May 27, 2018 | Review Period

Spring Awakening

In which my thoughts turn to studying Chinese, Arabic, and Russian.

Last week I thought to myself, it would be cool to learn some Chinese characters right around now.

Even though I spent a little time on Chinese some years back, I focused on spoken skills and pinyin and never learned more than a few characters. I consider that to be one of my greatest language-study omissions to date, fortunately a remediable one.

The First 100 Characters; Only 50,000+ Left!

The First 100 Characters; Only 50,000+ Left!

So I went to my bookshelves, which are alphabetized by language, and remembered I had this book: The First 100 Chinese Characters by Alison and Laurence Matthews. I have the simplified edition, but they also wrote a comparable book for the traditional characters, plus they have follow-up books for both simplified and traditional characters, called (quite logically) The Second 100 Chinese Characters.

For the past week I have been practicing a portion of the first 100 characters daily with my morning coffee. I do it after I read the latest crappy news about Trump. Linguatherapy!

If you want to meet new people, by the way, practice Chinese characters at a local cafe with tables that are close together. You will make friends.

I have also recently begun redoing Mandarin Pimsleur lessons. I started over again at the very beginning, because I am concerned about my tones and want to get them right (or righter than before). As I mentioned the last time I wrote, Pimsleur has added a lot of new lessons for Mandarin since I last studied it: 60 in total.

My First Scarlet Tanager Sighting in a Decade

My First Scarlet Tanager Sighting in a Decade

The other day when I was walking around doing a Mandarin lesson, I actually came across this cute little scarlet tanager, the first I’ve seen in about 10 years.

On that same walk I redid some Russian lessons. My Russian has seriously faded, but I am untroubled. Almost.

What can I do about the failings of memory anyway? Not much, so I will just see if I can enjoy doing gentle battle with the befuddlements of mental entropy.

Yesterday it was hot, so I stayed inside and redid five Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) Pimsleur lessons while lying flat on my back. I’m not sure where this flurry of activity will lead, but I do know that there are a total of 150 Chinese, MSA, and Russian Pimsleur lessons that I didn’t do the first time around because the lessons didn’t yet exist. 

These days the trees are green, the temperature is mild, the birds are procreating, and the U.S. president is lying daily! It’s a great time to study a foreign language and be a member of the human community.

Studying languages feels like holding out a hand in friendship to people around the world.

Comments (3)

Neal • Posted on Wed, December 19, 2018 - 9:43 am EST

Do you post about language learning anymore? I enjoyed reading your content and look forward to hearing from you again regarding your language adventures.

Robert E Clapp • Posted on Sun, June 02, 2019 - 7:57 am EST

I found a story about your travels on my news feed this morning. I find it interesting how everyone has a focus on what they like to learn or talk about. My interest is engineering and science in general. I have a difficult time with languages. In engineering I prefer one term for one meaning. I have noticed the various roots that most languages have. Do most of the Chinese languages have common phonetic roots?

I consider your comments about Trump to be an aside. He has everyone talking about him. I think it’s intentional. He’s entertaining us; perhaps as a distraction.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, November 12, 2019 - 2:03 am EST

Hi Neal, this past year I’ve been writing books instead of blogging, and I’ve also been touring the country with my Grammar Table ( I still spend a lot of my days and nights nerding out about words, but my writing is ending up elsewhere. I’ll post something more detailed here shortly! Thank you for asking!

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