Whiteboard karaoke (spoken word)

Are you trying to improve your Chinese handwriting skills? I’m curious–what has worked for you?

Like many westerners studying Mandarin/Putonghua/Chinese, for the longest time I was guilty of continually saying “later, later” when it came to the idea of really pushing my reading/writing fluency to come in line with my listening and speaking skills.  I passed the advanced spoken HSK several years ago, but could never seem to crack HSK 6, which demanded a level of reading proficiency that I simply didn’t have– bottom line: As much as I ‘wanted it’, I didn’t seem willing to put in the effort necessary to cross the divide.

Sure, reading/writing Chinese is hard (David Moser still has the best essay on this topic), but it’s not impossible; you just have to do the work!    Over the last few years, I have made a concerted effort to try and correct that imbalance.

In order to achieve a better balance to counter my previous over-use of audio/visual media, I’ve been trying to read, read, read whenever the chance arises— I don’t really use that English much social media, but I do have a Weixin account and try to read friends’ updates and links; I also try to follow a blog that’s written by a fellow working in the Chinese post-secondary education system– because I work in higher-ed in Canada, it’s interesting to try and follow some of what’s what’s going on in China.

The invigorating part of challenging difficult texts (there are moments where you really have to decide to roll up your sleeves) is that it has given me a lot more breadth and depth in terms of the kinds of topics that I can now discuss.  Intuitively, I knew this would be true, but it’s been really satisfying to see it actually play out in my conversations

One remaining ‘weak link’ in my Chinese proficiency is my ability to write— here, I mean not just simply typing/inputting pinyin and picking the correct character(s), but actually being able to write presentable and cohesive prose if the need arises.

Which brings me back to my original question— if you’ve ever tried to improve your writing skills, what has worked for you?

I’ve always liked playing Chinese music on my guitar, but I’ve been trying harder to learn how to *write out* the lyrics to the songs I learn– doing things like clay calligraphyfinger paint karaoke or using the magic calligraphy practice paper (no ink, just water) have also been good outlets for practice.

Another simple process I’ve been playing with is using my whiteboard to practice writing quotes/etc. that I come across.  The first step is to make sure that I get the stroke order correct, then I tuck the piece of paper in my pocket so I can continue to practice whenever the opportunity presents itself.

This video (abover) is essentially the “before picture” of what I’ll work on for the next while– I’ll practice writing this passage over the coming weeks, randomly doodling characters when the urge hits me.

 Hopefully, with a little practice, I’ll be able to write it out nicely.   I could wait and simply upload the polished version, but  the purpose of this blog is to share some of my process—   my experience has been that I’m usually in a rush when I’m writing (i.e. because I know my characters are sloppy, and I just want to get it over with), so I’m basically playing with ways to try and slow myself down and pay attention.

I named this format “开卷模仿八分之一”, after the show that this particular clip came from (开卷八分钟). Unfortunately, Phoenix television is no longer producing this show–while it was on the air, I really enjoyed the format and Liang Wendao’s delivery;  last year, I ripped the audio from this clip so I could practice imitating his description of snow blowing across the seemingly endless Siberian permafrost.  At the time, I was more interested in studying Liang’s style of speaking, but I thought this would be a fun way to put speaking/writing together into one project.


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