Sunday, April 8, 2018

Chinese and Piano Update

I'm spending a lazy Sunday at home, so I decided to update my Hobby Time graph. To make it less confusing, I decreased the number of categories.
Here's a separate graph for my Pimsleur Mandarin and ChinesePod lessons.
I think I've now spent about 430 hours on Chinese listening comprehension. This includes the period before I started logging this info. The ChinesePod company recommends that you listen to 120 of their Intermediate lessons, then to 160 of their Upper Intermediate lessons, then to 120 Advanced and 80 "Media" lessons. I finished my 120th Intermediate lesson a few days ago. I'm now almost done with my first Upper Intermediate lesson. The jump in complexity between these two levels is pretty big. I've recently started a log on the Language Learner's Forum. If I have more free time, I may describe this process there in the sort of detail that only my fellow language nerds could ever find interesting.

As I progress, Mandarin sounds less and less weird to me. Not Cantonese though. I have two co-workers who speak with each other in it, and I don't understand a single word of their conversations. Which is kind of stunning. The Wikipedia, and paper encyclopedias before it, told me that these two languages are related. But I wouldn't have discovered this on my own, at least not yet. A woman from another department sometimes comes over to talk to these two co-workers of mine in Mandarin, and I now understand quite a lot of what she says.

This is a bit of a relief to me. I've read that almost no one speaks standard Mandarin, the kind I'm learning to understand, at home. Apparently there are many (dozens? hundreds?) regional, mutually-unintelligible varieties of Mandarin. So it feels good to know that I can understand some bits of real conversations in it. And yes, Mandarin sounds more pleasant to me than Cantonese.

I've been spending even more time on piano practice than on Chinese:

At the start of every session I play the 4 pieces that I know by heart. Then I move on to scales and arpeggios. The book that I'm using has the following exercises for each key: 

I've now learned these exercises for roughly 2.5 out of the 24 keys. But every time I think I've completed something I discover that I'm not really doing it right. For example, all of the above scales and arps are written for 2 octaves. But it turns out that you're supposed to play them in 4. They expect you to extrapolate. I do it now, but it wasn't easy at first.
You're also supposed to play all of this stuff like a metronome. An untrained person like me produces notes in clusters instead. The movements of my fingers aren't as independent as they should be. I'm working on this. People use actual metronomes to get better at it. I've tried that, but it seemed unnatural. Maybe I should force myself to get used to it.
After going through about 1.5 keys I decided that I should play these exercises without looking at the keyboard. If I can't do scales and arps blind, how can I ever expect to learn to sight-read? This also took some time.  
It's all good fun of course, especially Chinese. The jump you see in that graph of Mandarin practice above happened because I noticed getting better at it soon after I signed up with ChinesePod. Progress motivates.