6 Week Challenge – Final Update

So the day of reckoning has come and the challenge is now closed.  I have been studying Chinese for the last 6 weeks to bring my level from a low beginner level to a low intermediate level.  Overall, I think that I was successful in meeting my goals and accomplishing what I set out to do.

When I started the challenge I decided to have 3 goals prepared to help me get to the next level.  I have successfully met all 3 goals and have also ranked 13 out of 75 users who took up the challenge.  I sincerely appreciated the efforts put in by Sprachprofi to create and support this challenge as it gave me the kick in the keister to move on my Chinese.

So where do we go from here:  I am already scheduled to start a 6 month free Latin class online on Monday (4 days from now) which I want to take seriously but I also want to continue with my Chinese.  I plan to spend the next two weeks revising the podcast audio I have gone through as part of the 6WC but I also want to continue working on Book 3 of NPCR and a few more Chinese Breeze Readers.  I hope to be able to devote 45 minutes to 1 hour per day to Chinese going forward.  After the two week revision of the Chinesepod podcast audio I want to start adding 1 new Intermediate lesson podcast per day to my regimen.  This will take 20 minutes of time per day (not including new words to study in Anki) but should give me the chance to keep improving toward a more advanced level.

This challenge has really helped me to make Chinese both a priority and something that I actively work on daily.  I hope to keep this forward momentum and report back good progress each month.

5 Days in China – A recent trip to one of my favorite countries on Earth


China is a country that does not always conjure up positive imagery in an American’s mind but after several trips to this beautiful country I have to disagree with some of the negative feelings that my fellow countrymen have.  I do agree that the politics of China are significantly different from that of America and that their policies generally do not allow for the same levels of freedom that ours do, but the people of China are warm, friendly, and do not usually agree with all of the policies imposed.

My experiences in China have always been positive and I have never felt afraid for my life, which is more than I can say for other countries that I have visited.  The warmness shared by all Chinese people I meet, who earnestly want to be friends with their American brothers, have moved me to learn more about the Han culture and language.  As part of my job, I get the somewhat infrequent opportunity to go to China to visit with customers.  I cherish these trips as a chance to practice my Mandarin, pick up some new books, and spend time with my very good friend and colleague, Daniel Zhu, who lives in Shanghai.  It is truly my friendship with Daniel, more than anything else that has endeared me to the Chinese culture and language.

During this most recent trip I had a pretty busy customer visit schedule with two days in Shenzhen, one day in Guangzhou, one day in Tianjin, and one day in Beijing before returning home.  My good friend Daniel joined me for the entire week.

My trip started off wonderfully with a free upgrade from United on the flight from Boston to San Francisco.  Having status with an airline definitely has its perks.  From here it was a good 13 hour flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is another interesting island to spend some time in but I had to take a limousine car directly from Hong Kong Airport to Shenzhen on Mainland China.

The ride from the airport to the hotel took longer than usual due to a long line at the Chinese border but overall it was uneventful.  I had a pretty good sleep and a busy day the next day at one of our customer’s facilities.  For dinner that night, Daniel and our other colleague, Kevin, treated me to some delicious South Chinese food.  The long day was well worth it. 


Following the first day, the second day was somewhat uneventful as we were tied up with customer visits but I was able to get back to the hotel early to catch up on a lot of e-mails.

Wednesday we drove from Shenzhen to Guangzhou.  It was my first time coming to Guangzhou and unfortunately, we were there for a customer visit, a quick lunch and a trip to the airport.  For lunch we went to a Vietnamese restaurant and the food was excellent.  I truly enjoy eating Vietnamese food here in the US but it was much better tasting in Guangzhou.  I’m sure that being so close to Vietnam helps them.

From here we flew to Beijing.  When we arrived at Beijing we got out of the airport.  Daniel told me it would take about an hour from the airport to the hotel.  It was around 8 o’clock when we arrived and I was starving.  After getting off the plane we were greeted to a 45 minute wait for our luggage.  Apparently they didn’t know how to get our luggage from the plane to the luggage carousel.  Thinking this was the excitement for the night, we stepped outside and I found that there was another hour wait to get a taxi!  By the time we got to the hotel we had a light dinner and crashed.

The next morning we took a train from Beijing’s South Station to Tianjin city for another customer visit and a train ride back to Beijing for two more customer visits.  On the train to Tianjin we shared a compartment with two other gentlemen and a couple with their young 5 year old daughter.   The young girl was an absolute doll and entertained us during the entire 40 minute trip with her singing.  She was so adorable I just wanted to bring her home so she could play with my daughter, Amelia.

On Thursday night I was treated to Dadong restaurant.  For those in the know there are a few major restaurants that are famous for Peking Duck, which should never be missed by any meat-loving visitor to China.  The most famous is called Quanjude (全聚德烤鸭).  One of Quanjude’s chef’s, Dadong, left and started his own business.  I have eaten here once before and it is one of the most amazing meals I have ever eaten.  Some of the dishes we had were:  Peking Duck (of course!), scallops, fried pork, and orchid roots.  Everything here was amazing.


After dinner we strolled across the street to Wangfujing Bookstore, a massive multi-story bookstore, where I picked up several Chinese Breeze Readers and books 4-6 of the New Practical Chinese Readers.  It was a terribly long day.

On my last day in Beijing we had more customer visits (lots of those) and I was able to finish up the day with a nice Shanghai style dinner with Daniel.

On Saturday I endured the long trip home and was rewarded with a wonderful welcome from my family. 

Although traveling to China and spending time with Daniel is a great treat, I do miss my family terribly while I am gone.  It is just another reminder that while other places may be cool, in the end, there’s no place like home.

6 Week Challenge – Weeks 4&5 Update

I have been a little neglectful of my blog these last two weeks.  I was hoping to post about my trip to China but have not had an opportunity to pull together a post yet.  I also haven’t accomplished much in my Chinese except for working on Chinesepod podcasts.  As of today I am ranked at 17 on the 6 week challenge.  I have already achieved 2 of the 3 goals I had originally set out to accomplish during this 6 week challenge.  I am not working on finishing the last goal: covering 89 Elementary Level Chinesepod lessons. 

As of today, I have completed a total of 71 of the 89 lessons leaving me with 18 lessons left to complete in the next 9 days.  I am planning to continue at a rate of 3 lessons per day so that I have a 3 day buffer in case I get tied up for a day or two. 

I honestly have been going through the lessons but not reviewing them in detail afterward so I am planning on spending the 2 weeks after the challenge focusing on reviewing the total of 128 elementary lessons I have studied by listening to the dialogues repeatedly and reviewing the written transcripts as well.  This should help solidify what I have learned and prepare me for the Intermediate level podcasts which I want to start on shortly thereafter.

Concurrent to reviewing the Elementary Level lessons I want to finish 2 more Level 2 Chinese Breeze readers and 2 more lessons from NPCR (Book 3). 

Happy studies!

6 Week Challenge – 3 Week Update

So another week of the challenge has come and gone and although I am happy with my accomplishments over the last week I have fallen behind in one of my three goals so I need to pick up the slack and get back on track.  This week’s efforts have been both reinforced and sidetracked by a trip to China which has me focused on customer support and less on language study.  Fortunately, a lot of listening practice and some speaking practice has happened naturally while visiting customers which have seen me go from a rank of 22 to a rank of 15 over the last week.

My goals for this challenge were to: 

Chinesepod:  Cover 89 Elementary lessons

Chinese Breeze Reader:  Finish reading 3 of the Level 1 Chinese Breeze Graded Readers

New Practical Chinese Reader:  Finish 6 chapters to complete the second book      

As of yesterday I have finished 37 Elementary Level lessons from Chinesepod.com out of the 89 I had originally planned to cover in the 6 week challenge.  That means in the last week I have not completed a single new episode.  It is a bit disappointing but I believe that when I get back to the US I can get into a more regular routine of covering 3 lessons a day again.  At this rate I should achieve my goal for Chinesepod.com by 9 September which will still allow me to complete my goal before the challenge is over.  After the challenge (or maybe before it is done) I can start working on some intermediate level lessons as well.

I have already completed the 3 Chinese Breeze Readers that I planned to read as part of the challenge and have even finished one of the Level 2 readers!  So I have already completed one of my three goals as part of the six week challenge and I still have 3 weeks to go.  I still have a lot of listening of the audio to complete but I will continue to read some more of the Level 2 books while the challenge goes on.  I am quite excited to continue through these readers as they are a very relaxing way of reinforcing the Chinese vocabulary and syntax that I already understand while picking up some new words and noticing lots of collocations in the meantime.  The Chinese Breeze Readers that I have finished already are我可以请你跳舞吗, 我一定要找到她, 你最喜欢谁,and 电脑公司的秘密. 

For the New Practical Chinese Reader my time in China has also been a boon since it is easy to read this while travelling between customers and while on a train or plane.  So this week I was able to complete chapters 23-26 this week.  As a result, I have also completed this goal and will start into book 3 of NPCR over the next weeks.  When I was seriously studying Chinese last year I had stopped around lesson 29 in NPCR so I am now almost back to where I was with this book and look forward to passing it and covering books 4, 5, and 6 over the next several months.

This week I am in China which has given me the opportunity to access China on a scale not to be easily seen in the US.  I have been listening all the time (not much choice in this one) but I have realized just how crappy my speaking capability is.  I really need to come up with a plan to improve this and hope to come up with some actionable tasks over the next week to start making better progress here.  I also have had the great fortune while in China to stop at Wangfujing Bookstore (王府井书店) an amazingly huge, 6-story bookstore on Wangfujing Avenue.  While there I picked up 5 more Chinese Breeze Readers (the last two Level 2 books I didn’t have and the three Level 3 books that have already been published).  I also was able to get book 4 and 5 of New Practical Chinese Reader.  In hindsight I should have picked up book 6 as well while I am here in Beijing and I may stop tonight to pick it up before I regret it.  That would be all of the NPCR books and after getting through them and many more Chinesepod.com lessons I should be fully ready for only native materials.

While I will have some time tonight in Beijing I hope to visit Tiananmen Square which I just passed through while writing this post , maybe a  quick stop at Wangfujing Bookstore for book 6 of NPCR and possibly a few Chinese movies as well.  Although I have had the chance to see Tiananmen last year it is such an interesting place to me that I look forward to another look.

Anyway, I plan on writing a post over the next week on my travels to China this week and will also have another post next week on the 6 week challenge update. 

6 Week Challenge: 2 Week Update

So I’ve been practicing hard at Chinese for the last two weeks with great success but I still have a long way to go.

As a reminder, my goals for this challenge were to:

Chinesepod:  Cover 89 Elementary lessons

Chinese Breeze Reader:  Finish reading 3 of the Level 1 Chinese Breeze Graded Readers

New Practical Chinese Reader:  Finish 6 chapters to complete the second book

As of yesterday I have finished 37 Elementary Level lessons from Chinesepod.com out of the 89 I had originally planned to cover in the 6 week challenge.  I am now 40% through to my goal.  I may end up starting some of the Intermediate Level podcasts before the 6 week challenge is complete.

The Chinese Breeze Readers are fantastic and I have already completed 2 of them (我可以请你跳舞吗 and 我一定要找到她)in the last two weeks.  I am lagging behind a bit in listening to the audio for these books but plan to get through them shortly.  I also will likely advance to the Level 2 books before the 6 week challenge finishes.  Fortunately, I’m going to China on Saturday and when I’m in Beijing will pick up a few more Level 2 readers and all the Level 3 readers I can get my hands on.

Finally I am only 2 of the 6 chapters through New Practical Chinese Reader but hope to get through a few chapters over the next two weeks.  I may progress a bit into book 3 thanks to this challenge.

As I mentioned above I am heading to China next week so the opportunity to practice speaking will be significantly improved but my free time will be somewhat limited.  I’m hoping to use some of the travel time between customer visits and flying between cities to accomplish some reading and listening.  Of course there is also the 24 hour trip there and back to take advantage of.

I’ll be in three cities next week, 深圳 (Shenzhen), 广州 (Guangzhou), and 北京 (Beijing).  I have been to Shenzhen and Beijing before but it will be my first time in Guangzhou.  I’m looking forward to the experience and hope to have a post to share all about it next week.


The 6 Week Challenge: Mandarin Chinese

Recently I was made aware of a 6 Week Challenge for language learners who are looking to up their game.  Judith Meyer who lives in Berlin, Germany set up a Twitter-based challenge that would allow users to register and then track their time studying languages over a 6 week period and then score them relative to other participants.  The challenge began on August 1st.

The focus of the challenge is to pick one language that you would like to improve upon significantly over that time period, preferably a language in which the participant has an A1 or A2 level of understanding.  For this challenge I decided to choose Mandarin Chinese.  I have been toying with Mandarin for about a year and have a comfortable, basic conversational level but it is far from fluent. 

I started the challenge in the hopes of bringing myself from working on Newbie level Chinesepod.com lessons to Intermediate level lessons.  To do this I want to cover about 90 Elementary level lessons to bridge the gap.  After this is accomplished I will try to only use the Intermediate level lessons going forward.

I also want to improve more of my reading abilities so I want to read at least 3 graded Chinese readers from the 中国风 or Chinese Breeze readers (level 1) and listen to their audio during this challenge.  Finally I want to study 6 more lessons in the New Practical Chinese Reader series (新使用汉语课本) to go from my current position (lesson 20 in book 2) to complete book 2.  In two weeks’ time I will also be in China for one week so I will get the opportunity to see how I am progressing and hopefully practice a lot of speaking.

So as of today we are 9 days into the challenge and here is what I have accomplished:

Chinesepod:  Covered 22 Elementary lessons

Chinese Breeze Reader:  Finished reading 我可以请你跳舞吗 (Can I dance with you) and need to listen to the audio

NPCR:  Finished Chapter 21 and half way through Chapter 22

I hope to post some regular updates on my progress with this and look forward to get to an intermediate level in the next 6 weeks. 

The best thing about these challenges is that you focus on your improvement without realizing you are building a habit.  I have gone from almost no listening practice of Chinese on a daily basis to more than 1 hour average listening every day.  This is putting me on the path to long term improvements that will likely continue even after the challenge is complete.

I am really enjoying this challenge and appreciate Judith setting this up as I really feel that I will bring my Chinese to the next level instead of stagnating as it has been.  Intermediate level – here I come!!!Image

The beginning of my (blogging) journey

Although I have enjoyed reading blogs for several years, this is my first foray in creating my very own blog.  This is mostly going to be a way for me to track my progress in learning about the world but I would like to also share thought-provoking things with potential readers and possibly write some articles of my unique perspective on my experiences.

My focus in life has always been to learn new things – hence the title of this blog – and I am always absorbed in expanding my horizons by trying to visualize the world from other perspectives.  I always aim to learn as much as possible each day since there is so much to learn and it is all terribly interesting.

Mostly I hope to focus on my studies in learning other languages but other cool things may show up on occasion such as writing about my travels and my study of Iaido.  With a bit of luck some of the posts I share will provide some insight into my interests and may inspire someone else to seek further knowledge for themselves in whatever area they find fascinating.

I find that by seeking out knowledge on other topics I am slowly getting a better understanding of myself and my place in this world. 

Please feel free to comment and I’ll be happy to respond.