Eric Kraus


Chinese – Week 12

I am starting week 12 of my New Year’s Resolution to learn Mandarin Chinese and a lot has changed over the last 10 weeks since my last post.

Quick update on current status:

-currently studying lesson 10 (the last lesson) in the Integrated Chinese Level 1 book. I have been pacing at about 1 lesson per week which was aggressive, but comfortable given my time investment.
-by the end of lesson 10, I will know and be able to recognize over 600 Chinese words/characters
-in addition to individual words, I have learned many basic grammar structures and sentence patterns

Some reflection on the first three months of study:

-the biggest key is to find a rhythm and stick to the routine. my routine: wake up at 5:30am, study listening/pronunciation practice until 7:00am. before bed 30 min of practice listening and/or reading sentences from TCB app (more on that later)
-find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. for me, learning new vocab has been very easy, but becoming quick in translating English or fluid in speaking full sentences has taken more effort. this awareness has given me direction in what to focus on when I am practicing.
-reduce the noise. you can quickly become overwhelmed trying to learn every new word possible. stick with learning new vocab with context – this is why a good book/study course is invaluable. here’s what I’ve been using.

-find some way to practice what you are learning outside of your coursework, but make sure it is appropriate for your level. I do two things: every week participate in a meet up group that speaks Chinese for 2 hours, read Chinese news on The Chairman’s Bao (TCB) app. I absolutely love this app. It allows you to filter the news articles to just those written to your level, you can listen to someone speak the text and there is an easy way to search on characters your don’t know to look them up.

Chinese – Week 2

Quick update as I’m wrapping up my 2nd week of formal Chinese study.


I drastically narrowed the mobile apps I’m using to the following:
-Pleco – dictionary, stroke order, Live OCR add-on
-Translator app: Google Translate or Microsoft Translate
Anki – spaced repetition, flash cards

If you don’t have a tutor or course book, I would highly recommend both first. YouTube and “Learn Chinese” mobile apps are fun and entertaining, but it’s easy to get overwhelmed quickly without a lot of structure. I’m finding it more valuable to master the basics than to expand widely without understanding the foundations.

Words and Characters

I had originally set out a goal to learn 300 words for the HSK1 exam. More complex words are often 2 or more characters, so it’s reasonable to estimate this goal would be 500 or so characters.

I’m a few weeks in to studying and Anki tells me I already know 230 characters. This blew my mind. This also doesn’t include all the combinations of characters for numbers, months, days of week, etc.

I don’t think I’ll have any problem hitting my original goal. Measuring the number of words or characters is a fun fact, but in reality doesn’t really directly map to one’s ability to use words correctly in sentences. So, I’ll continue to monitor, but definitely no longer targeting a specific number goal. It could be 1000 by the end of the year.

Listening first

Per advice from my tutor (this is why you get a tutor), I have shifted my primary effort from word/character recognition learning first to building listening/speaking muscle memory first. For example, I had previously been approaching learning by mastering words by character recognition and then using those individual words to make sentences. For this reason, my reading/writing Chinese skill are actually pretty good. But when it comes to speaking, this tactical approach has been slowing me down.

Instead, I’m now working from the other way first: listening for “chunks” of sounds that are common phrases and learning to say those together well.

It’s important to do both, but starting bottom up has been more difficult for me for speaking skills, so this change has helped a lot.

Practice Practice Practice

I’ve been practicing speaking a lot by myself (early mornings and late nights) and listening to audio recordings that came work my coursework. But to get some more natural listening skills, I joined a local Chinese Language Study Group that meets weekly.

The group consists of varying degrees of fluency. Most people have been studying over a year, so I am by far a newbie. My vocab is massively limited compared to them, but everyone has been great about talking down to my level. It’s also good practice for hearing chucks of sentences you do recognize and trying to infer the remaining context.


All in all, making great progress. I am planning to make a video of myself soon, reading and speaking so I can measure progress. I can’t believe it’s only been 2-3 weeks of studying and can’t imagine what the next 4 weeks will bring! 再见!

Chinese – Self Study Week 2

I’m two weeks into my Chinese study and have made a lot of progress. I’ve also gathered a lot of useful tips and some lessons learned over my studying during my first week.


For starters, I’ve landed on an objective goal for 2019. I want to pass (minimally) the HSK 1 and hopefully the HSK 2 exams by the end of the calendar year. The HSK Chinese Proficiency exams are given to non-native Chinese speakers to evaluate their depth of understanding of the language.

There are 6 levels to the HSK. Each test involves listening and reading comprehension as well as writing in the later levels. It is stated that after passing HSK 4, someone is fluent Chinese.

HSK 2 will require that I understand (and can use) 300+ words characters in common sentence structures. Words in the Chinese are often made up of more than one character, so 300 words might be somewhere in the neighborhood of 400-500 characters.

Lessons from last week

While the YouTube videos and apps were all helpful in the beginning, they lack the structure that I know I will need to be successful. What I mean by structure is explaining the foundation of the language so that I can grow from it later – not just memorize phrases. It’s sort of the opposite of “Learn Chinese in just 10 minutes”

It’s like someone that throws a ball against a wall every day. He will get better at throwing, but not necessarily great at the game.

So, I’ve made two of important changes.

  1. abandoned most of the apps that I have been using for “content”
  2. hired a Chinese tutor
  3. focus on listening, speaking and reading – but not writing

The new plan

After the first meeting with my tutor, we’ve come up with a plan to achieve my goals of passing the HSK 1 and HSK 2 exams. I’m optimistic. But it means most of the apps that I’ve been using will go out the door and we’re starting with the basics: Radicals.

From what I understand, Radicals are like indexers for Chinese characters. It’s how dictionaries are organized to find characters. It’s sort of like how in English, words are made up of letters. Chinese words are made up of Characters that are made up of combinations of Radicals. It’s way more complex than that, but for week 2…it’s good enough.

There are 214 Radicals and knowing the most common (or all) Radicals will make it easier to put them together to form the components of the Characters to build words/meaning.

Another thing I’m changing, addresses my fear that the lack-of immersion will be a limiter for me to pick up the language. After talking with the tutor I’m going to relax a bit and not worry so much about the immersion and just focus on learning the basics solid for now. That’s easy enough.

The last big change in strategy is related to writing characters. Just like native-English speakers, many Chinese communicate via technology instead of handwritten letters. So, I won’t be focusing too much on writing characters, but will definitely continue focus on character identification for reading purposes.

Mobile Apps

I’m not kicking all of the apps to the curb. In fact, I’m doubling down on a few…specifically Anki. I launch Anki at least 3-4 times per day now. It’s a critical tool for the memorization process for new vocabulary/characters.

I am still using Pleco, but when on my tablet/computer, I am using ArchChinese a bit more lately to help with the construction of different characters.

So, for the time being, I am stopping my usage of ChinesePod, YoYoChinese, LingoDeer, etc. etc.


I’m really excited to be on a solid curriculum for the language and looking forward to seeing some of the building blocks coming together. For measurement sake, I’ll do my best to track my progress of what I’m learning.

New Radical Characters Learned: 48
Other Vocab: 10
Total Characters: 98

Chinese – Self Study Week 1

I just officially wrapped up my first week of self-study on Chinese. We’ll call this Self Study Week 1. 🙂 Here are some thoughts and lessons learned.

This week I tried to focus on just getting familiar with Chinese, resources, pinyin rules/exceptions and not really worrying too much about vocab or Chinese characters.

As I mentioned in the Learning/Resources post, I have been using the Anki mobile app for flash card studying – it is awesome.

The Anki Mobile app gives me stats about my how I am learning and automatically reminds me of things I need more work. It also gives me an idea of how well I am For example, today, I reviewed 40 cards including pinyin initials, finals, exceptions, some basic vocab and a few VERY basic sentences.

According to the app, the average amount of time I studied cards was 12.9 minutes per day (this obviously needs to increase). Also, the app is telling me that I am around 80% accurate on “learning” cards (new ones) and 92% accurate on cards I am “young” mastery on (ones I’ve been consistently accurate). The app then uses these statistics to ensure I continue to review the right cards until all of them reach mastery.

I’m a believer that the best progress is made when you work hard but push yourself beyond your limits. So, 80-90% in my bood is just about right. And it’s definitely time to push on.

The goal for next week is to start working on some basic vocab. “This”, “That”, “It”, “He” “Good”, “Bad”, etc. etc.

The ChinesePod app has a Newbie track that I’m going to follow fairly strictly until further notice. Unlike many of the other resources, this track has the right amount of foundation/basics and introduction of new content without jumping right into complex sentences. More to come.

Learning Chinese

As I’m working through my 2019 goal to learn Chinese, I am planning to gather some thoughts on my preparation and progress throughout the year.

Like any foreign language, the key (and biggest challenge) to fluency, will be immersion. This is going to be especially difficult for a guy that doesn’t live in a native-Chinese speaking country, is not married to a Chinese woman, did not adopt Chinese children, doesn’t have any close Chinese-speaking friends/co-workers, etc. etc. I am working to mitigate a few of these (no, I’m not getting remarried or adopting). However, I am looking into resources like university classes, mentors, tutors, meetup groups, etc. Regardless, I am certain this single constraint will make/break the level of fluency I develop.

I have read online from several sources that knowing 200 Chinese characters/words will be enough to make someone “tourist aware” and knowing 500 or more words will allow someone to read 75% of Chinese literature. To be legally fluent, one needs to know 1,500-2,000 words…and most educated Chinese will understand 3,000+ words.

With this as a backdrop, I am setting my 2019 goal at learning 200 characters (also known as hanzi). I have no doubt I will exceed this from a pinyin/listening/speaking “word” perspective…but I also think it’s important to study Chinese characters (hanzi) along the way as well.

As much as possible, hanzi should be the preferred written form of Chinese.

The current plan is to learn as much as I can about the foundation of the language on my own. I now have a well established daily habit from working on my 2018 goal. So, I am hoping to piggyback on that habit for the first few months and work on learning “Newbie Mandarin”.

Chinese Newbie Resources

Ok, so if you know NOTHING about Mandarin (like me), you will literally be starting at Nǐ hǎo (hello). Here are some resource that I’m using and have found incredibly valuable.

I looked through a lot of online resources for learning Mandarin. A couple mentioned below. ChinesePod was recommended from several other English-native speakers and Ithought I would give it a try. It’s affordable given the amount of content that is on there. I also really like their style too. It’s not just the dry “this word means this word”. Instead, they leverage humor and natural dialog between people – very similar to how classroom or tutor learning would be.

Yoyo Chinese
I watched HOURS of videos on Youtube and learned so much from Yoyo Chinese. Yangyang’s delivery in her videos was awesome! I feel a bit guilty not subscribing to their service, but the ONLY reason is focus. I want to stick with one program and work through it. If there’s a chance I switch later – it’ll likely be to Yoyo Chinese.

I also highly recommend their pinyin chart.

Mobile Apps

Google Translate – phrase translation pronunciation
Pleco – dictionary and pronuciation.
AnkiMobile – flashcards. yes, expensive, but if you are serious about learning, spaced repetition and memorization will be a key
ChinesePod Pinyin Chart – quick way to validate pronunciations
HelloTalk – pairs you up with other people learning the language you are fluent in

Secondary apps (using for fun right now, not sure yet if they will be a core part of my learning).
Chineasy Cards – a fun, easy way to learn Chinese characters.
LingoDeer – a fun way to learning basic pinyin, vocab
WeChat – EVERYONE I meet on HelloTalk wants to chat on WeChat – only that my brand new acct is blocked for suspicious activity. *sigh*

Weekly Updates

Week 1 – 12/22 – Newbie stuff and pinyin

Week 2 – 12/29 – Radicals, tones and some basic sentences

2019 Goal: Learn Chinese

2018 was a crazy year! I got a late start on my New Year’s Resolution. In fact, I likely wouldn’t even have had one if it weren’t for a suggestion from a friend who was doing a similar activity.  “Sure! I’ll do that too!”

The idea was simple:  read 100 books in 2018.

Looking back, that was quite the audacious goal.  Along the way, I’ve received numerous questions about how I chose the topics, where I bought  my books, which was my favorite, etc.  I kept an ongoing list on my 100 Books in 2018 post; however, I’ll be doing a broader write up soon with answers to some of those questions.

On To 2019

2018 was a great year of learning.  I really value the knowledge I’ve gained and the stories I’ve been able to share because of the books I’ve read.  Truly – no regrets.  But honestly, I have no interest in setting another reading goal in a long while.  I’m on to my next project…and I’ve gotten the crazy idea to try and one-up myself for 2019.

That’s right, I’m going to learn Mandarin Chinese.

Wait… what?

Yeah – I don’t have a lot of details to share right now, but I promise to share more about my practice schedule, training resources, etc. etc. as I get going on this journey.

One might say this New Years Resolution is more like an experiment and a test of my commitment, than it is measuring a fixed outcome.  Something to find out: “how fluent can a full-time working parent in the USA get at Chinese in 1 year?”  I’ve heard of others doing it in 6 months….3 months?!

I’m not setting any unrealistic outcomes like that, but I am setting small milestones along the way to measure my progress.  And I’m not wasting any time.  Check out books #98, #99 and #100.

More to come!

Book: Subtle Art of Not Giving

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F_ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

I’ll admit it, the title of this book and the assumption that a lot of cursing would be involved drew me to make the purchase. I didn’t expect the content to be revolutionary, but a different spin on the same old advice. No offense intended…because this is how most self-help books work. It was also the first book I listened to on Audible and for that part alone, it was not a disappointment.

The first third of the book reminded me of a stand up comic’s routine. I couldn’t stop laughing. I was listening to it while driving and it made three hours pass by in a second. The dry, sarcastic vulgar delivery was perfect for the “get over it” subject matter. The first part didn’t venture into solving problems, just calling out all the ridiculous things we care too much about.

If the book would have ended after the first few chapters, I would have been happy. However, my 100 Book goal required me to read [listen] to the end, so I stuck it out. In short, the middle of the book had some valuable content, some of it noted below. The last third of the book was quite repetitive.

Below are the main topics I took away from the book. Again, nothing earth shattering here, but the entertainment value was the worth the price alone.

-work towards something greater in your life. a greater purpose gives you the focus to care about the things that matter and not give a f*ck about the things that don’t
-adopt a sort of Grit (another book I read and enjoyed thoroughly) mentality. essentially, obsess about the things that do matter and accomplish them at all costs
-allow yourself a limited number of f*cks — use them wisely
-what f*cks you do give are what you care about the most (take note of these things)
-you have to spend some f*cks — otherwise you aren’t passionate about anything and will be seen as entitled
-you control your emotions — no one can make you anything (you allow emotions to happen)
-don’t let your emotions dictate your actions
-in the end, remember what 3yr olds and dogs have in common…
they both sh*t on your floor and you don’t give a f*ck (because you love them)

Despite the lackluster ending, I have recommended this book to several people. Almost all of which, have listened to it and summarized it the same as above.

Life Principles

Inspired by two of my favorite books: Principles by Ray Dalio and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson, I am documenting my own Life Principles and Virtues. This will be a constant work in progress, but am sharing them [before perfect] as a public commitment and reminder to myself.


1. Never do harm to other people whether intentionally or indirectly (e.g. speaking of them negatively behind their back)


2. Remember that it is naive to think all that someone believes in is right and all that someone rejects is therefore wrong (this applies to self and others)


3. Judge others by what they do well. Judge yourself by your faults. 


4. Measure yourself by what you do, not by what you think or plan.


5. Always strive to find the right answer. Never take pride in being right.


6. Remember that the majority of statements are opinions. Be clear when sharing opinion vs. fact


7. You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Surround yourself with people you admire, respect and can learn from. Avoid those that are negative or hurtful to self/others.

100 Books in 2018

I have set a rather ambitious goal for the remainder of 2018…  Better late then never, right? For 2018, I am embarking on a journey of learning as much as I can. I am encouraged by a friend who is doing a similar challenge… So, I have set a goal to read 100 books in 2018.

A few people have already asked for my list, recommendations, thoughts and reviews.  I put together this page, a collection of the books I’ve read, and for a select few, a link to my review.  You can also check out my GoodReads profile here.

If you have any suggestions I should add to my list, please share! Hope you enjoy.

1 A Beginner’s Guide to Day Trading Online
2 The Ultimate Day Trader: How to Achieve Consistent Day Trading Profits in Stocks, Forex, and Commodities
3 High probability trading : take the steps to become a successful trader
4 Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World
5 The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
6 Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life
7 Grit
8 The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the Ten Commitments That Drive Sales
9 Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior
10 The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F_ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life Review
11 The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living
12 Principles: Life and Work Life Principles
13 Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
14 Zoom (Picture Puffin Books)
15 PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives
16 When to Rob a Bank: …And 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants
17 QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life
18 Introducing Emotional Intelligence: A Practical Guide
19 Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
20 The Accountant’s Story: Inside the Violent World of the Medellín Cartel
21 The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life
22 Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism
23 Works Well with Others: Shaking Hands, Shutting Up, and Other Crucial Skills in Business That No One Ever Teaches You Review
24 The Constitution of the United States of America, the Bill of Rights & All Amendments, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation,
25 Game Theory at Work: How to Use Game Theory to Outthink and Outmaneuver Your Competition
26 Me Talk Pretty One Day
27 What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
28 Theory of Moves
29 Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew: Updated and Expanded Edition
30 Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It
31 Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts
32 Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life
33 Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
34 The Origin of Species: 150th Anniversary Edition
35 Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
36 Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity
37 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
38 1776
39 Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
40 Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
41 John Adams
42 Apollo: The Epic Journey to the Moon, 1963-1972
43 Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words
44 Moneyball
45 Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them
46 Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
47 Revolution!: The Brick Chronicle of the American Revolution and the Inspiring Fight for Liberty and Equality that Shook the World
48 Strategies for Beating Small Stakes Poker Cash Games
49 Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
50 Alexander Hamilton
51 Science of Being and Art of Living: Transcendental Meditation
52 Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition
53 The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook
54 All Hell Broke Loose: Experiences of Young People During the Armistice Day 1940 Blizzard
55 Into the Wild
56 The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
57 New Hudson Shakespeare Julius Caesar
58 Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War
59 The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions
60 Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
61 Workstorming: Why Conversations at Work Go Wrong, and How to Fix Them
62 Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols
63 Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book: Lessons And Teachings From A Lifetime In Golf
64 The Ice Cream Maker: An Inspiring Tale About Making Quality The Key Ingredient in Everything You Do
65 Sun Tzu For Execution: How to Use the Art of War to Get Results
66 The Wilderness Companion
67 Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1
68 Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder
69 Ansel Adams: Our National Parks
70 Animal Farm
71 HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence (with featured article “What Makes a Leader?” by Daniel Goleman)(HBR’s 10 Must Reads)
72 The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write One–How to Deliver It
73 The Night the Fitz Went Down
74 Siddhartha
75 The Essential Marcus Aurelius (Tarcher Cornerstone Editions)
76 How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters: Fight Back When Monsters and Mother Nature Attack
77 How to Skin a Lion: A Treasury of Outmoded Advice
78 Common Sense, Rights of Man, and Other Essential Writings of Thomas Paine
79 How to Hack Like a PORNSTAR: A step by step process for breaking into a BANK (Hacking the planet)
80 The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
81 The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales
82 Lombardi and Landry: How Two of Pro Football’s Greatest Coaches Launched Their Legends and Changed the Game Forever by Ernie Palladino (2012-09-01)
83 Starr: My Life in Football
84 The Best of Sports Illustrated
85 Always a Badger: The Pat Richter Story
86 Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship
87 The Autistic Brain
88 Minneapolis Madams: The Lost History of Prostitution on the Riverfront
89 Cloud Physics: A Popular Introduction to Applied Meteorology (Dover Earth Science)
90 Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders
91 The Rookie Handbook: How to Survive the First Season in the NFL
92 400 Things Cops Know: Street-Smart Lessons from a Veteran Patrolman
93 The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War
94 Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness
95 The Super Book of Useless Information: The Most Powerfully Unnecessary Things You Never Need to Know
96 101 Things I Learned in Law School
97 Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus
98 Chineasy: The New Way to Read Chinese Wait, what?
99 Basic Mandarin Chinese – Speaking & Listening Textbook: An Introduction to Spoken Mandarin for Beginners (DVD and MP3 Audio CD Included) Wait, what?
100 Say It Right In Chinese, 2nd Edition (Say It Right! Series) Wait, what?

2018 Goals

One of the best ways to accomplish your goals is to hold yourself publicly accountable. For some, it’s as simple as telling people about what you’re trying to achieve.  For others, it’s about building engagement on the journey.

I’m hoping this inspires others to do the same (be public with your goals) as well as encourage feedback on my own journey.



100 Books in 2018

I’m starting this goal late (February). Rather than figure out how I’ll measure this against the year, I’m just… starting. The goal is to read 100 books in 2018 and I’ll be keeping track of them here.  You’ll notice a general theme to my books, but I’m really open. If you have any suggestions, please let me know!