Nathan is a Chinese language learner and missionary with a passion for both. His website, KneeHowdy Chinese is focused on using mnemonics, or memory hooks, to help people learn and remember Chinese vocabulary. When we asked him about the motivation behind the site, Nathan told us:
I have always come up with funny stories for learning vocabulary, even when I was learning Spanish. I enjoy telling them to my friends and they usually remember the words. So, I thought I would take it to the next level and put them out there for the public.
Recently, Nathan has also taken the idea behind his website and turned it into a book with the awesome title, “Knee Howdy: Challenge Chinese Vocabulary to a Duel and Bury It ‘Six Feet Under’ Inside Your Brain.” Check it out on Amazon via the link.
Nathan was also kind enough to sit down and give us some insight into his own Chinese learning experience via our interview series, so – enjoy!
How would you sum up the approach you’ve taken to learning Chinese? Do you have a certain philosophy about how you learn?
My philosophy is to find a strong motivation for learning that will help me stick with it. I think it is easier to remember things that are fun. But since my motivation also is of a religious nature I am able to persevere even when I have moments of not wanting to study.
My main approach is to read a pinyin article and look up every word I don’t know. I read about 20 paragraphs a week. Then I try to use whatever new words I find useful as soon as possible.
What are your tips on learning Chinese effectively?
My personal opinion is that if you are intimidated by learning the characters, then you should save that until you are more advanced. I always find it much easier to recognize the characters for words that I already know and use in my spoken Chinese.
I think that reading articles related to your field is very effective because it is like slow motion immersion. You are immersed in Chinese, but you can go as slow as you want and “rewind” when you need to. You also get built-in natural SRS. The most important words are repeated in almost every paragraph and article.
Do you see other language learners making mistakes you think they should avoid?
Many times language learners will try to completely memorize everything in lesson 1 before they go on to lesson 2. They don’t realize or have faith that they will continue learning the first lesson’s contents as they move along. I believe in the “Frank Sinatra Language Method”. Sinatra once said about Dean Martin, “I spill more than he drinks”. This method works for me. I try to take in a lot more than my brain can handle, that way I can be sure that I am taking in the most possible. When comparing yourself to other language learners, you should be able to say, “I forget more than he learns”.
Any funny stories from your experience? Embarrassing language mistakes, misunderstandings, etc.
This one made into my book: “I approached a Chinese person that I hadn’t met before in my town and I asked him his name. ‘Nǐ jiào shénme míngzi?’, I said. He replied, ‘Wǒ xìng Chén’. I was a beginner so I thought he was telling me that his name was ‘Washington’. Then I said ‘Jiàndào nǐ wǒ hěn gāoxìng, Wǒxìngchén’. Needless to say I was embarrassed when I realized I had inadvertently told him that I also have the same last name as him, ‘Chen’.”
How do you keep yourself motivated while studying languages / Chinese?
I go out and use the language by talking to real native speakers and it always gives me an adrenalin boost.
Do you have one last tip for something that our readers can do TODAY to improve their Chinese?
Face the fear and speak anyway.