Learning Mandarin is not the as hard as most people will tell you. I know because I have done it. The people that say it is near impossible have failed, not because it is impossible, but perhaps because they thought it was impossible, or perhaps because the way that they tried to learn Mandarin was too boring, too inefficient or too unfocused. I will now identify the three greatest barriers to making learning Mandarin interesting, efficient and targeted, and explain my view on how to overcome each.
To illustrate my point I would like to make an analogy to modern medicine. Twenty to thirty years ago doctors used to only treat the stomach if a patient complained about stomach pains. Today there is not partition of systems when treating a patient. Medicine has recognized that the body is interconnected in a way that pure determinism can never hope to capture. If a patient comes in today and complains of stomach pains, one of the first five questions a doctor asks is whether they are busy at work, the reason being that the number one cause of stomach problems
The nature of your studies needs to be similarly holistic. The best way to make your studies interesting is to make them efficient and targeted, because it is progress that makes your learning process feel meaningful. For your mandarin studies to become efficient, you must enjoy you studies, so that you are able to work hard, and they need to be properly target, otherwise you are working hard in a direction that you are not aiming to go. Lastly the very definition of targeted mandarin studies is a process in which you peruse this goal by focusing on relevant content in a structured way.
Now, the three top killers of the kind of holistic process that I am describing above is, in order, bad pronunciation, a flood of generally relevant content, as opposed to personally relevant content, and lastly lack of teacher to student face-to-face time. Now that we have identified the illness we should discuss a remedy. I propose a three-thronged approach.
The first thing we should fix is class size. During the major rise of crime in The United States during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s the best and the brightest minds of the government wrestled with solutions to crime prevention. Fantastically complex technology was devised and far reaching and multi-complex sociological systems were researched but at the end of the day, one thing stood out as more important than any other. The amount of cops on the street is the only variable that has direct correlation. Twice as many cops leads to twice the ability to police. The key to making mandarin studies interesting therefore starts with this first, one truth. More teachers make for better result in any classroom.
The second thing we should fix is the focus on testable results. What people score on a test is not a perfect measure of success and it should never be put before actual progress because good tests score looks good. That is a pretty bold statement, but it is true in my mind that there is a trade off between HSK performance and actual mandarin usability. Instead of targeting HSK tests, classes should be focused on making students ready to leave the nest and start communicating by them selves. For this, class time should be more devoted on bettering student’s pronunciation than it is in most schools today. The aim should be to get people speaking quickly. A small class size, which inherently is a much better environment for individual pointers, holds the key to accomplishing the switch from result oriented to success oriented curricula.
Lastly, we should give students the ability to not only be learning mandarin as a general topic but also be learning the aspects mandarin that suits them most. This, however, is a science by itself and the prescribed length of this entry cannot really survive a detailed discussing on this complex topic.
Instead, to conclude – learning mandarin not easy but it is far far from impossible. The only people that will tell you that is impossible is either people that have not tried, or people that have tried in a way that does not lead to motivation and relevant and interesting real life results.
About the Author
Rui Ming works for a Mandarin language Academy in Beijing that is a great option for those that want to learn Chinese. If you are interested in more information about learning Chinese in China, please consult the website of Beijing Gateway Academy.