Rediscovering my passion

Overall, 2018 was a rough year for our family and we concentrated on surviving and then finding our new normal. Towards the end of 2018, I started to feel more like myself and very slowly started finding motivation to move from merely surviving to thriving. I wish I knew what jump-started this motivation, but I don’t. Even if I can’t pinpoint the cause, it’s time to start moving forward.

In December, I listened to a podcast about compound interest. Normally, compound interest is a phrase used when discussing personal finance. But in this podcast, the phrase was being used to describe any actions taken on a regular basis to work toward a desired result. For example, cleaning one’s house for a few minutes a day will create a compound effect toward having an overall cleaner home. Skipping dessert today and then again tomorrow will create a compound effect that will later result in a more healthy body.

As 2019 started, I decided that it was time to ease myself back into my Chinese studies. A thought often discussed on language forums is that you don’t want to look back to a year ago and think of how much closer you would be to fluency if only you had taken the time to study a few minutes each day. This is a fantastic example of compound interest. It takes a regular, ongoing effort to become fluent in a language.

At the beginning of the month, I started out only studying a couple of minutes a day. My only goal was to catch up on my flashcard backlog, which consisted of roughly 100 vocabulary words and phrases and another 500 hanzi characters. As I started studying, I found that I craved more. As odd as it sounds, I missed studying Chinese.

Then I dug up a travel channel on YouTube about a guy who toured Taiwan in order to enjoy the local cuisine. That led to browsing Pinterest and adding pins to my travel board for our 2020 trip to Taiwan. Then I found another travel blogger who is a polyglot, someone who learns multiple languages.

Now, just two weeks after making a decision to embrace that compound effect of studying, I am thirsting for more language studies. I had forgotten how much I love learning languages. Suddenly, it hit me – languages are my passion. Either I’ve never given myself permission to embrace language learning as a passion or I’ve forgotten how much I have always loved studying languages.

In high school, I spent a year learning Latin and two years learning Spanish. After getting married, thanks to the influence of my husband, I spent a few years learning Japanese. When we decided to adopt our daughter from Taiwan, I switched to learning Chinese. And I have loved my time spent with each of these languages!

I don’t know where my language efforts will lead me. All I can do is make a daily effort and keep reminding myself that it’s ok to be passionate about learning languages. It’s not selfish and it’s not useless. There must be a reason I love the challenge. For now, I’ll continue with Chinese. Eventually, I hope to revisit Japanese and maybe I’ll start a new language as well. There are so many options and I’m excited about all of the possibilities.

A few thoughts

I’ve got a lot going on in my mind these days so I haven’t been able to put together a coherent blog post. So I thought I would just post a few thoughts.

Mother’s Day – calm. I have no idea what happened. Maybe because neither my husband or I reminded the girls it was Mother’s Day. They knew; they both wished me a Happy Mother’s day in the morning. But other than that, we ignored it. I got my favorite meal for dinner because it’s routine to have sushi on Sunday nights. I sat through a Disney Channel Original movie and think that I deserve Mom of the Year for that one. We got through the day with no meltdowns, no rages… fairly calm.

Therapy – My therapist has me working on identifying my core beliefs. I’ve been thinking about it for almost two weeks now and have only come up with two. The first one I identified was a negative view of myself, something I’ve believed since I was little. I came up with the second core belief yesterday. Thankfully, it’s more positive. I might post about them eventually. Maybe. It’s a rather raw topic for me and I’m processing some things in therapy.

Chinese – I have no idea why, but I’ve been motivated lately to return to my Chinese studies. I get frustrated that I can’t understand everything my younger daughter is trying to convey. She doesn’t converse with me much beyond surface level life. But occasionally she’ll try to tell me a story about school. I can understand enough to get the gist but I lose the details. I want to understand her. She’ll probably learn English faster than I learn Chinese, though my Chinese levels far exceed her English levels at this moment. She’s immersed, though, and I am not. I’ve studied almost every day this month, mostly dabbling in flashcards. Tonight I listened to almost half an hour of Chinese podcasts. I’m excited!

That’s most of what’s been on my mind lately. Trying to meditate in the evenings and failing most days. Finally added a daily Bible reading to my routine, mostly while I’m waiting in the pick up line after school. FlyLady efforts have stalled on forward progress but I’m maintaining the gains I’ve made already.

Life goes on. I am very slowly learning to live in the present. Very slowly.

Back in the language saddle

On Sunday morning, I sat down to write a blog post. It’s still only half finished. DoubleShot got up earlier than expected both Sunday and Monday so I didn’t have time to finish. So I decided to write something else for now.

With all of the last minute stresses and packing and rush of paperwork gathering before leaving for Taiwan, I studied very little Chinese in July. My flashcards are a very sad reflection of how little I have studied in the past six weeks.


The desktop app does not display exactly how many cards are due, just that there are over 1,000 of them. The phone app, however, tells me exactly how far I am behind – 1,258 cards due in just the vocabulary deck alone. I believe this number was originally over 1,400 but I spent some time yesterday and the day before reviewing cards.

To be honest, I am not sure that studying Chinese helped us in Taiwan or the past several weeks home. Yes, I can use survival phrases to talk to my daughter. I can ask if she’s hungry or needs to use the bathroom or if she’s tired. I can tell her what’s for dinner and where we are going. I cannot however ask if she is sad or if she misses her friends or what she thinks about any number of things. My writing skills are advanced enough for that but my speaking and listening skills are not. Maybe if I had joined a Chinese conversation class and actually practiced dialogue I would be able to do so. But I refuse to look back and regret the time I spent studying and what I should have done differently.

Learning more Chinese now may or may not be beneficial in my relationship with DoubleShot. She is adding new words and phrases to her speaking repertoire every day. Just yesterday she blurted out “all done!” when we finished our Candy Crush level. She knows a fair amount of English from her tutoring at the orphanage but is still gaining confidence to try speaking English with us.

So why bother? I want to be bilingual. I was planning to learn Japanese and had studied it for two years. Then we decided to adopt and I switched languages. I have learned much more Chinese in 1.5 years than I learned while studying Japanese because I learned HOW to study a language. Now that I’ve invested so much time in Chinese, I want to keep going. I want to go back to Taiwan and walk away from a cafe with more than a bagel. We are encouraging DoubleShot to retain her Chinese language skills and I want to be able to have a conversation with her in Chinese someday. We want to adopt again and maybe next time my Chinese will actually help in country and the first few weeks home.

I’ve read a number of blog and Facebook posts about how encouraging a child to retain their first language will slow down their acquisition of a second. That may be true. My husband is left out of a lot of the short exchanges between DoubleShot and I because he does not understand what is being said. But my daughter is already 13 years old and deserves to retain ties to her birth country if she wishes to do so. We are buying her books in Chinese and watch Taiwanese television shows. Just as I want to be bilingual, I want her to be bilingual. When she decides that she wants to be fluent in English, she’ll be more motivated than if I tried to force her.

Plus, DoubleShot so far has enjoyed sitting next to me and watching me study my flashcards. She laughs when I butcher the tones and prompts me when I can’t read a specific hanzi. And hopefully she’ll be able to see what vocabulary I do know and use that vocabulary when trying to tell me something.

I don’t know if there have been any relationship or psychological benefits due to my attempts at speaking Chinese with my daughter. Does it help our relationship in some way? Does it give her confidence to try speaking English? Does she feel loved because I have made an effort to bridge the language barrier? These are questions I won’t know the answer to for months or maybe even ever. There may be as of yet unseen benefits to all of the time and energy I’ve invested in studying Chinese.

Someday I want to be able to say that I can speak English and Chinese. Although I know how to say that sentence in Chinese, it’s not yet factual! Back to the studying I go!

May wrap-up / June goal

May’s 30 day challenge has not actually ended. Yes, May is over but I got a late start to my cheesemaking and it took longer than I expected. The cheese will be ready to taste-test on Wednesday. At that point, we’ll decide if it’s edible. If so, we’ll be making pizza with it.

I’ve been thinking about June’s challenge and I don’t think I can set one. We are still hoping to travel to Taiwan at the end of July, though if the judge doesn’t issue first ruling soon, we may not be traveling until August. I have an overambitious list of things I want to accomplish before travel. I don’t think it’s wise to concentrate on just one challenge this month. Instead, I’ll be working my way down my list.

Here’s what I am hoping to accomplish before travel.

Packing test run
Finish KonMarie’ing my house
Deep clean my house
Write up a menu for the first two weeks home
Grocery shopping for all non-perishables for the above menu
Summer clothes shopping for Jeff, Cin-Ru, and myself
Plan the actual trip
Finish blog design and launch my new blog

And, I want to make decent sized strides in my Chinese ability. I did join a June mini-challenge to read Chinese materials for at least half an hour each day. This means something written by native Chinese speakers for native Chinese speakers, not for those learning Chinese. There is a huge difference. This is in addition to my normal flashcards and my writing attempts.

Looking at my list, I’d better get busy!

Writing practice

Last night I wrote a Lang-8 post. I received a few corrections and rewrote my post based on the suggestions. My writing is still fairly simple but I am learning a lot. Hopefully I will keep improving. Here’s what I wrote:

今天晚飯我做壽司了. 非常喜歡壽司. 壽司當作晚飯是最好的.
晚飯後, 我跟我的先生去吃冰淇淋. 我吃了巧克力冰淇淋. 好吃!
明天早上我要去圖書館. 我得還幾本書. 圖書館是我最喜歡的地方.

Tonight’s meal
Tonight, I made sushi for dinner. I love sushi! Sushi is my favorite meal.
After dinner, my husband and I went to eat ice cream. I ate chocolate ice cream. It was delicious!
Tomorrow morning I want to go to the library. I need to return a few books. The library is my favorite place.

Chinese milestone reached!

I just finished the Intermediate Course at Yoyo Chinese. I am incredibly proud of myself! It took a long time but I have learned so much. I highly recommend the website for anyone who wants to learn Chinese.

Since I love numbers, I crunched a few.

Beginner level course
Started – February 4, 2014
Finished – September 6, 2014

Intermediate level course
Started – September 7, 2014
Finished – May 27, 2015

Anki vocabulary deck
Cards: 2,789 (roughly 1,300 words and phrases)
Total: 58,825 reviews
Average for days studied: 108.3 cards/day
Total study time: 76 hours
Due tomorrow: 106 cards

Anki sentences deck
Cards: 1,890 (roughly 900 unique sentences)
Total: 19,481 reviews
Average for days studied: 39.8 cards/day
Total study time: 61 hours
Due tomorrow: 45 cards

Total study time: 316.4 hours

This study time total includes Anki, grammar lessons, writing practice, watching Mandarin television (only logged in 1/2 time since it’s not active), etc. This is EVERYTHING I have done to study Chinese in the past 15 months.

Note – it is said that it takes 10,000 hours to reach full academic fluency in another language. At this point, I am only aiming for conversational fluency, not academic fluency. I have a long, long way to go…

All of the vocab and sentences for the last few lessons have been entered into Anki, but I still have to learn a number of them. I have a feeling it will take awhile before my Daily Due numbers decrease. However, I have many, many more vocabulary words to learn in order to become fluent!

I’m not yet sure what I will tackle next. I know that I need to continue watching Mandarin shows in order to gain listening practice. I also need to start writing regular entries on Lang-8 to practice my writing and reinforce the vocab and grammar I have learned.

I will probably start following a Taiwanese blogger (native Mandarin speaker). I already have several blogs bookmarked and need to pick one. That way I can get a feel for the writer’s voice, learn the vocab words they use regularly, and get practice reading. I also need to find a way to start speaking Mandarin.

At some point, I need to find a grammar book that picks up where Yoyo Chinese left off. I have no idea which grammar book to use.

I am thrilled that I have come this far and can’t wait to see how long it takes to reach conversational fluency. Another year or two? Hopefully my soon-to-be-daughter wants to keep her native language and will talk to me in Mandarin. We shall see!


As part of my Chinese studies, I have started watching a Taiwanese television show titled “The Patisserie With No Name.” I stumbled across this show and was delighted to discover that not only does it have English subtitles, it has Mandarin subtitles! This means I can listen, test my comprehension, and look up words if I wasn’t able to catch what was said (this happens a lot because I have a hard time following speakers at native speed).

In tonight’s episode, I heard some familiar words but wasn’t sure what they meant when used together. I know what each of these words means individually but have never heard them used as a phrase. 吃吃看吧 – After digging around in the dictionary, I discovered it basically means “give it a taste!” when offering someone a new-to-them dish. So I searched to see if it’s a commonly used phrase and found a blog I have to follow and learn how to read. This recent post looks like a review of a pastry shop in Taipei. I am drooling!

Skype and hotpot

I wrote this last week but didn’t get to share it with Cin-Ru on our Skype call. Instead, I’ll share it with her tomorrow. I’m trying to show her that I am making a genuine effort to learn Chinese. My Chinese skills might be incredibly basic, but I keep plugging away at it.

上個星期,我們去了一家中國餐廳. 在那裡我們吃了火鍋. 我們都非常喜歡! 我喜歡那裡的蘑菇和豆腐. 而爸爸喜歡蘑菇和土豆. 我們想和你一起在那裡吃飯.

“Last week, we went as a family to a Chinese restaurant. There, we ate hotpot. We both really liked it! I like the mushrooms and tofu. And baba also likes mushrooms and potato. We want to eat there with you.”

I can’t believe we already have another Skype call. I am so grateful because I miss her already. I can’t wait to spend time with her in person and truly get to know her. Skyping is hard, but I’m glad that we have the opportunity to talk with her while we wait for the court process.

Skype call

Our Skype call with Cin-Ru is tomorrow! I am super nervous but am looking forward to it. Just in case they ask me to say something in Chinese, I prepared a short introduction. This is my very first Chinese paragraph. I posted it on lang-8 for correction and only had to correct one sentence. Not bad for my first try!

我很高興認識你. 我叫Cassandra. 我三十二歲. 我是家庭主婦. 我非常喜歡看書. 你呢. 我學了一年的中文了. 不好意思. 我的中文不太好.

The above basically says: “I am very happy to meet you. I am Cassandra. I am 32 years old. I am a homemaker. I love to read books. What about you? I have been studying Chinese for one year. Sorry, my Chinese is bad.”

Hopefully she’ll be able to laugh at my attempts and it will help lighten the mood and allow her to open up to us.

20 hours and counting!

December Goals – Wrap up

The last week and a half of December were a complete wash as far as decluttering went. Our house is cleaner than it was but I still have plenty of work to do. I’m on the hold list at the library to borrow The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up but it will definitely be awhile before it is available. I am hold number 125 on 73 copies of the book. Hopefully soon. A friend of mine said it’s a wonderful book and that her house is now cleaner than it’s been in years!

My Chinese studies have made some progress but slowed down over the holidays. I fell behind on my flashcards half way through my MIL’s visit, which was expected. No grammar progress this week but I’m still thrilled with my overall progress in December.

Totals for the month:

Grammar lessons – 9 completed
Time spent studying – 25.8 hours

I hope to make lots of progress in 2015 because I’m hoping our daughter will be home by this fall! The more I learn, the easier it will be to communicate with her. That is great motivation to keep pressing forward.