Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Someone please tell me the best way to learn Chinese!

My gosh, I have been in Taiwan for over a year and I am still an illiterate, bumbling buffoon when it comes to speaking Chinese. My fluency is definitely not at the level it could be if I had spent this past year studying diligently. Now, before you judge me, let me tell you what I have going against me -- I teach English in a buxiban, need I say more? I spend many hours a day speaking English. That's what they pay me to do! And I have only recently reached the point where I am making Taiwanese friends. Most of my friends are coworkers of foreign extraction like myself. But this is no excuse! For one thing, I have a husband who speaks fluent mandarin who I could practice with (and he can read and write both traditional and simplified characters -- sorry, I'm just bragging now). His parents are missionaries in southern China, and he spent a large chunk of his childhood in China before he went back to the United States for college. Granted, it was a bit easier for him to learn Chinese than it is for me because he started learning at a much younger age, and there were few English speakers in the area of China that he lived in. However, it wasn't just his circumstances. He has the perfect attitude for language learning! He actually thinks it's fun to study languages. He's also been known to study Hindi, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Elvish, and Klingon (I'm embarrassed to mention those last two) in his spare time. Whenever he tried to hold me accountable for my lack of motivation for studying Chinese, I used to say, "You don't understand. You think studying is fun!" But me not having the naturally curious attitude of a successful language learner is no excuse. In my case, the right attitude must be cultivated.

This is easier said than done, and I'm learning that my only hope is to pray earnestly, nonstop, and desperately for God to help me. For the two or three people who actually read my blog, what do you believe is the best way to learn Chinese? The way I see it, you've got four options: self-study (works for some highly motivated and disciplined people), language exchange (I have serious doubts about this method), private tutor (my current method), and a class. I tried self-study with the help of my husband. For anyone newly married or planning on getting married, take my advice and don't use a spouse as a teacher! Maybe it works for some, but it didn't for me. Now I'm doing the whole private tutor thing, and while I love the schedule flexibility and one-on-one attention, my progress is slow because a private tutor can't really pressure you or threaten you with a failing grade. It also can be a bit pricey. I'm going to give it a few more months, and if my motivation and discipline doesn't improve, I may be forced to sign up for a course at the Mandarin Training Center at Shida University. So please, any advice would be greatly appreciated! How did you learn Chinese? What works and what doesn't work? I love my current Chinese teacher and would love to keep studying with her, but I have serious problems with motivation and discipline. Help!


  1. That claim about the languages I've studied is entirely exaggerated— I just downloaded an elvish font because I thought it was cool, and the klingon wouldn't even agree to a language exchange.

  2. Hey --

    Put your blog on my list. Very well written!

    Best way to learn Chinese is to teach yourself. It's a lot faster, and then force yourself to speak.


  3. Thanks for the advice! I did go and buy all of the Shida materials, and I see how one could learn everything they need to know from those books and a good speaking partner, but what I lack is discipline. Woe is me!


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