Learning Mandarin Through Personalized Content

20 May

Learning Mandarin can be hard and boring. Personalized content is relevant content by definition. Relevance can make you enjoy your Mandarin studies more.

Suffice it to say that there are many factors that govern the ability of our brain to take in new knowledge. Out of all these there are one that stands out when I consider this neurological matter from an educational standpoint. Fun. What subject do we excel in? What subject do we enjoy? It seems to me that this is not only a matter of “hen or egg?” – to me this appears to be a prime example of a self-reinforcing prophecy. Today I am really quite good at a topic that I once found both difficult and boring – economics; graphs, abstract relationships functions galore. “How to I enjoy this?” I often ask myself. It all goes back to my first teacher in this subject. He was good, really good, and I did well because he managed to make the subject relate to me. When I did well I enjoyed it and when I enjoyed, it studied more. When I got to university I was better than most and I enjoyed it even more. Around and around the cycle went, from enjoyment to success, and always back to enjoyment.

If you can make someone enjoy learning economics you make anyone enjoy learning anything, and further more, by transference: you can even make learning Mandarin fun. What is it that makes learning fun? More specifically: what makes learning a language fun?

For me, my economics journey started with this; a man that made the subject relate to me. The examples he used to illustrate the boring stuff related to my and my peers’ lives. In retrospect, his feat is impressive, economics books are rarely applicable to what a girl-obsessed, music interested, teenager consider relevant to everyday life.

The idea behind personalized content is this. To make the process of learning the intricate grammar of the mandarin language, which can be so monotone and so dreadful that it even makes macroeconomics look like a sparkly rainbow circus, into sheer fun. The question the original creators posed was this: why people want to learn mandarin? In this first instance of what was to become a very successful and in many ways revolutionary way of teaching this type of grammar was clear. The Korean bank-men that had hired the small Chinese start up to teach their middle management Mandarin wanted to be able to direct a bank. Hence: obviously, teach them bank vocabulary. The curriculum founders then set out to create a personalized, or in this first instance organization-specific, textbook.

The Korean, cost conscious bank-men, might have come for the cheap prices, but they stayed with the school for many years, even after prices rose steeply. The reason they stayed, and why even the upper management eventually took the course was because of the results it gave. Students practiced the results immediately, because it was necessary in their daily lives. This obsoletes homework, for one. For a second taste of what this means you really need to see the HSK test scores of the bank-men – they were good. Today, almost 10 years later, this method is not only for bank-men. It is literally for anyone because content is tailored.

My grandfather often said this: “The hallmark of excellence is and always have been attention details – in manufacturing attention to the small things means making identical products, but in services it means that every experience is unique”. It makes sense and this way of teaching makes sense. Personalized content means relevance, relevance means natural practice in real life situation. It means that that stuff sticks to your memory banks with out the use of a homework hammer. It means that you enjoy it. However, most of all, relevance means that you will excel just because you enjoy your studies.

Personalized content takes the friction out of mandarin studies. For those that want to learn mandarin it is key for a enjoyable, sustainable and rapid acquisition of the language.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin language Academy in Beijing that is a great option for those that want to learn to speak Mandarin in China. If you are interested in more information about the best way to learn Chinese, please see his summary of the key ideas involved.

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