Saturday, January 09, 2010

800 hours TV method Chinese

I am writing this post to mark the point of 800 hours viewing Chinese TV dramas. All this means is that I have watched eight hundred hours of made-for-TV dramas in the Chinese Mandarin language.

And is it working? Yes, I am increasingly getting better at following the language and understanding more and more of what is actually being said. I am picking up more vocabulary as well.

Where was I a year ago? Well, let's see...
A year ago, I was at about 175 hours. During the last year, I took a full 6-month break due to extenuating circumstances. It was my decision to take that break. Of course, if I hadn't taken a break, I would be at about 1400 or 1500 hours now.

Since I came off the break, I have done 246 more hours. 6 months is a pretty long time when you consider that I had only been doing the TV method for about 6 months when I started the break. But did I lose all my knowledge during the hiatus? Did my progress back-track? No, not at all. I just picked-up where I left off.

Lately, I've noticed that the more I follow the dialogue, the more I am into the story. And I know that this will only increase with time. So it's like going from trying to learn the language to just watching the show and understanding what's being said. At some point, there won't be much left to learn.

For now, all I need to do is look back and compare the past with the present. If I know I've made progress then I'm satisfied. I'm sure all language learners feel that way. It's only when learners feel they aren't making progress and think they have hit a plateau or are stuck in a rut and not going anywhere that they become dissatisfied with what they are doing. This most likely comes from trying too hard and expecting too much.

One of the things the TV method has going for it is that there isn't any real trying.  I don't try to read a book. I don't try to have a conversation. I don't try to write Chinese characters. I don't try to memorize new vocabulary. I don't try to review learned material. I don't try to understand what I'm hearing.

What? You don't try to understand what you are hearing?

No, I either understand or I don't. And when I don't understand I just guess. And it doesn't matter if I guess wrong. I know it is only a guess, so I haven't told myself that I have obtained absolute understanding. That allows me to be more flexible. I know that my first guess may be way off the mark. I can easily shed that guess if I realize it was wrong, because I only made a loose association. An association based on the circumstances surrounding the use of that word.

When a new word shows up again, I check to see if my guess fits this situation as well. Every time another situation confirms my guess of what that word means, the meaning becomes more solidified. But it's the situations that are creating the meaning of these words for me. A situation is like a feeling.

If you think of a word in your native language, you can feel what most of them mean. Like the word, scary. You learned this word through experiences. You know what it feels like to be scared.  When I learn this word in Chinese, I'm going to learn it by hearing it spoken as well as seeing a scary situation several times.

These situations are easier to recall than a translation from English. And then later, when the word is spoken but without any other context which would tell me what it means, I'm going to understand it through the feeling that I'll have associated with it. And some day when I go to use the word, I'll feel the scary feeling and the word will pop into my head.

That is the way we learn words. We can learn them naturally, so why bother studying?


  1. Keith, this is quite an impressive feat. Are you always concentrating while you're watching the dramas, or are you busying yourself with other activities?

    I guess my main question for you is, do you not feel that if you had done 800 hours of "study", you'd be further along? Or is this just reflecting your natural style - and that is you hate to formally study?

  2. Thank you for your comment, Greg.

    I always give my full attention to watching the dramas. I believe that is the most effective thing to do.

    Whether or not I'd be "further along" after 800 hours of study, I don't know. But there are 2 points to consider. I have done over 100 hours a month for 5 different months. I would not be able to get myself to study 100 hours in a month. So my first point is, I would not have made it to 800 hours by now if I were studying.

    The second point to consider is the end results. Since I'm not at the end yet, I cannot show you the results. But the objective is to have the best end-results possible. Let's come back to that point when I get there.

  3. Thanks for the clarification, that's really interesting. There's no way I could manage 100 hours a month, so even if this method is ultimately faster, I couldn't work it hard enough.

    But I look forward to your ongoing posts, to watch your progress.


  4. Hello Keith, this is one hell of a post.
    Couldn't agree more with you except maybe that I consider written material to be somewhat superior for SLA. Anyway the principles are the same, subconscious acquisition of vocabulary and grammar without conscious studying. What pleases me most here is your devotion to the studies, i.e. you are spending about 25 hours per week on it. Now I know that it sound very tempting to "learn a language with 15 min a day" and I see many posts on other blogs explaining LL done in "dead" time, while waiting for bus or jogging, but many famous polyglots of the past and experts in LL have mentioned a thing called "daily and weekly concentration":

    "It is a bitter lesson but it has to be expressed once: the time spent on language learning is lost unless it reaches a certain—daily and weekly—concentration.
    Serious people tend to avoid generalizations, but one claim seems appropriate here: the ALL needs to study a minimum of 10–12 hours a week. If one cannot or doesn’t want to invest this much time, he or she should think twice about the enterprise."
    -Kato Lomb 1971

    "The more concentrated time you can devote to it the better. Five hours per week for a hundred weeks is less effective than twenty-five hours per week for twenty weeks. For many people, twenty five hours per week of heavy-duty language learning is exhausting enough to be considered full-time, especially at the beginning."
    -Greg Thomson

    You're doing a great job, keep it going.

  5. Hi Keith, I have been reading the ALG approach and makes a lot of sense for me, but the only way a can use this massive experiencial input is watching funny sitcoms and movies. I have used a lot of input before and reading and I am not a real beginnner.

    I see you have watched 1890 hours. How are you doing right now??


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