How long have you been studying Chinese? In what context? For what purpose?
It’s probably been too many years. I started learning Mandarin in 2004 as my 3rd foreign language. I discovered that a couple of hours a week in Engineering school where not enough (after a week in Beijing you practiced more). I spent some time in India then part of my gap year in Africa, started learning Arabic. All my Chinese was gone. The next 2 years, I was in and out of China, but mostly surrounded by non-Chinese classmates. The last 3 years I just decided I had put too much effort in Chinese, I can’t keep forgetting, I needed a way to study what I wanted wherever I was, whenever I wanted. And about topics I liked!
Do you have a specific approach learning Chinese?
I learned English, German, and some Arabic the hard way. With endless lists, tests and multiple choices, about topics I have mainly forgotten about ever since. I was a teenager, then a student. Now this cannot work anymore. When I get back home from work, I want to see my friends (that I don’t see at school anymore), we go out for dinner or for a movie. There are so many other excuses and activities, the hard way has just become too hard. It’s probably longer, but I learn when I want, what I want. I forget things I don’t use, anyway. Chinese is not my primary field of study, it will stay a mean to get things done (in China or with Chinese colleagues)
What do you enjoy the most in learning Chinese?
I just love the combinatory essence of making up characters from components, and words from characters. Combining the ones I know to learn more, finding it completely logical, or illogical. When I see a sign or something I couldn’t read before, and now I learnt both characters, haha! I feel so happy about it. That how I started collecting ads, or even fast-food menus, it’s a kind of benchmark.
Each trip in China I just have a look and I can read more! More I can eat, more I can discuss about. That means more to share with people. Sharing is also why I enjoy learning Chinese. I know it’s normal but I enjoy it even more with people that don’t know or don’t try to speak English with me. I struggle to make myself clear, they try various ways to explain things to me. Feels better than the “Café Latté 46 yuan xiexie byebye” you can hear in major cities.
Any good memories in your Chinese progress?
Listening to the radio in the taxi. The first time I landed in China, I couldn’t get anything, or maybe just the pronouns and some numbers. Then it was phone numbers in commercials, then the weather forecast. For talk-shows and news broadcasting, the way to fluency is still pretty long…
How do you keep yourself motivated, have you ever wanted to give up?
I wanted to give up so many times! I even started Russian last year when I was fed up with Chinese. It lasted a week, then I was back to Chinese. When you’re tired because of work and commuting, or just cannot attend the classes you registered (and paid) for just because you’re on a business trip, you can just apply the “5 min rule”. I logon Nuli!努力! and review for 5 min. The magic thing is that I always spend more time because once started, I enjoy it and won’t stop.
What in your opinion people should NOT do when studying Chinese?
Ho… a couple of things I tried and failed. When you stop learning from some time, don’t lose time trying to review past lessons before you really get to new stuff. You’ll end up bored before you learn anything new. Just start with the next lesson, and look up for words you forgot. And also, avoid repeating or copying things you don’t fully understand. It means you will hard-store them in short-term memory and will forget them eventually. It’s means that’s a waste of your time and resources. Call your mom or go for a walk with your dog instead, you’ll make 3 people happy (you, and them)