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What motivates you to keep going?


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On 2/17/2022 at 6:40 PM, Woodford said:

My wife has been to a couple of second (or third?) tier Chinese cities and her experience was very negative. She resolved that she could never go back.

 

Out of curiosity, what was your wife's negative experience about and when was that?

I don't think you can really take many lessons learned from studying Chinese and apply them to German. They are too different and German has a lot of common vocabulary with English. I've studied it a little bit I'm able to understand a lot when visiting Germany just by knowing English and Swedish.

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Sunk costs - that's the short-term motivation. But I'm optimistic that I'll be glad I kept going, beyond that. And long-term: everything that Europe has/had, a completely different civilisation, China, has/had, and I like the idea of being able to dabble in both.

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On 2/17/2022 at 12:08 PM, alantin said:

Out of curiosity, what was your wife's negative experience about and when was that?

 

I believe she visited there somewhere between 2008 and 2010. I'm not sure exactly which cities, but I do remember they were not "first-tier" like Beijing and Shanghai. I think her biggest issue was the extreme air pollution--she could barely take a breath without getting a burning sensation in her lungs. The weather was extremely cold (it was winter), and the buildings were not reliably heated (the bus she rode had no heat at all). Plus, her group was closely followed and monitored at all times by government officers. Of course, the experience could have been much different in a different city. But it just left her with a strong impression.

I have a Chinese friend who comes from Tianjin (he currently lives in the US and is seeking permanent residency there), and he wants me to come visit him when he's in China. I've seen high-resolution "street" videos of places like Beijing and Tianjin, and it seems absolutely fascinating--the colorful signs with all the Hanzi on them, the street performers, the exotic food booths, the lanterns, the Chinese-style buildings, etc....I know this sounds rather dumb, but because my experience of Chinese mostly comes from novels and non-immersive, one-one-one chats with tutors that are partly carried out in English, my brain seems to regard it as an almost "fantasy" language that's confined to my study--when I walk out my door, I'm back in the English-speaking world again, and nobody uses, cares, or thinks about Mandarin. When I see videos of actual Chinese locales, it gives me the strangest feeling, because I'm reminded, in a deep, intuitional level, that this is a real language that's really used by a billion people. It's as though the world of my imagination has come to life. If I get the privilege of visiting China for a week or two someday, I'm sure it will be an experience like no other--and hopefully better than my wife's memories!
 

On 2/17/2022 at 12:08 PM, alantin said:

I don't think you can really take many lessons learned from studying Chinese and apply them to German. They are too different and German has a lot of common vocabulary with English. I've studied it a little bit I'm able to understand a lot when visiting Germany just by knowing English and Swedish.


I think that's very true. Learning German feels like an entirely different activity altogether. It feels like German and English are almost sub-dialects of the same language, like perhaps Mandarin and Cantonese. I also love that Germans decided to use the Roman alphabet, so I don't have to learn 5,000 more characters!

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On 2/17/2022 at 12:44 PM, dakonglong said:

I have had trouble validating this with data, but it seems like the portion of Americans that learn Chinese, especially to a conversational or fluent level is very, very small. So, I think learning Chinese (especially having mostly taught myself) differentiates me from 99% of my peers.

 

Somewhere, I heard that 6/1000 university students (at least in the United States) were currently studying Chinese. This data may be a bit dated, but the true number nowadays might actually be lower. Speaking of my own American context, anyway, the Obama administration was pushing Chinese as the big "must-learn" language in the late 2000s/early 2010s, but I understand that much of the enthusiasm has cooled off. That "6/1000" number makes sense to me. In the Chinese class my wife and I were auditing, there were around 6-8 students, in a university with a total student body of around 2,800. However, how many of those 6 people will continue to cultivate the language afterwards? Almost none, I think. Many of my classmates were getting tired of studying, and just wanted to finish the exams, get the grades, move onward, and graduate (I don't blame them--more power to them).


One big reason I didn't continue with Spanish is that it's a much more common skill here in the United States. I think Spanish is a really important, useful, and widely spoken language (and that's why it appealed to me in the first place), but I felt like I could be a bigger asset if I learned Mandarin.

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On 2/17/2022 at 5:05 PM, becky82 said:

I've always felt like Chinese has a kind of "learning hump": once you learn enough words and grammar patterns, to sufficient depth, you begin to just "absorb" the language naturally, incidentally through reading and listening. 

 

Yes, I agree completely. One of those "hump" points for me was when I would begin telling someone about a movie I had recently seen and I could not recall if it had been in English or Chinese. I would remember enjoying the film, the plot, the acting and so on, but not the language. 

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Personally, it is a challenge. Moreover, to prove that the language in itself is not as difficult as other languages, at least on the surface level as we know context plays a big role in communication in Mandarin Chinese (I am guessing is the same in other dialects). After haven't practiced for over 20 years, I started again to study and I am amazed the number of tools available and how easy is now to learn a language compared to the past 30 years. I am much interested to learn the spoken language and demystify this written language or educated language or even textbook language that still prevails in the academia. Spoken language is much more fun and easy to learn instead to learn a vocabulary that many times lead you to nowhere but to know more vocabulary and complex sentences but not much to the spoken language. 

Not to forget that I am interested in Daoism and learning how read classics texts to understand the culture, religion and philosophy.

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I suppose for me the main motivation is that it's rewarding in and of itself to learn Chinese. It's not particularly useful to me. And let's be real -- Chinese media is sorely lacking, except perhaps for certain genres of music and literature. Usually if pressed, I would tell you that my motivation lies in being able to read literature and converse fluently with natives, but ultimately, it is the language itself that motivates me, and nothing more.

 

...although the street cred you get for speaking high-level Chinese ain't too bad, either 😁

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On 2/20/2022 at 6:51 AM, suMMit said:

That is so interesting, I've never imagined learning the language(or any language) but not living/having lived in the country it's spoken. I will say one advantage of that must be a lot less pressure. Also, when you do finally make a trip over, I pretty much guarantee it will not be quite what you imagine! There will be many pleasant surprises and disappointments. It will be an amazing trip though, seeing and hearing the language all around you!


I'd say from experience that the "volume" of it can be surprising as well as coming across all your blind spots. I had learned Japanese on and of for five years when I first visited Japan. I thought I was pretty good at the language, but I had actually close to zero experience speaking it with anyone. 20 years ago I didn't have the online tutors I have now with Chinese. When I got there, I found that people speak completely different than they do in language videos from the 80's or in Naruto. I essentially couldn't understand anything anyone said and I couldn't reply. But after three months there I was able to chat with people, get around and find places by asking help without any trouble. I used to say that I learned the most on railway stations asking the staff how to get somewhere.

 

With Chinese I joke that because I only talked with people on-line, I can complain about the Covid restrictions and discuss cultural differences and language learning, but I don't know how to say "pass me the sauce please"...

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On 2/20/2022 at 8:53 AM, alantin said:

With Chinese I joke that because I only talked with people on-line, I can complain about the Covid restrictions and discuss cultural differences and language learning, but I don't know how to say "pass me the sauce please"...

Oh my god, I had this exact problem the other day. I have text-based conversations entirely in Chinese on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis, but just the other day I went to a Chinese restaurant and realized I did not know how to ask if they had a table free/available for my husband and I. Come to think of it, I also don't know how to ask about reserving a table, either!

 

Anyone want to help me out here?

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Look at the FSI course and all of its resource modules. Lotsa stuff in there for living "on the economy," as the government types used to say. Modules for ordering food, fixing your car, mailing packages and stuff, going to a marriage or a funeral... All things useful for interacting with Chinese people in China, or in the Great Chinese Diaspora, or any other planet they may get to before we do... A guy named Cornelius Kubler (or Cubler) who was on the the original development team has a partial update published by Tuttle, but the original FSI stuff is still the gold standard. And it's free...

 

You're welcome...

 

TBZ

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On 2/19/2022 at 10:51 PM, suMMit said:

But for me it represents a small win, I had the vocab, the grammar and no need to prepare in advance. Every time those small wins happen, I feel like it's worth it to keep putting in the effort.

 

The small defeats also keep me going. I try to say something and am at a loss on how to express it, or the listener didn't really get it. That situation motivates me to put in the effort so that next time it's easier.

 

Same here. It's all about the small stuff, wins and losses. For me it has never been about meeting some lofty goal, passing HSK 11 or whatever. It has been about acquiring tools to make daily life go more smoothly and be more fun. 

 

I would never have cracked that first beginner book had it not been for visiting China, liking it, wanting to travel there more and eventually deciding to live there. My Chinese studies were never abstract; they were always for a purpose, not a free-standing goal in and of themselves. 

 

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