Whew... today I made it through the entire Pimsleur Mandarin set, 90 half-hour sessions, each repeated at least three times. Between this, and the varied studying I get with books to lock in things visually and to understand the grammar, and between the ear-training with radio and television, I actually feel like I've moved beyond the beginner stage, and am at the early-intermediate stage. Amazing.
I've also been using the "Instant Immersion" and Peking University audio materials this month, and the majority of this material is already familiar... it's much faster to breeze through the beginning textbooks now because I'm just reinforcing what I already know and am seeking terms I do not yet know ("dormitory", "library", stuff like that). I don't have full comprehension on all audio-only beginner materials, but believe this should come with some quick visual study of those same materials.
So... what next? I want to reinforce this material, in these three weeks I have before the trip. During morning walks I'll go through the third set of thirty lessons again, with an emphasis on looking up unknown characters in my pocket dictionary as I come to them. I also want to scan through the Peking University book to make sure I have visual representations for their audio material. I should also have time to go through all the "Instant Immersion" material at least once more, so that I have similar level material in various presentations, with various voices.
Overriding theme: Learn enough to listen better, to read, to understand what's going on. Outwards-bound communications are nice, as a sign of respect, but the larger goal is to listen, observe, and understand here.
(Speaking of which, Instant Immersion and Peking University both speak the words very slowly, almost out-of-context... it's a little harsh, a little difficult. I've also been listening to some AudioForum courseware, for which I don't have the book, and it seems as-fast-as-possible... my task here is to pick out what I can, and repeat. Pimsleur speeds are right in the middle, at a moderately clear normal pace.)
During the next three weeks I also hope to put more time into cultural, geographic, and trip-planning reading. Bringing up reading speed to the level of spoken understanding is also a goal.
Okay... and after that? I've been starting to think of what I'd like to do when I get back from China, in October. Plans are necessarily tentative. I need to get back on-track with Japanese and Hindi. The latter is in disuse, but a quick review and some daily study time should bring me back to my previous level fairly quickly, I suspect. I haven't made much progress at all in reading Japanese over the last month, although I continue to spend the odd minutes at the odd website, and am continuing to listen to Japanese soap operas on TV. Further out, I've got a yen for Cantonese, Brazilian Portuguese, and getting back in shape with French and Spanish, but these can stay further out until I get some satisfaction on my nearer-term goals.
How to learn after I return? My best study time seems to be while walking each day. By that time Penton Overseas will likely re-release its Mandarin set of vocabulary builders, and there's a lot I have retained in their Japanese work. But these provides words and phrases rather than conversation, and so do not suffice. Because of the paucity of intermediate-level audio instruction I suspect I'll make up my own, recording phrasebooks and other written materials to minidisc. There's a lot of freedom in converting one format into the other, however (reps, repeats, etc) so I don't have a clear picture how this will evolve yet. I think I need to write Japanese to really retain it, and Hindi work seems bound up in textbooks, yet I haven't been successful in sitting in one place for an hour or more each day... it's easy to "slip in" book study during odd moments, but I haven't yet succeeded in page-by-page daily bookwork. We'll see.
This weekend is the Oakland Chinatown Street Fest, which I plan on attending. I also plan on doing some shopping in SF Chinatown Saturday. I'm getting better with the crowds, but still have problems dealing with public nose-picking on the bus and such... I need to find a way to get over this.
But overall, a great sense of satisfaction at reaching this milestone... the first few Mandarin Pimsleur sessions took me many, many repetitions, and the progress at a group class wasn't encouraging either... I'm glad that this ad hoc approach I've followed over the summer has borne fruit. It's about six months to the day since I've started, and I can read Hindi, understand more spoken Japanese than before, and am past the beginner stage with Mandarin. Woo-hoo! 8)