Passive Language Learning and Exposure Tips! (+Chinese sources)

by Yaska Sahara

This is a sort of continuation of my post last week on the anticipation involved in deciding to learn a new language. I spoke about my history of wanting to learn Mandarin (read here), how and when I decided to take it on and the ways in which I will take on the challenge while also working on my thesis! (I plan to blog on it as it is extremely cultural too!) We all know to not take mistakes to heart and to not be hard on ourselves yet also have high standards. But I might have some tips you haven’t thought of!

My main goal of 2021 is to make significant headway in learning Mandarin and about Chinese culture. I say ‘significant headway’ because I can only do as much as my circumstances allow. The pandemic mental health drain toppled with a thesis is hefty, to say the least. 2020 taught me, and I assume many others, to try and have goals you can take small steps to, to take things more as they come and to not be too hard on yourself. Understand that the small passive steps are also progress! This brings me to my first point:

  1. Set realistic flexible goals
    -Rather than, ‘I will get to x level in 6 months’, say ‘I will get as far as I can in the next 6 months’. This way, circumstances and other commitments are considered and you can train yourself to be honest about what your best, or most reasonable, is in a particular situation.
  2. Passive and flexible Learning (online sources, podcasts etc)
    – This point involves consuming language learning content. I listen to Coffee Break Chinese. The series involves a native Mandarin teacher, as well as a Scottish gentleman who is in the same boat as the listener. I listen to and repeat phrases while cooking, doodling or stretching. It doesn’t take any extra time out of my day. You could also use those ‘learn while you sleep’ audios to have greetings and phrases burned into your mind as you fall asleep. Once again, no extra time is taken from you.
    – Like me, if and when you have time or want something new, you can sit down and write some characters and do an online lesson. But only if it won’t burn you out.
  3. Exposure (Music, film, videos, podcasts etc)
    – This is similar to the previous point but here, you’re consuming things a regular native would consume. Watch their movies and film, listen to their music or radio. You don’t need to write or repeat or even think of new words and grammar. You can, but then it would become more draining active learning. This exposure just gives a feel of the language, its pronunciation and such. Mind you, media doesn’t always reflect realistic speech, but it’s far closer than you will get in the CD that comes with your textbook. It doesn’t seem like it at first, but after a while, media-consuming can seriously pay off, as I discuss in my Japanese post. Of course, make sure not to use this an excuse to waste a lot of time. Maybe try and make a rough idea of how many films you will watch a month or something.

    – I’m getting to Chinese hip-hop and I love Vava and Ty., among many others. They did an awesome song for Crazy Rich Asians you may recognise! It combines Chinese traditional sounds and hip-hop! Listen here.
  4. Culture and History (or other knowledge)
    – This media can be consumed in a language you are comfortable with already. But you will get knowledge of the region(s) that accompany your new language. If or when you study more proactively, you are likely to learn faster, feel more connection and already know cultural concepts behind vocabulary you learn. Its also just interesting and makes you more aware. Once again, you can use, videos, podcasts or anything.
    Blondie in China is a great channel on travel and food!
    – Videos of Chinese and Mandarin vs Cantonese for looking at Linguistics and language history! (Langfocus is a great channel to learn about languages)
    Chinosity has numerous writers discussing language learning, history, pop culture, Diaspora voices and far more!
    Asian Boss and conducts street interviews on various ideas, hot topics and news items throughout Asia. There are many on China. You hear an assortment of native speakers and get to expose yourself to various vocabulary topics. There are many other channels with the street interview format too!
    – I’ve also been enjoying the Goldthread series on youtube on Chinese noodles! Bamboo noodles, pasta-like noodles, oat noddles, thread noodles, biang biang noodles and more. They also have content on Chinese music, influencers, cities, villages and more!
    – Recently, I’ve been listening to Chinese History podcasts on Spotify. Talking of its Dynasties, Diaspora, modern history, inventions and more!
    – Also, fictional stories set in your language’s region or one inspired by it, The Poppy War by R. F. Kwang, a fictional fantasy heavily inspired by the Sino-Japanese wars. The author has a degree in Chinese History! The series takes inspiration from the Rape of Nanking, Characters nodding to the ideas and contradictions of Mao and Chiang Kai-shek, western imperialism, opium trade in China and far more.

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Yasmin N-P February 11, 2021 - 12:25 pm

A very insightful post about language learning! Will definitely be taking on some of these tips in my language learning journey

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