Learning to Communicate in Chinese: The Dos and Don’ts
Learning any language is for the majority of us about using it to communicate in a certain, or a number of capacities or situations. For example one person may wish to learn colloquial phrases to chat with a spouse’s family, whilst another may need to know how to communicate on a professional level for his or her job. Although peoples reasons for learning mandarin will often differ there are some tried and tested dos and don’ts to consider when learning the language, below are a few of the most important ones.
Know Why You Are Learning
Before starting to learn Chinese and at several intervals during your learning process you should ask yourself- “what are my main reasons for learning the Chinese language?” The answer to this question will differ from person to person, and perhaps change at several points during your experience of learning mandarin. However it is of paramount importance that you discover or regularly reaffirm your “why” to learning. This is of course because once you know the “why” planning the “how” will become much easier.
I’ve written more extensively about knowing your personal reasons to the question Why are you Learning Chinese here.
Have Clear Cut, Short-Term Goals Based on Communication
Knowing and regularly re-affirming your overarching objective will make planning your mandarin learning and setting your goals a lot easier. One of the keys to language learning success is to focus on short-term goals which are based on everyday communication. These goals not only make success attainable but also the huge process of learning a language much less daunting. Below are two examples of the wrong and right ways to set your targets-
The Wrong Way: Food is an important part of Chinese culture so I will commit to learning 300 words of vocab relating to food and writing a 1000 word essay on the differences between Chinese and Western cooking by the end of the month.
The Right Way: Food is an important part of Chinese culture so I will use my every day experience of eating and buying food as an opportunity to learn. By the end of the week I will have ordered 2 times at restaurant in Chinese, or I will have had a short 15 minute conversation with my language partner about our favorite foods.
Consistency is Key
If you are truly dedicated to learn mandarin you have to prepare yourself for the long haul! Spending long intensive sessions once or twice a week will not propel you to suddenly learning the Chinese language. Instead learning sessions should be short, frequent and also fun. As well as learning new vocab and structures on a daily basis, try to set aside at least 10 minutes a day to use what you have learnt to communicate with another person (preferably a native speaker).
Immerse Yourself in Your Language’s Culture
Learning mandarin will not only be a tool for communicating with over a billion of the world’s inhabitants but also a gateway to one of the world’s most ancient and interesting cultures. Learning about Chinese culture will open new avenues of discussion and gain serious kudos with your Chinese friends. Furthermore the more you know about China’s national character the more you will understand about mandarin as a language. Learning about China’s culture doesn’t have to involve arduously wading through textbooks or newspapers but can be achieved through reading short stories or magazines, watching dramas on TV listening to broadcasts on the radio.
Don’t Focus Too Heavily on “the Rules”
Learning vocab and grammar whilst being an important element to learning a language at times detracts from the reason people learn Chinese in the first place- to communicate! Many people often tell themselves that they need to achieve a certain level of grammar or need learn a certain amount of vocab before venturing out and speaking in Chinese. This is an extremely detrimental way of approaching Mandarin language learning for two reasons-
- The learner is denying themselves a chance to communicate in Chinese and reaffirm the benefits of learning this great language.
- The learner will not benefit from making mistakes that can be corrected whilst communicating with native speakers.
So don’t be too pedantic about “the rules”, regular communication with Chinese speakers is much more valuable to attaining correct grammar/sentence structures than any amount of textbooks.
Don’t Be Random
Don’t study random lists of vocab and sentence structures which will be forgotten in a month. Instead try to develop your own system which you are familiar with and that you know works. Your weekly plan to learning Mandarin should follow a certain patterns that include preparation, activity and revision, such as-
Don’t Rely on Your Mother Language When You Run Into Difficulties
Many Chinese language learners will use their native English as a fallback when communicating in Chinese. As many native Chinese speakers love to practice their English problems and situations can often be resolved quickly by doing this. However this often leads to the loss of a valuable Chinese language experience. Think about the amount extra learning you can achieve if you force yourself to only communicate in mandarin. Although this may be tricky to begin with due to limited vocabulary and sentence structures, the value in these interactions often lies in listening to native speakers explaining themselves.