My recent post on Glossika’s “Mass Sentence Method” has turned out to be one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written. I promised a followup, but this isn’t it. Due to a violent bout of 腸胃炎, remodeling in my building at the only time of day I have available to record the sentences (thus hindering my actually recording them), and the TOCFL coming up this weekend have all prevented me from using this technique as much as I want, so I’m not really able to give a full report on it yet. I have seen some results from it so far though. Enough to know that I want to continue, and really buckle down and do it right.

But before I get to that, there’s a misconception in language learning that needs to be addressed. It can be summed up as, “words + grammar = language”. Nothing can be further from the truth. A friend of mine has a student who recently said “According to my comprehension…”. Well, that may be grammatical, but English speakers don’t say that. We say things like “as far as I understand” or the like. This, of course, was a translation of “據我所理解”, and that’s exactly the problem. The student was saying something in Chinese, only using English words and grammar.

Unfortunately it usually isn’t even that good. There’s an idea that there is “One Word” in the target language that corresponds to “One Word” in your native language. This is why you get sentences like “I have ever been to the US” (find the 曾經 in that sentence). Now, so that it doesn’t look like I’m just picking on Taiwanese people’s English, let me get to the point: We do this exact same thing in Chinese. This is not a one-way street. What’s really painful is to hear an American doing this in Chinese, but using no tones and American English sentence intonation.

I do this all the time (except I have to say my tones and intonation are fairly good). I’m like many students at MTC and other language schools. I know a lot of words. I can understand a very large portion of what I hear around me every day. I attend graduate-level lectures in my field and keep up just fine. I read academic books and journal articles with very little problem. Same deal with newspapers and magazines. You might call me “advanced”, aside from the fact that I just don’t feel advanced, and I certainly don’t sound advanced when I talk. I tend to use a lot of circumlocutions, and I say things in a way that just seems weird to native speakers. They understand what I mean, but it certainly isn’t the way they’d say it.

A friend of mine was asked the other day by one of his English students how he got to his current (very much near-native) level of Chinese. His response was “I listened”. What he meant of course is that he listened to native speakers and copied the way they said things. Pronunciation, intonation, word choice, even the shape of their mouth. I’m going to call this “modeling”. You don’t have to go as far as staring at their mouth while they talk (though he claims to have done precisely that for the first 15 years he lived here), but you do need to pay close attention.

And that is exactly where this method comes into play. These books I’m buying are not for learners of Chinese, they’re for native speakers. In learning material you get this weird subset of the language, and usually a very dated one at that (just give your textbook or MP3 recordings to a native speaker and watch their reaction). It’s good to use this stuff to set the foundation, but you have to branch out of it at some point if you want to talk the way people actually talk.

So these sentence books contain Chinese the way people actually speak it, rather than some twisted around version of “how we ought to teach it to foreigners”. So this is the material we should “listen” to and model. Of course, other native media like TV, books, etc. are extremely important too, but these books contain thousands of sentences specifically intended for everyday conversation purposes. There are even books specifically for business purposes, travel, etc. I’ve found myself in situations since starting this method, where before I would have just done the best I could, but now I know exactly the right word. And it works every time.

So that’s what appears to be the strength of this technique. Now of course, you can get that from just listening. Talk to people, watch TV, etc., and pay attention, model their sentences, etc. And that will work. But doing this method makes it much more systematic and efficient. Not to mention that the scope of these sentences is very wide on purpose, whereas if you’re left to your own vices you’ll most likely have sentences from a much narrower pool of topics. Not that you’re boring or anything. But here’s a list of the topics in one of my books:

Chapter1 一般表達–Express Oneself

Unit 1 開心 Happiness
Unit 2 驚訝 Surprise
Unit 3 傷心 Sadness
Unit 4 生氣 Anger
Unit 5 愛戀 Love
Unit 6 同情 Sympathy
Unit 7 抱怨 Complaints
Unit 8 討厭 Hate
Unit 9 恐慌 Panic
Unit 10 擔心 Worry
Unit 11 絕望 Despair
Unit 12 指責 Accusation
Unit 13 煩惱 Annoyance
Unit 14 請求 Request
Unit 15 尷尬;為難 Embarrassment
Unit 16 焦慮 Anxiety
Unit 17 意見 Suggestion
Unit 18 邀請 Invitation
Unit 19 承諾;答應 Promises
Unit 20 警告 Warning
Unit 21 誤會 Misunderstanding
Unit 22 制止;教誨 Teachings
Unit 23 道別 Farewell
Unit 24 疑慮 Doubt
Unit 25 感謝 Gratitude
Unit 26 約定時間 Appointment
Unit 27 後悔 Regret
Unit 28 熱情;熱衷 Enthusiasm
Unit 29 不滿;憂鬱 Dissatisfaction
Unit 30 安慰 Comfort
Unit 31 貶低 Depreciation
Unit 32 贊同 Agreement
Unit 33 反對 Opposition
Unit 34 爭吵;責罵 Arguments
Unit 35 道歉 Apologies
Unit 36 希望;期待 Wishes
Unit 37 原諒 Forgiveness
Unit 38 害怕 Fear
Unit 39 稱讚 Praise
Unit 40 祝福 Blessings
Unit 41 鼓勵 Encouragement

Chapter2 日常生活–Daily Life

Unit 42 問候 Greetings
Unit 43 介紹 Introductions
Unit 44 天氣 Weather
Unit 45 學校 School
Unit 46 房屋 Houses
Unit 47 訂房 Room Reservations
Unit 48 節日 Holidays
Unit 49 交往 Relationship
Unit 50 婚禮 Weddings
Unit 51 流行服飾 Fashion
Unit 52 飲食 Food and Drinks
Unit 53 餐廳 Restaurants
Unit 54 遊樂園 Amusement Parks
Unit 55 網路 Internet
Unit 56 電視 Television
Unit 57 旅行社 Travel Agencies
Unit 58 飛機 Airplanes
Unit 59 通關 Customs
Unit 60 地鐵 Subways
Unit 61 巴士 Buses
Unit 62 計程車 Taxis
Unit 63 汽車 Cars
Unit 64 火車 Trains
Unit 65 租車 Car Rentals
Unit 66 露營 Camping
Unit 67 海灘 At the Beach
Unit 68 迷路 Getting Lost
Unit 69 照相 Taking Pictures
Unit 70 觀光 Sightseeing
Unit 71 按摩 Massage
Unit 72 歌劇 Operas
Unit 73 購物 Shopping
Unit 74 博物館 Museums
Unit 75 電影 Movies
Unit 76 音樂 Music
Unit 77 夜生活 Nightlife
Unit 78 聚會 Parties
Unit 79 運動 Sport
Unit 80 健身 Exercise
Unit 81 健康 Health
Unit 82 租屋 House Rentals
Unit 83 美容 Make-up
Unit 84 書籍 Books
Unit 85 看醫生 Going to a Doctor
Unit 86 自然災害 Disaster

Chapter3 辦公室常用–Offices

Unit 87 接電話 Picking up the Phone
Unit 88 打電話時 Making Phone Calls
Unit 89 通話時 On the Phone
Unit 90 電話及相關服務 Telephone Service
Unit 91 銀行 Banks
Unit 92 股市投資 Stock Market
Unit 93 郵局 Post Offices
Unit 94 保險 Insurance
Unit 95 辦公事務 In the Office
Unit 96 商談 Conference
Unit 97 詢價與報價 Quote Request
Unit 98 付款與索賠 Payment and claims
Unit 99 工作分配與訓練 Assignments and Training
Unit 100 同事交往 Colleagues
Unit 101 圖表報告 Charts and Demonstration
Unit 102 信件 Letters
Unit 103 市場調查 Marketing Research
Unit 104 會議 Meetings
Unit 105 公司簡介 Brief Introductions
Unit 106 接待客戶Receiving Customers
Unit 107 行銷廣告 Marketing
Unit 108 訂單確認 Order Confirmation
Unit 109 業務往來 Businesses
Unit 110 加班與壓力 Working Overtime
Unit 111 展覽會 Exhibitions
Unit 112 合約 Contracts
Unit 113 產品推薦 Product Promotion
Unit 114 出差 Business Trips

Chapter4 各類口試–Oral Tests

Unit 115 面試 Interviews
Unit 116 興趣 Hobbies
Unit 117 家庭背景 Family Background
Unit 118 旅遊經驗 Travel Experience
Unit 119 詢問學校生活 School Life
Unit 120 所學專業 Specialties
Unit 121 報考動機 Test-Taking Motivation
Unit 122 個人宗教信仰 Religion
Unit 123 健康狀況 Health Situations
Unit 124 工作經驗 Working Experience
Unit 125 個人經歷 Personal Experience
Unit 126 工作及生活態度 Attitudes
Unit 127 求職 Seeking Jobs
Unit 128 辭職 Resigning
Unit 129 薪資福利 Salaries
Unit 130 未來計劃 Future Plans
Unit 131 文化傳統 Cultural Tradition
Unit 132 文化差異 Culture Differences
Unit 133 環境議題 Environmental Issues
Unit 134 社會議題 Social Issues

Just look at that list. I have no idea how to talk about makeup in Chinese, for example. I had to help my wife buy some makeup the other day and it was torture for me because it was like the girl was suddenly speaking another language. She was talking about “coverage”, so it’s not like this was some really specialized vocabulary. This kind of everyday vocabulary that isn’t really part of my every day really stumps me sometimes. I wouldn’t have been upset if it was the name of some exotic oil in the makeup or something like that, but this kind of stuff is basic. The same friend I mentioned above said that to really improve your Chinese, you have to change your situation. Every situation will have its own appropriate vocabulary, right? I see these books as a good way of doing this systematically.

And that list is from a book of 4000 sentences. I have nearly 40,000 sentences sitting in my office right now. I probably won’t use them all, but I’m aiming for at least 20,000. There will be a lot of repetition, but repetition is good.

I’m going to end this long, disorganized article (once again, I’m not even sure if I’ve said what I intended to say at the beginning) by linking to a few videos by Glossika. The first few are in English, and then there are a few with him giving a talk about his method in Chinese. There are other videos where he talks about it, but I can’t seem to remember which ones they are. I would seriously recommend taking the time to watch all of these videos all the way through, because there’s good stuff in all of them.

And in this one, our suspicions that he might actually be insane are reinforced (I know you were thinking it):