How many years do you think you need to speak Chinese fluently? It took me five years, and it was a painful experience. But there is a way to do it faster! Easier, faster, and with joy. I am a philologist by education, and after two years of studying Chinese I still could not speak it fluently. Yes, I could read and write, my listening was pretty good, but I could not say I'd reached a decent level in speaking. I had to change something, to find a method which would help me to boost my speaking and I did. I changed my way of thinking and my attitude towards Chinese language!
In this article I would like to cover two psychological aspects of Сhinese learning which helped me to become fluent in Chinese (it might be helpful for intermediate speakers who feel as though they're stuck at this level) and give three tips to masterin Chinese faster for beginners. Let's go!
1. Change your way of thinking
It is not easy to change the way you think in your mother tongue, let alone Chinese.
How do I apply this rule?
Stop translating every word or expression to your native language, learn to think differently, try to find logic in Chinese without finding analogies in your native language. We are all people, so if one person can think this way, you have an innate ability to think the same way or at least understand this way of thinking.
For instance, Chinese people don't use tenses to indicate time, in most cases it's enough for them to use adverbs like tomorrow, today, and yesterday to show when the action happened, but it's very important for them to specify the result/completeness (degree, direction, probability etc.) of the occurred action.
Wǒ kàn bù dǒng
So I saw something but, the result is not understand.
Translation: I don't/didn't understand.
Lǎorén gāoxìng dé yǎnlèi dōu liú chūlái.
|得||A particle used after verbs in order to describe an action|
Translation: The old man was/is crying tears of joy.
What I want to say is that if you try to translate an English sentence into a Chinese one, in many cases you might do it wrong, because it’s not the way Chinese people would say it. Moreover, it’s a time-consuming process. Let translators and interpreters do that! If your purpose of learning Chinese is just being able to speak it fluently, first learn how to think in it.
A good way to do it is to use monolingual dictionaries. Therefore, once you are able to read definitions of new words in Chinese, forget about bilingual dictionaries.
2. The language you are learning should trigger positive emotions.
I have students who have been learning Chinese for many years, but when I ask them how they feel toward the language and culture I often get answers like: "the characters are impossible to read and write", "Chinese people are weird", "I've put in years of hard work with poor results" and so on.
Shakespear once said: "No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en: In brief, sir, study what you most affect.”
However sad this sounds, you will have poor results unless you get rid of your negative emotions and learn to associate Chinese with something that brings your pleasure.
Maybe due to this reason people who have Chinese boyfriend or girlfriend learn the language pretty fast. They just feel good about it.
How to trigger positive emotions?
The main point is to create an image in your head that is somehow related to Chinese, but at the same time ignites postive emotions or draw nice moments out of your memory.There are many ways to achieve this; you need to find one that suits you best.
For example, for me Chinese is currently associated with Kungfu Panda. And once I have this image in my head, I smile. I can learn a pile of new charaters while I am smiling.
Have you ever thought what associations you have? Try to find a positive one, and before you start your lesson in Chinese or a meeting with your partners, trigger that image in your head and see with your own eyes how effective it can be!
Three tips for beginners
Memorize Chinese vocabulary with combinations of phrases composed of 4 or more characters. Since there are no verb modifications, no tenses, it is often required to read a full sentence to fully understand a word's meaning.
Tā méiyǒu chéngdān duì wǒ de xǔnuò.
|的||A particle to link an adjective to a noun|
Translation: He broke his promise to me.
Literally: He did not keep his promise.
Combinations of word 承担, to promise:
Needless to say this rule can be applied to any language learning - it’s always better to learn a word in a particular content, or you can make up an imaginary situation, which you are going to use this word in.
And the more it is emotionally colored the better you remember this word. Use all powers of your imagination!
Beloved characters and tones, I think that's what frightens people most. This topic requires a separate article, and if you show some interest in it, I will cover it next time. The only thing, I’d like to mention here is that if I could go back in time, I would have mastered basics of spoken Chinese first, and then would have started learning characters. I believe it’s more natural way, since kids learn how to speak first and then how to read and write. I suggest you becoming an illiterate Chinese in a first place!
How to do it?
I have noticed that Chinese kids, school pupils, and students recite a lot. They recite simple language phrases, tongue twisters and even whole texts! I believe this is a method Chinese people use when they make their first steps into the language. And this method might not be so efficient for learning other languages, but for Chinese it works for sure. It helps you to get your tones right and get used to word order in sentences.
And last, but not least, find five to ten minutes of your day to think in Сhinese, we tend to talk to ourselves when we plan something, so try to do it in Chinese or write down your daily tasks in Chinese, for example: 明天我要去银行/Míngtiān wǒ yào qù yínháng (Tomorrow I need to go to the bank).
When you are thinking about something or going for a business meeting, stop for a minute and think how you would say it in Chinese. If you don't know it, search for these words and write down them in a sentence you wanted to say.
I believe it is one of the most effective ways to learn, since you will learn vocabulary tailored to your needs.
And now let's calculate, if everyday you make one sentence in Chinese, by the end of the month you can speak at least 30 sentences. By the end of half a year at least 180 sentences, six to eight words in every sentence on average, and that's 1080-1440 words!
It's enough to communicate on a daily basis with Chinese friends, partners, and beloved ones. All you need is up to ten minutes of your day!