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A Normal Persons Guide to becoming Fluent in Chinese


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Demonic_Duck
4 hours ago, Jan Finster said:

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.

 

Yep. In these cases, I'd say they have a high level of fluency but poor grammar, pronunciation, or word choice.

 

I wouldn't say they are "fluent" with no qualifier, though, because that implies fluency is a binary (you have it or you don't). Instead, I'd say they are "very fluent" or "highly fluent". By contrast, someone could also be "somewhat fluent", "not very fluent", "very dysfluent", and so on. You could also say that someone is very fluent when talking about their area of expertise, but much less fluent when talking about something unfamiliar. Or how people often have a higher level of fluency but a lower overall level of language competence after their 3rd or 4th Tsingtao.

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ZhangKaiRong

It's quite a reasonable "roadmap" of what to expect if someone starts learning Chinese, but this assumes tremendous dedication from the individual. It can be argued whether such a person is normal enough :D Also, you were overplaying the peak of achievements and downplaying the valleys / rock bottom states of learning the language, but probably it is due to the fact that such demotivating phases do not last a whole year.

Also, there are different circumstances in each stages. I.e. Year 3 can be a slow-down lane or an accelerating lane, depending whether you go to a place where you can fully immerse yourself and not rely on your native language and/or English. Essentially you can pocket Year 3-5 in just one year, and no, you don't need to be a prodigy to achieve this, you just need to be at the right place.

 

Fun fact is that with the start of September it's my 10th year learning / using the language. I have absolutely no problem using the language in a professional environment, attending and facilitating meetings, following the discussions and synthetizing information on the spot and naturally expressing my ideas. I'm also socially fluent, and since Year6 it practically never happened that a Chinese person switched to English after we started to discuss in Chinese. I'm able to understand audio and video media content aimed at Chinese speakers. But I don't consider myself fluent mostly because of my problems with reading. I consume literature written in Chinese in awful pace, compared to how fast I can read in English / Spanish and my native language, and this makes me not enjoy reading in Chinese at all. No problems with newspaper articles, e-mails, etc., but novels and similar heavy 书面语 is unfortunately out of question. I would probably need to force myself to read more, but it's not motivating at all. And even after this many years, I still make some tone mistakes, realizing tone changes a bit later or going blank over rarely used words' tones, which is also an evidence against fluency. Getting deeper and deeper in the language, I more and more realize that the originally envisaged fluency level I though one day I will have is not really achievable, at least not for me.

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38 minutes ago, ZhangKaiRong said:

It's quite a reasonable "roadmap" of what to expect if someone starts learning Chinese

 

Thanks 👍

 

As I mentioned this isn't an effort to provide a standardised path or description of everyones path to fluency. The main point of the post it to demonstrate, the considerable time, effort and commitment it takes to become fluent in Chinese. Any suggestion of "30 days to fluency"/"Mandarin Blueprint"/"HSK 6 in a year"/'The 1 study hack to guarantee fluency for Chinese", are intentionally over-egging in order to get you to click on them, or to purchase them. They may contain useful information (in fact many do), but be aware, its important to the authors of this content, to narrate a trajectory of progression that is in the upper-echelons of statistical normality/almost impossible, in order to get you to engage with the content. No one clicks on the video "10 years to fluency" or "the combination of 84 different hacks that all synergistically combine to improve your Chinese"

 

This individual, even with focusing on Mandarin and having moved to China, still takes a long long long time to reach levels of "fluency".

 

I have met countless individuals in the UK who have taken a bachelors degree in the UK in Chinese. This is 3 years studying in the UK and 1 year abroad in China. All of their friends, family, and society at large expect them to be fluent in Mandarin - because well, they have a degree in it! And they also expected to be when they first started their courses. Many of them aren't and they beat themselves up about it, and many just give up on Chinese all together. 

 

I think expectation levels need a slight adjustment downward, and hopefully, this will allow people to make realistic targets. In that sense have less 'progress anxiety' and more pride in how far they have come.

 

 

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36 minutes ago, ZhangKaiRong said:

Getting deeper and deeper in the language, I more and more realize that the originally envisaged fluency level I though one day I will have is not really achievable, at least not for me.

 

I like to use an analogy for this, as it is something I often think about.

 

Its like a mountaineer who sets off climbing on a cloudy day. To begin with he is unable to see the peak, and as such has a guess at how high the mountain is. As he gains altitude, the clouds start to thin, and he slowly gets a clearer view of the real peak of the mountain. In doing so, he realises it is in fact much higher than he first realised. The higher he climbs, the more the clouds disperse, and the better he is at actually judging the height of the peak.

 

Essentially, the better we get at Mandarin, the more we realise just how far we still have to go! Anyhow, thats how I like to visualise it in my head.

 

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Caleb Williams

There is a lot of truth in this post. I’m going on my eight year but life has sort of gotten in the way of my studies as I am also an electrical engineering student with huge interest in other areas. 我的中文有点儿生疏了。I can still communicate pretty effortlessly, but my main issue is vocabulary, remembering tones, and listening. My phone settings are in Chinese, I regularly text friends in China through 微信,but I haven’t been intensely studying like I want to.

 

I really want to to go back to character writing, as that’s how I retained the most vocabulary. 
 

I’d write characters like this 

physical education (noun)

体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体体

tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ tǐ....

 

then do the same thing for the 育 in 体育。All the whole writing I’ll recite the pinyin and word in random order and make sentences in random order.

 

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PerpetualChange
14 hours ago, 杰.克 said:

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 💪

My main point is that the type of full-time effort over a long period of time (in this case, 10 years) is not going to be normal or even possible for most people. I think 10 years is nowhere near long enough for someone who can make a "normal" commitment to learning Chinese (note: If it's not obvious, I do not consider spending a decade primarily dedicated to learning it to be anywhere near the 'normal' experience, which is my chief objection to this thread). 

 

I'm on my 12th year, personally. Only years 2-4 could be considered "full time" and otherwise it's ebbed and flowed between periods of great commitment and just maintenance mode while life takes me other places. 

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For me Im willing to devote time to consistently study/practice/use Chinese - basically put in the hard work...AS LONG AS what Im doing is the

/a way forward. I dont care that much how long it takes to reach a level of fluency that im happy with. What I dont enjoy is when self doubt creeps in sometimes: "Is the way im learning a good way?", "Is my teachers method right? " , "Should i be going faster?" , "Should I be going slower?" , "Am i spending too much/not enough time on this that or the other?" Im happy to work long and hard as long as im enjoying it and doing the right things to lead to the level of fluency Id be happy with. I find it tough to be sure sometimes.

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15 minutes ago, Flickserve said:

Can I use what I learnt (even if limited) to enrich my life and make things more interesting? Definitely so. 

 

This is important. I can do everything I want in English (watch films and series without subtitles, listen to interesting podcasts and so on) but I am certainly not fluent. I can understand everything I hear, but speak with an accent and with mistakes. My targets for Chinese are set much lower than that, for Japanese a bit higher. For *most* language learners I would guess that fluency is not that important, but I might be wrong.

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PerpetualChange
33 minutes ago, timseb said:

For *most* language learners I would guess that fluency is not that important, but I might be wrong.

I would agree with this. Most language learners I've met along the way have more modest goals, they either like one language for a very specific reason (such as family history, a spouse, work, or some other interest), or they like learning languages generally and go for breadth over depth, spending a few years on one before moving onto the next and going down to "maintenance mode" on the former.

 

I think the way Chinese is taught to foreigners makes it a bit different, and something like a zero-sum game in the eyes of many learners. Not only is the Chinese exam-heavy style at play here (in no other language learning community to you see the same zeal for mastering a standardized test as a goal the way you do with Chinese learners), but China sits in the back of the westerner's mind always as the great unconquered world of growth and opportunity. Many westerners going back to even before the enlightenment during the time of missionaries feel that China is something to be conquered and doing so is the key to some vague other success. A guy learning German would never think that in order to yield something from learning the language he needed to spend several years living in working in germany, marry a german spouse, master a german fluency test, find work at a german company, etc., but that's the all-or-nothing attitude a lot of Chinese learners I've met along the way have. 

 

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2 hours ago, PerpetualChange said:

My main point is that the type of full-time effort over a long period of time (in this case, 10 years) is not going to be normal or even possible for most people. I think 10 years is nowhere near long enough for someone who can make a "normal" commitment to learning Chinese (note: If it's not obvious, I do not consider spending a decade primarily dedicated to learning it to be anywhere near the 'normal' experience, which is my chief objection to this thread). 

 

Im pleased to say then, your chief objection, is misplaced.

 

The title of the thread is neither Normal Commitment nor is it Normal Experience. The normal refers to the person ie they are not exceptionally bright or exceptionally dim (such as on of the language whizz kids everyone hears of but never meets). In fact they have to go through exceptional commitment and dedication to achieve their goals.

 

Heres the point once again - to attain "fluency" for the average person requires a hell of a lot - as you point out! you ain't gonna do it in 6 months, or by finding a new silver bullet technique, or paying for that new language process. I think the expectancy dial of what some Chinese Language learners (not all) have is slightly too high, and leads to many threads I consider to be "progress anxiety". Hopefully this thread, can slightly alter that dial! 🙏

 

 

TLDR - Imrons website https://www.chinesethehardway.com/ encapsulates this sentiment well!

 

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well Steve coughman did it in only 9 months... sounds like utter bs to me

 

January 7, 2020

 

Steve

 

Learning Chinese

 

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How to Learn Chinese: My Top 6 Tips

I studied Mandarin Chinese 50 years ago. It took me nine months to reach a level where I could translate newspaper editorials from English to Chinese and from Chinese to English, read novels and interpret for people, I did this in the age of the open-reel tape recorder, long before the age of the Internet, online dictionaries, language learning apps, MP3 files and YouTube. 

If I reflect on what I did, I find that there were six things that helped me learn faster than other students who were studying with me. Below I list each of these tips on how to learn Chinese which you may want to apply to your studies.

 

1. Listen to Mandarin as Often as Possible

The first month or maybe two, just focus on listening...

 

 

https://blog.thelinguist.com/how-to-learn-chinese/

 

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Demonic_Duck
18 minutes ago, suMMit said:

Steve coughman did it in only 9 months... sounds like utter bs to me

 

I think 9 months is totally plausible to get to the level he describes for someone that's highly motivated, highly self-disciplined, living in an immersion environment, and with no other significant time commitments (including work, which means you're not earning for the best part of a year). Naturally, that only describes a small minority of learners.

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2 hours ago, suMMit said:

It took me nine months to reach a level where I could translate newspaper editorials from English to Chinese and from Chinese to English, read novels and interpret for people,

 

1 hour ago, Demonic_Duck said:

I think 9 months is totally plausible to get to the level he describes

 

DD are you for real?

 

Sounds like complete and utter BS to me. Im with summit on this one.

 

Translating newspapers editorials, read novels and interpret? He might be able to get the basic gist of them. If he qualified it, with I mostly could translate newspaper ..., then id be more chill with his statement. But he doesn't,  and so I'm firmly in the BS camp.

 

No doubt their are outliers with exceptional ability that pick up up language super quick. But 9 months to the level he describes? I would say at the biggest stretch,  he is possible in the top 0.001% of humanity, and in that sense his tips are of no use to us mere mortals. More likely is, he has a exceptional ability for exaggeration...

 

No doubt he is selling/advertising a product on the back of this ridiculous statement?

 

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Kaufmann generally doesn't exaggerate his skills (at least not on his Youtube channel), and certainly does it way less than many others out there. I know he ranks Swedish around his 8th best language (not in an interview related to Swedish, so it wasn't to lower expectations), and his Swedish is good. Far from fluent and has an obvious accent, but speed and vocabulary: impressive.

 

I don't see why it would be impossible. Hours spent are way more interesting than years spent.

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PerpetualChange
2 hours ago, suMMit said:

How to Learn Chinese: My Top 6 Tips

I studied Mandarin Chinese 50 years ago. It took me nine months to reach a level where I could translate newspaper editorials from English to Chinese and from Chinese to English, read novels and interpret for people, I did this in the age of the open-reel tape recorder, long before the age of the Internet, online dictionaries, language learning apps, MP3 files and YouTube. 

Seems impressive at first glance but I'm not sure how impressed I should really be. 

 

Translate newspaper editorials after 9 months? Sure, but at what speed? Surely it was a laborious and time intensive process. Maybe he spent a week on an article. Maybe his translation wasn't any good anyway. 

Read novels? Same... ditto. I'm sure it was no easy task and took a lot of time to read said novels. Also, we don't know what novels the author read, or how well he understood them.  

Interpret for people? Sure. That could mean explaining complex topics, or it could mean helping facilitate conversations like "Where's the bathroom? When does the bus leave?". Maybe he interpreted by default, because he knew a little bit of the language, and others he was with didn't know any of it. 

 

Wouldn't be too impressed here, almost everything he describes is stuff that a learner in their 2nd year in an immersion environment would be starting to do. 

 

 

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9 minutes ago, timseb said:

I don't see why it would be impossible

 

Yeah it's not impossible, It really depends on how you read this statement "It took me nine months to reach a level where I could translate newspaper editorials from English to Chinese and from Chinese to English, read novels and interpret for people"

 

To what degree did he do these activities to? the way he doesn't qualify it at all, the way he writes suggests he does it in a complete manner. In my mind suggesting interpretation 2 as his meaning.

 

Interpretation 1 - After 9 months study, could you translate a very basic article in a newspaper, read a children's book and translate at a restaurant? Yes - possible 

 

Interpretation 2 - After 9 months study could you just casually translate any newspaper editorials, read the latest novels across a range of topics, and interpret for diplomats and businessmen wanting to complete nuance and complex discussions - I mean are you serious people? No No No No No. Highly highly highly unlikely. I dont want to rule it out wholly, but we are talking an exceptionally small amount of the population.

 

As I mentioned, the way its worded, its difficult to tell. The finality of saying "newspaper editorials' and "novels" seems like he is attempting to exaggerate. 

 

 

 

 

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Ill edit his statement to make it likely

 

"It took me nine months to reach a level where I could very slowly translate some simple newspaper editorials from English to Chinese and from Chinese to English, read basic novels with the excessive use of a dictionary, and interpret for people in the most basic of scenarios - but with a lot of mistakes"

 

Obviously this statement is less sexy with the added detail, and unlikely to make anyone buy your LingQ product. (by the way the above is very impressive progress and I'm not scoffing at it)

 

I will once again link imrons excellent website -  https://www.chinesethehardway.com/  

 

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amytheorangutan

If I’m not mistaken I heard an interview with Steve Kaufmann about him learning Chinese. It seems like his path was not at all normal. He was being employed and paid to learn the language so he said he had a duty to dedicate almost all of his time to learn it. I believe he was also taught privately and not in a classroom which I think would make a huge difference. If I have 2-3 hours private lessons 5 days a week and dedicate 5 more hours everyday to learn it. I think it’s might be possible to achieve that.

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