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ejw773

Does Learning Chinese Turn You into a Bumbling Idiot?

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ejw773

When I was in high school, I was that guy who was getting easy A's all the time. There was a big exception: Spanish.

 

Spanish was bad. A big problem, of course, was the pedagogy: Memorize nearly meaningless lists and charts to pass tests. That was it. I passed, but I found that while I was in Spanish, my other grades suffered. It seemed like dealing with foreign language learning lowered my overall IQ.

 

I thought Chinese would be different. After all, I lived in the country, and I would be learning real-world communication. When I started, it felt like I could either deal with learning Chinese, or I could deal with everything else in life. So, I did what any sensible person would do: I quit everything else in life to learn Chinese.

 

In school, everything was like a big heavy fog. Nothing made any sense. Gradually, it did get a little better. I figured that the longer I stuck with it, the better it would get. I passed the HSK 6 before graduation, so obviously I succeeded, right?

 

I've now been living in the U.S. for a number of years, and I'm working for a Chinese company - and the fog hasn't lifted. Compared to previous jobs I've had in an all-English environment, I'm a total idiot here. Half my colleagues are Chinese and speak little to no English, and the other half are Americans who speak no Chinese at all. I have a very hard time remembering anything anyone says to me - in either language. It's like I'm in a constant state of dazed distraction, so nothing can actually get into my brain.

 

After being at it for a few years now, it's not getting any better. No doubt, as I get older, my memory gets worse. However, when I get back into a 100% English environment, I do pretty well again. So age clearly isn't the main issue.

 

Has anybody else had a similar experience?

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mungouk

Hello and welcome!

Could you summarise your question into once sentence?   

i.e. Are you more interested in learning, cultural issues, the influence of other L2s (like Spanish), etc...?

 

 

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NinjaTurtle

EWJ,

 

Several things come to mind.

 

Can I assume that your concerns are mainly spoken Chinese? Listening and speaking Chinese?

 

There are many, many ways to learn Chinese. I had to look around for a while before I found a system that works for me. Which system works for you? Which system are you presently using?

 

Having motivation and a talent for a particular language is huge. I have a talent for Japanese but I do not have a talent for Chinese. That’s just how it is. As a result, my Japanese speaking ability is a lot better than my Chinese speaking ability. How much of a talent do you have for learning Chinese? Are you motivated, or are you only doing this because you work at a Chinese company?

 

 

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mungouk
2 minutes ago, NinjaTurtle said:

I have a talent for Japanese

 

So what does that actually mean?
 

Normal humans are born with an innate ability to learn any language. 

 

等等。。。

 

 

 

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NinjaTurtle

I would say it is ease, interest, comfort, and enjoyment of learning a particular language. For some people, a particular language just comes ‘easy’ whereas another language does not. For these people the second language is difficult and learning that language is a chore. I have seen this many times.

 

For some people, some languages just come more 'innately' than others.

 

I am sure there are probably 'psychological' reasons for some of this, but I do not think it is necessary to go into them. It just is.

 

I do not go along with the idea that just because a person likes to study Chinese that they should like to study, say, Russian.

 

 

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anonymoose
20 hours ago, ejw773 said:

In school, everything was like a big heavy fog. Nothing made any sense. Gradually, it did get a little better. I figured that the longer I stuck with it, the better it would get. I passed the HSK 6 before graduation, so obviously I succeeded, right?

 

I've now been living in the U.S. for a number of years, and I'm working for a Chinese company - and the fog hasn't lifted. Compared to previous jobs I've had in an all-English environment, I'm a total idiot here. Half my colleagues are Chinese and speak little to no English, and the other half are Americans who speak no Chinese at all. I have a very hard time remembering anything anyone says to me - in either language. It's like I'm in a constant state of dazed distraction, so nothing can actually get into my brain.

 

I think (at least part of) the problem is the lack of context, or to put it another way, not having complete situational awareness.

 

Things are much easier to memorise when they are fully understood in context, and lack of full awareness of the context makes them that much more difficult to understand and internalise. Context is like a scaffolding of pieces of information that combine to form a coherent picture. If you have enough situational awareness, it is easy to make sense of any new information and slot it into the relevant part of the scaffolding. On the other hand, if you don't have the situational awareness, it is difficult to understand the relevance of new information, you don't know where to put it so you just discard it, and the scaffolding itself is at risk of complete collapse because of all the missing links.

 

I think this principle is true for any situation, even when working exclusively in your mother tongue. A foreign language just adds an additional veil over the situation making it that much harder to penetrate.

 

From what you describe, it sounds like your comprehension is below the critical level needed to hold the scaffolding together. The scaffolding has crashed down, and you are in a constant daze because you're not quite sure how anything anyone says to you relates to the bigger picture.

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PerpetualChange

I've never taken any HSK exam, but if you passed HSK6 I would think that means you speak at a very high level. Unless you just forgot all of it.

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edelweis

Regarding level vs tiredness:

Some of my colleagues whose English is at a lower level than mine reported being exhausted at night after a full day of hearing+speaking English. But I wasn't tired at all in the same circumstances. My English level was tested at C1 overall with passive skills approaching C2.

 

Even though HSK6 is supposed to be "C2", there are some (non Chinese) institutions claiming that it is actually B2 (or even B1? I can't remember).

If your listening is at B2 level, perhaps it's just not advanced enough yet to be able to understand Chinese without effort (?)

 

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Tomsima
On 9/9/2019 at 3:25 PM, ejw773 said:

Has anybody else had a similar experience?

 

Yes. But its fine, you just need to think in terms of decades of practices and it'll all eventually balance out.....

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重大雷雨

I believe those institutions claim HSK 6 is like an advanced C1 rather than C2.

 

All of that aside, it will take more mental processing power to do complex tasks in a foreign language.  This will remain true regardless of your level in that foreign language.

 

However, the amount of extra processing power required should decrease rapidly over time if you have achieved an advanced level.  If you have not achieved an advanced level, the amount of required processing power vs language level proficiency should resemble a bell curve;  as your skills improve, processing power required will be greater, then it will plateau, then decline. 

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ejw773

OK, so here's some more info about me:

 

I have a 4-year bachelor's degree in Chinese from a university in China. I passed the HSK 6 twice, most recently last year. As far as speaking, I took the ACTFL OPI for fun last summer, and was rated "Advanced High," which, from what I can tell, is basically C1.

 

 

My study routine lately has been a mixture of Advanced ChinesePod lessons from Shanghai (almost finished - they're getting a bit too easy), along with some Chairman's Bao, 刘慈欣 short story audiobooks, continuing to read a 1-million-character internet novel I started a few years ago, and watching some 人民的名义. All of these things (except 刘慈欣) seem like preschool compared to trying to function at my job.

 

Had I started a decade earlier (I started at age 29), and/or if I had a Chinese environment (my life is 90% English), my thinking might be different. But as it is, I'm beginning to feel that my incompetence at work is borderline malpractice. (I did tell them up front: "I speak Chinese, but I'm NOT a translator.")

 

I'm now over 40, and I'm seeing a noticeable decline in my ability to learn anything, not just Chinese. All of my previous jobs were pretty easy, but this time I think "I've met my match." After 3 years, I'm not able to learn the Chinese I need to know, nor am I able to learn the technical stuff I need to know. It's like the Chinese language and the technical stuff short-circuit each other out. I've seen no improvement in quite a while, and in fact, I think I see decline.

 

I considered going back to grad school this fall for more Chinese, but various circumstances ended that.

 

What's my actual question? I guess that's what I'm trying to figure out. The ultimate question I'm working toward is: "Is it time to just quit?" I do have other non-Chinese options.

 

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Flickserve

Quite an interesting situation. I work in Cantonese environments with me a lower level of chinese than you. Started learning Cantonese at the age of 26. No university course. Ten lessons of private tuition , books , tape recorder and immersion. There are two big things I notice. 

 

I remember a big jump in comprehension was when I decided to take a badminton coaching course in Cantonese. I had taken lessons in badminton using Cantonese from my coach for about a year but had incomplete comprehension  because of my own lack of vocabulary and his mainland accented Cantonese. For this coaching course, quite a few technical terms that initially escaped me. All the lectures were in Cantonese. There was also a coaching manual in chinese which I later got translated into English. Now actually I didn’t get it translated primarily to be able to read but as to understand the auditory input and take the exam. That helped me considerably. I won’t say I am great but I can still function at work. But here is the big difference between me and you. Cantonese is a spoken dialect and in normal life, I mainly depend on listening skills. 

 

Secondly, I also notice I pick up less as I have got older. I have a feeling it’s age related in that the more senior position you are, the less likely you pick up the language. So it’s more due to social status position at work and society. I have seen other people who are fluent in other chinese dialects who come to HK in a senior position. They can’t learn Cantonese very well. In fact, some of them lament the inability to learn Cantonese. Whereas you see some of the immigrant mainland mums or Indonesian helpers coming into Hong Kong to work and they pick up Cantonese (they are a bit younger). 

 

The Indonesian domestic helpers are a very interesting group as many are from villages and limited literacy. I have heard them speaking Cantonese really well and receiving instructions. They just get repetition on a very frequent basis because they don’t initially understand. Now of course, it’s not technical due to the nature of their jobs but I am quite impressed.

 

After that rambling, my question to you is do read documents in chinese related to your job? Do you explain things using the language? How much problem solving do you do in the job using chinese? What’s your usual level of comprehension when listening to Chinese conversation between two people (not stuff designed for learners of chinese) with accents? How much discussion in chinese do you do? The stuff that you do in chinese seems to be more general than specific to your work (from your description). Are there discussions about your field that you can listen to on YouTube?

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NinjaTurtle

EJW,

 

One thing from your posts is coming through clearly. It sounds like you want to improve your speaking ability but you are not engaging in learning activities that are speaking activities. (It seems like you are doing a lot of listening activities.) If you want some ideas on how to have meaningful speaking practice, please do not hesitate to ask. Please look at my list of speaking topics in this thread:

 

https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/58423-what-is-fluency-listening-vs-speaking/page/2/

 

My post is the long post on page two dated May 26. Can you easily talk about all of these topics? Is this something you want to work on?

 

There is also the issue that maybe you are just burning out on the whole Chinese experience. Then there is the possibility that maybe you need more friends and more friendly times, which may be best found outside of time spent with Chinese people. Whether or not these two things are happening to you, I guess you just have to decide by yourself.

 

Keep us posted as to how it is going.

 

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Bibu

EJW is with some big change in life, the surface is the language. 

 

my suggestion is try to forget as many as you could, just keep 1 or 2 things that you adore.

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mungouk
16 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

if you passed HSK6 I would think that means you speak at a very high level.

 

HSK exams don't test speaking ability.  The HSKK does that — a separate exam.

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DavyJonesLocker
5 hours ago, ejw773 said:

I'm now over 40, and I'm seeing a noticeable decline in my ability to learn anything, not just Chinese

 

Welcome to the club. 😊

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889

Based on your first post, it seems you're in a working environment where you're constantly switching between English and Chinese. That switching alone can be tiring and may be responsible for some of the fog. You might well do much better in an all-Chinese environment.

 

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PerpetualChange
5 hours ago, mungouk said:

 

HSK exams don't test speaking ability.  The HSKK does that — a separate exam.

Wow, and listening? I guess I know startlingly little about the HSK. 

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重大雷雨
19 hours ago, ejw773 said:

my life is 90% English

 

I think that is the problem.  Maybe you have to work harder at it if you are older, but it shouldn't prevent your from continually improving.  I believe Nixon didn't start learning until his 60's.

 

Try to cram and slack as much as possible.  Go through periods where you try to operate 90% in Chinese.  You need a large enough stimulus to produce more neural adaptation.

 

There are many Indian and Chinese workers who have been taking English since they were 5 years old, but still struggle in a technical environment.  It is normal to an extent.

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