Saturday, March 08, 2008

Packing it all in

I'm currently trying to balance a few too many things in my life. It seems to be settling however and I'm not feeling too rushed any more. While putting most of my effort into my research I still want time to learn two languages, get to the gym and keep a reasonably active social life (frequently focused on Couch-hosting these days). I've found a few things recently which are helping me to manage this all of the above in a reasonably sane manner.

The first tip is that I'm taking full advantage of new technologies for my language learning. Having listened to the 90 half hour Pimsleur lessons for Chinese while I was in Beijing I now need something a little more advanced and Chinesepod is proving extremely useful. They have around 800 lessons, with around a hundred lessons each of six different grades, from Newbie to really very advanced. I'm still only on the second grade and listen to these while I walk to and from work. This gives me around 40 minutes of Chinese language practice every day and while it's not truly interactive, it is helping me to improve. One face to face lesson of Chinese per week on top of this means that I can actually practice what I learn.

(For a great blog on Mandarin, especially the Beijing dialect, check out Beijing sounds. Have a read of this post for the best explanation for the importance of the Beijing-R I've ever heard - from a 6 year old. The recordings on this site are very good and there's plenty of decent feedback after each of his posts - found on Laowai Chinese.)

For Spanish I went through the first 30 lessons of Pimsleur Spanish and found that they weren't quite as good, for me, as the Mandarin lessons had been. So, I've switched to the Michel Thomas method. In this method you and two other students (on the recordings) are taken by Michel Thomas himself from the very basics, quickly building up sentences and discussing some of the rules of the language. The male and female students on the recordings start from zero knowledge and spend about as much time messing up as you do (well, the guy is purposefully, I believe not a great student). With half an hour of this in the evenings I can become a little more familiar with Spanish every day. In particular Michel Thomas is all about relaxation and not about stressful rote learning.

I've also started a regular language exchange after lunch with a physics masters student who is looking to improve his English. It's probably pretty painful for him to hear me murder the language but I'm convinced that there's a barrier in terms of confidence, and not knowledge, which needs to be overcome to really see improvements in speaking. On top of all this is half an hour of more tedious rote learning and three hours of lessons per week.

In terms of not turning into a bag of potatoes as I sit at my desk most of the day I've been following Tim Ferris's advice and getting to the gym twice a week for half an hour each time. That half an hour is murder but I'm finding it just as effective as trying to pack in more time and more sessions. I don't agree with everything on his site by any means but he has a lot of great tips for cutting down wasted time.

Anyway, on this slightly drizzly Saturday evening on which I'm not attempting to expand my social life I thought I'd note down my current pointers for not having a nervous breakdown - Any other tips would be gratefully received!


Anonymous said...

You write that you are trying to balance a few too many things in your life, to be honest Jon I don`t think you are on your own in this department. Life is for living but how can this be when you have to hold down to jobs to make ends meet and when they are met - you are to tired to even relish the thought.

Unknown said...

Absolutely, I'm just well aware that I'm one of the lucky ones and the job that I do is something that I'm extremely passionate about.

In answer to your question, I think that we spend a lot of time working and acting inefficiently and I'm attempting to give some very simple tips on how we can use the amazing resources around us to get our jobs done and have time for everything else.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jon:)

How are you doing? I really like what you have written here..It is always good to try to balance things in our life but for me it only lasts for few weeks and then I give up :P well, I think I should try harder from now on!!
For the language, personally I think that the best way to learn a language is to go out and talk to as many people as you can even if you make mistakes! you can read on your own time but you also need to practice what you have learnt!
Hope you are doing well Jon
Take care:)


Shelley said...

Thanks for the links to the Mandarin blogs. I really want to learn Mandarin, but finding it next to impossible to work in another class while trying to finish up and grad here.

My parents are actually leaving China in about a year, moving the the Brittany region of France to start another joint venture there. So looks like my future adventures will be in Europe as well.

Unknown said...

He Shelley,

I can imagine that now is a pretty tough time for you to take up another language on top of everything else. I have just noticed that Michel Thomas has a Mandarin course too, and it really is the most painless method I've found yet for Spanish, I may have a listen some time and pass on any tips.

It's going to be quite a big change from China to Brittany (though Suzhou has its similarities, perhaps). It's a beautiful part of the world though and you should give me a shout when you're heading this side of the pond.

Hi Sally,

I couldn't agree with you more that actually getting out there and speaking is the most important thing. For me at least there seems to be this barrier of fear that I need to get over, under or through in order to really start seeing improvements by simply talking. That's what the language exchange is all about for me.

All the best,