I don’t know if I’ll release this, but I just want to write about the difficulties of mandarin. Because I’m stressed about it right now, which is something I haven’t felt ever towards language learning.
Before this the most primary difficulty was with Japanese, which I found fun at first but just became a problem. The remembering the kanji strategy was difficult for me, as I felt exclusively learning the English for the kanji really didn’t help me, and anki didn’t seem to really work for me very well either. Then finding other strategies was difficult, and not that fun, so I stopped. Anime was fine with subtitles anyway, so it’s not like I needed Japanese.
When I started to learn Chinese everything was different. I found things that worked for me and ways that I could use effectively, to keep me motivated. And that’s great, and that’s still working, and it’s what I still intend to do.
But it’s only when you really start to learn Chinese, that you realise just how significant of a challenge that is in front of you, and the more you learn, the more you realise you also need to learn.
This started a couple of days ago when I wrote the “Testing out immersion” post, and realised the mammoth task ahead of me fully by doing reading practice without the pinyin.
I only started studying less than 4 months ago, and due to how short of a time this has been, I shouldn’t expect much. But I blitzed my way through HSK1, surprised by how I could understand it nearly instantly, then worked to HSK2 and can now get 90-100% with consistency as well, understanding less, but overall still understanding nearly all of it.
And considering that it’s only been three and a bit months, I shouldn’t expect to be even close to amazing. However, immediately after I passed HSK1 with near 100%, I took HSK2, and got like 75% straight away. It was amazing.
Now after studying for HSK2, I thought I’d try HSK3 before I went back to uni to see how I did. And to my surprise, it did not follow this natural progression and it was really concerning doing just so incredibly badly, on merely the next stage up, after all this hard work I’ve been doing everyday.
They say when your abseiling, don’t look down, because when you do, it’s scary, and you freeze, and then putting your legs out takes so much more effort and is so much harder than if you didn’t know your situation in the first place.
I feel like a similar kind of realisation has happened to me, and it feels bad. That you know there is just so much work ahead of you that is so incredibly difficult.
Of course I knew this already, but the only way I can describe it is to try and imagine a huge baked potato the size of the city you live in. You can’t really do it. You can only superimpose a normal potato over the map of the city you live in. It is so incredibly difficult to imagine what it would be like, with the heat, and texture, and the walls, and where it would fit, and how it would deal around objects, and there are so many more things to consider that you just can’t imagine. And of course, the scope of the language your learning is like this.
But what can you do, surely you don’t want to waste all this progress right? I don’t want to personally. But how can you get over this feeling?
Well stress is obviously unwanted. However knowing the scopes better of what you’re trying to learn isn’t a bad thing, it tells you what you need to learn, and gives you a better idea of where you’re trying to go. Getting rid of the stress is the important thing, so how do you do that?
Obviously I myself haven’t necessarily done that yet, but talking about it has hopefully given me a good idea of where to start.
As I wrote this I was reminded of a game of cricket where it was of one of the most highest stakes for the England team when they were batting against Australia.
England needed 135 runs to win, however there were only two batsmen left. One was likely the best batter on the England team, and the other was the worst, as he was a bowler and couldn’t bat nearly as good. The task ahead was mammoth, and nobody had ever scored that many runs in many decades. Not just that, but the last batter left would make it so that they had to coordinate that every time the best batter would be at the stumps when the bowler was ready. It was insanely difficult, took an insanely long time, and was almost certainly something that they could not do.
Yet they did it, and won the game.
I wondered to myself, how on earth could these two people have had the willpower to do this? Sure determination can increase when faced with difficult competition and adversary, and the opposing team can also make mistakes and panic. But I don’t feel like that was enough for them. Most people if they had just that I don’t think would be able to do that. Of course skill is necessary too, but beyond that, mindset.
What did these guys have in their heads whilst they were doing this? I doubt it was anything to do with the significant score difference between the teams. But rather a focus on what was ahead of them at the time.
I feel like the attitude was more like “Can I hit this next ball? Yes I can” – and then they did that repeatedly until they had won the game. Effectively, they split the tasks in the mind into smaller things they could easily manage.
And this was a very long way of saying that this is what I’ll also try to do now.
You can’t keep on looking at the greater picture. A better thing to look at would be “Can I learn these words today? Or can I learn these Hanzi today? Or can I learn these grammar points today?” – and forget about the greater picture. Because this is the way that you get to the greater picture anyway.
Keep it easy, progress is progress if any improvement has been made. Something that I’ve always been able to say a lot is “My mandarin is better today than yesterday” and if everyday you find yourself able to truthfully say these words, you’ll eventually get there. Even though it seems the most impossible thing.
What I’d like to do now, is prepare for the HSK3, however that’s not something that I really think I should do. Preparing for tests don’t help you learn as much as you think.
The reason is that if you study and learn for the test, you will know all the words on that test, yet replace the same vocabulary that you’ve learned with different ones and you find that you know nothing, even if the grammar structure is the same.
I think language tests when taken for the first time give you the best idea of the proportion of words that you don’t know that you should know. Language tests use a very limited range of vocabulary, so when you learn all the words you don’t know from one test, you will see a massive increase from the next test, but that seems unfairly proportional to your actual knowledge.
I think language tests are great to learn from, but as soon as you learn from them it’s a bad way to physically test yourself.
So here’s the plan. Work massively on the hanzi weakness, continue to learn my own words from my different sources/places to learn words and continue to learn grammar. Then keep it real, keep it easy, keep on going.
People say language learning is easy, just very time consuming. It’s of course a mindset to help motivate.
I don’t see a problem with stepping back and looking at it overall saying, it’s difficult because theirs just so much, and it’s going to take so long to learn. But of course unless you want to stop learning the language, that’s ok as long as you want to continue and do indeed continue.
It’s not supposed to be easy, the vast majority of people think learning a language is difficult. We should be grateful that learning a little, a very small amount in one day, is very easy. And the fact that we can do this repeatedly overtime to get results is something to be happy about. These small steps can make learning a language so much more doable.
Thank you, I hoped this helped. I will try and follow this advice and will keep you updated. If you have any advice, please share it. In the meantime, let me know how your progressing with your own language sometime!