Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Chinese benchmarking challenge, June 10th to 30th

6623-a-fold-up-ruler-isolated-on-a-white-background-pvHave you ever benchmarked your Chinese? If not, it’s time to do so! If you have, it’s probably time to do it again.

Benchmarking is the focus of this month’s challenge here on Hacking Chinese. Benchmarking simply means that you try to measure your ability so that you can compare later (or now if you have benchmarked before). It’s also an important technique to make sure you understand your strength and weaknesses.

Hacking Chinese benchmarking challenge, June 10th to June 30th

This how you sign up and join the challenge:

  1. Sign up (using your e-mail, Facebook or Twitter)
  2. View current and upcoming challenges on the front page
  3. Join the benchmarking challenge
  4. Set a reasonable goal (see below)
  5. Benchmark all the relevant skills
  6. Report your progress on your computer or mobile device
  7. Check the graph to see if you’re on track to reaching your goal
  8. Check the leader board to see how you compare to others (if you want)
  9. Share progress, tips and resources with fellow students

Please note:  The challenge starts on June 10th (Friday), so even if you join now, you won’t be able to report progress until then. I post this article today so you have a few days to prepare!

What is benchmarking and why is it a good idea?

Benchmarking is simply the process of measuring performance for comparative purposes. While you can of course compare with other people, I see little point in doing so. Instead, the main idea here is to compare with future or past versions of yourself.

Benchmarking is important for a number of reasons. First, it highlights what you don’t know, which makes it easier to relate that to your long-term goals for learning Chinese. In other words, benchmarking is necessary to be able to identify what you need to focus more (and perhaps also less) on.

Second, benchmarking is a way of showing that you are learning something, even if it doesn’t always feel like that. When you reach the dreaded intermediate plateau of learning, it feels like no matter how many hours you spend, you still don’t move forward that much.

But the truth is that most students do; it’s just that it’s harder to notice. If a drop falls in an empty bucket, you can see its effects, but add a drop to a half-full bucket and the difference is impossible to notice.

Remember that benchmarking is not a menial task, it’s actually a very intensive form of studying. Therefore, this is definitely not a waste of time!

How do I benchmark?

I have written a detailed article about benchmarking, so I’m not going to repeat what I said there in this post. The article contains hand-on tips for how to benchmark listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Start by selecting which skills you’re interested in this time. If you study full time, you could go for all four skills, but if you don’t have that much time, perhaps selecting only the most important skills will be enough.

For each skill, you need to decide what to benchmark (again, please refer to the full article about benchmarking) and how to do it. The most important thing is that you write these things down so you can remember how you did it next time. It’s not fair to compare your ability to read online news using a dictionary today with how well you perform six months from now without any aids at all. The latter is clearly much harder, so you’re not comparing the same thing.

You won’t be able to benchmark every aspect of every skill, that simply takes too much time. Therefore, think through what your long-term goals for learning are and which component skills are most crucial for achieving reaching that goal, then benchmark those.

Setting a reasonable goal

This challenge is a bit different from the other challenges. Once you have decided which skills  and sub skills to benchmark, estimate how much time this takes, starting with this estimation:

  • 30-60 minutes for evaluating one aspect of listening or reading
  • 60-120 minutes for evaluating one aspect of speaking or writing

The active skills are generally much harder to benchmark because you have to include someone else who can evaluate what you say or what you have written. The passive skills are easier since you know yourself roughly how much you understand just by reading or listening.

If you’re a serious full-time student, I would suggest that you benchmark at least two aspects of each skill. That means six hours. If you’re studying part time, just go for one or two aspects of the most or the two most important skills.

Post the results

When you have performed the benchmark, post the results online if you want! I know I would be interested in seeing what students have to say about their own ability, how that compares to their goals and how the benchmarking itself went. Just leave a comment or nudge me on social media!


Preliminary challenge schedule for 2016

To make sure that the challenges cover all major areas, I have created a rough schedule of what challenges will be on for the rest of the year. I might change this somewhat and insert more specific or unusual challenges here and there (if you have any ideas, please let me know). Challenges in italics are preliminary.

  1. January: New Year
  2. February: Listening
  3. March: Vocabulary
  4. April: Reading
  5. May: Writing
  6. June: Benchmarking
  7. July: Translation (to Chinese)
  8. August: Reading
  9. September: Mimicking
  10. October: Speaking
  11. November: Translation (from Chinese)
  12. December: Vocabulary

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