on official Shanghai TV, do they speak Shanghainese or Mandarin?

I got a very significant uptick on my blog visits and views in the last couple days. I’m wondering why this happened, but regardless it’s encouraging. The visits are from all over the globe.

Just a quick thought to conclude my post. I’ve focused a lot in my thinking and posts on whether my method will be comparatively effective and time efficient. When I posted in the Chinese learning forum, most comments centered around this question. However, a perhaps equally important factor is that my method is much more fun and easy than traditional lessons, vocabulary lists, grammatical structures, and so forth.

One of the reasons that it is much more fun is that I am getting insight into Chinese culture. Watching movies from Hero to Farewell my Concubine to Secret, and cartoons like Boonie Bears and Pleasant Goat and Big, Big Wolf are veritable lessons in culture.


Vocabulary and Secret – Week 9

I spent this week preparing for a big event (The Natural Language Institute’s 11 year celebration) and didn’t watch any Chinese at all until this weekend. Yesterday, I watched 3 new Boonie Bears episodes, and today I watched the Taiwanese movie, Secret.

It was nice today as I watched Secret and to hear several words I’d already learned. It doesn’t actually feel that much different from learning other languages (such as Spanish and French), in that I gradually learn new vocabulary by hearing it in different contexts, over and over again. I rarely if ever “learn” a new word by hearing it just once. Rather, as a rule of thumb, I noted many years ago that I need to hear a word 10 times, on different days and contexts, to really learn it.

The difference is that I’m hearing these words in videos, rather than in live conversations. I also don’t have the opportunity to try to use vocabulary in speaking, and to get feedback.

To give an example of the challenge of learning new vocabulary this way, consider three words or expressions that I heard in today’s movie. The first is shie-shie, or “thank you.” I picked it up first while watching Lost on Journey. I then heard it several times while watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I believe I heard it once or twice in Boonie Bears. However, only while watching Secret today and hearing it once or twice more, do I feel it is finally really consolidated.

The second word is mimi, and I heard it for the first time today. I believe it means “secret,” but I don’t feel secure about this. I will “look out” for it in future videos, and hopefully confirm my interpretation.

The third word or expression is she-ma. Its meaning is quite vague to me. I’ve also heard ke-ma. I believe these both mean something like “what,” but I’m not sure and am keeping tuned in to see if I can hear it in other contexts and eventually really learn it.

Regardless of the challenge, I still believe the natural way of learning vocabulary is more effective than vocabulary lists. One reason is that I’m learning in real, meaningful contexts. I don’t get bogged down by limiting translations or transliterations. And while it takes much longer to learn, it is committed to longer term memory than are words learnt from a vocabulary list.

By Camila Daya (6 years old) – Week 8

I’m 6 years old and my name is Camila. I speak English and Portuguese and I’m learning Spanish. This experiment [is] for [me] to learn Chinese. Maybe I will learn Chinese. I love doing the experiment. One day I would like to go to China.

I watched Boonie Bears to the Rescue and Hero. The Boonie Bears show, too. I watched [episodes] 1 to 30, 40, and 90 of Boonie Bears. I love Boonie Bears. I like [another show] so-so—I don’t know what’s the name, but I know that it has sheep and wolves.

[Here are some words and expressions I have learned.] Loushasha means sir (e “senhor” [in Portuguese]). Ao means ouch. Puna is no. Shere is yes. And ginger means today. Wa means I. Ni means you. Shei means who. Nishishei means who are you.

My six-year-old daughter is going full steam ahead with the Mandarin acquisition experiment, and is gradually catching up to me on viewing time, as you can see in the graph below. Therefore, I asked her to write the blog entry this week.

In the first version above, I changed the order of the sentences, corrected spelling and punctuation, and added some text in brackets for clarity. The original text, as she wrote it by herself, without any help, follows below.

Louxaxa means sir e sinhor I wach boonie bers to the rsqeu and hero ao means ouch .

Puna is no shere is yes . boonie bears show to 1 day I wad. like to go to china and ginger means today wa .means I ni means you shei means who. nishishei means. whow are you. I .wach  1 to 30 and 40 and 99 of boonie bears  this experiment is for I to learn  chines  maybe I wil learn chines  I love boonie bears .

I like soso  I don’t now wats the name but I now that has a sheeps and wolfs.

I’m 6 years old and my name is Camila I speek inglish and portiguis and i’m learning Spanish.

I love doing the experiment


Naysayers and Chinese films – Week 7

Since I am inordinately busy helping The Natural Language Institute finalize plans and preparation for its big 11-year party, I will have to write shorter posts this weekend and next.

This week Camila Daya and I watched Chinese films, exclusively. We watched the Boonie Bears to the Rescue film twice (attentive readers will know by now that Boonie Bears is originally a TV cartoon, usually about 10 minutes long, but they have also begun making movies out of them). Daya enjoyed it quite a bit, but I was mostly along for the ride. It’s good entertainment for a 6-year old, but not so much for an adult.

Surprisingly, however, Daya took my Kindle Fire (well, she uses it as much as I do) and began watching the movie Hero over and over again. This is definitely a PG-13 type movie, and a year ago I would never have let her watch it. Even now, the only reason I tolerate it is because it is so cool that she is watching Chinese, and I did explain all the scenes to her, and we talked about good and bad messages, etc.

Anyway, as you can see from the following graph, in the past 4 weeks she has pretty much kept up with me in terms of viewing time. This is probably the biggest and best surprise of the experiment thus far.


While she watched Hero, I rewatched some scenes from Lost in Thailand, and began watching Lost on Journey. Somebody from the forum I mention below recommended it, and it is, in fact, much more funny in my opinion than Lost in Thailand. It totally copies Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, but with some originality and certainly Chinesefying it.

In other news, I got on a forum of Chinese learners this week ( and briefly explained my experiment. I got many comments, all of them friendly, but mostly people saying I was wasting time, that my method wouldn’t work or would produce much poorer results than traditional methods. However, though I have called them naysayers in the title to this post, I actually do not mind hearing their skepticism at all. First of all, they may be right and made some good points. I am open to my hypotheses being proved wrong (although my progress thus far only reinforces my overall optimism). Second, I am actually as motivated by naysayers as I am by outright supporters. I will love to prove them wrong!

Give us this day our daily Boonie Bears – Week 6

In one week, Camila Daya and I watched 16 episodes of Boonie Bears! I don’t know whether we’ll learn Chinese, but we’ll definitely have good father-daughter memories to look back on. I pick up words and expressions here and there, but apparently she does much less so. So on the superficial learning level, the adult seems to be doing better. However, at that deeper natural neurological acquisition level, in which, according to my theory, the brain of itself adapts to sounds and patterns and gradually deciphers their meaning, I would still bet on her, IF she were to put in as many hours as I and stick with it over the months and years.

I don’t understand any full sentences and very few words, but I do comprehend slightly more than in the beginning. For instance, we have learned the bears’ names (“Swar” and “Shoulda”) and clearly distinguish them.

Swar Shoulda

SWAR (left) and SHOULDA (right)

I hear the expression “lie la” several times an episode, and though I cannot (and do not care to) translate it, I’m fairly confident I get it. That’s a big advantage of learning by watching videos, as opposed to memorization or translation. You get the term in context over and over again, and avoid being caged in by translations, which are inherently misleading. I often say that you can never accurately translate a single word from one language to another if it is not in context, because all words have multiple shades of meaning and subtle connotations depending on how they’re used.

Anyway, “lie la” means something like “come on now” or “let’s go.” (That would explain what Simon and Garfunkel meant in that long repetitious ending to their song The Boxer, hahaha). The word or suffix “la” is also used with various other words. For example, I’ve noticed that it is often added to “how.” As I’ve mentioned before, “how” or “hao” means something like, “ok,” “good,” or “great.” So “how la” may mean something like “alright now.”

I pick up assorted words and expressions here and there that I often forget (temporarily) if I don’t hear them again in subsequent days’ viewing. But that’s part of the natural language acquisition process. I noticed long ago, especially in learning French and Spanish, that I generally have to hear a word some 10 times, in a variety of contexts, before I really incorporate it into my vocabulary. Today I definitely “acquired” a word that I had seen in an earlier episode, “moza.” I’m pretty sure it means “hat,” since episode 37 was all about the logger’s hats.

My other viewing source this week was the movie Lost in Thailand, which I watched in its entirety, by myself, with subtitles.

My colleague Helena had told me about it, as she recently traveled to Thailand and discovered that there is currently a huge influx of Chinese tourists as a result of this movie which was very popular in China last year. Watching Lost in Thailand was a welcome change of pace for me, but it’s a pretty lousy film and I would definitely not recommend it to non-Mandarin students who are looking for a fun, quality movie to watch. (Instead, if perchance you haven’t seen it, choose American Hustle, which I saw at the cinema with my wife last night before coming home and watching Lost in Thailand on my Kindle Fire). But it is interesting to have a Chinese blockbuster that is not a historical epic or full of kung fu and sword fighting, but rather a Western-style lighthearted comedy.

Through March 1, I am on pace and have watched an average of 29.8 minutes of Mandarin videos per days for 6 weeks. Daya has averaged a total of 14 minutes per day in the same period. However, she watched next to nothing in the first 3 weeks, but has pretty much kept pace with me in the latter 3 weeks.