Monday, January 1, 2018

The Year in Nerdiness

Last year I continued to track the time I spend on my hobbies.

Most of my language nerdery during 2017 had to do with Chinese. I listened to Pimsleur lessons 104 through 150, finishing the 5th and last level sometime in the fall. Then I listened to 27 ChinesePod lessons, most of them from the Intermediate level.

I like ChinesePod more. I think it's because of the personalities of the hosts. They use lots of voice actors, but the lessons I'm listening to now are hosted by John Pasden and Dilu. They sound like they're having fun. If I was just starting to learn Chinese, I'd probably begin with Newbie ChinesePod lessons. I should also recommend the Pleco app as a dictionary and Anki for flashcards.

One other advantage of ChinesePod over Pimsleur is that it has many times more lessons and they go up to more advanced levels.

These lessons are less than 15 minutes each, but it takes me almost 3 hours to listen to one. Each lesson starts with an introduction. Then there's a short dialogue, whose transcript is provided by the ChinesePod company. Then the hosts discuss this dialogue in detail. In the Intermediate level a lot of the discussion is in Chinese. I understand 80% to 90% of it, but of course I have to be obsessive about the other 10% to 20%. I spend a lot of time trying to figure it out by myself. If I fail, I look at one of the transcripts made by ChinesePod users. I think there are only about 150 such transcripts. There's more than a thousand ChinesePod lessons at the Intermediate level and above, so if I stick with this system, at some point I'll have to start flying without the transcript safety net.

Here's a graph of my piano practice over the last few years:

My experiences with language learning made me pretty disdainful of formal education. I didn't learn most of what I know about Chinese, French, German, etc. from lessons. So when I started playing piano and guitar, I assumed that I would be able to learn them myself, simply by playing pieces.

But I eventually hit a wall. In spite of daily practice the speed with which I learn new pieces hasn't improved in years. And this speed is very low. So I started looking around the Internet for suggestions.

Many people think that learning scales and arpeggios is crucial. A lot of music is made up of them, so if you can play them automatically, without thinking, you learn pieces faster. Or so the story goes. Last year I decided to give this theory a try.

After some research I chose this scale book. So far I've learned almost all the exercises for one key, C major. But there are 24 keys in total (by one count), and it's not at all certain that I'll stick with this to the end.

The red segments on the above hobby time graph represent me studying calculus and other STEM subjects. Again, I don't know how far I'll go with this. It's not that I can't plan ahead and follow through, but most of my desire and ability to do that is used up by my job. Off work I'm only really willing to do what I want to do at any given moment. And that varies unpredictably.