My language progress

Ten more days in China: time to review what progress I made in the language – and start thinking of a plan for when I get back to Melbourne. I have made significant progress in four areas: reading speed, phonetic accuracy, endurance, and confidence. These concrete example demonstrate my progress:

* I bought a novel yesterday, and read forty pages between last night and this morning, enjoying the plot, and with minimal gaps in my understanding. Though I still need to use pleco for the meaning of certain words, reading a Chinese text – including a large monograph – is no longer something I consider impossible. I am also able now to read and understand 90% of weixin messages sent to me without using an electronic translator, up from about 40% when I arrived.

* Three different Chinese people have complimented my pronunciation, saying that, in certain instances, I could be mistaken for a local. And I no longer experience problems getting people to understand what I am saying. I do note that my pronunciation becomes blurry under stress or when I get tired – but for a short period at least, I have reached my desired level of fluency.

* About a month ago, I had an in-depth five hour conversation with a Chinese friend on a wide range of topics – social enterprise, the meaning of life, family values, multiple server hosting, language learning. Between Christmas and New Year, I took part in a walk around old Guangzhou with a group of young Chinese people, and was able to lead and follow many conversations, one on one or in a group, while navigating the city, and was energised after this event.

* Yesterday, I made three phone calls in Chinese, including an important one to a writer I want to invite to the Marco Polo Festival. I was able to organise an appointment, explain the core concept of the festival, and get an in principle agreement exclusively over the phone. I still find phone conversations remarkably demanding – the low sound quality and absence of any non-verbal cue make it very difficult to communicate – but I am no longer terrified at the thought of making initial contact in Mandarin through this medium.

The main thing I want to pursue while in Melbourne is read, even read aloud. I also want to find a few Chinese friends who will speak to me primarily in Mandarin. And I need to find a series of podcasts or radio series to follow, so my listening keeps on track. I am also thinking of getting a few sessions with a tutor to brush off remaining mistakes, and make sure my bases are really solid – if you want to support Marco Polo Project, this is a great way to volunteer, and I promise to give you detailed feedback on your pedagogy. Anyone in for that :-)?

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