Learning Mandarin and Not Burning Out

20 May

Learning Mandarin is not the easiest of tasks. Getting a private tutor and focusing on first getting the pronunciation right and then on learning very targeted vocabulary makes the journey a lot more fun.

You are probably reading this because you want to know how to avoid burning out when studying Mandarin. That means that you have most likely realized that it is not piece of cake. Which means that you are already studying the language. Furthermore, you are most likely studying the language in China. Lastly, you are most likely not in a private language school, but rather at a university. I say this last thing because if you were in a school with smaller class sizes, there would most likely be support for you to turn to. Be it homework assistance or a teacher that has less students than a university teachers has, and can so focus on your needs, if you are the only one struggling, or if the entire class is finding the material difficult, they could lower the pace.

So I am writing to a beginner, studying Mandarin at a university, or perhaps a less well equipped private language school, somewhere in China. Pleased to meet you! Trust me, I feel your pain. I have been exactly where you are. The first thing that I would do, were I in your shoes again, would be this; get a private tutor. This step should be rather easy if you are a university student in China – just look around for a notice board or on the university website’s forum.

The next step is this: don’t let the tutor make a study plan for you. Most tutors have one way of teaching the stuff you need to pass your lessons, it is easiest for them to revert back to this prescribed model – but don’t let them. The one thing you should be initially focusing on is pronunciation. Being able to speak Mandarin is the key to making learning it fun.

As a beginner you are most likely unable to properly wrap your tongue around the tricky Chinese tones? Start there. The second thing is, of course, pinyin. Pinyin it is officially defined as the romanization of the Chinese language. The trouble is that the letters in the, yes, Roman alphabet that it uses do not correspond to the English sounds that it is meant to impart. The combination of difficult tones and difficult pinyin makes learning Mandarin tricky in a one (teacher) to many (students) environment. For me the tide turned when I got to be alone with one teacher for a few hours, every day, for about two weeks.

The second thing you should do, when you are finished with pinyin and tones is this: personalized content. A private tutor is the only source of this type of curriculum, apart from very good private mandarin schools, though those are few and far apart. Unless you are in Beijing or Shanghai you are unlikely to be able to find one. What I mean with personalized content is the words and phrases that only you need.

There is most likely a very good reason for you wanting to learn Mandarin? That reason is most likely pertaining to a professional ambition? That means that at the heart of your journey there a range of vocabulary that is a lot more interesting to you than other words are. That opens up for the possibility of targeting that aspect.

For example, say that you have a keen interest in tea. There are no more than 500 words commonly used in all of the tea industry, I imagine. Once you have knowledge of these words you could do the work you are learning Mandarin in order to accomplish. Furthermore, once you are able to use the language to do this tea stuff you have come here to do, you will automatically practice other types of words. Lastly, by targeting the aspect of the language that you find most interesting you are likely to enjoy your studies more.

The most important thing when learning mandarin is that you enjoy your studies; this is what will keep you from burning out. If all else fails and you are single, find a Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend, which is bound to help.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin Language School in China that is a great option for those that want to learn mandarin in the middle kingdom. See the program overview page for more information about studying Mandarin in China.

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