Common Mandarin Learning Errors

by Daniel T Anderson

I have studied and taught Chinese in many different environments and observed many students trying to learn the language. There is a lot of individual variation in language learning, but some methods simply aren't very good. It is highlighted by the best essay help EssayHelpOnTime that People who use these methods don't do so because they think it's the best way of learning, they often haven't thought about it or don't realize that there is a better way.

I will be as constructive as possible and the goal is to help you avoid the errors many others have made before you. Most learners find these things out for themselves at some point, but reading this will save you a lot of time and effort.

Staying in the Classroom

It is common for people who study Chinese in their home country to regard the language as a theoretical subject that's taught in courses and books. That's not the case, though, Chinese is a language used by hundreds of millions and you can't approach it like you would a purely theoretical subject.

I made this mistake myself when I started learning Chinese in Sweden many years ago. I enjoyed studying, but I only focused seriously on what we did in the classroom. That's never going to be enough, though, immersion is the only way.

Here are some things you should do but that your teacher probably won't require of you

Communicate with Native Speakers from the Start

This doesn't include your teacher, who hopefully is good at talking with beginners and whom you already know. I'm talking about trying to use whatever Chinese you have learned to communicate something real, like asking someone's name or where they come from. I know people who have studied Chinese for a year and still haven't had a real conversation! That might have been understandable a long time ago for people who studied dead languages, but in this day and age, there's no reason to hide from the real language. With all the resources of the internet, you have no good excuse. Also, don't worry too much about the fact that communicating in Chinese is exhausting in the beginning and that you will be very limited in what you can say, the important thing is that you do your best and that you improve.

Find Extra-Curricular Learning Materials Early on

Even if your textbook and teacher are good, it's never a bad idea to hear things from different angles. If you only use one textbook and listen to one teacher, your window on Chinese will be severely limited. This means, among other things, that your vocabulary will be very narrow and that you will have problems understanding people you meet because you simply haven't heard enough people speaking Chinese yet. What you should do is add extra learning resources from the very start.

Don't Think that Traditional Studying is the Only Way of Learning

Some people think that studying should be performed either in school or in front of a desk. It should also be boring. This is of course not true, you can learn a language in many different ways and most of them perhaps shouldn't be called "studying". In my opinion, "studying" implies that learning something is your main goal, whereas "learning" can be the result of almost any kind of activity. If you play sports in Chinese, talk with people, listen to music, and so on, you won't feel like you're studying Chinese, but you will still learn. This is as important as studying, don't skimp on it!

So, don't stay in the classroom. Broaden your horizons, talk to people and make Chinese part of your life rather than a theoretical subject to study!

Aiming for 100%

This advice might sound counter-intuitive to some, but it's a serious mistake to aim for 100% in almost any situation. The alternative is to spread the focus more broadly and accept 80-90% as good enough. This doesn't mean that you lower your standards, it just means that you've done your maths properly. Let me explain.

The time you need to reach 80% is shorter than it would take to reach 90%. So far so good, but the time it takes you to go from 90% to 100% is a lot longer than the step from 80% to 90%. For instance, if you have to learn every single stroke order correctly for all the characters in your textbook, you will spend a lot of time reviewing characters you don't need to review, just to make sure you don't forget a single one.

That's hard and it takes a lot of time.

A Better Alternative

The alternative is to spend the same amount of time but over a larger area. Instead of studying only the 250 words in your textbook, you could perhaps study twice as many if you accept that you won't remember all of them. 80% of 500 is much more than 100% of 250, right?

Thus, when you learn to write characters, don't obsess with the small sample you have as homework. It's okay to fail a few of them if you use the time you save to learn more elsewhere. This will not only help you learn more in the long run, but it will also improve your listening and reading comprehension a lot.

When you speak with real people, they will use the words they feel like using, regardless if you have studied them or not. If you have learned more words in a broader range, you stand a much better chance of being able to piece together what someone is saying. If you have only learned the words in your textbook (even if it's a very good one), your ability to communicate will be limited.

Learning on Your Own

In other subjects, it's important to be able to communicate, but it's usually not the point of the whole endeavor. That is the case with languages. However, some students (including myself when I started) spend way too much time on their studying in the traditional sense of the word. This might be understandable if you don't attend class and study Chinese in your spare time in your home country, but it's a true waste of opportunities if you live in China and could learn through immersion.

Cooperating with Native Speakers

This is the most obvious kind of cooperation. You need the help of native speakers to improve your language skills and to answer your questions, so the more people you know and interact with, the easier this will become. The most efficient way of learning to use a language is to use it, challenging yourself to use what you have learned to communicate with real people. You will need to do this a lot before you come anywhere near fluent, so having many native speakers around is a must.

So how do you find them? In your home country, it can be hard sometimes, but you can start looking at universities, there should be plenty of Chinese exchange students. You can also keep an eye out for Chinese cultural events or search online. If you don't find something locally, you can still find people to speak with online directly

If you find it hard to just "make friends" without a pretext, you can always start an exchange of some kind. If you're in your home country, you can offer to help them get settled in, adjusted, and to understand your country. In return, they help you understand their language and culture.

In a Chinese-speaking environment, all this becomes much easier (but you don't have to go abroad to achieve this). If you're not the kind of person who can make friends with your neighbors or the person next to you on the bus, you need to find a pretext. My favorite method is to find an activity, such as a sport or hobby that you carry out in the company of native speakers. This has the added benefit that it combines having fun and learning the language.

Cooperating with Non-Native Speakers

I've studied with and taught students from a great variety of backgrounds and they are all different when it comes to cooperating with classmates. Some invest time and effort into creating neat lesson notes and then share them with their classmates, others do the same but guard the result as if it were a treasure.

I think this has to do with both personality and educational background. If you're raised in a competitive environment where the goal is to be better than others rather than do well compared to an absolute standard, you're not likely to want to share much with your classmates. However, this seldom applied to learning Chinese as an adult and the approach has very few upsides.

The more you cooperate with your classmates and other non-native speakers, the better. You shouldn't get your main conversation practice from friends at your level, of course, but studying together is much more fun than studying alone. You can lend each other moral support, set goals together, and tackle problems that you encounter much more effectively than if you were alone. I've found that just studying in the same room as someone else who is studying gives a morale boost, so you don't need to do everything together to benefit.

Finally, non-native speakers who are years ahead of you with their Chinese can be invaluable sources of information and inspiration. They probably don't know more about how the language is used compared with your native-speaking friends, but they do know more about how to learn it and perhaps also how it works (this is something native speakers seldom need to worry about).

About the author

Daniel T Anderson is a writer at EssayHelpOnTime. He keeps up with advancing technologies to get acquainted with the latest technological tendencies. Besides, Daniel is keen on reading modern literature and traveling


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