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.

6 thoughts on “Vocabulary and Secret – Week 9

  1. Greta Browne says:

    I’m impressed that you found energy, after the huge effort required to put on a grand celebration, to watch 3 boonie bears episodes and a movie.

  2. Hi Victor,

    I’m enjoying your blog. I had two thoughts while reading this post.

    The first is about time. There have been a few others who also have tried learning a foreign language through watching TV. Oddly enough, they seemed to have disappeared, and from what I seem to recall, they didn’t even make it to 100 hours. The most important thing to achieving success through this process is being committed to putting in the time. I hope you will continue to make time, not find time.

    Your description and experience of learning new words is spot on. You get an idea of what a word might mean and then continue to see if other contexts support that idea. It was really fun learning words that way. You’ll remember those situations easily and you’ll be relaxed. It is so much better than memorizing words and racking your brain to try to recall translations.

    Keep on enjoying learning Mandarin!

  3. Thanks for commenting, Keith! I look forward to speaking to you at some point and learning more about your experiment. I’m especially interested in knowing if, after viewing the 2,000 hours, you then moved on to practicing conversation or other skills.

    I certainly intend to persist in the process! The 30 minutes daily are difficult, but certainly doable. And the most important thing is that I’m enjoying it.

    I’m glad to get your feedback on vocabulary acquisition. It’s slow, but I agree with you that it’s a lot more fun than vocab lists, and probably much better for long-term retention.

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