Home > Journal, Motivation & Attitude > Performance Review & Progress Report, 2013

Performance Review & Progress Report, 2013

Continuing my “Performance Review” series, checking every summer how I’ve done in the past year.

2009 – 2012: In this last post, I went over what I did in those years.
Pre-2009: In this older post, I went over what was my position in languages 3 years ago, before I started learning Japanese and got into this current stage of language learning.

It was in 2009 that I started by current stage of language learning, starting with my decision to study Japanese. Before that, I consider myself as having been just like most other people.

2013 thus marks 4 years since I started these efforts. I’m writing these posts to try to better show I’m nothing special and you can do it too. So, here’s a summary of what I’ve done in the past year.

Main Efforts


Mandarin Chinese

Primary Learning Method: Chatting with friends, Chinese interfaces, listening to Music.

Status: Improved: Rating myself using CEFR: High B1, almost B2 if it wasn’t for lacking vocabulary and heavy problems in listening comprehension.

How am I doing?

Although not clear since my description was not in chronological order, the period of time covered in my last post ended just a few weeks after my time in China – remember: I said before the trip, I felt my level was A2, but afterwards it was B1. Before, I was too slow to comfortably instant message (IM) in Chinese, limiting it to select sentences, but upon my return, I surprised both myself and one my main languages partners and friends by being able to carry out the conversation in Chinese. A little slow, but fast enough for IM’ing. A few hold ups when I wasn’t confident or didn’t know a word, but nothing a quick dictionary check couldn’t solve.

Intending to resume studying Japanese, I began pulling away from studying Chinese, slowly limiting the study to vocabulary I collect in flashcards, and stick to mainly practicing it. I made enough friends in China and back here so that I text nearly every day in Chinese, and once a week have at least a short chat online. Once in a while I’d have long, 2 or 3 hour IM conversations, including some video chats over QQ and Skype. 

I keep it up and make sure I’m exposed to it as much as possible. My school / work email interface is in Chinese, so when I reply to emails, they’ll see the previous message with 发件人, 收件人, 发送时间, and 主题 (sender, recipient, time sent, and subject)! As written about before, my phone has remained in Chinese, and some apps have had updates (eg, Evernote, The Weather Channel) that brought their interfaces into Chinese as well. I use Facebook in Chinese, and still use the Chinese social networking site Renren once in a while so I can read my friends’ posts. I’m not watching much Chinese TV or film, though I still try to listen to music, and if I run into a clip on YouTube, I’ll watch if I have time and note down what I can. I also follow Glossika Chinese and a few other Facebook pages on learning Chinese or languages, so that I can see posts of vocabulary, phrases, and more. Note how much of this is relatively lazy effort. I’m not doing the full-force immersion that other people (and I myself would) recommend if you’re trying to study intensively. I may write certain notes to myself in Chinese – the compactness of Chinese makes it an ideal choice sometimes! I usually check my free WordPower Word of the Day apps and save useful words.

I also try speaking as much as I can. I’ll use Weixin (WeChat), a messaging app, to send voice messages. If I go to restaurant with Chinese waiters and staff, I’ll speak Chinese. There’s a badminton club that uses my school’s gym every week of summer, and I was once on campus on that day and saw a few Chinese of ages maybe from 20 to 70. I went in and sat near the Chinese woman taking a break, started some small talk about what was going on, asked if she was Chinese after examining her accent enough, and then continued in Mandarin. I got lucky; she’s from Shanghai and I got to practice the few phrases I know. Then a friend came over, noticing us talk, and he was Cantonese, so I got to practice that too.

Some weeks later, two Chinese guys who would be starting this fall were looking for some help, and it was me they found. After everything was settled, I met with parents. They were a bit difficult to understand (the father was especially incomprehensible; southern accent plus slurring was too much for me), but I still managed to answer a lot about the school environment, activities, housing, and professors, along with typical questions of my Chinese study.

Basically, I can finally confidently say I can speak Mandarin. I have no issues texting or IM’ing; I may need to refer to the dictionary, but there’s never a roadblock preventing understanding. As for speaking, In person or over Skype, there are more roadblocks that a good gesture, round-about explanation, or English word needs to be used, but I’ve chatted an hour or hour and a half with a friend from Beijing over Skype, and 30+ minutes with strangers in person. I tend to need slower speech and patience from the person, but I can handle a normal rate of speech as long as they have good pronunciation and speak calmly rather than fast.

Anytime I run into something I don’t understand or find myself not being able to say a certain word I need or how to express something, I’ll ask or look it up, put it in my flashcards, and review it later.

What’s next?

I plan to keep it this way for now; keep learning vocabulary, and keep practicing – more with friends, more with strangers, more voice messaging, more online video/voice chatting as possible.


Primary Learning Method: Talk to me in Korean lessons, running a study group with friends, and teaching what I know.

Status: Much improvement. Probably a high A1

How am I doing?

Despite wanting to focus on Japanese, Korean is the one seeing the focus I would have wanted for Japanese. This is because in January of 2013, I started a Korean study group at school. As stated in my previous post, I wanted to continue studying Korean. Since I try to make my study of different languages happen through at least slightly different methods, I decided I wanted to have a study partner for Korean. Soon after I began wondering who may be interested, one of my friends messaged me on Facebook and asked me about starting Korean. What a great coincidence; I found my study partner. A few other friends expressed interest as well, so we decided to make it a regular group meeting each week, and that’s how the TCBP Korean Study Group started. I and four friends met nearly every week for the whole semester (and a few others sometimes joined in) as well as the summer semester. We would skim through a podcast, discuss the main points, practice speaking with other, try to create sentences, and once in a while I’d bring a sample for listening practice such as a clip of a Korean drama, part of a TV show, or a song.

Teaching my friends Korean also helped force me to work on my study sheets as well as some companion files and notes to the podcast, which I hope to continue work and then provide on this website.

Soon, the friend who was my actual study partner reached the podcast episodes I was listening to, and we would usually keep working together after the other had left. He would ask me questions, show me something new he found, teach me something else he learned, etc. One time we walked outside around campus for a whole hour and only spoke to each in Korean after whatever came to mind, whatever we saw, and even whatever Korean questions came to our minds.

It worked very well for me. Teaching helped me to really cement my basic Korean, and I advanced pretty quickly with all the new lessons I tackled with my friend, and the practice we had with each other meant we could use what we learned. However, we did not do well in tackling enough vocabulary for the amount of grammar we knew, so that was something we were beginning to work on.

What’s Next?

I intend to continue following the lessons at Talk to Me in Korean, simultaneously working on my write-ups to show relationships with Japanese and Chinese, but more important is to keep pulling-away from the Talk to Me in Korean lessons since they are so focused on grammar, use a more varied range of resources, and learn more vocabulary rather than grammar.


Primary Learning Method: Not much; listening to music, Word of the Day apps, anime.

Status: Dropped a bit, most notably in speaking. Now stagnant but stable; still a low A2 or most likely a high A1

How am I doing?

The last post seemed to show my Japanese had gotten relatively decent and I was indeed happy with it. However, since these reviews are happening from one midsummer to the next, the last post did not cover the state of my Japanese after having focused on Mandarin, and gone to China. The news is, not good.

I made a bad choice. Actually, I knew full well it was, and chose to do it anyway as an experiment. That choice was to completely focus on Mandarin and ignore Japanese. I do not regret the choice; I needed the focus on Chinese and am glad I got to the point I did to better prepare me for my trip, and it helped me use the trip to practice a lot and quickly “level up.” However, there are consequences. Mixing up languages happens when the languages are not being kept “alive” enough. It could be that you started a new language, or you’re failing to practice one enough. That’s what happened to me. Japanese had been shunned. Cases that should make me recall Japanese (such as looking at a Chinese character) involved me only thinking of Mandarin because I was not caring to think of Japanese. Japanese may not have actually been the only one affected – my focus on Mandarin seems to have made my brain think of it as the only other foreign language to use, so any time I was switching away from English and Spanish – whether it was to French, Japanese, Korean, Cantonese, etc. – Mandarin was the first thing to come to mind. However, Japanese was the only one where I previously had some decent ability to communicate; I was always going to be slow and stutter-y with French, Korean, and Cantonese, but this was not to be expected from my Japanese, so it was hit hard.

I had hoped and still hope to balance my trip to China with a trip to Japan – specifically, I’d like to go teach English there for a year or so. An interesting situation came up when I went to a JET information session at a university. I spoke to one of the Japanese professors there, since she knew a good bit about JET and supports it. I started off in Japanese, introducing myself, and then switched to English, apologizing my Japanese wasn’t very good as I’ve been focusing on Mandarin. A while after however, she switched back to Japanese, telling me she has students who’ve done JET, saying I could contact her for questions, what we could share over email, and a few other things like that. I understood almost everything – but I could not reply. Were I to open my mouth, I would have spoken Mandarin, because my brain was stuck on “oh, foreign language you say? Ok, Chinese!” And I say: “No, brain, no, I want Japanese right now! Remember? It’s the thing you’re listening to right now!! Right, ok, Japanese now  – no! Don’t say 明白了 (ming2bai2 le; I understand)!Oh I give up, English then.”

I did however, resume watching anime while eating, listening to my Japanese music playlist, as well as my Vocaloid playlist, I still pick up many words and, especially when watching anime, I can compare what I heard with the subtitles to see if I find anything worth learning and then look up words as necessary to put into my flashcards. I’m using more Japanese with friends I know, although it’s still very little. I picked up my Zune again and started going over the dialogues I have in there from JapanesePod101 (good content, but terrible scam-like marketing), but I didn’t have them all – and recent computer issues and changes has left things pretty disorganized and I can’t use such media library software (like iTunes or the Zune software) right now without making a bigger mess. I have a 2nd-hand iPhone for podcasts, but that one has bricked, and I can’t make the time yet to deal with fixing it. Technical issues are hindering my Japanese! That’s an excuse, but with some legitimacy because I have my chosen ways to practice each language, and these issues are ruining the way I can fit Japanese into my life. Not happy!

People are always a good answer. At a nearby college, I met a Japanese student and an alumni, and we got along well. We practiced a good bit and we met up a few times. However, now that they’ve left the school, contact has been more difficult. I kept reaching out but the contact is not being returned as much, so oh well. I am again without a Japanese language partner. I’ll resume trying to find some through language exchange sites.

What’s Next?

Find a partner and practice! Fix the iPhone, finishing organizing the computer, and resume reviewing! Finally, make it the primary language of study, while keeping the other languages in constant practice.

Lesser Efforts


Primary Learning Method: Not much; little more than searching the internet in French and using a Word of the Day app.

Status: Potentially still slipping, especially in speaking. May appear to be a low A2 or most likely a high A1.

How am I doing?

Not good. Not much difference from the last post. I still need to try to get back to it. However, Japan’s NHK has Japanese lessons in many languages, so I’ve been listening to some of them in French.

What’s next?

Not thinking about it much yet. Still need to stabilize my Japanese efforts before I move on to bringing back the French.


Primary Learning Method: Mental review; occasional opportunities with friends

Status: Stable plateau.

How am I doing?

Barely doing much other that recalling certain words and phrases once in a while. I’m pretty much just retaining what I know, may review a grammar point or two once in a blue moon, practice a bit by saying a few things with friends, and learn a new word or phrases. However, I’m still sketchy on some letters, potentially forgetting, but  I learned a bit more details on some conjugations and I put some sentences together for correction on Lang-8.

What’s next?

I need to keep it up. I’ve already made up some or used a couple mnemonics from an article I previously linked to, preserving those letters in my memory, but I need to finish doing that for the rest. I need to practice saying what I know so that I remember exactly how to pronounce them, which in turn helps me remember their proper spelling. In addition, I haven’t yet solidified my knowledge in conjugation for present, present progressive, and past tenses. I’m not really working to do much else other than retaining it.

Flag of Hong KongCantonese

Primary Learning Method: Mental review; podcasts

Status: Stable.

How am I doing?

Every once in a while I’ll remind myself on how to say something, and I’ll replay some of my Cantonese podcasts. I even have a few dialogs almost memorized. Anything I’ve forgotten will quickly come back to me. For thanksgiving, I went with Barely doing much other that recalling certain words and phrases once in a while. I’m pretty much just retaining what I know, may review a grammar point or two once in a blue moon, practice a bit by saying a few things with friends, and learn a new word or phrases. However, I’m still sketchy on some letters, potentially forgetting, but  I learned a bit more details on some conjugations and I put some sentences together for correction on Lang-8.

What’s next?

I need to keep it up. I’ve already done some review of podcasts and asked friends for confirmations of things or to check my pronunciation. For now, I’m just going to keep in mind what I already know, reminding myself of it, practicing it when possible, and occasionally looking over vocabulary I’ve learned.

VietnameseFlag of Southern Vietnam. Click for info.

Primary Learning Method: Mental review

Status: Barely stable.

How am I doing?

Barely doing much other that recalling certain words and phrases once in a while. I’m pretty much just retaining what I know, may review a grammar point or two once in a blue moon, practice a bit by saying a few things with friends, and learn a new word or phrases. However, I’m still sketchy on some letters, potentially forgetting, but  I learned a bit more details on some conjugations and I put some sentences together for correction on Lang-8.

What’s next?

Just going to maintain what I have, reminding myself of what I know, mentally practicing.

New Languages

I have started work on a few more languages.


Similar to Russian, Greek, and (initially) Vietnamese and Korean, I decided to learn to read Arabic, though not necessarily planning to learn the language. Using the great content at Tengugo.com, I learned most of the Arabic script.

Nevertheless, I’ve also learned the numbers in Arabic, and just a couple basic phrases, like hello, thank you, how are you, and “do you speak Arabic.” Surely I still have issues pronouncing it perfectly, so some people don’t understand me when I shoot out this phrase, even though I can say it pretty quickly and fluidly. However, in the future (relative to the time this post is referring to), in summer of 2014, I was in Virginia and took a cab with a Middle Eastern taxi driver. I shot out this phrase quickly and he understood me just fine. Yay!

What’s Next?

Not much. Just want to maintain what I know of the script, hopefully finish learning it.

Shanghainese and Taiwanese / Hokkien

These are two different Chinese languages, and by the way I’m naming them, I specifically point out the Shanghai dialect of the Wu family of languages, and the Taiwanese and / or Amoy (Xiamen) variant of Southern Min, aka:  Hokkien.

Why do I group these together? Because it’s an experiment of mine: learn two languages, literally, at once. In other words, whenever I learn something of one of the languages, I will make it a point to learn it in the other, thus advancing both equally. I even log the learned vocabulary in a spreadsheet to make sure I keep track of what words I know in each language.

I wrote a blog post speaking of my start with these languages. Most of you would probably be interested or only get something out of the introductions and listings of resources for the languages. Beyond that, I’m mainly just rambling and voicing my first impressions of the languages, which was pretty fun to do and you could use it to learn some yourself.

I’ve learned some basic phrases in both languages, and I learned the numbers in Shanghainese.

What’s Next?
Not much. I’m actually doing this very slowly, only as opportunities come up. Plan is to just maintain and watch for opportunities.


I watched a video by Stuart Jay Ray, the main guy to check out if you want to study Thai. The video is pretty time-efficient and he teaches the vowels with mnemonics so good that after watching the video only once, I tested myself and remembered all of the vowels.

If I get the urge sometime, I may to learn more letters, but I’m not really going to try for it right now. So I’m just going to try to remember what I know by trying to look for the vowels I know anytime I see Thai writing, and just be open to learning something if the opportunity comes up.


And that’s it!

On to a new year and let’s see what 2013-2014 brings!

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