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cliveface96

Intermediate Plateau

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cliveface96

Hi guys,

 

I've been learning Chinese for a couple of years now, just spent 6 months in China studying and am now back in my home country. I'm still studying for a 2-3 hours everyday, but I feel like I'm not making any progress. I spend most of my time on listening and speaking practice. I feel like I have the same grammar problems when I speak, I struggle to express myself on different topics and I often take a while to think what to say/recognise certain words. 

 

I'm really struggling with motivation right now, mainly because as of next year the amount of time I'm going to have available to study is going to drop right back down to <1 hour a day (maybe a few each day on the weekend). How can I make progress in the future if I'm barely making any progress now? 

 

How long did it take you to get past the intermediate plateau? And how did you do it? Does anyone have any advice? 

 

Cheers

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Flickserve

You don't feel like you are making progress because once you learn something, there is always another thing new coming up or something to improve upon. This happens even for non-language subjects. I am sure you are doing very well.

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LARPtimus Prime

The fact that you are even writing about the plateau and know what it is means that you already know that it is a subjective thing. It means that you already know quite a bit of Chinese, and to notice improvement you have to learn much more.

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永鈞

I worked hard at Chinese as a hobby until I became demotivated by how little I could do with my Chinese considering the mountains of work I'd put in. Then I basically gave up but I remained interested in the region and language and always imagined myself as being temporarily on a break while I strategised a genius new way of learning or something.

 

Then came my final year of uni. I basically restarted my chinese studies not because I'd become remotivated or because I found  a new way of studying, but because it was a way for me to procrastinate from college work without feeling like I was actually procrastinating. Then kind of without thinking I put a huge amount of time into mindless chinese study without getting anxious about why or how it was coming along. When I noticed results I felt motivated again and really threw myself into it and booked a trip to Taiwan as something nice to look forward to for when I'd finished my BA. 

 

I dunno if it's similar to your situation or not. Motivation is kind of a personal thing so there's no cure-all.

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永鈞

Maybe I'd also add, try and mentally separate 'Chinese as a learning subject' and 'Chinese as something fun'.

 

For people at a low level it's only really a subject for learning so you have to enjoy learning to motivate yourself. But I guess your Chinese is good enough for TV shows or films or meeting people in non-language exchange scenarios. 

 

when you are watching a film in study-mode you probably keep pausing to look stuff up or make notes, but also try and watch films outside of the learning mindframe and just guess meaning based on context and forget about making yourself improve temporarily. Same goes for other stuff.

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mungouk
3 hours ago, 永鈞 said:

Motivation is kind of a personal thing so there's no cure-all.

 

Motivation is everything, especially when learning is hard. That's not just speaking as a language-learner but also as an educator of many years.

 

Intrinsic motivation, which comes from inside — where you're learning for its own enjoyment and reward, even "fun" — will get you much further than extrinsic, in which you're aiming for a qualification, or even avoiding some kind of penalty. 

 

For me, learning about the rich culture and history of China and how Hanzi work etc add a great amount to my intrinsic motivation, because it's just so interesting.  Plus I would hope that some level of Mandarin proficiency would help my career prospects. For others it may be movies, art, music, wushu or whatever. 

 

I'm not sure how it relates to the plateau question, but maybe re-visiting or re-orientating your motivation might help?  These things change over time (as do many other factors in our psyche).

 

 

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imron
1 hour ago, mungouk said:

Motivation is everything, especially when learning is hard.

I disagree.  Habit beats motivation every time, especially when the learning is hard.

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DavyJonesLocker
8 hours ago, imron said:

I disagree.  Habit beats motivation every time, especially when the learning is hard.

 

 

I'd agree with this, but motivation is still essential, although I believe your not suggesting it isn't.

 

Take flashcards for example, I have zero (direct) motivation for doing them. I intently dislike them but cannot deny it's usefulness when done as a daily habit. 

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LARPtimus Prime
14 hours ago, 永鈞 said:

Maybe I'd also add, try and mentally separate 'Chinese as a learning subject' and 'Chinese as something fun'.

 

Make a Chinese girlfriend that doesn't speak English. Then you Chinese learning, to a certain extent, will be on autopilot.

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imron

Just be careful you don't then start copying her saying 讨厌~~

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mungouk
11 hours ago, imron said:

Habit beats motivation every time, especially when the learning is hard.

 

So someone loses all their motivation to study, but carries on doing something that's very difficult and time-consuming regardless, because it's become a habit?

 

Certainly wouldn't work for me.

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Flickserve

I am certainly up and down. Motivation and satisfaction comes from achieving certain milestones which may not be immediately obvious. 

 

I am not the habit type unless there is a strongly defined target. 

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Flickserve
21 hours ago, cliveface96 said:

I spend most of my time on listening and speaking practice. I feel like I have the same grammar problems when I speak, I struggle to express myself on different topics and I often take a while to think what to say/recognise certain words. 

 

This honestly sounds like me.

 

You may benefit from a bit of reading out loud to your tutor. Pick an article that you know all the words to. Probably a text book would be good at  whatever hsk level you are at -1.  The aim here is reinforce grammar patterns of words that you are familiar with. I found learning new words and then trying to fit them into perfect grammar is a bit too much to handle for me. This would also help tone practice. 

 

Again, separate out pronunciation exercises and for that, keep to words you are familiar with first. In my current state, I am not really paying too much attention to perfect pronunciation of new words. I try to be mostly accurate but I am not beating myself about it. My plan is later, when I get more familiar with using the words is to then start modifying the pronunciation to closer accuracy within a sentence. Learning a new word, and then trying to pronounce it perfectly every single time just slows me down too much. I do try to get the right tone though. I know others have said get it right from the beginning but that just slowed me down so much, I wasn’t getting any satisfaction of using the language.

 

Not sure of what your aims are but my own thinking is although more vocabulary is important, it is trade off to have a core that you know well, and then build on that.

 

Maybe a slight change of studying strategy will keep you fresh. 

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dtcamero
22 hours ago, imron said:

Habit beats motivation every time, especially when the learning is hard.

pratically speaking this is probably true, but both are essential to success. 

i think more than 'motivation', a better term would be 'interest'...

 

interest is what allows you to immerse in the language for hours and hours because it doesn't feel like study. interest brings you to the country even though it's expensive. interest is felt by your chinese friends and makes them want to share things with you. 

 

habit gets you over the bridge, but interest brought you to the bridge in the first place. 

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Dawei3

When you say "listening" and "speaking" is this with people or in response to lessons? (on an iphone or computer)

 

For me, the great motivating factor is talking with friends and feeling like I'm getting deeper into their thoughts and culture. When I understand everything they say or find I can tell them my thoughts & feelings, it feels excellent.  The linguist John McWhorter noted:

 

that adults have 2 primary motivations to learn another language:

 1.  For a concrete purpose, such as a for school, a job, or some other specific reason.  These individuals speak what is taught in books as opposed to what people naturally say.  These individuals tend to speak correctly, but not very fluently.  They tend not to make much progress.

2.  For an integrative purpose:  To communicate more fully with another human being or to enter a fascinating culture.  These individuals tend be more fluent, but make many more mistakes.  They speak more naturally and make more progress.

 

My motivating factor is now #2.  If you aren't practicing with a language partner, I highly recommend doing so, particularly if you can find someone with less-than fluent English skills.  Because language exchange is such a fascinating process, I don't expect to ever be bored.  Similarly, memorizing characters can be very boring, but trying to write notes to and read notes from friends is a pleasure.  In writing casual notes, you'll make mistakes, but you'll also make progress.  I still listen to lessons, but interaction with friends is essential to my learning.  

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imron
18 hours ago, mungouk said:

So someone loses all their motivation to study, but carries on doing something that's very difficult and time-consuming regardless, because it's become a habit?

If you lose all interest in the language and no longer want to learn it, then yes, habit isn't going to be useful either, but that's not really what I was referring to.

 

Rather, that on a day to day basis motivation comes and goes and is often influenced by things outside of your control.  If the amount of study you do is directed by motivation then it can be easy to miss a day here or a week there because of other things competing for your attention and those dropped days/weeks affect your rate of improvement.

 

If on the other hand you have built good daily study habits then when there are outside factors influencing your immediate motivation, it won't affect your study.  And this is what will lead to continued improvement in your abilities.

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mungouk

@imron OK, I see. That makes sense. 

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murrayjames

@cliveface96,

 

It took me years to get past the intermediate plateau.

 

In 2010, I moved to China. In China, I got my Chinese to an intermediate level by listening to and reading and speaking Chinese every day. In 2015, I left China and moved to Canada. In Canada, I kept listening to and reading and speaking Chinese every day. I still do this. My Chinese continues to improve.

 

If you want to continue making progress, maintain your contact with the language. Listen to and watch Chinese-language media. Read things in Chinese. Have conversations with Chinese people. Do this every day and you will get past the intermediate plateau.

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abcdefg
11 hours ago, murrayjames said:

If you want to continue making progress, maintain your contact with the language. Listen to and watch Chinese-language media. Read things in Chinese. Have conversations with Chinese people. Do this every day and you will get past the intermediate plateau.

 

I think that is very good advice. Takes a long time. I've been at it a decade with varying degrees of intensity and sometimes I still babble unintelligibly like a child, receiving blank looks and shrugs from the people with whom I'm talking. Other days it's smooth sailing and I feel like a native speaker, or at least close. 

 

One day get all puffed up, the next day slapped down again. Got to just hang in there and keep plugging away. That's the nature of this game; that's how to play it. 

 

 

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DavyJonesLocker

I think I'm stuck at intermediate level too,  and that's being generous to myself. It can be very demotivating at times when you say the simplest of things and Chinese are still looking at you blankly

 

I was in the supermarket this morning and asked the guy at the pastry counter if he had any 杏仁 biscuit's. He just looked at me baffled and turned to my friend who repeated everything I sad exactly word for word . I know my tones were correct

 

I wonder if some people like me just tend asymptotically to an upper intermediate level over many years. For example, I use anki nearly everyday for years, but in the last 3 'months I haven't added a single word in there yet my daily reviews however around the 500 mark so they are leaking out of my head as fast as I'm reviewing then, thus I'm just constantly refilling the glass so to speak 

 

 

One of hardest aspects of Chinese is the lack of decent teaching materials. Most textbooks (written in China) range from God awful to just OK , in my view.  I struggle to show any interest in them and find most almost useless for daily life. Thus I think it's important to find a topic that interests you and engage in interaction. I never sat HSK 5 but decided to do it more out of curiosity and a sense of reference. I can pass the mock exams but timing is still the problem. In any case after I sit the exam I won't proceed to HSK6 , I'll just do solely what interests me and focus on everyday life and topics. That will give me the motivation and the daily habit to study as discussed above.

 

I had a great conversation yesterday with a friend who wanted to know about cosmology ,  string theory,  Einsteins theories and so odd, but in layman's terms. I had studied these topics at university 20 years ago and find still find then fascinating today. Hence yesterday I'm left thinking , God how to you explain this in Chinese!! Oddly enough I managed to give her a simplistic analogy (using a lot of pleco!) as to the perception of time and space from different observers. 

 

My supermarket experience is highly demotivating but yesterday conversation is the exact opposite. Even more interesting is that most of these  words relating to cosmology and astronomy  I can still remember today but hsk5 textbook words which I have looked at  hundreds (literally) of times I still forget especially idioms!

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