About three years ago I was living in Shanghai and had just joined a Chinese language course to study Mandarin for one semester. At the time, the main idea behind this plan was simply to have a way to stay in this country for six more months, as I was having an amazing time there and didn’t want it to end at all.
Before arriving in China I had never studied any Chinese, not even a survival course or a few videos on YouTube. Looking back, I could have done much better on that part for sure. However, as soon as I was there I was really drawn towards those characters that they are using.
I remember spending the first few days finding every possible way to translate things on my phone and to dive into all the stuff that the Chinese were using on their phones. I took hundreds of screenshots, only to directly import them back into a translation app to set myself up with everything — WeChat, Alipay, Taobao, Mobike. Everything was new, everything was exciting.
While this was enough in the beginning to figure things out on my smartphone, this didn’t help me at all to communicate with locals. It also didn’t take me long to realize that English is not going to be very useful here in many situations of everyday life. So as soon as the opportunity of a language course came up, that would also allow me to stay longer, I knew I had to sign up for it.
The Make or Break Factor of Learning Chinese
The language course was really a great experience and helped me to acquire some basic but solid understanding about how this language works. It was a lot of new stuff learning about the different tones used to distinguish between words and the parts that make up a character. I was eager to learn everyday and to finally gain some skills that would help me in the supermarket or other daily situations.
Shout out to group A1 of the language course at Tongji University in the summer of 2017 here! 加油！
Of course, it was also a struggle at times. This language is really not easy to learn. During my whole time in China I met several people who had been living in China for a long time already. To my surprise it seemed very common that even after five, ten or even more years living there, most of them could not speak fluent Chinese. Seeing a foreigner speak fluently was always a rare sight and very impressive. But many just give up at some point. After all, it really is a completely different language system and very difficult to master.
As with probably everything else, it seems that the factor deciding whether or not one will master Chinese or not is consistency. You just gotta keep at it. It’s the ultimate pattern that keeps being the key to many success stories. I mean, there’s also a reason why I baked it right into the name of this blog. I have to remind myself of that each and every single day for everything I’m doing.
So in order to set myself up for success when it comes to studying Chinese, I will need a system that I can work with consistently over a long period of time.
Pushing the Dominos with Domino Chinese
One month ago I signed up again with Domino Chinese, a learning platfrom to study Chinese founded by Felix Lättman. He’s from Sweden and always struggled to learn Chinese after living there for a while. Following the regular curriculum used to teach foreigners Chinese just didn’t quite work for him, so he came up with his own system.
I started using it already back then when I was doing my language course and really liked the concept they apply to learning new words and characters. Once more I signed up last year to study each morning for a month, but didn’t stick with it. Now this is my third attempt and so far it has been going really well.
Domino is really the perfect name for their system, as newly learned characters get built over time from ones that were learned already. This brings a lot more information to learning each character compared to simply trying to recognize it as a whole and learning it by repetition. Here are two examples:
口 (mouth) > 日 (sun; day) > 白 (white) > …
丶(drop) > 勹 (wrap; bag) > 勺 (spoon) > …
Doesn’t this make so much sense? For me it does and so far I have been really happy about my capability to remember new characters a lot better this way. One month in, I got myself through the first level, which wasn’t too hard, as I had done it before, but now I’m in the zone where new things come in each day.
I’ve formed a new habit around this goal of mine and now do one new lesson each morning before starting to work, then I will study the new characters with my flashcard app over lunch, review old flashcards after dinner, and fill out the provided worksheets and practice handwriting each night before bed. It has been a fulfilling experience so far and I like the fact that with the flashcards I got something productive to do at all times now, no matter where I go.
I have several reasons being motivated to study Chinese, with the main one being that my girlfriend is from Taiwan. It would be great if I could reach a level where we could communicate in her native language (although I’m learning Mandarin with simplied characters, whereas in Taiwan they teach the traditional character system, so a bit different in the writing part).
Apart from that, there’s something that just really fascinates me about this language.
Firstly, because of the huge number of people who are speaking it globally (more than English actually), which makes it a door opener to a huge part of the world and makes me know that this is going to be useful in the future.
Secondly, because it is just so different compared to the langauges that I can speak already (German and English). Through learning English I realized that a new language can add a completely different perspective not only to communication, but also in the way of thinking. I’m curious to find out what perspectives it could add to my mind when I study a language so far off my own roots.
Let’s see where this goes and if I’ll be able to write a whole article or make a video completely in Chinese someday!
What languages can you speak and which ones would you like to learn? Any experience with Chinese? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
I wanna take it easy this time with my approach and focus on being able to learn sustainably over a longer period, rather than trying to get as much done as possible in the shortest time.
What has helped you the most to master a new language? ?