Tip in Practice
Much of TOCFL’s charm lies in the fact that it uses materials from the real world as illustrations for the reading comprehension portion of the exam. Thus, it just seems to make a lot of sense that one of the most effective study methods would be to absorb as much information out in the real world as possible. So, that brings me to one of my more fun “practical” activities: online shopping.
[This topic makes me think of so many things that could fill an entire post (or two) in the Wai-Taiwan Article section about the beauties and dangers of “consuming Taiwan,” but for now, I’ll stick to language learning.]
Lately I’ve been trying to read at least one news article every day with great success. But every once in a while, I’ll switch it up and do some online window shopping. I started out pretty light with purses and shoes. Then I moved on to clothing and lingerie, stationery, bedding, house wares, furniture, jewelry, grooming products and toiletries, (more) groceries, and finally the holy grail of all consumer products: electronics.
Benefit of Shopping Online
Shopping online is actually an easy way to get a lot of great vocabulary really quickly. I started out at Go Happy which has advertisements for all sorts of sales and promotions of just about any category of product you could possibly think of in some of the major Taiwanese chains. I’ve since expanded my horizons, but I still go back to this site occasionally.
Most websites have wonderful photos of the products. So, as you’re reading, when you get to an adjective you don’t know, you can make some educated guesses a lot easily. The vocabulary is also extremely practical. When you’re checking out makeup, you’ve got a full palette of colors (some you never would have learned in a class). When you’re reading about furniture, you’ve got rich descriptions of natural and synthetic materials. You’ve got tech specs, product specific verbs, loads of adjectives, and all sorts of great language.
To add to the wonderful vocabulary lesson, advertisements, because they aim to sell a product, are written in a very specific style. So, you’ll find grammar patterns which lend themselves to that clear but detailed act of describing things. Plus, on the grammatical side, there are plenty of great transition words and conjunctions to pluck out from the sentences.
My favorite part outside of learning is reading about cool products that don’t exist in the United States (yet).
Disadvantages of Shopping Online
If you have poor willpower, the greatest disadvantage will be that this method of learning could get a little “pricey.” But assuming spending isn’t your problem there are also a few other obstacles here.
Sometimes a new “word” will be extremely intuitive. The first time I saw the word clutch in Chinese [literally 手(hand) + 拿(hold) + 包(bag)] next to a picture of a small purse, I knew instantly what it was. But not every word is so easy. Sometimes, depending on your knowledge of the topic, some advertisements can make you feel like you’re looking up unfamiliar words non-stop.
Stick with it though.
A Bit of Advice on Organization
As with news stories, I try to make the rounds in terms of getting various types of products. As I said before, I’m working my way through just about every range of consumer products that I can think of. I’m doing this to intentionally pick up on more vocabulary. But with all of these new words, it’s pretty easy to get lost in a storm of scribbled characters. Plus, when I hit one of those categories that has me buried in my dictionary, I start to crave a life preserver.
So, I have to keep my new words *very* organized.
First, I have one large spreadsheet designated exclusively for shopping related vocab. Then, I separate my vocabulary lists based on generic/ umbrella shopping categories (ex: accessories). Within those categories I make room for subcategories (ex: purses), products (ex: clutch), parts of speech like nouns (ex: strap), adjectives (square), and verbs (clasp).
It’s nice to have these lists around when I need them. The more I “shop” the less I have to add to the lists. It also becomes easier to recognize words that I see repeatedly. Remember, there will always be a limited universe of features that you can associate with any given product. So no matter how many new words I’m learning now, after a certain amount of repetition with different products of the same type, I will undoubtedly start internalizing certain characters.
Practically Applying Your Knowledge
Learn Even More :: Once you get the hang of online shopping in Mandarin, there’s a lot you can do with your newfound knowledge.
- Do a search for your favorite products in Chinese and see what types of brands, “models,” or variations exist.
- Browse through the Taiwanese branches of your favorite online stores.
- If you’re going through fashion products (accessories, clothing, hair products, makeup, etc.), grab a fashion magazine and start reading the articles and advertisements.
- If you’re digging into something sporty like high end cars, find a Chinese “roadster” or some other car type website.
Get Writing Practice :: Now that you’ve been reading so many ads, you can probably write your own. “Sell” something you own. Write the classified ad in Chinese. Model the advertisement after an item in a classified ad that you’ve already read.
- Pick up your local newspaper and head straight for the “SundaySaver.” Translate the products’ ads into Chinese.
- Browse through your favorite online stores. Translate those product descriptions into Chinese.
- Read a Chinese classified article (or shopping website). Translate those product descriptions into English.
Reward Yourself :: If you’re a big spender with a forgiving bank account, treat yourself. Once you’ve mastered the vocabulary in a category of products, buy something in that category [or if you're less stingy a "subcategory"]. Go to a site that will ship to the US, but buy it in Mandarin ~ from selecting the product to entering in your credit card and shipping information.
Other practical advice?