Why are so many students studying Mandarin these days? Current Chinese learners would likely respond, “为什么不?” -- (why not?)
With China operating the 2nd largest economy, globalizing its domestic business powerhouses, and further engaging the international community, it’s clear Mandarin is now one of the world’s most critical languages.
Many institutions and influencers are already on board. In 2015, the U.S.-China Strong Foundation launched the “1 Million Strong” initiative, seeking to increase the number of American students studying Mandarin to 1 million by 2020. These programs have successfully convinced scores of students to take a shot at the “world’s hardest language”.
The early stages of learning Mandarin, despite the steep learning curve, are exciting and fun. But what happens after the honeymoon? How do you stay energized when your 老师 (teacher) is pushing you to memorize 100+ characters every night?
Here are a few strategies to stay motivated on your journey to Mandarin mastery:
1. Short-term challenge, long-term ease.
At the beginning, Chinese can be notoriously difficult, between all the tones, similar-looking characters, and new pronunciations. However, the relatively simple grammar structures – (no verb conjugation, plurals, gendered nouns, or complicated pronouns) – and the overall logic make forming sentences and expressing ideas easier than expected. For example, “I went to the store yesterday to buy a gift for mom” in Chinese is simply “I yesterday go store for mom buy gift.”
2. Remember the practicality.
With more and more Chinese products, services, and students going global, foreigners with Chinese linguistic and cultural fluency are in high demand. If you’d like to spend time living or working in a Chinese-speaking country (remember the language isn’t just limited to China), proficiency in Mandarin is key. The language can unlock a trove of professional and personal opportunities.
3. Identify your motivation.
Some may identify strongly with #2, especially those looking to strike gold at the next Mobike or Xiaomi. However, Chinese learners approach the language with diverse objectives, and knowing yours is key to staying motivated. Do you want to read classical Chinese poetry? Discuss China’s international relations? Find a partner on a Chinese dating show? When you’re practicing stroke order for hours on end, reminding yourself of your “why” will keep you sane.
4. Use it (or lose it).
Make sure to find ways to use your Mandarin outside the classroom. Even seemingly simple phrases like thank you require practice to understand the contexts for different variations.
That means you need to find a language partner, make friends with overseas Chinese, or practice reading characters while singing at karaoke! Not only will your 口语 (spoken language) improve, you’ll see more tangible value from the time and energy you invest in your studies.
5. Have fun with it!
Learning any language should never be a chore. Laugh at your incorrect tones, power through ordering unfamiliar items off the menu, and learn the words you really want to know (though be careful who you say them around!)
As Chinese becomes more widespread, make sure to be one of the early masters. As they say in the Middle Kingdom, 好好学习, 天天向上 – study hard and every day you will improve.
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Article by Daniel
Hero Image by Henri Pham on Unsplash