I’ve learned languages to a high level before, so I know what it means to study hard – intensive in person language classes, language podcasts, text books, constant input, grammar drills, always striving to force that level of output, flash cards, graded readers, language software, intensive reading, language partners… I’ve done all of those things, and I’m not gonna lie – they work. They work pretty well if you can put in the hours. But these days, I’m older, I’m busier, I’m a bigger believer than ever in authentic materials, and — maybe most importantly — I’m just lazier.
The odds of me sitting down and spending an hour pushing myself to read through a book in Mandarin are pretty low. I’m just not that motivated especially since I’m not yet at the level where I can effortlessly read especially interesting things.
So what has my lazy solution been to push through that intermediate slog to get the advanced promised land?
**Chinese dramas and Anki.** Yep. That’s it.
I watch an hour or two of Chinese dramas every day – maybe more if I get really into the show or it’s the weekend – and for every episode I key in at least 1 or 2 new words into anki, along with the complete phrase it came from as an example sentence. If I’m feeling motivated that day, I’ll key in 4 or 5 per episode.
It doesn’t take long at all since I have Anki on my computer and just keep it and a dictionary window open. It also doesn’t require a very high level of Chinese since a lot of sentences in dramas are really short and if you can half guess at the pronounciation the keyboard input will often figure out the character you were trying to type.
So my Anki card is (sorry for odd example)
Vomit blood 吐血 tùxiě － 怎么又吐血了呀？
It takes very little Chinese knowledge to figure that out. 怎么，又，了，呀．That’s it. You can get those from using Duolingo for a couple months. All you have to do is get familiar with the Chinese input on the computer / phone and you’re set.
Anyway, I wouldn’t argue this method is ideal. I’m pretty sure it’s not. But it does feel like a relatively painless way to grow your vocabulary which is what that intermediate journey is all about IMO, and at the same time, you get tons of hours of 100% authentic contextualized listening / reading practice.
I’ve been doing this for a few months, and I find that my listening is a thousand times better, my vocab is rapidly improving, and most importantly, it doesn’t really feel like work since I’m basically just watching TV with a few little breaks.
Anyway, it seems to work for me and I plan on keeping it up. Has anybody else tried something like this?
EDIT — In case it’s not clear, I am absolutely using English subtitles as well. I am definitely not at the level that I can enjoy the shows without them. Also, I often need the subtitles to reverse look up the word I’m targeting when my pronounciation guesses fail me.