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Monday, August 08, 2005

3 mis-conceptions in learning Mandarin

To learn a new language is always rewarding. I have met people who speak 5 or more languages! I would think they don't have time for other things except learning new languages one after another one. But amazingly, all of them have other more focused careers, like sales and marketing, architect, researcher, etc. Learning actually accelarated their careers!

More and more people start taking Mandarin lessons. So many people approached me and asked,"I want to speak Mandarin as fast as possible. I want to have conversations with Chinese people. "

This goal is very attainable as long as you are aware of these 3 mis-conceptions:

1. If I go to Beijing, I will learn very fast.

I have met many people who went to China for 3 to 6 months, and came back with fluent inappropriate Mandarin. And many mistakes are fossilized and very hard to correct. I don't understand why their teachers didn't correct them!! Although all Chinese people will figure out the meaning, they all know it's bad Chinese. Make sure you don't learn 20 - 30 new words or characters everyday, five days a week! It's a pity to see so many people tried so hard capturing so many new things, and eventually only a very small portion learned. Both time and money are wasted.

2. If I listen to Mandarin everyday, I will understand it.

You should listen to Mandarin at an appropiate level to you everyday, then you will understand and improve. There was a study that put babies in front of TV sets for months to see if they can speak the target language. The result is NO. By immersing yourself to the sound of Mandarin won't help you understand it better. The most effective way is to listen to tailored listening exercises. The process is gradual. One day you will find you can understand Mandarin TV programs, Chinese movies etc., effortlessly.

3. If I learn 1000 characters, I will be able to read.

It will be true if given a condition: the extensive usage of these 1000 characters. I have seen people are learning characters by flash cards, one by one. But this is the most inefficient way to learn reading Chinese. Only one tenth of your effort can produce some substantial result. For example, Japanese use around 1500 Chinese characters in Japanese language. But if give a text written purely withing these 1500 characters, Japenese people wouldn't understand it.

Be aware these pitfalls. Study smarter is better than study hard. Follow a good structured program, and follow good skillful teachers, are proven the fastest way to speak Mandarin.