So you’ve taken the exciting step of learning Mandarin Chinese. You’ve got all your tools lined up: your phrasebook, dictionary, learning app, Youtube channels…the works. For the first couple of days, you rush headlong into your learning, and it seems to pay off quickly. You get a few words or basic phrases under your belt and you wonder if maybe learning Mandarin really isn’t all that bad. You think that maybe the often quoted 2,200 class hours it takes to learn Mandarin was a bit of an overstatement. But your optimism doesn’t last long.
Over the next few days, the language begins to look more and more challenging. You do your best to shake it off and keep soldiering through, but over the course of a week or so you lose steam. The sheer difficulty of Chinese pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary is now plain to you. Where you once looked forward to learning Mandarin, you now dread it.
Does this scenario sound at all familiar to you? Many a language learner has rushed into studying the language only to peter out and give up in a week or two. In this post, we’ll take a look at five ways you can help protect yourself against this common pitfall.
1) Set aside a specific time for study
When it comes to learning Mandarin (or any foreign language), studying for 15 minutes every day is a lot more beneficial than trying to cram a couple hours in on the last day of the week. Consistency is king. 15 minutes is just a recommended starting point. If you can set aside more time then, by all means, do it!
The most important thing is that you designate a specific time each day to engage with the language. The goal is to make learning Mandarin a habit. Choosing an amount of time that is manageable will go a long way toward relieving some of the stress that can come with learning a foreign language
2) Break the language into “bite-sized” chunks
Once you’ve tamed your schedule, it’s time to turn your attention to what you’re actually studying. Many language learners recommend focusing on one aspect of a foreign language at a time. You could spend some time concentrating on specific aspects of grammar such as directions and prepositions, making comparisons, time and space conjunctions, and so on. The idea here is to hone in on a specific part of the language and move on only after you’re comfortable with it.
3) Engage with the language in different ways
You don’t need to spend all your study time reading grammar or memorizing characters. This kind of rote study has its place, but you want to vary how you engage with the Mandarin language as much as possible. There are four aspects of language learning: reading, writing, listening, and speaking; and you want to make sure you encounter them all.
To work on your reading skills you could try translating a simple Chinese text into English, or perhaps if you’re a beginner you could try reading a children’s book. For writing, you could write out a public journal entry on a free site like Lang-8 and have your written Chinese critiqued by native speakers.
To flex your speaking and listening muscles you could connect with native Mandarin speakers locally through language meetups or online through language exchanges. Better still, you could practice all four aspects of learning Mandarin by enrolling in a Mandarin class with Hutong School 😉
The opportunities to use and learn Mandarin are nearly endless. Don’t be afraid to get creative and spice up your studies by engaging with the language in a new way. It will help you stay focus while also keeping things interesting!
4) Break your big goals into smaller ones
Most people who start learning Mandarin do so with the hope of being fluent one day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a noble goal! The problem is when it’s your only goal. When all you have to set your sights on is the ultimate goal of fluency in Mandarin, it gets hard to see the forest from the trees.
The truth is that it takes a while to become fluent in a foreign language. Without smaller goals that are easier to reach, you’re likely to get discouraged. Compared to fluency, your progress simply won’t feel like progress.
However, if you can set monthly, weekly, and even daily goals; you will be able to track your progress better and savor a sense of accomplishment in doing what you set out to do. Some examples of smaller goals include: Learn 10 new verbs and nouns this week, focus on practicing your tones and pronunciation, practicing with at least one native speaker, and so on.
5) Aim for good Mandarin, not perfect Mandarin
Making mistakes is an integral part of learning a foreign language. There’s simply no way around the errors you’re going to make as a student. It’s important not to let these mistakes discourage you. Rather than viewing mistakes as a hindrance to your learning, think of them as stepping stones toward your success (because that’s exactly what they are!).
As long as your mistakes are corrected by a native speaker, and you learn from them, they can only help you. Don’t pressure yourself into thinking you have to speak perfectly from the very beginning. It’s simply not true! Take your errors in stride and enjoy the language learning process!
Learning Mandarin isn’t always a walk in the park. However, it is far from impossible. Follow these guidelines to help keep you free from the unneeded stress that plagues some many other students. Take a breath and carry on. You’ll be surprised how far a little creativity and perseverance can take you.
If learning Mandarin feels like a chore or an obligation, something is wrong. With the right perspective and habits, learning Mandarin can and should feel like a grand adventure!
Ready to start the study adventure of a lifetime in China? Get started today!
Jesse is an avid language learner and occasional world traveler. His love affair with foreign languages started with Spanish, then Russian, and now extends to several languages. He now spends his time writing and promoting the love of foreign languages across the web.