Is it going to rain?

Something that continues to surprise me is just how useful the phrases in your average phrasebook are, and how much knowing just a little bit of the language can add to the enjoyment of your trip.

One of my favourite places in the world is Kanumera Bay on the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia.

Kanumera Bay, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

If you arrive on the island via a cruise ship or ferry, you can walk there in 10 minutes or so.

Most of the beach is exposed to the wind, but if you keep walking to the far end, you will find the Oure Tera beach resort, which is protected from the wind by the headland.  There is a café right on the beach, and you can hire a kayak if you like.

If you take a snorkel and some reef shoes, you can walk into the water and snorkel above the coral reef, which is only 20 metres from the shore.  It is truly amazing – like swimming in an aquarium.


My family and I were doing exactly this.  We decided to stop for a break, and while we were doing so, there was a tropical deluge which lasted for half an hour.  We took shelter in our small portable beach tent (the blue one in the photo at the end of this post), other passengers on our cruise ship took shelter in the beachside café and ordered lunch.

Then the rain stopped.  And the dilemma became apparent.  Should we make our way back to the ship before it started raining again?  Or should we stay at the beach and hope that the storm clouds would clear?  If only we could ask someone who was familiar with the local weather conditions.

Nearly all of our fellow cruisers decided to walk back to the ship.  Then I spotted Tony, one of the resort’s staff.  After exchanging pleasantries in French, I was able to ask him Il fera pleuvoir encore aujourd’hui? (Is it going to rain again today?)

Tony. Don’t let his poker face fool you – he’s a very friendly guy.

He was adamant that it would not rain again, so we stayed at the beach for another hour or so, and had this little piece of paradise all to ourselves.


I managed to have quite a pleasant chat with Tony for five minutes or so, using only my phrasebook French.  C’etait magnifique!


我的第一个中文的博客文章 / My first blog post in Chinese / Mi primer entrada en chino

(English translation below)
(En español abajo)




This is my first blog post in Chinese.

I have been studying Chinese for a year.
I memorized a phrasebook.
Every day I learnt 10 phrases.

My name is Deng Baorui (that’s my Chinese name).
I’m from Sydney, Australia.
My first language is English.
I also studied French and Spanish.

I only know some Chinese characters.

Este es mi primer blog post en chino.
Estoy estudiando chino por un año.
He memorizado un libro de frases.
Todas las dias he aprendado 10 frases.

Me llamo Deng Baorui (ese es mi nombre chino).
Vivo en Sydney, Australia.
Mi primer idioma es inglés.
Yo he estudiado francés y español tambien.

No conozco muchos caracteres chinos.





Learning Chinese – One Year In



When I started memorizing my Spanish phrasebook, I picked an arbitrary number of phrases to learn each day – 10.  This seemed achievable to me, with the added benefit of being able to quickly calculate and track my progress.

This seemed to work well for me for the first three months, then I took a month or so off, then learnt 50-100 words per day for two weeks, before spending a week and a half revising my deck without learning any new words.

The problem with learning a lot of words or phrases quickly with Anki is that the number of cards to review also adds up very quickly, and before you know it you have to revise two or three hundred cards per day, with occasional spikes of five hundred cards in one day.  I call this problem The Wrath of Anki, and I’ve posted about it before here and here.

In his book Fast, Easy Way to Learn a Language Bill Handley states that in his opinion it is more effective to learn lots of words quickly and poorly rather a small amount of words slowly but surely.

I thought I’d try the Quickly and Poorly method with Chinese.  So I’d learn 100 new phrases in one session, then revise and revise until I had the number of cards I had to review down to a manageable level, then learn 100 more. Continue reading

Belated 1st anniversary post

I started this post on 18 June, a year to the day since I started this blog.  The period since then has been incredibly busy for me, so only now am I able to finish it.

In the year 18 June 2014 to 18 June 2015…

  • I started this blog.
  • I conducted an experiment to see if it is possible to learn a language (Spanish) by memorising a phrasebook. (It is!)
  • I sat a Spanish exam.
  • I completed 18 units of the FSI Spanish Programmatic Course, and committed them to memory using Anki.
  • I started memorising a Chinese phrasebook.
  • I listened to all 12 eps of the Serial podcast.
  • I stopped adding cards to my Spanish Anki deck in February.  By June, it was only taking me five minutes or so per day to review my flashcards.
  • As of today, I’ve almost memorised my entire Chinese phrasebook.  It is taking longer than Spanish – I’ll explain why in another post.

All the best, wherever you may be,


05 Recommended phrasebooks


I heartily recommend the iSpeak and All in One series by Alex Chapin, published by McGraw Hill.

Like all good phrasebooks, they contain extremely useful, practical phrases and vocabulary, but these books (actually CDs with about 1500 mp3 files on them) also have an audio recording of each phrase in the target language, which is then repeated in English twice, then finally repeated in the target language again.

Continue reading