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Looking back on 2020 in ten posts

Do we really have to review this year? Oh well… let’s get it over with then.

Januar

Starting a Chinese music library (09-01-2020)

What’s language learning without music? I wanted to create a blog page dedicated to Chinese songs only, complete with lyrics, key vocabulary and translations. Of course, this proofed more time-consuming than I expected. Doing a proper job on the translations is tough and needs the help of others.

The selection of songs is random. I mainly picked music I’ve come to like through the years like this song by Hong Kong singer Faye Wong who starred in the movie The Chungking Express. The next step for me – let’s call it my “homework” for 2021 – would be to translate the key vocabulary for each song.

The corona thing (31-01-2020)

Back in January, the world still looked sort of “alright”, but I’d been reading strange news reports about a novel virus that had freshly emerged in Wuhan, so I decided to blog about this mysterious outbreak from a linguistic point of view. Little did I know that this thing would turn into a full-scale global pandemic. In fact, we’re “under lockdown” right now (again) in Germany.

I remember hesitating publishing the article, since nobody outside of China was sure of what was going on. I didn’t want to add fuel to the sensationalism, the speculations. Had I known we’d be bombarded with corona news until Christmas and beyond, I’d probable never written this piece. But back then this corona thing was still new and exciting. It feels like ten years ago!

February

Learning Mandarin in the days of Mao (10-02-2020)

Yes, I’m guilty of writing about stuff that almost nobody cares about, in this case the spirit of Maoism in outdated Chinese readers I happen to possess. Why is this interesting to me? Well, most people agree that it’s best practice to separate language learning from politics and ideology as much as possible, cause these cause conflict and don’t boost sales. Not so in the days of Mao. Or like that other uncle Kim Jong Il would say: “Great ideology creates great times“. Mao’s times for sure produced some horrifyingly politicized learning materials. In this post, I quoted an example or two.

Pleco vs Hanping Lite (19-02-2020)

You can’t learn a new language without a proper dictionary. This review compared the Chinese dictionary apps Pleco and Hanping Lite. Another dull, nerdy kind of topic that wouldn’t attract to many readers, I reckoned, since nobody cares too much about dictionaries as long as they do their job. But I was wrong:

That just goes to show that the blogosphere is full of surprises and people more often than not do share your enthusiasm for a topic if the time and place are right.

March

When they go high, we go low (19-03-2020)

Language learning can be expensive, but does it have to be? After all, I’m Dutch and we like to get things cheap. Checking online learning communities I noticed I’m not alone! I also believe in giving smart people the tools they need for success. So I collected some tips and online resources for learners on a low budget. Actually, the range of options surprised me, just like the number of smart and greedy people who wholeheartedly welcomed the article.

April

YouTube immersion (11-04-2020)

For independent language learners YouTube is a godsend, but there are more and more Mandarin content creators out there, so which channels are really worth paying attention to?

Making a reasonably fair and grounded selection was more difficult than I thought (took me at least two weeks). I felt that some of the newer channels like Fragrant Mandarin 香橘子 or Chinesewith-Xiaolu also deserved a chance, even though they’re not as big as some of the more “established” Mandarin teaching channels.

May

HSK levels revisited (13-05-2020)

It’s tempting to think that once you’ve passed the HSK 3 exam, you’ve reached B1 or intermediate level. But have you? That’s the question I wanted to answer. I for one thing didn’t feel anywhere near B2-like fluency, having passed HSK 4, so I had to start digging into this. Long story short: I tried to make clear that it’s good to have a standardized test, but we shouldn’t exaggerate the significance of HSK (2.0) test results. They leave out a lot and aren’t by any means the final judgement on someone’s Mandarin skills.

June

HSK 3.0 (15-06-2020)

Strangely related: the new HSK with nine levels instead of six! Like anybody else the HSK 3.0 reform took me by surprise (I was about to sign up for the HSK 6 exam actually). Hanban, the organisation behind HSK, has been rather tight-lipped about the whole affair, but people close to the source were able to extract some pieces of information. I put together this article and kept it up-to-date as much as possible. I didn’t expect it to become the best performing article of this year with over 3000 views.

Listening challenge (10-06-2020)

How do you cultivate good learning habits? Well, one way is to join the monthly challenges on Hacking Chinese. Set a goal and join with other motivated people for a little competition and inspiration. By now, I participated in several of the Hacking Chinese challenges (reading, vocabulary) and they helped me to opt for Mandarin more often. If you like independent learning as well, check it out sometime!

November

Resources for Mandarin Chinese (07-11-2020)

Can you recommend some resources for learning Mandarin? That’s one of the most frequently asked questions by learners. I finally managed to produce a more or less “comprehensive” overview (or at least a very long list). Doing online research was interesting, the number of entries kept on growing. I’ll see to it that it will stay that way in the year to come.

That’s it for this year, folks. I hope that despite of everything 2020 has been a satisfying year to you all. Stay strong & creative. See you back in 2021!

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