How I came up with the PPM

In this post, I want to share my own language learning experiences and how they shaped the four step method, aka the PPM, at Kong Long Mandarin.

The best way to learn any language including Chinese is to acquire the language, don’t be taught. Below you can see some of the techniques I used to achieve that (or fail to) when I attempted to learn a foreign language.

Always remember, language is acquired, not taught.

What worked: Learning English through reciting and transcribing

I have lived in Canada for well over ten years. I am fluent in English. I think it’s hard to achieve native-like fluency unless you are totally immersed in your target language’s environment. However, I did have significant experience learning English while I was in China. When I arrived in Canada, I was able to confidently communicate in English right off the bat (or rather, fresh off the boat.)

I remember a couple things that really helped me with comprehension and speaking, before I moved to Canada. If you’re trying to learn a language (hopefully Chinese!), you may be able to learn a thing or two from what I did (in addition to using Kong Long Mandarin!).

I recited many lessons from a single textbook

I was using the 2nd book of New Concept English which is targeted at beginner-intermediate level learners. The textbook is a collection of short stories. I no longer have the book but I recall it had notes after the main text on vocabularies and grammar (similar to what I’m doing for show notes at Kong Long Mandarin).

For each lesson, I listened to the audio recording, and repeated after the recording. I read the text over and over again until I fully memorized it. And eventually I would recite the whole lesson while standing up as if I was speaking to an audience (I had none).

I don’t remember how many lessons I recited, but it was definitely over ten (I somehow remembered I did this for the whole book, but upon looking up the book, it has 96 lessons, so I am doubting whether I actually did them all). After the initial few, it got easier and easier. I gained a lot of confidence speaking English from that exercise.

This website isn’t a textbook, and it’s never meant to be. The method I took with New Concept English required a lot of self-motivation and preservation. I honestly don’t think I could pull it off again nor do I expect anybody else to. I believe a language is meant to be used for communication. You don’t need to always use the perfect grammar, and you don’t have to train for a certain accent. It’s good enough as long as you can make yourself clearly understood.

Learn with Peppa Pig takes a more lighthearted and fun approach. The elements of active learning are still preserved: Active listening, active speaking, and most importantly, REPEAT. (Did I mention repeat?) You can achieve great results using lessons at Kong Long Mandarin, or any other Chinese material that you deliberately listen to and repeat after.

I transcribed and translated one episode of an American sitcom

I enjoyed watching Will & Grace with fan-subs. Back in the day, only the first few seasons were translated into Chinese. I was really enthusiastic about learning English at the time so I set off to make my own fan subs. Spoiler alert: Yes, I really did it. I transcribed a whole episode and translated it all by myself. (I also published the subtitles but I think only a handful of people have seen them. They are nowhere to be found now.)

Even though I’ve watched many English shows by then, watching a show with subtitles and watching without one are totally different experiences. Let alone transcribing it. I realized a few things quickly: I thought I could understand spoken English, but I couldn’t. Everybody was speaking so fast that I couldn’t even hear the words. There were many words that I didn’t know. And the words I knew formed sentences that I couldn’t comprehend. I’m sure many of you could relate to this.

However, watching a show without subtitles and trying to transcribe it was definitely rewarding. I learned to listen intently and I learned where my gaps were. This is why I am advocating for learning a language by watching shows without subtitles.

The step one is always to watch a segment without subtitles and guess the meaning. Thankfully, Peppa Pig is a show that is easy to understand. (You don’t want to use mystery thrillers to practice this.)

If you really want a challenge, try transcribing some Peppa Pig episodes yourself. Transcribing is a fantastic way to practice listening comprehension skills. But it’s not beginner friendly. If you started transcribing the show and wanted somebody to check your notes over, send them my way.

When I was translating the episode of Will & Grace, I also found cultural references very difficult to catch and understand. By using Peppa Pig as the main source content, I more or less removed the cultural barrier. Peppa Pig is an extremely popular show in both China and the English speaking world, so I know it can be enjoyed universally.

(In fact, what prompted us to watch Peppa Pig was that my aunt gave my daughter Peppa and George stuffies when we visited China in the year of pigs. We literally got a piggie stuffy from every single relative we visited.)

One day you may want to graduate from a children’s show and move on to more advanced material. But at the beginner to intermediate levels, Chinese speaking Peppa Pig can teach you a lot! More advanced learners can also use the show to improve various language skills (I suppose by the time you get to an advanced level, you probably have already picked out a favorite show in Chinese.)

What didn’t work: Learning Japanese by watching anime (with subtitles)

If watching shows with subtitles can teach a language, I’d be totally fluent in Japanese. I watched countless Japanese anime series over the years and I also occasionally watch Japanese drama series. With subtitles, of course. (Currently I’m a fan of Takeru Satoh who played Kenshin in the live-action Rurouni Kenshin movies.)

Don’t get me wrong, any language exposure is good exposure. I can understand a lot of basic spoken Japanese. Sometimes I watch livestreams in Japanese and feel that I can understand a lot. (I bet I am also misunderstanding a lot). As a native Chinese speaker, I know all the Chinese characters which also makes it much much easier to understand Japanese text that has a lot of kanji. If you make me write a Japanese language exam, I may not do so bad.

With so much exposure and with so many natural advantages, I still can’t converse in Japanese. I can’t write in it. I can’t use it.

This is because I am not actively learning the language. If you want to learn a language, you gotta actively learn it. You have to listen with 100% of your attention. Do the repeats. Practice speaking by repeating everything out loud!

If I want to seriously learn Japanese, I am totally going to adopt my own approach using Peppa Pig. Now I think all languages should be learned this way. 😛

What didn’t work: Learning French by using language apps

First, I have to talk about my motivation for learning French. I live in Canada, an officially bilingual country. But Ontario is predominantly English speaking. I did spend a couple years in Ottawa which made me interested in learning French (and I did take some in-person classes). At my day job, I occasionally need to collaborate with some French speaking Quebecois. They are amazing to work with. They all speak English well. I wish I could speak French with them to build a better relationship.

So I’ve downloaded various apps to learn French. The usual suspects, you know them all. If only downloading the apps automatically teaches me all about the language. Sadly, I have never made it past simple greetings or the first couple lessons on grammar. This is not to criticize the apps because I know they work great for many people. And the app devs likely poured their heart and soul into developing the content so that they are effective for teaching.

Perhaps I’m just not interested in “learning out of context” these days. It seems really dry to learn words and sentences on their own.

This is why I think learning a language through watching a show would be more fun and easier to get into. You don’t have to wait any time for a real sentence to show up. You don’t have to always start from the very basics. It’s a lot more interesting this way. (Of course, to get real results, you gotta follow the PPM.)

BRB, I gotta go watch Peppa Pig in French now.

What are your favorite language learning tips? Share in the comments!

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