Studying Chinese

Revisiting my 2012 Chinese learning goals

Summer is slowly getting to its end and new semester will start with registration in two weeks. Besides January, Autumn is also a time for a new start and self-improvement. That’s why I’m revisiting my Chinese learning goals for 2012.

Goals I set for my self in the beginning of this year were:

  1. Watch as much Chinese TV as I watch American TV
  2. Read five books this year
  3. Skritter for at least 15 minutes per day
  4. Write a blog post/essay in Chinese every Monday for this blog

I’m great with setting goals, but not as great with sticking with them. But still I’m going to try again, but with some changes:

  1. Watch an episode of Chinese TV a day (Anything from 30 minutes episode to 2 hour movies)
  2. Read five books this year (No changes to this one, I’ reading my second book at the moment and the third is in my bookshelf too. I got three more Chinese books at home as well, but those might be  too difficult.)
  3. Skritter for at least 15 minutes per day (I really wanna make this habit stick as I just paid for 1 year or skrittering to paypal.)
  4. Pass HSK6 in December (Includes finishing two prep books for reading and writing.)

The first three goals I’m tracking with an app called Way of Life. The free version can have only three goals, but I’m already thinking of paying the 30RMB to unlock unlimited number of goals. This is a very simple app, it asks you daily if you have done something or not. So far it seems to be just what I need!

Lets take a more detailed look of the four major goals. (This will be a massive post, so read when and if you got the time!)

Watch an episode of Chinese TV a day

The big challenge is to find interesting TV shows/series as generally I don’t find Chinese TV as interesting as American TV. Yesterday I started watching 北京青年 (In YouTube and in Youku) which seems to be a quite good series, also watching a TV show from Beijing helps me to balance my listening skills as the accent here in Guangzhou is very different.

I’ve also watched some Chinese movies recently, like Love and The Second Woman. I also watched The Founding of a Party, but it was very difficult to follow. Besides being quite a boring movie (not because of the topic), the langauge was still too hard for me. I’m very interested in the 20th century in China, but I don’t have the vocabulary yet to understand Chinese movies or books about the subject.

Read five books this year

I’m lacking in my schedule as I’m only reading my second book, that’s mainly because of poor book choices. I have first bought books that are way too hard for me and it took time for me to admit it. Now I’m only reading books that I feel comfortable with. I don’t read these books in order to learn more vocabulary, I check only a few new words and only if they are essential. I read because I want to create a habit of reading in Chinese and it helps with Chinese skills in general. I also happen to love reading no matter what the language.

The first book I read was Lucy in the Sky/公关辣妹的恋爱札记 and my current book is The Make-Up Girl/ 寻找亚当. I’ve found translated books to be often easier than originally Chinese books. The third book I will try is Twiligth/暮色, of course there’s some special vocab there but in general it seems like a fairly easy book.

Skritter for at least 15 minutes per day

It’s hard for me to make daily habits stick, but I’m just going to try over and over again. I know that Skritter works for me, it’s an amazing tool (app) to keep control of my vocabulary. It helps me to study and review for my 综合 course exams. Besides adding vocabulary from the course’s textbook, I also recently added HSK6, 39 Chengyu and Radicals lists to my study routine.

15 minutes per day is no way enough to pass my exams and the HSK, but it’s a way to make this habit stick.

Pass HSK6 in December

This is the first time I’m saying this goal out loud. First it was just an idea, then something I considered, but now I’m making it a goal. If you follow my Facebook page, then you already know that I got 128/200 points form a listening+reading mock test, that’s 70 from listening and 58 from reading. In the real HSK there is also writing section, but that’s quite hard to score yourself or within a mock test.

What I need to pass the HSK6 is 180 points out of 300, that’s 60% correct answers meaning I have to get about 60 points from each thee sections. I did that with my listening mock test and almost with my reading mock test. And this is without any particular study for HSK6. In December it will be a year since I passed HSK5 and right now level 6 doesn’t seem so impossible anymore. I don’t need a pretty score, I just want to pass.

During the following three months I will be going over prep books for reading and writing. A fellow student at Sun Yat-Sen University recommended these for me so I bought them from a local bookstore.

Passing HSK6 will no way be easy for me but it doesn’t feel impossible either. I’ve been feeling really bad about my Chinese as I got crappy grades from last semester and seem to be so much worse than my classmates. But instead of comparing my self to others, I should see how I have improved. I think my progress have been fairly good:

  • Came to China in Feb 2010 and failed old HSK Elementary-Intermediate exam in April 2010
  • Old HSK level 4  in Dec 2010 (That’s new HSK4 with 192+ score)
  • Old HSK level 5 in April 2011 (That’s new HSK4 with 210+ score)
  • New HSK5 in Dec 2011
  • So it means: Fail > (8 months) > HSK4 192+ > (4 months) > HSK4 210+ > (8 months) > HSK5 210+

Doesn’t that look like improvement to you?

Plan for Autun 2012

  • Stick with my goals
  • Pass HSK6
  • Take fewer courses (I’m gonna be studying my major, studying for HSK and working at the same time.)
  • Be proud of my improvement and feel good about my Chinese skills!

(Wow! That was one hell of a post! But got to get it off my chest.)


  • Rui Xue

    好久没有看你的博客了,偶尔看看还挺有意思,你可以试试多用中文写这些东西啊,或者你已经有了中文的博客的话可以发来看看啊 :)


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:



  • Furio

    Hey Sara, I love to read (and write) posts about goals :

    I’m going to try the Way of Life App. I
    just left my 9to5 job to pursue a career as a freelancer and I need
    to keep track of everything I do or I know I will surrender to
    procrastination most of the time.

    I do keep lists and so on but then I
    forget I wrote them… I need a daily reminder hehe

    I agree with you that Chinese TV is
    boring. There are some great movies out there but not so many.
    What about music? You don’t seem to talk about it but in my opinion
    music helps a lot (and there is some good Chinese music).

    It’s impressive you are going for HSK6, and it seems you are on track to make it!

    I think a healthy competition with your
    classmates may help you as human being are competitive by nature.
    However after the exam is finished, you shouldn’t care too much if
    others did better than you. The ability of learning a learning a language is highly conditioned
    by our background.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Furio,

    I really like the Way of Life App because it’s so simple. I’ve been wanting to unlock it to get more than three goals, but they don’t have it in the Finnish app store and that’s the only store where I can pay. Hopefully I find a solution for this.

    Resently I’ve been feeling that Chinese TV is getting more interesting, or perhaps I’ve just grown to like it more? :)

    I actually don’t listen to music that much, not in any language. Sometimes I have days that I listen to some Jay Chou (not a good example of correct pronunciation), but then I can go weeks without listening any music.

    It’s a bit scary to admit that HSK6 doesn’t seem so scary anymore, luckily I have more than a year to pass it if things don’t go as planned this December.


  • chancy426

    Recommending a easy read: 作茧自缚. How’s ur mandarin listening skills? If ur good with that can also try listening to audiobook while having the book in hand.


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you for your tip! I haven’t tried audio books in Chinese before but it does sound like a great way to practice listening skills. We don’t have any listening course at the uni anymore. If I have problems with listening then it’s usually the matter of my lack of vocabulary. But I should listen to more news to improve my listening skills further.


  • Gemma Espinosa

    Hi Sara! I wanted to ask you, what books did you finally read last year? I’m planning to read my first novel in Chinese, I think my Chinese level right now might be around the one you had when you started reading novels in Chinese (Skritter says I know 5306 words and 2475 characters), and I thought you might suggest me easy readings to begin with. You said you chose translated books because they were easier than Chinese novels, did you try 余华? (I’ve read that he’s one of the best writers to begin with, but maybe translated books are easier)? I’m thinking of reading Japanese literature translated into Chinese (I’m a fan of Haruki Murakami’s stories), have you read any Japanese book in Chinese? Well, any suggestion will be highly appreciated. Thank you and never stop enjoying your Chinese dream!


    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Gemma,
    It didn’t go as plan for my reading goal last year. But here are some books in Chinese that I think are on the easier side that you could have a try on:

    迷茶:单身公主相亲记 or some other book based on a tv series
    Paige Toon: Lucy in the sky or in Chinese: 公关辣妹的恋爱札记
    Twilight series in Chinese
    Gossip Girl series in Chinese

    Basically you have to think what genre you like reading and start from there. Chick lit is usually easier language wise.

    I’ve hear about Yu Hua’s books being easy, but I haven’t read any. For now I want to read something moder with dialog I could perhaps use my self.

    I haven’t read any Japanese literature at all.


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