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5Y drop in motivation - what to do?


matteo
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Hey all, 

I realize this is one of the "recurring" subjects and it's probably been discussed at length somewhere by someone in the forum. 

However, I think it will be useful for me to write about my specific situation, at the very least so I can make it clearer in my head while doing so. 

 

I have been studying mandarin for about 5 years now. It's never been a full time commitment because I work and I have friends, other hobbies etc. however I'd say that I devoted a very big chunk of my free time to it as well as most of my energies. 

Just like everyone else, at the beginning I literally loved studying, and every new character was new and mysterious and exciting. Then with the years as I learned more and more, studying turned more into a - still interesting - routine, just like a sport or another hobby. It was fun and it made me feel like I was spending my time well. 

What kept me motivated? 

I think the main factor was the hope that sooner or later I would have the opportunity (working or otherwise) to spend a significant time in China and have a mind-blowing life experience. I live for that kind of stuff and briefly travelled to the country a few times - during which being able to understand "something" was extremely satisfying. Also, I've always been deeply fascinated with Asian cultures and the idea of being able to lift a curtain over the impenetrability of Chinese culture and Chinese characters is extremely fascinating to me. 

 

After all this time I can read books in Chinese (I can almost enjoy them if they're not too hard) and communicate at a simple level. Many would consider this a good achievement.

I know fully well that in order to get anywhere near what I consider "good" - i.e. having a free, interesting conversation, being able to pick up and read anything without needing to constantly check a dictionary - I'll need at least another 5 years of studies. 

Even If I were happy of my level and didn't want to improve, just plain maintenance of my current level will take quite a bit of effort. 

 

But I knew that from the beginning so what's changed now?

I think the main factors that are leading to a massive drop in motivation for me are the following, in order of importance.

1) in these 5 years I grew up, my view of life and my goals changed so dropping everything and moving (to China) is not a realistic option anymore. I'd still consider a well-planned move if I could land a good job first and be sure that my wife has some opportunities as well. Very theoretical, in my experience making such a move is intrinsically very risky. 

2) Opportunity costs. I've been neglecting a ton of possible alternative hobbies and activities (including sleeping late on weekends 😜) to study Chinese. Right now for example, it looks like moving back to Europe in the next 5-10 years could be a possibility for me. I know for sure that studying German would give me massive opportunities then, but there's no way I can study German and Chinese at the same time.

3) I can't seem to find interesting content that keeps me effortlessly engaged in the language. 

4) The pandemic, China being more and more unfriendly, being a long-term tourist or English teacher not being an option anymore - which kind of removes the option of visiting during a long sabbatical.

 

What options am I considering? 

(apologies if I'm cutting a bit short at this stage, I'm out of time - might come back later to edit in more details)

1) quit. Take the hit and move on. And hope I don't regret the choice 1 year or 10 down the line.

2) take a break (say 6 months), during which I might trial an alternative (say Japanese, or German)

3) power through the motivation dip and hope it gets better and I don't burn out 😅

 

Thanks everyone for your attention, your thoughts and points of view will be much appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On 9/1/2022 at 5:35 PM, matteo said:

I can't seem to find interesting content that keeps me effortlessly engaged in the language. 

 

I would say that this is one of the key things for a lot of us right now. Can't get into China, and there's very little content that is truly engaging coming out. Everyone has their own situations to deal with; when a hobby brings with it a form of relief and captivation it is easy to get hooked, but when there's no reward on offer for the time investment, it seems like you're just getting worn out for nothing. Stay in touch with your Chinese, the reasons why you've enjoyed it over the last 5 years are still there, they're just not as accessible or tangible right now. I can only presume that policy will be clearer after the big meeting coming soon...

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Even if you drop the Chinese now and never use it again for the rest of your life, I can't imagine it's been time wasted. All kinds of benefits and all kinds of reasons to pat yourself on the back for what you've already achieved. But the brutal fact is that for most people it takes a huge amount of time to make advanced-level progress in your spare time if you live outside of China and have other stuff going on in your life.

 

Quit and see how you feel after six months or a year. I've quit a few times, for several years each time, and it's not a massive effort to catch up again, though it is probably harder than for most other languages (characters). Quitting is like walking out of a boring play at the interval. It's allowed!

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China is closed, but have you considered Taiwan? I don't know what your holiday situation is, but perhaps you could take off three weeks and visit, with your wife. Enjoy the food, the landscape, burn incense in the temples, and make friends with the people, they're really nice and speak a very clear Mandarin. You could even check out their current policy on foreign English teachers. Taiwan may not be as mind-blowing as China, it can certainly deliver on a memorable experience in a completely foreign country.

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As you said, it has recently been discussed before (https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/61818-the-2022-aims-and-objectives-progress-topic/?do=findComment&comment=488698).

 

By all means, do take a break and if you enjoy studying languages, try a different language. You can always go back to Chinese. I have studied Spanish for 1 year 15 years ago. It was not wasted. I was in Costa Rica recently and managed to get around. It inspired me to pick up Spanish again.

 

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On 9/1/2022 at 11:35 AM, matteo said:

What options am I considering? 

(apologies if I'm cutting a bit short at this stage, I'm out of time - might come back later to edit in more details)

1) quit. Take the hit and move on. And hope I don't regret the choice 1 year or 10 down the line.

2) take a break (say 6 months), during which I might trial an alternative (say Japanese, or German)

3) power through the motivation dip and hope it gets better and I don't burn out 

 

A fourth option might be to put it on the back burner. Just do a few China living and Chinese language activities instead of a lot. Only the ones you enjoy, not ones you think you should do in the name of study or self improvement. Assign China a lower priority, but don't totally blitz it. It would be a way to keep your options open while the international situation becomes more clearly defined.  

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If you're multilingual, you'll already be aware that the benefit of using another language isn't by any means tied to being a citizen or a working immigrant in a specific country. All the more true if the language in question is a major world language: earth abounds with everything Chinese. You really don't need us reminding you of that. 

 

So what seems to trouble you isn't the physical distance with the necessities of life in the PRC; it's the psychological distance with the people and material you're supposed to spend so many more hours of practice with if you are to reach any kind of decent fluency.

 

On the one hand, this is an "arrival fallacy" that you really needn't be labouring under (as pointed out upthread, your efforts so far are their own reward).

 

On the other hand, any pursuit can become a burden if your heart's not in it and it is really tough to find something that keeps you "effortlessly engaged" when you're learning something that still feels very foreign to you. I suggest exploring something brand new: don't look for what you already like, just give some seemingly uninteresting content/genre/activity a chance and let them grow on you. If you only look for content you already know you enjoy, then you may not find it in Chinese - primarily because you don't need to (you've already grown to enjoy it in a different language). The reason learning languages is a mind-opening endeavour is precisely because it opens doors for you that you otherwise wouldn't have opened. If you grow to like and engage with some of that Chinese native content you presently find uninteresting, pretty soon you'll have a Chinese-speaking corner in your heart just for that and Chinese will become a part (however small) of your identity. That's what languages are, after all. Only at that point will you have "arrived" - Chinese will simply be one of your working languages, whatever your fluency, and you'll no longer be looking out for extra motivation or external reasons to practice it.

 

And, boy, does it need practising...

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On 9/3/2022 at 8:46 AM, PerpetualChange said:

We all owe ourselves the courtesy of reevaluating our commitments now and then, and the permission to recalibrate our lived when we see fit.

 

Bravo for that! 

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Thanks all for your replies they're all really useful points of view.  It's kind of funny how this feels like asking your mates for advice on dumping a difficult girlfriend 🤣 - I like her but - she wants us to move in with her parents!

 

@Magelita I'm honored that my unremarkable thread prompted you to write in the forum, the first post is always the hardest!

I really appreciate @PerpetualChange "unpopular" 😄 opinion as well, as it bring a different - and valid - perspective. I remember you've had a bit of a "Chinese crisis" in recent times as well so you surely gave it quite a bit of thought. I do agree that life is too short to be chasing after each lofty expectation we might entertain of ourselves, sometimes at the price of not enjoying the present as we should.

 

I reckon the approach of "taking a break but keeping it on the backburner" could be the right way to go for me.

I'll reduce the load and I expect pretty soon it will be clear whether I am relieved and prefer to phase out Chinese completely, or instead if I am missing it and wanting to go back and ramp it up again. 

 

I find it interesting that a few people mentioned Taiwan as a possible alternative to China mainland. That's of course a possibility and I have thought about it before. I would love visiting Taiwan and I'm sure it is a beautiful, fascinating island - however given the current geopolitical situation it is not a place I would consider for anything but a very short stay. To be very honest I think at the moment I'd be slightly hesitant to go there even for a holiday. Am I being overcautious? I know this is off-topic but it's a doubt that I meant raising since I read that LTL Taiwan is open for business.

 

 

 

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On 9/4/2022 at 6:43 AM, matteo said:

I remember you've had a bit of a "Chinese crisis" in recent times as well so you surely gave it quite a bit of thought. I do agree that life is too short to be chasing after each lofty expectation we might entertain of ourselves, sometimes at the price of not enjoying the present as we should.

Yes. I am sort of in the same boat as you, though I've been studying longer (10+ years), and had the opportunity to spend some time in Hong Kong very earlier into my study (years 3 and 4). 

 

Similar to you, it's felt like I've checked a lot of the boxes that could be reasonable goals as someone who won't be traveling or making a career change any time soon. I've read multiple Chinese novels, I've watched movies and dramas only aided by Chinese subtitles, I've listened to pods and youtube videos and come away with strong comprehension. My Chinese is far, far, far from perfect (or even "good"), but I've done a lot of what I can do for now, I still commit some time every week to checking out Chinese media in the hopes that things change, but thus far I've failed to really find the spark to keep going anywhere. 

 

In my case, I'm luckily also a music lover, and I've poured my free time into my guitar, playing much more on my own and in group settings than I ever did when I was studying Chinese for hours per day. So that's one reason why I have no qualms recommending a "quit". "Quitting" is not forever - you can always go back - but sometimes you need to tell yourself it's OK to stop, maybe even permanently, so you can open the door for new things.

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I feel like I have a lot of things in common with your experience.

 

--I, too, have been studying for 5 years (albeit, pretty intensely--perhaps about 5,000 hours)

--I, too, have given up "sleeping in" as a hobby. I really need to start that hobby again (especially while I'm still young-ish), or it will adversely impact my health. :) 
--I, too, have a hard time envisaging a future in China. The geopolitical situation between my country and China is growing quite tense, and my wife (who has been there a time or two) had a really negative experience and all but vowed to never go back. And that's yet another factor--I do have a wife, as well as small kids. That's not really conducive to traveling to China for any significant amount of time, even if I could.

--I, too, have dabbled in German, and still maintain my German skills with about 15 minutes of review a day. I will be studying it more devotedly once Chinese study subsides (and fortunately, German has been way easier to learn).

--In my case, as well as yours, German is the more "useful" language right now, not Chinese. My wife speaks it (we've been able to enjoy a "secret" language to discuss things in ways the kids can't understand), and I will very likely be travelling to Austria next Summer to help with a friend's wedding. We know several Chinese-speaking families (which is a motivating factor for me), but they are all fairly fluent in English. So speaking Chinese with them is just a cute party trick. "Oh, your Chinese is so good! Ha ha!" etc., etc. Then we switch straight back to English.

 

I think I came into the hobby of Chinese as a language nerd who had already studied classical languages (Latin, Greek, Hebrew), which have almost zero practical applicability to day-to-day modern life. People who study those languages generally don't care as much about the question of "how will I use this language?" They just study it for its own sake. I'm reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien, who liked languages so much that he made his own fictional ones. Well, in and of itself, Chinese provides all those enjoyments, with the added bonus that around a billion people still speak it today. Latin would have been more fun if there were fresh new books and movies written in Latin, I could read the news in Latin, I could watch funny YouTube videos in Latin, or if I could hear Latin-speaking immigrants in the local coffeeshops/university campuses/grocery stores.

I agree with the concept expressed in this thread--nothing can last forever, at least at a high intensity. I am likewise plotting, in the near term, to take back a large chunk of my time from Chinese study. I can relate to people who just want to be finished. It's been fun, though.

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On 9/6/2022 at 4:27 PM, abcdefg said:

I never wanted to be a Chinese scholar. I just wanted to learn the language to get more out of travel in China. That eventually shifted into living there. Better living required language proficiency. To have fuller access to "the good stuff" and a richer understanding of life there, to be able to more easily make friends. To get off the tourist path and onto the native path. That was about twelve years ago. Now that I can no longer return to China, my interest in the language is tapering off.

 

I really relate with this. I'd started a "minor" program in Chinese when I was in college, and got an excellent offer to study as a funded international student in Hong Kong for a graduate program after that. That was right in the midst of the last recession, and I thought "holy crap, no way I can turn that down!" and glad I didn't. But it did put me on a weird path where Chinese was becoming more of a vocation than one of many interests. And I understand why, because at the time, I didn't know what I was doing anyway, or what my future employment would look like. Chinese seemed like it was revealing itself as my true purpose. 

 

But 2 years in, after extensive study and travel, I felt like I needed a break. There was no pandemic sending me home, I was just ready. I loved being in HK, but I hated being so far from family. I thought I would spend a year home, and then go back. I did go home, found a job, got married, bought a house, became a parent, etc... And so on. 

 

I never really moved on from feeling like Chinese was a "vocation". All that time it stayed in the back of my mind, "gotta work on this so I can 'do something' with it one day!". But I think I've finally figured it out now. It's just a hobby, a cool one, but one of many, and it should be enjoyable. There's no need to go slower or faster than I'd find enjoyable. There's no need to set goals, unless that makes it more fun. And hey, maybe I will one day 'do something!' with it. But for now, and maybe, forever, it's just about enrichment. 

 

 

 

anyway... curious about @matteoas well. How are you doing? What have you decided? 

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On 10/20/2022 at 6:50 AM, matteo said:

All of a sudden I had heaps of time for relaxing, chilling with family, drinking beers, going to the gym.

 

Why does Chinese keep you from going to the gym? I go to the gym as an excuse to watch and listen to Chinese content on Youtube for an hour without other distractions :)

 

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On 10/20/2022 at 1:17 PM, Jan Finster said:

I go to the gym as an excuse to watch and listen to Chinese content on Youtube for an hour without other distractions :)

 

I can't do it.  I can barely motivate myself to stick to my gym routine, if I added language practice as well, I'd probably do less of each.  I have watch my favorite shows in order to motivate myself to exercise. 

 

I have better luck trying to do minor chores, like washing dishes, and listening to (interesting) Chinese content at the same time.  I've been able to do that on occasion, but haven't made it a habit.  I hate washing dishes but it's completely mindless, so it's an ok match.

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As with the above post, I'm a terrible multitasker. I've tried but felt like I was just doing a half-assed job at both. One thing my own "break" has helped with is reprioritizing Chinese, instead of holding it above everything else (like other social relationships, physical health, etc), I've prioritized family, work, health, and friends first, and now I'm starting to see where I might be able to work some Chinese in.

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