My name is Jason Koeninger, and LanguageLearning.SubdueTheSloth.com is a blog documenting my ongoing Mandarin Chinese language learning journey. It’s a journey that has already lasted almost 10 years, a journey that may never end but hopefully sees me communicating comfortably with native Mandarin speakers at some point. To find out how we got here, let’s go back to the beginning…
In December 2006, my wife Shannon and I along with our then 3 year old son Quentin decided to expand our family. For reasons I won’t go into here, having another biological child was not an option so we looked to adoption. After reviewing all of the options available to us, we chose to adopt from China. Our paper chase took several months, and sometime shortly before the Summer of 2007, we were paper-ready except for fingerprinting and background checks.
In July 2007, our adoption agency sent us a file they had received from the CCAA (China Center for Adoption Affairs) for a 2 year old girl. The next 6 months are still a bit of a blur, but we landed in Beijing on January 16, 2008, for a 3 week trip to complete the adoption of our daughter Violet.
That was Violet then…this is Violet now…
Prior to our trip, I decided to try to learn some Mandarin. I experimented with Rosetta Stone and Fluenz along with some ChinesePod. Though most of my Mandarin speaking experiences in China didn’t go well, I discovered along the way that I truly enjoyed the language.
Being a native English speaker with 4 years of high school French from a great French teacher (thanks Madame Stewart), I didn’t focus on the difficulties of Chinese. I just saw no conjugations and no noun genders. Honestly, who cares if the door is male or female? And how many times have I repeated the tense of an irregular verb to my children as they’ve grown up. “Held, not holded, Q.” French at least clips English in that arena with a bit less irregularity.
A language without some of the complications Latin languages present piqued my interest, but that wasn’t quite enough to keep me interested for 7 years. The extra hook came in the form of the Apple iPhone. During our trip to China, I carried my iPhone everywhere, but it was essentially useless anywhere Wifi was unavailable. The App Store did not exist, and the only Chinese dictionaries available were web-based. We’ve all heard stories of $10,000 data roaming bills, and I wasn’t about to become a casualty. Instead I carried my trusty Oxford Beginner’s Chinese Dictionary.
Consider the absurdity of it all. I have a computer in my pocket, and I have to carry a paper dictionary.
In March 2008, Apple announced its first Software Development Kit (SDK) for the iPhone with a beta program completing shortly before the Beijing Olympics. I signed up immediately and started playing with developing a CEDICT-based dictionary. Needless to say, life was busy, and I considered never releasing the dictionary on the App Store, but when I saw a potential competitor struggling with approval, I took a few days to try to clean up what I had already done and submitted it to Apple.
To my surprise, DianHua Dictionary was not only approved, it reached 6 digit download numbers within one month (keep in mind, it’s free without audio). I spent the next year scrambling to build it into a truly functional application. Since then, releases have been fewer and farther between, but I continue to support existing users, new iOS releases, and have a lot of plans to improve DianHua Dictionary significantly as my schedule permits. As it barely pays its own hosting bills, it’s more a labor of love than a business, but it helps keep me connected to Mandarin Chinese which is enough for me. It’s also a major portion of my approach to studying so even if my user count reaches 0, it will continue to be maintained.
Piling on, a local elementary school began offering a partial-immersion Mandarin Chinese program for children starting kindergarten and first-grade in 2010. With some trepidation, we put our finances in peril and bought a house in the district and entered the lottery. You might want to re-read that last sentence. I still have trouble believing it myself. Although 2 house payments for 12 months was a bit rough, our kids won the lottery and have been part of what has turned out to be a great program that is continuing to improve and evolve. After just 4 years, my children’s Chinese skills rival mine in most areas and exceed them in others.
So what were we talking about? Oh right, how I’ve studied Chinese for 7 years and not become “fluent.” Have I mentioned I stay fairly busy? In terms of time, Mandarin Chinese study is usually outside the top 5 but inside the top 10 in terms of priority. Sometimes I go weeks without studying. Other times, I might binge-watch an entire season of a drama in less than a week while doing daily vocabulary review in DianHua.
It’s time for some consistency. It will be a sprint but not to the finish line. I don’t think we ever truly stop learning when it comes to languages, first or second. Hopefully you will find the information I provide here to be useful in your language learning journey.