I spent this week preparing for a big event (The Natural Language Institute’s 11 year celebration) and didn’t watch any Chinese at all until this weekend. Yesterday, I watched 3 new Boonie Bears episodes, and today I watched the Taiwanese movie, Secret.
It was nice today as I watched Secret and to hear several words I’d already learned. It doesn’t actually feel that much different from learning other languages (such as Spanish and French), in that I gradually learn new vocabulary by hearing it in different contexts, over and over again. I rarely if ever “learn” a new word by hearing it just once. Rather, as a rule of thumb, I noted many years ago that I need to hear a word 10 times, on different days and contexts, to really learn it.
The difference is that I’m hearing these words in videos, rather than in live conversations. I also don’t have the opportunity to try to use vocabulary in speaking, and to get feedback.
To give an example of the challenge of learning new vocabulary this way, consider three words or expressions that I heard in today’s movie. The first is shie-shie, or “thank you.” I picked it up first while watching Lost on Journey. I then heard it several times while watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I believe I heard it once or twice in Boonie Bears. However, only while watching Secret today and hearing it once or twice more, do I feel it is finally really consolidated.
The second word is mimi, and I heard it for the first time today. I believe it means “secret,” but I don’t feel secure about this. I will “look out” for it in future videos, and hopefully confirm my interpretation.
The third word or expression is she-ma. Its meaning is quite vague to me. I’ve also heard ke-ma. I believe these both mean something like “what,” but I’m not sure and am keeping tuned in to see if I can hear it in other contexts and eventually really learn it.
Regardless of the challenge, I still believe the natural way of learning vocabulary is more effective than vocabulary lists. One reason is that I’m learning in real, meaningful contexts. I don’t get bogged down by limiting translations or transliterations. And while it takes much longer to learn, it is committed to longer term memory than are words learnt from a vocabulary list.