I will attempt to learn Mandarin Chinese (oral comprehension) exclusively by watching movies, children’s shows, television, and similar media, and by listening to and learning songs.
I will not take any type of Chinese lessons whatsoever. I will not do any type of self-study coursework or adopt any traditional method. I will not speak to or interact with any speakers of Chinese in that language in any way at all. I will do no research on the Chinese language on the Internet or elsewhere. I will consciously avoid learning any vocabulary or grammar by any means other than listening to the aforementioned media.
I hereby attest that I currently know absolutely nothing in Chinese, except for the following. I have scanned my memory and can think of only two words in Mandarin: ni-hao, which I believe is a type of greeting (perhaps it means “hello”, but I’m not sure), and haotzu, or something like that, which perhaps means beautiful or dear one. That is the full extent of my knowledge of Mandarin Chinese.
I speak English, Portuguese, Spanish, and French. These are all closely related Indo-European languages that derive from Latin and, particularly in the case of English, Germanic roots. Mandarin Chinese is not even an Indo-European language, which means it is more distant from my native languages (English and Portuguese) and secondary languages (Spanish and French) than even Arabic or Russian, for instance. For this reason, it represents the ultimate “challenge” in language acquisition and in adopting the proposed method.
One could argue that the fact that I speak multiple languages will make my results completely different from those other people would obtain. I do not believe this is the case. I may have some advantage because of my familiarity with a greater degree of phonemes and grammatical structures and my brain’s already established language learning pathways. However, since I believe—as evidenced by children’s universal facility for learning any new language—that the human brain is inherently skilled at acquiring new languages, I believe than any adult of normal intelligence could effectively apply this method. The main advantage that seasoned, previously successful language learners have is that they have learned the right approach to language learning, and not that their brains are much better prepared to do so. Therefore, assuming the method I am testing is a right method, it could be successfully applied to learning a second language, instead of a fifth language.
I believe that the proper way to conduct this experiment would be to dedicate at least 2 hours daily to watching Chinese videos. In that case, I would feel very confident about my hypotheses being proven correct. However, dedicating that amount of type would be impossible without sacrificing things I consider very important in my life, and I do not foresee these circumstances changing significantly anytime in the future.
Therefore, I will dedicate a minimum of 30 minutes daily as mentioned in the hypothesis section above until I obtain a fair degree of oral comprehension, or until it becomes clear the method is not working.
I will carefully record my daily viewing/listening: what I watched and for how long.
For the purpose of being able to personally reflect upon the process involved in my experiment, and for the benefit of anybody who might have an interest in following the experiment, I will, from time to time (perhaps once weekly) comment on my impressions and any signs of progress.
I hope, by conducting this experiment and commenting on it, will contribute to a better understanding of the language acquisition process.
Note: I made a small edit on March 7, 2015, to reflect the fact that I have increasingly used music as part of my experiment. This document shows the original version and the changes. March 7, 2015 edit