December Challenge!


Okay, so the short answer is that I failed.

The long one is that I succeeded.


Turns out, December ain’t a good month for doing a one-month challenge. I mean, if you’re an obsessive and goal-oriented person like me, then every month is one-month challenge month. However, at least in Australia, you basically have to write most of December off productivity-wise as it signifies the end of a year of school, university, work, whatever, and so everyone is out and ready to party. It’s also the start of the Australian summer – this is bad news for Chinese study and other nerdy endeavours.

To top it off, this December was particularly bad as I am just recovering from a week of hectic food poisoning that nearly killed my whole family (not literally, but it got nasty). Coupled with the week I spent away in Hobart on holidays (where studying Chinese wasn’t really an option as I was only travelling with one other person), that gets rid of two full weeks from my month of study. Therefore, I had half as much time to complete the challenge. But I got much more than half-way through! In fact, if I kept up the average amount of words I studied per day I actually studied for the whole month, I would have beaten my monthly goal.

Therefore, the long answer is that I succeeded in my mission. Kind of. Not really though.

Anyway, let’s have a look at the cold hard facts.

Part 1: The Input/Listening

Screen shot 2013-12-29 at 4.02.29 PMSo, here is a record of all of the listening I did (podcasts, TV, etc) over the month. I actually did pretty well for this stage of the challenge. My goal for the month was to listen to 1 hour and 30 minutes of Chinese EVERY DAY. You can see that many days I made that, some I went over, and most fell slightly short. The overall amount of listening comes to 2355 minutes, which sounds like a lot when you put it like that. Averaged over the month, that’s 78.5 minutes per day. My goal was 90 minutes. But it’s not over yet! I have to add the time I spent doing my audio/character Anki reps, too.


2355 + 299 = 2654 minutes. Per day: 88.46 minutes, Goal: 90 minutes.

Ah! So close! A mere 1.54 minutes a day extra and I would have done it! Oh well, close enough for me!



Part 2: The Words/Characters

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 4.30.18 pm

Now for the interesting bit. The other part of my goal for this month was to learn a total of 500 news WORDS (including however many characters they required).

All up, I learned 355, so, 145 less than my goal. That sounds like a long way off, but considering that I only really had slightly over two weeks of actual study time as I explain above, it’s not bad. Not bad at all. I’m happy with it. What’s important here is the actual speed of which I was learning the words – an average of 15-20 to sometimes 30 a day, consistently. I remember reading some writing done by the infamous ageing polyglot Steve Kaufmann (founder of LingQ) explaining how when he was learning Chinese he used to sit down in his apartment and learn words and characters all day, and how he managed to gradually increase his daily load to about 30 new ones each day. I wanted to prove a) that this can be done and b) that it doesn’t require a crazy amount of time like you might expect.

In fact, if you check out my method, you’ll see that I spend between 30-60 minutes a day studying. Including revision. That’s all.

The question you’re all burning to ask is probably this: Okay, so you can learn all those words, but don’t you forget half of them the next day?

I probably forget about 20% of each days new words by the next day, however I have a complex method of SRS-like revision that means that I relearn them and keep testing myself on the ones I keep forgetting until they stick (all outlined in my method).

I ran my list through some shifty website that told me there were 499 individual unique characters. As a realistic estimate I’d say I probably already knew about 100 of them. That means that this month I managed to learn about 350 new words, and about 400 new characters!

I’m pretty happy.

If you’re interested, here is the Excel file containing the words I learnt this month.

Next Up

I leave for China in 9 days!

Sometime next week I’ll upload my first video speaking Chinese which will be part of a weekly video series (assuming I manage to do it consistently – I aim to). So get excited for that!

Author: Dan

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