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What is your definition of success with Chinese?


dakonglong
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Over the past six years, I have adapted my Chinese learning goals many times. They have varied from:

  • Identify a few simple characters

  • Say a few words in Chinese

  • Pass the HSK3

  • Pass the HSK4

  • Hold basic conversations in Chinese

  • Generally understand 小猪佩奇 (Peppa Pig)

  • Generally understand 喜羊羊 (Pleasant Goat)

  • Learn the HSK5 vocabulary

  • Learn 5,000 relevant words

  • Read a novel with a dictionary

  • Generally understand a simple Chinese drama

  • Communicate clearly on relevant topics

  • Read more novels with less dictionary help each time

  • Read a novel without a dictionary

  • Completely understand a Chinese drama without subtitles

  • Write a collection of short stories in Chinese

  • Communicate clearly on a wide variety of topics

The last four are my current goals, and with continued hard work, I hope to be able to achieve them within the next couple of years. However, for the first time since I started learning Chinese, my goals represent relative competence in the language. This led me to wonder, what happens when people actually achieve that level? Do you reach a maintenance level that you’re happy with? Do the practical returns on the time invested diminish substantially? Do you continue to acquire vocabulary on increasingly esoteric topics? Can you handle all aspects of life in Chinese at this level, or are there still skills to master?

I know I am still way off from this level currently, but six years of learning Chinese flew by and I’m sure the next several will too, so I’m curious. To those that have achieved a functional level of Chinese, what’s it like and what’s next after that?

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On 11/7/2021 at 1:40 AM, 杰.克 said:

For example last year I have been watching and learning in depth about the "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" and all the vocab for that. 

 

Have you discovered these excellent performances? I'll bet you have. https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/55971-three-kingdoms-tv-movies/?tab=comments#comment-431780 

 

What do you think about starting a ROTK thread? Lots of excellent study resources are out there, podcasts as well as video. Might find there's a good deal of interest. 

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As to the original question, "What is your definition of success with Chinese?"

 

My simple answer was to be able to do the things I wanted to do while living in China, with all communication happening in Chinese. I used a heavily goal-directed approach similar to what @杰克 has described above and in several of his other posts. And I experienced the same satisfaction he mentions. My personal goals were never academic. Feels very good to become relatively functional when living in China. Feels very good to get past the stage where native speakers even think about complimenting your language skills and focus instead on what you are saying. 

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On 11/7/2021 at 9:52 AM, coffeepresto said:

My goal right now is to read novels without constantly consulting a dictionary.

 

This has totally been my largest goal up to this point. It's really tricky to know when I've officially reached it, though! Could I read a book without using a dictionary and still follow along with it and appreciate the story? For many books, absolutely. So I guess I've achieved my goal, to a certain degree. But what's my tolerance level for unknown vocabulary? I guess it varies from person to person. But I'm still harvesting about 200-300 new words in the average 300-page book. In my case, I still feel like that's a significant number, so I'm continuing to work on this goal.

 

I think it was Imron who mentioned that his skills were good after 8 books, and I found that to be really accurate. Looking at my difficulty curve (which I've plotted on a graph), I haven't had any major improvement since my 8th book. Since then, it's just been a slow process of continued refinement and fine-tuning.

 

I also have a similar listening goal--I want to understand spoken Chinese without being completely lost or relying on subtitles (it's coming, very very slowly). I also want to have basic conversation skills (haven't practiced much at all yet). But in those rare occasions when I'm talking with a Chinese friend, I'm really surprised by two things: I can generally understand him (especially when he's talking to me slowly and deliberately, as native speakers often do with a 老外), and my brain has a large store of passive knowledge that's ready to be used actively in conversation. Of course, I should be willing to get out there, talk with people, and embarrass myself (I'll do that next year, I hope!). But I'm just surprised at how much passive listening and reading prepare me.

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On 11/7/2021 at 3:40 PM, 杰.克 said:

The warmth and love I get and give to Chinese people here in the UK when I chat with them in their mother tongue is so rewarding. Like, if i start speaking Mandarin, you instantly see peoples barriers go down.


Side tracking somewhat - what happens when you speak Mandarin to one of the new Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong?

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On 11/12/2021 at 7:29 AM, Flickserve said:

Side tracking somewhat - what happens when you speak Mandarin to one of the new Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong?

 

Yes interesting point you raise, and it is something I've thought about a lot. A lot of the new people at the Chinese community church are from Hong Kong. So how do I deal with it? Well first of, I think I'm quite good at being able to tell the difference from the outset whether they are from Hong Kong or not (so often my intro question might establish this). Secondly, a lot of them speak decent, if not fantastic mandarin (depending on age) so if i start using mandarin, there isn't much of an an issue. Thirdly, ive learnt through my experiences, people really are touched by the fact I can speak Mandarin, regardless of where they are from. So its worth the risk.

 

It's been a process though - and the more warmth ive generated over time, the less i worry about it. I personally think its more a Western thing we worry about, the issue of racism is so at the forefront of every interaction in the media, that its turned what should be a joyous thing (sharing someone's language) into a nerve wracking thing. The people I am most sensitive to is 2nd/3rd generation British Born Chinese, a) because they may not speak any Mandarin at all (in fact i noticed a lot of them kinda dislike all things China tbh) b) i think they are most attuned to be offended rather than complimented by it.

 

Essentially, I am sensitive to people being offended by me speaking Mandarin to them and do consider this. But that fear doesn't stop me, because in 99% of scenarios I generate a huge amount of love, human warmth and connection, which I truly value (and i hope they do aswell). 

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On 11/12/2021 at 7:27 PM, 杰.克 said:

Secondly, a lot of them speak decent, if not fantastic mandarin (depending on age) so if i start using mandarin, there isn't much of an an issue.


A lot of these are anti China so your reply surprises me somewhat. However, a non Chinese speaking mandarin to them may be more acceptable than another ethnic Chinese speaking mandarin to them.  
 

On 11/12/2021 at 7:27 PM, 杰.克 said:

The people I am most sensitive to is 2nd/3rd generation British Born Chinese, a) because they may not speak any Mandarin at all (in fact i noticed a lot of them kinda dislike all things China tbh) b) i think they are most attuned to be offended rather than complimented by it.


 

This I find interesting as I am part of this group though I don’t live in U.K. I didn’t speak any mandarin nor Chinese when there. It was a quite while ago but I also avoided the few people from China. (Of course there are many more now) I found them very different and difficult to connect with. I had better interaction with a few Taiwanese.
 

Definitely one thing that’s makes BBCs very defensive is Chinese people looking down on oneself for not speaking Chinese and then secondly that the Chinese person would say “oh you should know and learn Chinese”. When a non-chinese person comes up speaking fluent mandarin, it will put a BBC on the back foot. Your expertise makes them lose face.

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On 11/12/2021 at 4:13 PM, Flickserve said:

Definitely one thing that’s makes BBCs very defensive is Chinese people looking down on oneself for not speaking Chinese and then secondly that the Chinese person would say “oh you should know and learn Chinese”. When a non-chinese person comes up speaking fluent mandarin, it will put a BBC on the back foot. Your expertise makes them lose face.

 

Yeah for sure, and I don't want them to loose face, so if I think you are a BBC, Im alot more unlikely start a convo of in Mandarin. 

 

I also think part of it is i utterly radiate love for all things China/ Chinese Culture/Language/History whatever . From my experience, and from what they have told me, I have had a few BBC's tell me that, as a result of bullying, and feeling like an outsider, they have often psychologically moved away from anything China related, and leant into being British. This is also a reason that if I think you are a BBC i probably may be very cautious about using Mandarin, or bringing China up. TBH this is why alot of my chinese friends are much older than me. I basically adore the generation that is 50 and above, particularly all my ayis. With this age group, i never have to hide my language ability or passion. Even if they hate Chinese politics (which i never bring up) they still love all the other aspects of their home country.

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  • 5 months later...
Quote

Yeah for sure, and I don't want them to loose face, so if I think you are a BBC, Im alot more unlikely start a convo of in Mandarin. 

 

I also think part of it is i utterly radiate love for all things China/ Chinese Culture/Language/History whatever . From my experience, and from what they have told me, I have had a few BBC's tell me that, as a result of bullying, and feeling like an outsider, they have often psychologically moved away from anything China related, and leant into being British. This is also a reason that if I think you are a BBC i probably may be very cautious about using Mandarin, or bringing China up. TBH this is why alot of my chinese friends are much older than me. I basically adore the generation that is 50 and above, particularly all my ayis. With this age group, i never have to hide my language ability or passion. Even if they hate Chinese politics (which i never bring up) they still love all the other aspects of their home country.

I absolutely agree with you. Very deep thoughts that respond within me.

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On 11/9/2021 at 9:54 PM, 889 said:

If you're doing it right, your goal is constantly moving ahead as you advance.

This. Mine went gradually from study goals to career goals: from 'read a full book in Chinese' to 'translate a book' to 'get put on a stage to talk about something I have expertise in'. (with lots of years and steps in between). If your reasons to learn Chinese have nothing to do with either career or family/social life, you'll still find new goals. Read a more difficult novel/watch a more fast-talking drama without a dictionary. Discuss the novel/drama with a group of excited native speakers. There's always the next step.

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