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A Normal Persons Guide to becoming Fluent in Chinese


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I'm in year 8 approximately. Although my pathway isn't the one written above. Although clearly, it is in part inspired by it. But its also an amalgamation of all of my friends, and other people I've met learning Chinese along the way.

 

What does fluent mean to me? well tbh see above. It kinda means nothing. It needs a lot more context. By year 3 all of the persons friends and family back at home consider them fluent. They arent. By year 6 they are socially fluent. By year 8 they start a job in a all mandarin evironment and realise they are work fluent. By year 9 they become culturally fluent. By year 10, they realise, to say they are "fluent" is the most accurate description of their position. However they realise they still can be more fluent...

 

Fluency to me needs more context. But if pressed, then roughly, it means the ability to face 99% of situations be it work/social/culture/literature/news events/world views/politics and be confident you can express 99% of what you want to say, and understand 99% of what the other person is saying and sprinkle it with humour, witty turn of phrases, and cynicism if needed.

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Well done!

 

However, becoming culturally fluent in any culture where you did not grow up is pretty difficult.  And is it really necessary?

 

My husband, a Beijing native, has lived in the US for more than 30 years.  He still does not really understand the American political system.  He uses the assumptions about political realities he grew up with to interpret what goes on in the news, giving him opinions about different parties pulling hidden strings that would be completely wacko to most native Americans.  He also does not understand the civil rights movement, because he has no concept of what things were like under segregation (though I've told him again and again).

 

I wonder why you think it's desirable to become culturally fluent and what that means to you?

 

I have friends, relatives and colleagues who grew up in various places and that makes them all the more interesting to me.

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8 minutes ago, Moshen said:

However, becoming culturally fluent in any culture where you did not grow up is pretty difficult.  And is it really necessary?

 

Sorry, perhaps culturally fluent is not the best expression. So I've changed it to "entertainment content fluent". I mean you can watch TV and listen to radio, and it is reasonably enjoyable and smooth process.

 

Also I want to kinda emphasis. Fluent - is such a varied and changing word. We all have our own interpretations of what this means. There is no fluency. Its really amorphous.

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Jan Finster
2 hours ago, 杰.克 said:

Year 1 - You take a weekly class of Chinese in your home country. You can now say your name, and introduce you family and favourite hobby. You pass HSK 1 - You are not fluent

Year 2 -   You increase your classes to twice weekly. You can now say colours, talk about your holidays, and introduce a rang of hobbies. You pass HSK 2 - You still aren't fluent

 

Thank you for this post :) 

 

Here is my definition of fluency: "being able to consecutively translate non-technical topics from your native language to Chinese and vice versa both in speaking and writing with acceptable, but not necessarily native-level grammar and vocabulary". Having said this, I agree with the general statement of your post that it takes much longer than one would expect ("How hard can it be?!").

 

My only comment: achieving only HSK 1 after 1 year and HSK 2 after year 2 sounds super slow to me. I would argue that a normal person could pass both in 1 year even if that person only studied while sitting on the toilet (and I am not talking about people with chronic constipation ). So, with regular classes HSK 3-5 after 12 months sounds "normal" to me assuming the person is a dedicated learner.

 

 

 

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Surely the Oxford Dictionary definition ("the ability to speak or write a foreign language easily and accurately") is quite solid? Bringing in cultural references would mean my grandmother isn't fluent in modern Swedish. Or that native English speakers not from US/UK/Ireland aren't fluent in English if they don't know that culture very well.

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2 hours ago, Jan Finster said:

Thank you for this post :) 

 

Here is my definition of fluency: "being able to consecutively translate non-technical topics from your native language to Chinese and vice versa both in speaking and writing with acceptable, but not necessarily native-level grammar and vocabulary". Having said this, I agree with the general statement of your post that it takes much longer than one would expect ("How hard can it be?!").

 

My only comment: achieving only HSK 1 after 1 year and HSK 2 after year 2 sounds super slow to me. I would argue that a normal person could pass both in 1 year even if that person only studied while sitting on the toilet (and I am not talking about people with chronic constipation ). So, with regular classes HSK 3-5 after 12 months sounds "normal" to me assuming the person is a dedicated learner.

 

 

Thanks Jan! 

 

I think you are probably right so have adjusted original post! The person now passes HSK 1 in year 1 and HSK 2 and 3 in year 2.

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Demonic_Duck
3 hours ago, Jan Finster said:

Here is my definition of fluency: "being able to consecutively translate non-technical topics from your native language to Chinese and vice versa both in speaking and writing with acceptable, but not necessarily native-level grammar and vocabulary".

 

Seems like an unusual definition. Translation is a more specialized skill than listening, speaking, reading, or writing. Many bilingual-since-birth speakers would make poor translators without training or practice.

 

IMO there are two common definitions of "fluency":

  1. The quality of being able to produce or understand language in a way that is flowing and doesn't contain significant gaps or repetition
  2. The quality of being "good at" a language (for some value of "good")

 

Of these, the first is a useful concept. You can discuss it as a separate skill in relation to other language skills — for example, someone could have mediocre grammar and vocabulary yet excellent fluency, or vice-versa.

 

The second is really too vague to be useful, because it means so many different things to different people. I'd categorize your translation-centric definition as a sub-definition of this one, but if you asked 10 different people you'd get as many variations.

  

2 hours ago, timseb said:

Oxford Dictionary definition ("the ability to speak or write a foreign language easily and accurately")

 

Despite the respected source, this would also fall under the vague 2nd definition.

 

I realize this might be a losing battle, like with the word "literally". Ooh boy, misuse of that word literally makes my blood boil.

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PerpetualChange

With all due respect, the person described in the topic is not a NORMAL person, but someone who has "learning Mandarin" as the first priority in their life for the bulk of 10 years (with a few years where it was maybe just priority 2 or 3). That is not "normal". That is studying Mandarin as a nearly full-time effort. There are many people who love learning languages and manage to learn them to quite an impressive level without ever making a certain language the centerpiece of their life for over a decade. It is all about how effectively you study, not how long you spend studying, or how much else of life's other offerings you're willing to give up for Mandarin. 

 

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59 minutes ago, PerpetualChange said:

With all due respect, the person described in the topic is not a NORMAL person

 

9 hours ago, 杰.克 said:

This is generalised. It's not my path, it probably wont be yours. There will be outliers and exceptions that do it much quicker/slower. However I do think it is realistic aim for the majority. To be both socially, work, and entertainment content fluent. You are probably looking at 10 years, of consistent study and exposure to the language. And let me be clear, the person above, went to Chinese university for a bit, lived in china, got a chinese housemate/girlfriend/boyfriend and eventually worked in a Chinese office environment. This person has had lots of kind supportive Chinese friends and teachers, received small grants and scholarships, been able to afford tuition, been given lots of societal support (Wow your Chinese is great!),  has had the life and financial circumstances to allow freedom to study. This isn't 10 years of 1 hour weekly classes back at home.

 

My main aim for this post is not to describe a "normal person". As I mention above, you as an individual will go down different paths and at different speeds.  The "normal" individual, as described puts 10 years of consistent study and ever increasing exposure to the langauge.

 

The threads main aim is to try to reassure people, who place much pressure and doubt on themselves that they are not matching the speeds they "should" be.  My overall message , I hope, is one of reassurance.  Perhaps I haven't emphasised that point well enough. If so apologies.

 

Ive now changed the wording in the OP to be "so called normal person" to try to be a bit more clear on this. Thanks for pointing out!

 

9 hours ago, 杰.克 said:

P.P.S - The title is intentionally misleading. There is no guide to becoming fluent in mandarin

 

As i said, their is no guide to becoming fluent. The most important think is to keep at it, and it will eventually come. Regardless of who you are, its a slow process. Just keep going, and don't be so hard on yourself.

 

59 minutes ago, PerpetualChange said:

It is all about how effectively you study, not how long you spend studying

 

 

This i disagree with. It is about both. You have to study both effectively and for a long time. In your world this suggests success simply is a result of finding the best method. That one youtube video, or new language offering, or new teacher or new class perhaps finally is "holy grail effective method" that is the silver bullet to all your problems. And the reason you aren't progressing is because you are yet to find it. It isn't.

 

Becoming fluent in Chinese takes a long long long time. There is no two ways around it. If people digest this fact more, I think their would be less threads on here such as "disappointed by my progress..."

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PerpetualChange
25 minutes ago, 杰.克 said:

The threads main aim is to try to reassure people, who place much pressure and doubt on themselves that they are not matching the speeds they "should" be.  My overall message , I hope, is one of reassurance.  Perhaps I haven't emphasised that point well enough. If so apologies.

I don't think what you described as "normal" is reassuring at all. It is not "normal". It is more like (and I say this with affection and commendation for those who love studying Chinese that they're willing to go that far for it) "obsession".

 

 

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10 hours ago, 杰.克 said:

P.P.S - The title is intentionally misleading

 

10 hours ago, 杰.克 said:

so called "normal person"

 

10 hours ago, 杰.克 said:

This is generalised. It's not my path, it probably wont be yours.

 

10 hours ago, 杰.克 said:

We all have our own interpretations of what this means. It's really amorphous.

 

44 minutes ago, PerpetualChange said:

I don't think what you described as "normal"

 

On this we are agreed. I didn't intend to describe "normal". Because who really knows that is. This person commits a huge and consistent portion of their life, and it still takes a long time to achieve "fluency". In other words - learning Chinese is a long and winding road, even if, you fully commit to it.

 

44 minutes ago, PerpetualChange said:

is reassuring at all

 

6 people have liked the post. Hopefully other people continue to find it useful and or reassuring. Its not a laymans guide on how to achieve fluency (the title was intentionally misleading), its a hope that people can shift mindsets and understand their isn't an easy and quick cutty-cutter guide to 'success'. Its hard, it takes time, but rest assured, if you stick at it, you will find your way 💪

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Tomsima

I think this is a pretty accurate progression path for anyone who is dedicated to studying Chinese full time.

 

What is 'normal' is the pace at which you slowly progress compared to, say, a peer studying a European language. You hear about all the geniuses who picked up Chinese in a few months from friends, family, students, taxi drivers, and sometimes you take it to heart. But I've yet to meet these geniuses, and in recent years Ive even been described as one, which I'm not, I've just worked hard and have got the corresponding results, and that's 'normal'. 

 

11 hours ago, 杰.克 said:

You vow to become more fluent.

 

Ah yes, the ultimate goal: to be more fluent than yesterday

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Flickserve

It took me two years of immersion in Cantonese to get to start being socially fluent. I had to use both Cantonese and English at work everyday. It was hard. A lot of the two years previously was listening and getting ever more used to Cantonese input - don't ask me about my output. I kept forgetting a lot of vocabulary.

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Jan Finster
8 hours ago, Demonic_Duck said:

Seems like an unusual definition. Translation is a more specialized skill than listening, speaking, reading, or writing. Many bilingual-since-birth speakers would make poor translators without training or practice.

 

IMO there are two common definitions of "fluency":

  1. The quality of being able to produce or understand language in a way that is flowing and doesn't contain significant gaps or repetition
  2. The quality of being "good at" a language (for some value of "good")

 

Of these, the first is a useful concept. You can discuss it as a separate skill in relation to other language skills — for example, someone could have mediocre grammar and vocabulary yet excellent fluency, or vice-versa.

 

My definition may be unusual, but when I think of people, who are fluent in a language, they all share the ability to translate virtually everything back and forth. With "translation" I do not necessarily mean the formal skill that professional translators have. It is more like when you watch TV with a Spanish friend and you know little Spanish and ask him at any moment: "what are they talking about?" He then can tell you in English. He may have to think for a while, because he is not used to translating things to a friend, but he can do it without a dictionary. You may ask him: "how would you say this in Spanish?" and he can tell you.

 

Your first definition, in my opinion, lacks a definition of the level of competence. I know people, who are naturally very eloquent in their mother tongue and can speak German like you describe after about  6 months even though it is full of mistakes and their choice of words is very awkward. So, there is "flow" (fluency) but not really a great level of competence.

 

Maybe my definition is about language competence, while your definition is about what fluency is really about.

 

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6 hours ago, Tomsima said:

I think this is a pretty accurate progression path for anyone who is dedicated to studying Chinese full time.

 

What is 'normal' is the pace at which you slowly progress compared to, say, a peer studying a European language. You hear about all the geniuses who picked up Chinese in a few months from friends, family, students, taxi drivers, and sometimes you take it to heart. But I've yet to meet these geniuses, and in recent years Ive even been described as one, which I'm not, I've just worked hard and have got the corresponding results, and that's 'normal'. 

 

Thanks Tomsima, glad you appreciate it.

 

Yes I agree, Ive also heard of these mythical people. They may exist, but for the average learner, it's better to not hold oneself to these standards. 

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My definition may be unusual, but when I think of people, who are fluent in a language, they all share the ability to translate virtually everything back and forth.

 

Sorry, but I know quite a few people who are fluent in several languages and cannot easily translate from one to another.  For them it is as if the languages are stored in different parts of the brain and it takes supreme effort for them to go from one to the other, and they do so clumsily and with a lot of hesitation.  Yet they can carry on in one language or another easily in context.

 

This may have to do with how they learned their languages.  If they picked up each language as a child would and never studied them (as may have been the case with the bilingual or trilingual people I am thinking of), then they may not have had much practice "translating" from one to the other.

 

Remember Imron's dictum that you must practice what you want to get good at?  If you don't practice something, you may not be able to do it.

 

Perhaps the people you are thinking of learned their languages with a lot of inter-language translation and therefore they are good at it.  I don't believe it is inherent either in language fluency or in language competence.

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