I’m envious of your lifestyle. I left the state and came to Asia for that, and then ended up working just as much as I did in the States. I wouldn’t sweat it though, you can reach the same level of proficiency on your own if you’re suitably motivated.
Ups and downs man. I recognize that I’ve got it pretty sweet. Downs are it gets lonely and it takes a massive amount of self control that, as a newly christened 24 year old, I am laboring to develop. I hate wasted time more than most things and I find myself wasting so much time “being my own boss” that I often wake up and wish a dude would just tell me what to do. With that said, the problem isn’t my arragnement so much as my expectations for myself on what I can get done.
You perfectly describe the plateau, where your skill level isn’t truly fluent, but it’s good enough to communicate everything important. Most people won’t go past this level but in my experience, the ones that do have specific goals that Mandarin helps them achieve. Goals exactly like you mention: reading books or comics in Chinese, watching movies in Chinese without subtitles, practicing kung fu, learning mahjong, etc.
I think you’re right with specificity of goals. I broadly say I like to do things Chinese and develop hobbies. A few days ago I decided to get good at two things these next three months: Majiang and pool. I’d played majiang 5 times or so before starting this last spring festival. This one is easy. I played a week ago, kind of noticed where I didn’t get it, and then downloaded a game for my phone. Been addicted to it and have gotten a lot better. Now whenever I go home I stop and watch a few hands at our local majiang parlor. I’m getting to the point where I can read the tiles enough and organize them in my head fast enough where I think I can sit with the old pros. Still probably lose money, but still.
And regarding the book, I couldn’t have done it without pleco. I found a free pdf download and plugged it into the pdf reader on pleco. Any word I didn’t know I looked up with an easy tap. Problem with this is I don’t retain as much. I try not to slip me up though. I’m doing it largely to try to internalize grammatical structures and just to get over the hump of reading my first long format piece in Chinese. I’m trying to find some Science Fiction next.
I think the more specific your goals, the better. I also think the fewer the better. Choose one or two things to do at once. Being like “I want to be a dope cook and get into majiang and start reading and also have a really active social life and do well with work” just leaves you flustered, disappointed, and likely achieving none of them. It’s the classic how do you eat an elephant scenario.
@callum, early Chinese learning is both really rewarding and really humiliating. I say it is rewarding because every single thing you learn is relevant. I remember the first three months of study I felt like every new chapter taught me something I could go out and use, or something I would start to hear in conversations.
It was humiliating for me because I felt constantly out of sorts, constantly without the equal or upper hand, and constantly the dumbest guy in the room, at least in terms of what would manifest in a conversation. Trudge on, though, because it is one of my favorite parts of living in China. I can also say without any hesitation it is the thing I am most proud of in my wee life as of yet, mostly because I know how much persistence it takes.
Rick is right. Engage in language wars. Use Chinese whenever you can. If someone hits you with english, fire back with Chinese. It’s part of the game.