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Exercises in Big Thinking: Learning Chinese in 30 Days

In about 4 weeks, I should be landing in China - several months later than planned. And I'm not even close to being prepared.

Between island-hopping for six months, my month-long spiritual retreat in the Mayan Jungle, juggling Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and launching several new projects with several more projects and learning goals underway - I have not taken the time to learn Mandarin or Cantonese.

Like, at all. I haven't even finished a fraction of the DuoLingo tree.

And yeah I can survive in China using English only, but I've found that not having basic language skills makes me feel inhibited in my travels - everything from visiting a grocery store to deciding where to eat can get overwhelming.

Beyond that, I feel more connected with places when I learn the language - even if it's simple reading skills or short conversational skills. Being able to talk to a little kid whose fascinated by you but too scared to speak - going to any given restaurant and knowing that you won't have to rely on pictures or pointing at plates to order a meal - being able to stand on a street and glance around at the different buildings and immediately tell what kind of shops they are - all of that makes a difference when I travel.

So even though I'm still immersed in Sicilian and Italian - I need to get ready for China. I have someone helping me set up a bank account, secure my visa, and lock down an apartment, but I know for a fact that the area that I'm going to is not catering to English speakers. Restaurants, malls, stores, and online shopping sites will all be in Chinese - or at least the vast majority of it.

I'm grateful for the adventures I've had this year (Portugal, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Mexico and the US!) but I'm also *exhausted* and I don't want to end 2019 frustrated because I'm trying to order food and I don't know what I'm ordering or where to go.

With that, I present one of my most ambitious projects to date: learning survival Chinese (specifically Mandarin) in the next thirty days.

What's the learning goal?

- I want to be able to have short, simple conversations: ranging from introductions to ordering food, simple directions or buying things from the market.

- I want to be able to comfortably get the gist of a food and drink menu.

- I want to be able to place orders online or with apps.

- I want to be able to write simple sentences.

What resources am I using?

- Pimsleur Premium Levels 1-5 which contains 150 speaking practice audio lessons that are about thirty minutes long (but only one per day, so about five months worth) with supplemental quizzes, flashcards and exercises based on the daily lesson material.

- ChineseClass101 - which includes podcasts, downloadable study sheets, listening exercises, reading exercises, and also sorts material by subject / area (e.g. how to order in a restaurant or travel basics)

- iTalki - a paid professional teacher for weekly (minimum) classes

- DuoLingo - a vocabulary-focused app that I use on my phone and iPad for virtually every language I study

- Tonal exercises and prosody using podcasts as recommended by Miss Linguistic + I'll also be intentional about exposing myself to the sound of the language through shows even if only as background noise.

Time: 2+ hours a day (45 minutes on Pimsleur, 15 minutes on tonal exercises, 15 minutes on prosody, 60+ minutes between ChineseClass101, language tutor and DuoLingo)

Total Cost: $100 for Pimsleur (through monthly subscription for 150 daily lessons across 5 months vs. buying outright), $1 for ChineseClass101 flash sale materials (downloadable beginning audio lessons, email course and additional study guides), $100 for language tutor (about $15/hour) = under $250 invested in intensive language study.

Will I continue this into 2020?

- I would like to! I already have fully-paid-for weekly Chinese lessons on my schedule. But I'm open to a number of outcomes, whether it's stopping at basic proficiency or pursuing advanced study and taking the HSK-5 or 6.

Will you share the "results?"

- Absolutely! I plan to share a short video of my first speaking class vs. my progress by December and I would like to be able to write a short introduction or update in Chinese.

I'm excited to get started - learning a new language builds humility. You have to be willing to feel silly, or awkward, and you have to do it before you're ready in order to learn. It's an excellent way of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and connecting with others.

I'll be back with an update before you know it. In the meantime, are there any languages you'd like to study in 2020? Comment below, shoot me an email, or share with me on Instagram - I'd love to know!

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