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Greg Low (The Bit Bucket: IDisposable)

Ramblings of Greg Low (SQL Server MVP, MCM and Microsoft RD) - SQL Down Under

Recent thoughts on learning Chinese

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Published Thursday, January 30, 2014 4:12 PM by Greg Low

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Paul Randal said:

Very helpful - thanks Greg! I picked up the Living Language Platinum course plus some flash cards and the apps you list above. Looking forward to getting stuck in.

February 1, 2014 2:56 AM

Mason said:

Thanks for the mention, Greg. I'm one of the programmers for AnkiApp. We want to make AnkiApp the best app to learn Chinese, so if you have any suggestions please let us know (you can contact us within the app from Profile>Contact Support).

February 10, 2014 8:00 PM

Nick Xu said:


February 13, 2014 6:39 PM

Greg Low said:


February 13, 2014 6:50 PM

Tof Albrech said:

Hey Greg. I'm not learning Chinese, but I grew up in France and had to learn English as a second language. I think the bottom line is that it's all about immersion. When you start learning a language, you constantly need to go back to your native tongue for comparison and translation. But at some point you reach a level of understanding that allows you to get explanations in the second language, which is when total immersion is possible and should be sought. Read a book in Chinese. Don't understand that word, sentence, or idiom? Google it. But google it in Chinese. Outside of regular classroom hours, what really helped me getting fluent was reading books in English and watching movies with English subtitles, or none. The great bit about those is that they also teach you to unlearn some of the too-perfect grammar you learnt at school (e.g. How are things?, instead of how's things, ain't, aren't I...) in the interest of sounding more like a native. Then finally, as you mentioned, the very best way to learn is just to talk to the natives. You will learn a lot very fast and also make an ass of yourself every so often. When I moved to the US for a one-year internship 10 years ago, I went to a burger king on my second night because we don't have those back home. I looked at the board, decided I wanted a whopper, and for some reason came to the conclusion it was most likely pronounced like "whole", so I asked the girl for a hopper, which she made me repeat about 10 times. In the end I just asked for number 6. I also sussed out a bit later on that the most important thing to make yourself understood is to put the right emphasis on the right syllable. Next time you hear a French guy speaking English, notice how they always stress the second or third syllable when they should really be doing that on the first one 90% of the time. In my case, because I try hard to get it right in English, I often go back home to be told by my friends that I have an accent when I speak French. The first week is usually a pretty embarrassing experience because I interject in English, and have to translate answers from English to French in my head when people ask me something, which takes time and makes me look foolish.

On a completely separate note, in the past 10 years, second language acquisition (which is different for kids and adults) has been the target of much research in a variety of fields such as psychology, neurology, and especially cognitive sciences. There are studies showing that people knowing 2 or more languages develop split personalities. Not to say they suffer from dissociative identity disorder, of course, more than according to what language one is currently using, their behavior will be affected because that language is associated with a culture and a bunch of life experiences. Others show that knowing a second language helps at decision making, or that it tends to retard senility. Fascinating stuff, that's for sure.

Sorry about the long post, I waffled on, as usual :-)

February 26, 2014 5:16 AM

Matt White said:

Hi Greg,

Paul pointed me in the direction of this article; very useful info and interesting comments that reflects my Chinese Learning experience so far as well.  I can completely relate to the formal vs native day-to-day difference and my Wife picks me up on that all the time :)  I'm still very much a novice, but hoping to improve that this year and your resource list is a great help.


March 26, 2014 9:48 AM

John said:

Very helpful.I stay in china for 3 years, but communication is still a big problem. My Chinese friends tell me to attend some online mandarin course,For example: Hnabrige Mandarin school, chinesehour, speakmandarin etc...Because I need systematicness chinese mandarin study. So anyone have good recommendation?

August 6, 2015 3:51 AM

Greg Low said:

Hi John, yes, my recommendation (after having tried a few) is Best contact is Amy. If you mention me, I get some free time and you do too but the main reason that I mention them is that I've had such good outcomes from them. I've written details on how much they helped me with my HSK training here:

Another useful app if you have an iPad is Skritter. ( I"m finding it useful for learning to manually write characters.

August 6, 2015 5:19 AM

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