My post on the relationship between Chinese and RPGs got me thinking: what would a attribute list for Chinese look like? Here’s my first draft, it has 8 levels for each major aspect of learning Chinese. Let me know what you think in the comments.
At Level 1, characters are exotic, strange and hard. Characters were seemingly invented to discourage people from studying Mandarin. Writing a single character is an arduous process that can take up to a minute. Reaching level 3 is a huge accomplishment: by this point, you’ve started to notice some radicals, your hand has gotten used to the burn, and you can put together some sentences.
By level 8, your focus has shifted: you don’t care about how many characters you can write (you’re probably typing them), and you’re able to write essays, presentations, and blog in Mandarin Chinese.
In some ways, writing has dual tracks: writing single characters, and stringing together words. I’m not quite sure when the shift from characters to writing sentences, paragraphs, and pieces starts, but I feel strongly that it’s more important to write sentences than learning to write character #5000.
|8||Essays, emails, presentations|
Advancing levels gives you more access to the Chinese world. Menu’s and store signs start making sense, magazine and newspaper stories start catching your eye, you start judging the wordplay of advertisements on the subway.
And you don’t need to go up in level to feel like you’re making progress. Once you get to Level 5, you have started to understand some of the secrets that were hidden from you before. You start figuring out how sound components; At level 6, reading Chinese becomes a real possibility. And once you can recognize 3000 hanzi, reading newspapers is a reality. Getting to level 8, means you can read whatever you want.
I separated vocabulary from characters for two reasons. 1) It’s possible to study Chinese without characters (I don’t recommend this) and 2) Learning characters gives you the potential to expand your vocabulary (but you won’t actually do so unless you spend time studying words and phrases).
A note on level’s 6-8: Amassing a large vocabulary of words you don’t study doesn’t help. Hopefully you’ve gotten to this point by studying words that are relevant to your daily life.
Describing grammar is a bit boring, and the levels I listed reflect this. Every Chinese teacher might emphasize different grammatical points at different times, but the levels are distinct enough that every teacher has a good idea of what the difference between advanced grammar and beginner grammar is.
Chinese grammar starts out relatively easy. But it get’s progressively harder as you advance. Chinese, with it’s separation of 书面语 (shu1mian4yu3: written language) and 口语 (kou3yu3: spoken language), also has lots of grammatical structures that are necessary to read newspapers and other literature. Advanced usage is just that: learning when and how to use grammatical patterns in the most effective way.
|8||Advanced usage 2|
Sinosplice offered plenty of inspiration for the pronunciation levels, but the rest came from some concepts I’ve thought about for a while.
Speaking Chinese feels like it has distinct stages, like steps on a ladder. One day, you can only say 你好(ni3 hao3: hello); then, you find yourself able to do the daily necessities: go around by cab, order food, get information,etc. Next, you’re able to express your thoughts and ideas (with different degrees of success), and finally 大山-fluency (大山: Da4shan1, a Canadian entertainer famous in China for his act that displayed his Chinese proficiency).
|2||what’s a tone?|
|4||can get around and do daily things|
|5||can begin to express complex ideas and thoughts|
|6||can express their ideas and thoughts, but not using native constructions|
|7||Expresses Ideas nearly fluently, but still falls short: vocabulary or grammar usage occasionally goes wrong|
|8||Native/Fluent: When you tell someone you grew up in Beijing, they believe you and ask which middle school you went to.|
The difficulties of teaching and learning listening skills becomes apparent when thinking about a scorecard. It’s really easy to come up with levels for reading, writing and even vocabulary and grammar.
But for listening, there’s no clear direction to take. One possibility is to score listening skills through measuring the cognitive load. Figuring out what to measure and how seems like a complex topic in it’s own right.
I definitely think it’s possible to measure listening skills, and measuring them is something I hope will become more prevalent in the future.
|1||Can differentiate sounds|
|2||Can understand basic words|
|3||Has a good grasp of tones and tonal differences|
Using the RPG Scorecard
Using the Chinese RPG scorecard is simple: figure out what level you’re at for each skill. Then modify your study methods or materials to make up for any defficiences you might have. If, for example, you notice a gap between your spoken Chinese is being held back by poor grammar, you should shore up your grammar knowledge. Of course a scorecard could have other uses as well. Maybe it could even replace the HSK…