Cracking the Intermediate Plateau (Podcast)

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Achieving a Near Native Chinese Accent with Professor Karen Chung (Podcast) I'm Learning Mandarin

Links:  Karen's Ted Talk: My Roadmap to Learning Mandarin Tones: On today’s podcast, I chat with a very distinguished guest. Someone  who has designed a technique she believes can help learners of any  language achieve near native accents. Karen Chung from the USA has lived in Taiwan for more than 30 years  and for most of that time has worked as a linguistics professor at the  National Taiwan University. In 2018 a Ted Talk which she delivered in flawless Mandarin received over a million views  and brought her methods to the attention of a large international  audience. In the video she explains her accent training technique which she  calls the echo method. The method which is based on her own learning  experiences takes advantage of our echoic memory. First we listen to a sentence or phrase in our target language,  waiting for the audio to replay or echo in our minds, before finally  mimicking it out loud. Doing it this way allows us to mimic native  speech much more closely than conventional listen and repeat methods. In this podcast, we explore her own language learning journey, how  she learned Mandarin to such a high level and why she disagrees with  conventional language learning opinion which argues accents don’t matter  as long as we can more or less make ourselves understood. She also kindly agreed to give me a brief demonstration of her method to help improve my own Mandarin accent.

*The I’m Learning Mandarin Podcast is now available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify . If you enjoyed this content please subscribe on your favourite podcast provider and leave a review. You can also subscribe to this blog to have new posts and podcasts pinged straight to your email.

As an intermediate Mandarin learner, one of the main challenges I face is acquiring lower frequency words. In any language the most frequent few thousand words account for over 90% of words used in daily conversation. Mandarin is no different and, although I typically understand the vast majority of words in a sentence, it’s those rarer words which can throw me off. 

So how can we overcome the intermediate plateau and learn enough low frequency words to become proficient? 

That’s where today’s guest Andrew Methven comes in. Andrew first started learning Chinese whilst on a backpacking trip in China in 2002-03. He eventually went on to train as a translator and interpreter, before joining a startup in the UK focussed on China. More recently, he started the newsletter: designed to help intermediate and advanced learners fill in key gaps in the vocabulary. 

Every week Andrew shares new words, phrases, idioms, colloquialisms and slang with the goal of helping readers maintain and improve their Chinese, while staying up to date with latest language trends. Andrew’s experiences of backpacking through China as well as his insights into overcoming the long intermediate plateau are fascinating and insightful. 

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