So as you probably already guessed, I decided to go with Chinese first.
There really was no other reason than "I've been thinking about it for ages". When I think about it then I have to admit it's probably the least helpful language for me to learn at this point. Then again, who said learning should be driven by necessity?
Maybe it's different in other places but when I look around me then most of the time people don't learn just for the fun of it. Sure, they often have fun while learning but they only seem to start learning when something becomes useful. And I have to admit, I went through a period like that as well. Unfortunately though it also took away part of my enjoyment related to learning. Sure, whatever I learned was helpful and the process was fun but it was often at an inconvenient moment. Because of that the learning also created additional stress and I stopped enjoying it.
About a year ago I started learning things just for the heck of it again though and I'm now actually enjoying it again. Sure, being able to say:"I want to read a book now" in Chinese is probably not very helpful but then, who cares? It's not like I have to be able to have a conversation with somebody tomorrow. I can just slowly work my way through the material.
I have to admit though that, at first, I wasn't sure that would work for me. I mean, would I be able to force myself to sit down and take some time out every day to learn? When I was still in school I wouldn't do anything until the deadline was drawing close. So how would I learn anything without a deadline?
The thing is though, learning things just for the heck of it is completely different. There are indeed no deadlines but you're also not busy trying to learn things you're not interested in. I found that I was actually looking forward to learning every day and because of that, freeing up time to study was easy. And it's just as easy now. My commute to the place I currently work takes about 30 minutes. So that means I get 30 minutes of Chinese in the morning and 30 more when I go home at night. That's 60 minutes a day right there. And that's just for Chinese. When I look at the other things I'm also doing at the moment (photography and some IT related courses) I study between 2 and 5 hours per day. Now that may sound like a lot when you add it to a normal work day but as it's fun it doesn't feel like a lot. I'm actually relaxing while I'm learning so it's a great use of my time.
Oh, I do have to say, I ditched my TV years ago. That small change free-ed up hours in my day when I made it ;)
I tried learning Chinese last year, but unfortunately I quit. My main comment is that it is much harder than it looks. I also listened to tapes driving to work (Pimsleur) and made Chinese friends on Skype. I was only learning listening and speaking as I could not commit enough time and patience for learning characters.
Although it was technically a "failure", the experience was rewarding and I don't regret it. Meeting people from China was a great experience. Their grasp of English was amazing. I genuinely enjoyed learning it. Listening to tapes on the way to work was soothing and became something I looked forward to every day.
After learning for 18 months, I could carry on a very simple conversation (Hi how are you? Where do you live? What do you do? etc.), but was never able to progress beyond that. I could listen to a Chinese radio broadcast and understand about 10% of it. I could understand bits and pieces of Chinese movie without the subtitles. I knew about 500 vocal words.
I think I found that 60 minutes a day is simply not enough time. That means you're spending 23 hours a day not speaking Chinese. You need to be doing at least 3-4 hours and day and immerse as much as possible. Also, it must be done everyday and it would have been better to have a US based daily language partner. Regular language learning with Chinese on the Internet can be done but is difficult because of the time difference and all of the above things are difficult to do if you have a full time job.
Learning Chinese is much harder than learning a Romance language. My learning grew rapidly and quickly in the beginning (which was encouraging) and then tapered (which was very discouraging).
Benny the Polyglot's blog was useful and there are many other useful websites.
Thanks for sharing your experience Giovanni. I definitely think the written part is going to be a problem for me as I'm not spending any time on that. Then again, I don't plan to live in China so I should be able to get away with just the spoken part.
When I think of learning Portuguese I did it the same way and it took me a couple of months to have a basic conversation. That said, 1 week in Brazil did more for my learning than those couple of months of tapes so you are definitely right when you say an hour is not enough to properly learn. But then, I'm learning for the fun of learning. Sure, I hope that I'll be able to have a conversation with Chinese people at some point but there is no time frame. If it happens 2 years from now I'm fine with that as well.
Thanks for pointing me to Benny the polyglot's site. I'd stumbled across it and bookmarked it already but I'll take a closer look at it.
Well, my blogging frequency has dropped as it always seems to do.
This time the reason for it is different though. Normally I just tend to get bored but currently I'm still busy and have other priorities than blogging so I'm not freeing up time for it. That said, today everything is different because today it's King's day.
What exactly does this entail?
That's a great question as we don't really know. It's the first time in more than a century as we haven't had a king here since 1890.
However, most likely it's going to be exactly like Queen's day used to be. A massive party! If I have to believe other people saying that it's going to be a massive party is a bit of an understatement and I should really be saying that it's "nothing short of the world's greatest party". Personally I'm not sure I agree as there are some pretty awesome parties out there but then it doesn't matter. It is safe to say that it's a day of orange craziness here in the Netherlands.
It's early and the whole day is in front of me. How will I spend my time?
When I was in middle school, frozen yogurt was served during recess for fifty cents. Sometimes I had fifty cents, other times I had to borrow it, and other times I didn't get to have frozen yogurt. Back then, it seemed like a pretty big deal. But now, looking back, whether or not I had frozen yogurt had no impact on my life. I don't really remember how it tasted or any particular times that I ate it. If there's any impact, it's probably that I lost a few hours of expected life by eating it.
It's interesting how things that seem like good ideas, or even seem important, can turn out to be completely irrelevant. The anguish over young love, which seemed so strong and so important back then, yet now isn't much more than a blur. The hours spent in school learning things like biology, which have now been totally forgotten. The acquisition or denial of that amazing gadget that we just have to have for Christmas. I waged a yearlong campaign to get an Atari Lynx, and considered not geting one to be one of the toughest struggles I had gone through back then.
I don't bring all this up to say that what happens in childhood doesn't matter, though. Not at all. In that same era, I think about how I met my childhood best friend, Charlie, who taught me Chinese and took me to Taiwan with him. Even today, those experiences (along with many others) are with me. We were issued TI-85 calculators back then, too, which was the first device I ever programmed on. I learned a lot. My parents never really let me watch TV back, and that, amongst so many other good decisions they made, have shaped me in positive ways.