Expectations & Motivation While Studying Mandarin in China

20 May

There are many cultural differences between a western country and China. Culture shock is common. What can it mean for the classroom and what can been done to alleviate the resulting problems?

One of the most commonly voiced concerns by foreign students in China regarding their language studies is the response they get from teachers. Chinese is without a doubt a very difficult language to learn and for this reason it is also at times a frustrating language to learn.

When one begins ones studies there is first the “wall of pronunciation”. Pinyin, the Romanization of spoken Chinese, is far from perfect. Many of the words do not translate into the sounds one would expect them to. “Yi” is pronounced like the letter “i” and “a” has not direct English equivalent sound associated with a letter, for example. This makes even the first step one of frustration. Especially in a larger class size, like the ones at a university.

The second wall a student hits is the written language! By god it is different and difficult! In the beginning every character looks the same, and one can’t even make proper strokes (which takes away a lot of focus that one needs in order to remember all the news ones!). To even make it legible can be a nightmare while trying to remember a character! And you really have to remember. Not only does every single stroke need to be in the right place. To write them “nicely” you need the right stroke order! That’s right! The stroke order of characters matters, and they are also hard to remember. But you need to. Otherwise they look funny.

So in the first couple of weeks while learning this language; while you are walking uphill a formidable stone mountain, in the rain, without a coat, far from home as well, with new food, new friends, weird smells, few people around that speak a language you understand, it is easy to get a bit testy.

What does not help while a student is scrambling up that raggedy slope is complicated, homogenous and funny characters. The funny, especially, will feel like a kick in the teeth when it makes your teacher laugh out loud. This happened to me, this happened to my girlfriend, this happened to my housemates, my classmates, and it will happened to you. It is hard to take a deep breath and focus on getting it right when it does, trust me.

What one comes to understand, eventually, is that there is no malevolence meant by the laugh. It is however, one of the many many cultural differences that you really came to China to learn. Culture shock is something you will get over in time and with the insight that comes with a deeper understanding of Chinese customs, there in lie a great skill set future employers will want to see! And will be very pleased to notice on your CV. That is a fact.

What you can do to make the mountain slope a bit less rocky is get a private tutor. Many of the initial problem associated with learning Chinese stem from the absence of personal time with a teacher. I found that when I studied, I got over at least the first wall of pronunciation quite quickly. In 2 weeks of 3 hours a day, I was pretty happy with how my tongue handled Chinese tones. The point I am making is that if you spend the time necessary to get the tones right in the beginning, early on, you will have a much easier time throughout the studies. The second wall is harder, but with practice, and a 1 on 1 environment, it is not as bad as it can be.

Lastly, taking the culture shock straight in the face, from the start, will actually alleviate it in the long run. I am from Sweden and in the north of my country, where mosquitoes are almost as big as dogs (or so I hear – never been, never want to) the real men know what it takes to get over a itchy problem. They get butt naked, walk out into human hunting season, and lie down. They get bit to smithereens but after a few days, when they can once again think and the itching stops, the bodies are immune. Maybe learning Chinese is a bit like Lapland. Once you deal with it your done with it.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin academy that is a great option for those that want to learn Mandarin in The Peoples Republic of China. If you are interested in more information about learning Mandarin, please consult the website of Beijing Gateway Academy.

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