Court Robe, late 19th Century, China. via

I am so close I can almost taste it. I am enchanted with Mandarin Chinese, Chinese folk history and song, but I still feel as if I know nothing about the country’s pop culture–I still can’t help but think of the damning word foreign when I imagine China.

In explanation: I am spending four months in Beijing, my first travel destination outside of the Americas and Europe… and my first destination where I will not be able to read the signs or barter with locals (not yet, anyway). I will participate in an intensive 3-week language training before I start my 3 class civilization sequence (in English), and I will live on the Renmin University campus with a Chinese roommate.

Rice terraces, Guangxi

To ensure that I get the most out of my experience, I have a list of personal goals to meet:
1. Engage myself with the art of Beijing and its residents.
2. Learn as much Chinese as possible–focus on your bartering tactics!
3. Take pictures every day. Even if it’s just one.
4. Update your blog daily (hi!).
5. Don’t waste time napping–get out there and live!
6. Be the 20-year-old female version of Andrew Zimmern. Eat a bug, a snake, whatever–as long as it’s edible and not poisonous, it’ll be a good story.

and the slightly less sensational:

7. Remember to go to the gym. 3 months without running is physically painful.

I have finally found a worthwhile internet site to teach me Chinese. Memrise is a site that appears to be mostly dedicated to Mandarin Chinese education, although since users are allowed to upload study sets full of vocabulary and phrases, French, Spanish, Italian, and German are also burgeoning.

Memrise illustrates Chinese characters with moving pictures that make it nearly impossible for you to forget the form of a character–interestingly, the pronunciation of each character is about twice as hard to remember than the pictures themselves. I think that gaining basic reading fluency wouldn’t be too difficult if you learned 15 characters a day for a few weeks (or, at the very least, you’ll be able to figure out whether you are pointing to fish or beef on a menu!).

The layout of the site is pretty intuitive, and is based on a strategy of continuous practice–they want you to learn and relearn the words/characters, committing them first to short term memory and then, perhaps 3 days later, to long term memory. It’s definitely working so far.

Duolingo is still working well–but I think that duolingo fits best if you’re starting from level one (as I did in German). It can be a little boring trying to pass through levels to get to the grammatical lessons at the very end. I will certainly be using it once it comes out with Portuguese (should be less than a month, if the internet is to be believed).

Things like this are just getting me unbelievably excited to study abroad in Beijing. Less than two months and I will be in completely foreign surroundings–exactly where I feel most at home.