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🧠 Thoughts all Chinese learners have (and how to overcome them)
Common challenges faced by Chinese learners and how to overcome them
Picture this: you're standing in the midst of a bustling Beijing street, attempting to speak Chinese for the very first time.
As you take a deep breath, your heart races, palms start to sweat, and an inner voice whispers:
"What if my pronunciation becomes a subject of ridicule?"
"Will I even comprehend the responses I receive?"
"Constructing a coherent sentence seems so difficult."
"I lack the vocabulary for meaningful conversations."
"Using incorrect words or phrases terrifies me."
Embarking on the journey of learning a new language can be thrilling, unveiling doors to new cultures and connections. However, it's absolutely normal for Chinese learners to grapple with these common fears and uncertainties.
I certainly did.
Whether you're fretting about pronunciation, comprehension, sentence construction, vocabulary, or inappropriate language usage, remember – you're not alone.
Today, we'll delve into these shared fears among Chinese learners and provide practical tips to empower you on your learning journey, all while ensuring you remain on the right track.
“I’m afraid I’ll be ridiculed for my pronunciation.”
Tip 1: Break It Down
The Chinese language's unique tones and sounds can be daunting. To tackle this fear, break pronunciation down into manageable steps.
Focus on mastering individual sounds and tones before advancing to full words and phrases. I recommend studying the pinyin table to get a good foundation of pinyin and tones. I explain how to do this in my 7-Day Crash Course.
Tip 2: Practice Shadowing + Speaking
Before speaking in real life, I recommend building confidence through 2 techniques:
Shadowing is a language learning technique that can significantly improve your Chinese pronunciation and overall language skills.
It involves listening to native speakers and simultaneously repeating what they say, matching their pronunciation, intonation, and rhythm as closely as possible.
Speak to yourself + record yourself
Speaking to yourself in Chinese throughout the day is a great way to improve your vocabulary and comfort with speaking.
I recommend narrating the world around you throughout your day, describing what you see and what you're doing.
To increase pressure, record yourself speaking and focus on your pronunciation. Review your recording to hear for mistakes and areas of improvement.
I explain in greater detail how to shadow and how to effectively record yourself using a step-by-step system in the Copy Paste Speaking Course.
“I don’t understand what’s said to me.”
Tip 1: Listen, Listen, Listen
Comprehension comes from listening, lots and lots of listening.
Get familiar with how native speakers speak at normal speeds through podcasts, videos, and conversations. Exposure to various accents and speaking speeds will enhance your comprehension skills.
I recommend building a listening habit with podcasts because they are convenient, interesting, and portable. I made a list of my favorite Chinese learning tools including podcasts here.
Tip 2: Ask for Clarification
When faced with incomprehensible responses, don't hesitate to seek clarification. Native speakers often appreciate your efforts to learn their language and will gladly assist you.
When I started speaking in Taiwan, asking native speakers for clarification and help always led to further conversation and has led to some of my best friendships.
“I don’t have enough vocabulary to have a conversation.”
Tip 1: Learn the Most Common Vocabulary
Use the 80/20 Pareto Principle to learn the top 20% of most commonly used words that make up 80% of conversations.
You don't need tons of fancy vocabulary to start having conversations. You'd be surprised by how much you can communicate with just basic vocabulary.
I compiled a list of the top 100 most commonly used Chinese characters that you can download and study here.
Tip 2: Contextual Usage
To retain new vocabulary effectively, listen and use them in context.
Learning individual words in isolation is ok but you will remember them much better if you understand how the same words are used in sentences and conversations.
Even better if you can hear and see the speaker which adds audio and visual context to help you remember the words and phrases.
This is why I love listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos to help me build context. I made a database of my favorite YouTubers and podcasts here.
“I have trouble putting words together to make a sentence.”
Tip 1: Don't Create, Copy Instead
When I learned how to play the guitar in university, I started by learning covers of famous songs which helped me build the momentum and confidence to keep going.
The same thing goes for language learning. Creating your own unique sentences from scratch is complex and involves many moving pieces.
Instead, start by copying phrases and sentences from native speakers that are proven to work. Substitute words as needed.
I explain how to find reliable native content that is perfect for copying in the Copy Paste Speaking Course.
Tip 2: Lower Your Expectations
If you're unsure if the sentence you're saying sounds right, just say it anyway and find out!
In fact, don't expect to sound right. Expect to sound silly and unnatural before you will sound natural.
Expect to make mistakes. Mistakes are unavoidable. In fact, the more mistakes I made the faster I improved.
Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Correcting your mistakes, with the help of native speakers or language partners, is a powerful way to grow.
You're on the Right Track
If you have any of the above thoughts, it means you are on the right track. These are thoughts all language learners have and they are normal.
Your fears are a natural part of the process, but they need not hold you back. By implementing these practical tips and embracing the learning journey, you will conquer your doubts and emerge as a confident Chinese speaker just like I did.
Have a great day my friend.
PS Here are some practical ways I can help you learn Chinese today:
Speaking Course: This is the system I used to improve my speaking and build the confidence to start having conversations with native speakers in real life.
The Language Learner OS: The all-in-one hub to help me organize all my notes, track my progress, stay more productive, and learn Chinese faster and more effectively.
I’m always trying to make The Mando Press more useful for you! Please reply or leave a comment with topics you want to see in future posts.
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