MengFourth Project Diary #0

I wanted to start at least one actually worth-talking-about project in 2020, and when the idea of now called “MengFourth” came to me – things finally started to move in right direction. Following the motives of many musicians who create music they would want to listen to themselves – I just had the idea of Chinese-learning material I would use myself in my studying. Chinese is a tonal language, compared to all the other languages I spoke or learnt, and it is particularly important to master the aspect of tones – and I’d say this is still my weakest point after almost two years in. And to be fair – not only mine, many people struggle with that. Nevertheless I never encountered a resource that particularly focuses on this issue and does it well enough – well, time to do it myself then.

There are thousands of words that would sound the same if you don’t know about the tones in Chinese. My favorite example: 俄语 and 鳄鱼 (both pronounced e-yu, but with different tones) – Russian language and crocodile. It is fair to say that you can tell the difference from the context, but it is still easy to embarrass yourself in front of the native speaker by using the wrong tones (guessing is only a fair option for beginners); another more useful example I like, and I experienced myself, is 眼睛 and 眼镜 – here it is the difference between eyes and glasses, depending on the tones. So this is basically what my studying material will focus on, finding these word pairs that sound similar and then working out the difference with the opportunity to practice the correct pronunciation. Providing the exemplary audio of a native speaker.

I decided to not overcomplicate things and base the whole project on Instagram, and post “material” there for a year, on a daily basis, which would result in at least 700 examples. Since there is also a need in audio and an actual native speaker to supervise everything – I would not be able to do it all on my own. That’s why I would need to expand my team for this project and hire a native speaker to do his/her contribution. Scheduling is a very rough thing too, leading a project simultaneously with working at my university and studying for exams isn’t a real option – which made me schedule the beginning of my whole project for August/September of the current year. Therefore, I already started looking for the addition to my team last week.

I used the network of my friends on WeChat and also asked the person who helped me write a notice in Chinese – to post it in 500-students-circle of Chinese exchange students. Right away I got an excellent applicant – who was clearly overqualified for this position. My looking-for-assistant notice was partially a failure – all due to inexperience and hurry. I didn’t include an application deadline, nor did I provide a concrete task for applicants to send in as an audio sample. Also choosing a Chinese voice while not being proficient yourself is a stupid task to do on your own, I still had to ask my native speaker friends for actually valuable opinions. Another issue that occurred to me, that I also had to potentially accept or reject applications of my friends. How do people efficiently separate jobs and private life?

In the early August there will be a lot of technical tasks for me – like making templates, designing visual appearance, setting up accounts, preparing advertising plans, and also closely working with my assistant on creating material. Nevertheless I am very excited to learn from this experience and advance my knowledge in all possible directions. As per other inclusives, I plan to use Instagram stories’ functions to promote repetition/reviewing of previously learnt material, then I also want to research how useful Facebook could be as a platform besides Instagram (I am a bit sceptical as of now, but still worth researching); potentially, if the whole project succeeds, I will later look into option of continuously translating it into different languages, and then promoting in different regions.

I always underline how this whole project is of voluntary character – which means I’m not trying to achieve any profit anyhow. Education should be free, especially when it comes to top-tier languages. Nevertheless I absolutely want to pay any person who helps me along the way – and I will also include an option to donate – so that people can support us if they feel that way. Right now I can only hope it could become self-sustaining at some point, but until then it is dependent on my own wallet. Which is not an issue by any means. I will keep writing about the progress of the project on the regular basis and write about aspects that I find particularly peculiar.

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