Year of the Dragon: My 2024 New Year Language Goals

To celebrate the Year of the Dragon, our Chinese Language Program had a few activities such as 書法 (Chinese calligraphy) workshop. Here’s my attempt at this symbol for this year’s zodiac animal.

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Six months in Taiwan have flown by, and I’ve done a lot of reflecting about what my 2024 new year language goals are. When it comes to language learning, I’ll be focusing on four of them — one that is relatively new, and three that I’ve been working on for a long time.

In this update, I’ll share a little about how my studies have been going so far and how I’ll tackle each one over the next 6-12 months.



Main language: Mandarin (80-90%)

Chinese is like my part-time job; on top of my full-time office schedule, I’ve committed to developing working fluency in Chinese over these next two years. As much as I’ve made progress for the past six months, it’s still a long way ahead.

I take semi-intensive Chinese for two hours each day through the university I work at. We’re using Practical Audio-Visual Chinese, a traditionally common choice in Mandarin Training Centers in Taiwan. What I enjoy most about my program though is my teacher, who I find to be exceptionally talented at delivering comprehensible input every day during class.

After having finished two terms, my biggest challenge has been feeling like I”m always behind in class. Most of the other students from Southeast Asia have had significant previous exposure to Chinese language and culture in their home countries. Additionally, they all get an extra third daily hour of structured practice. I’m not able to attend the full program because of work, so three things I’ll add to my regiment include:

  1. Working with a private tutor once a week for applying vocabulary and structures in a conversational setting
  2. Doing Pimsleur Mandarin for intensive listening practice over my lunch breaks (I’ve already finished 3 levels out of 5!)
  3. Read a little bit of the Mandarin Companion Books via Pleco every night (great for reviewing and recalling characters)

In total, I have 10 class hour per week, 5 additional hours for doing the homework, and 5 hours of supplementary practice with my tutor, Pimsleur, or Pleco. Wish me luck!

Other languages (10-20%)

My other three languages (Tagalog, French, and Spanish) are all at the intermediate level or above. Since work and Mandarin come first, my goal for these three is primarily maintenance; however, I’ve made sure to target my weakest language skills in order to be more intentional and productive with my limited study time. With the exception of a weekly half-hour of tutoring, each of the following daily tasks requires only about 15 minutes of focused attention.

Tagalog

Going to the Philippines over the holiday was both enjoyable and frustrating: I was both surprised by how much Tagalog I could understand, as well as how terribly bad my overall speaking and listening were. 

The other realization I had (which probably deserves its own post) is how much more urgent it’s becoming for me to learn Filipino/Tagalog and the other languages of the Philippines. Going to the Philippines made me aware of how much there is I still have left to see and reclaim. This is a part of my cultural heritage I have, both intentionally and unintentionally, avoided for a while, and I think it’s about time to really lean into these roots.

For this year, I’ll be working on conversation skills. I’ve started working with a tutor for one weekly 30-minute session, which is just enough time to both apply previously learned language and acquire something new. To support my conversations, I use the Comprehensible Tagalog podcast, a recently produced intermediate-level material that covers a variety of interesting social and cultural topics about the Philippines.

Spanish

Frieda Kahlo on the wall at Tacos and Taps, Maji Square, Taipei

My Spanish has gotten into a slump over the years, only to be reawakened each time I run into a Latino or Spanish expat in Taiwan. Thanks to my extrovert Mexican roommate who is connected with almost every Spanish-speaking restaurant, bar, and venue in Taipei, I often hear accents from all around the Hispanophone world— many of which are challenging to decipher.

One of the learning strategies I’m working with this year is harnessing the power of intensive listening, which directly addresses my longtime talón de Aquiles : comprehending native-level speech. Fortunately, there’s an app that does all this for you. Drawing from the real-life stories of “Radio Ambulante” on NPR, Jiveworld (formerly known as Lupa) trains the ear to decode streams of sound, while also offering cultural, grammatical, and lexical notes to support comprehension and retention. For someone like me in intermediate plateau purgatory, these stories are right at my level.

French

I struggled a lot to find the “perfect material” to keep up my French. I was hoping to find something substantive like Jiveworld that was jam-packed yet skillfully organized. Unfortunately, many of my favorite materials, such as DLI GLOSS or Coffee Break French (premium), take around 30 minutes per session to really get good value out of them.

During my last few months in Benin, I started working towards Grammaire Progressive (B2/C1 perfectionnment), published by CLE International and one of the best grammar workbooks I’ve found. But as much as I love grammar, I’m already overloaded with wrapping my head around new structures in Chinese as well as English pedagogical grammar. The last thing I want to do after coming home at the end of the day is to open up another workbook and master the somewhat obscure, advanced functions of French prepositions.

So instead, I eventually opted to focus on reading, as a way to contrast my work with listening and speaking skills in my other languages (plus, I needed an activity that wouldn’t consume my entire brainpower). If I eventually want to do daily exercises in C1, I figured, it would definitely help to build my reading fluency from a lower level by reading something that interests me.

One of my 2024 New Year Language Goals is to visit more bookstores!
Inside Librarie Le Pigeonnier, Taipei’s main bookstore for all things French

CLE has another series which covers history, society, and culture in French:Civilisation Progressive de la France and Civilisation Progressive de la Francophonie. Each book has a one-page lesson followed by a page with questions and activities to assess your knowledge. I can read through lessons of the intermediate versions (A2-B1) fairly quickly, and afterwards, I usually choose the exercises I have time to complete.

The first lesson, “Le relief de France”, covers basic information and vocabulary on the geography of France. Surprisingly, this was my first time learning that a “relief map” is an English synonym for a topographical or contour map. I found myself so interested in the material that I started looking up related YouTube videos for French primary schoolers (also a great lead-in for listening!)

The latter textbook covers the cultures of the Francophonie, which include countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, Oceania, and Europe. I was pleasantly surprised, for example, to see how extensive the first unit was on West Africa, covering topics such as the Zemidjan (Benin), the naming of children according to days of the week (Cote d’Ivoire), and the mentioning of local languages such as Adja, Mina, and Fon. 

Nevertheless, I’ve decided to start with the volume which focuses on France because, to be quite honest, I know very little about France. Being a good communicator in France means having a vast knowledge of French history, society, and cultural references, and since I learned most of my French in West Africa, I feel more familiar with the topics covered in much of the Francophonie. Once I finish a few units in the first book, though, I’ll go back and forth depending on how I feel.

Each book has about 90 lessons, so one lesson a day will fill up the next six months.

What are your 2024 New Year Language Goals?

If you’ve learned multiple languages simultaneously, you’ll know how tricky it can be to balance time with progress. Hopefully my updates can give you some ideas about how to navigate the learning journey.

And if you’ve got any suggestions or questions, feel free to let me know in the comments below!

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