For a site that is titled “All Mandarin, All The Time” it must seem odd that the only posts of substance (so far) are on Japanese. Well, I’ve been focusing solely on Japanese since I started this blog. In a way the title was a promise to myself to stop studying Japanese exclusively and start on Mandarin, but that hasn’t happened yet. Partly because I’m having trouble tracking down the resource I’ve chosen for learning hanzi (step 1 of the AMATT method!): Cracking the Chinese Puzzles by T.K. Ann. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to Heisig’s method and ordering for the hanzi, but unfortunately it’s been out of print for more than a decade and I can’t seem to find any decently priced copies. It is also in part because I am not comfortable embarking on my studies until I’ve acquired a decent pronunciation of Mandarin phonetics, but my native speaker is away visiting family at the moment. Those were the reasons, but now I’ve discovered(/verified) a third: you can’t start learn Mandarin and Japanese at the same time with the All Input, All The Time method.

Khatzumoto writes about mixing up languages when learning more than one at the same time on his blog. I read this, but at the time I thought it was total hogwash. I’ve tried to learn many languages before, and I’ve experienced the symptoms: mixing up words and sentence patterns, such as using a Japanese word in a German sentence, or saying something-は to mark the topic in Tagalog. But I found that this was a temporary condition; after trying hard enough I no longer made these mistakes very often, and was able to study a great many languages at once. At my height I was learning Japanese, German, Tagalog, Romani, Russian, and Thai together with daily practice and without any confusion.

But that was before the AIATT method. A few days ago I sinoified my environment and spent a whole day listening to Mandarin podcasts and language tapes, just to get a feel for the spoken language. My plan was to alternate languages: Chinese, Japanese, Chinese, Japanese, etc. on either a daily or weekly basis. I made some progress with my Chinese, but when I opened up my SRS at the end of the day, I found that 24 hours of non-Japanese language practice was all it took to undo two or three days of effort. It was not a minor setback–it was a complete military retreat. So bad that I immediately canceled the experiment and I’m worried about ever doing this again. I know that making a decision on one data point is usually a poor choice… but I cannot even relate the extent to which my skills atrophied over such a short period of time, and what kind of effect that would have had if I’d let it continue.

What changed between this and my pre-AIATT experience? I’m not sure. I think it has something to do with the fact that I was listening to audio I did not fully comprehend, and reliant on my subconscious brain to process and make sense of it. Whatever the cause, I now implicitly trust Khatzumoto’s claim that languages must be learnt in series for the AIATT method to work. I’ve therefore reevaluated my strategy: I will continue to learn Japanese in isolation until I can make the switch to monolingual dictionaries (with the exception of hanzi, which I will start learning and report on as soon as I can find that damn book). Only then will I begin to collect my 10,000 Mandarin sentences and listen to Mandarin audio, using Japanese as the base language for my Chinese studies. But I will keep an even mix of Japanese and Mandarin audio at all times.

Enough of that. I’ll end this post here–I prefer to talk about what I’ve done that works, not theorize about what might be useful in the future. Results are all that matters. I’ll post more as these results come in.