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Monday, October 27, 2008

Three Men and the God of Language Learning

There were three men working for the same company who decided to take a class and learn Mandarin. And they were blessed by the God of Language Learning. The God of Language Learning granted them each a wish.

The first man said: “I’d like to be very smart and be able to understand all the rules of grammar and pronunciation so they will come to me very easily.” The God of Language Learning said: “Done!”

The second man said: “I’d like to be surrounded by lots of native Mandarin speakers as friends. And they will be very willing to help me master Mandarin.” The God of Language Learning said: “Done!”

The third man said: “Please grant me determination to help me carry on when I’m very tired and tempted to do other things or when I get distracted.” The God of Language Learning said: “Done!”

So these three men went to class twice a week. And they worked hard and even took on additional assignments.

The performance of the first man in the class was spectacular. Nothing was difficult to him. He had native-like pronunciation, mastering the tough ones like zh, ch, sh, r, j, q, x in a split second. And all the grammar was easy. The teacher taught him even more advanced grammar like when to move the object in front of the verb. He understood it instantly and could even make a few sentences.

The second man and the third man did just like were average students in the class. They tried and they practiced. There were things they understood well, and there were things not so well.

But the Second man had lots of Chinese friends who were more than willing to help him. When he learned how to say “ni hao. Ni jiao shenme mingzi?” His friends hurriedly explained several other possible ways to greet people and ask their names, and went along to explain how to address different people based on their relationship and different customs and habits in different regions in China. When he learned how to ask “cesuo zai nar?”, his friends hurriedly explained any possible names Chinese could name their toilets and jokes associated with them.

The third man would just go home, review his textbooks, do his homework, listen to the recordings and spend 30 minutes a day learning vocabulary. There were times he wasn’t very much in the mood to study, and there were times he was tempted to do other things, but he carried on. He was blessed with determination.

Two months later, the first man dropped out of the class. He did so well in the class and hardly spent anytime outside of the classroom studying. Although he could understand and comprehend quickly, he had a great deal of trouble retaining and using what he learned so he was soon overwhelmed by it all. He dropped out.

Three months later, the second man had to constantly hide from all his Chinese friends to get any studying done. He was overwhelmed by all the suggestions they made and all the tips they wanted to give him, when he just wanted to practice with them what he learned in class. He quit class eventually because wherever he went, his friends would find him and wouldn’t leave him in peace.

The third man carried on. After he finished the first module, he signed up for the second. A year later, he could talk easily with most Chinese people. He was happy with his result. And he truly thanked the God of Language Learning for blessing him with determination. In language learning, nothing else really mattered.

The moral of this story is: In learning a language, brilliance on grammar and pronunciation will fade out. Helpful friends will make matters worse. What can bring success and satisfaction is determination.