When you learn a new language, you automatically think you know everything about the country and the people – what naivety. You cannot help it. The prejudices mislead us. As soon as you are actually in China, there comes the rude awakening. Dialects, strange eating habits, unknown shops and other behaviors strike us only so against. This excessive demand often leads to looking intensely forward to the up-coming departure and putting further travelling plans right out of the mind for the next few months.
Learning Chinese is incomparable with other languages. When you use a vocabulary book you usually have two columns. The words in the foreign language are on the left and the words in the native language are on the right side. In Chinese, you have three columns. First, the Chinese characters, which are partially composed of radicals, in the second column the phonetic spelling also called Pinyin, which shows how the characters are pronounced. In the third column the translation. So far so good. How do I learn this with file cards? Do I write the phonetic spelling on the side of the Chinese character or on the translation? Do I first learn the radicals? Do I first learn pinyin? Do I first learn to speak and then to read? Does it make sense to learn the writing? How do I learn how to write pinyin or the characters? How should I ever be able to remember the characters? How do I crack the system?
After one year I still haven’t figured out how to crack the system. Often, after attending my weekly Chinese courses I am so depressed that I feel like letting go of this keen and witty games and decide to look for another rather dull hobby like e.g. shopping. If I did not feel that shopping was so lowbrow, I would seriously think about changing the hobby. Moreover, shopping means spending money, buying things that you don’t wear. After months in the back corner of your wardrobe you find the bought stuff again – often with receipt. A very nice reminder of how much money you have thrown away.
After the Chinese lessons and a further daily embarrassment, the thoughts and future plans of making the whole crap easy and replacing this hobby with watching TV and hanging around, are shattered by a sudden burst of motivation. The next few days you spend with buying books and learning materials that you will rather thumb through instead of working through and looking at instead of reading the Chinese characters. You amass these materials insatiably, buying them in duplicate and triplicate. Hey, another publisher, everything is better structured and easy to understand, now I can learn more efficiently, I think in the bookstore at the point of sale. My Spanish learning books are the best example:I own 3 of them with advanced vocabulary, 10 text books, a dictionary with images, 3 conjugation books, countless exercise books, novels with vocabulary, novels without vocabulary. Nevertheless, I’ve still been hanging around for years at more or less the same language level.
And yet I just do not learn from it and I start with this ungrateful habits again in Chinese. Within one year of learning, I have accumulated 4 books with CDs, 4 exercise books, a reading book and countless vocabulary lists. Recently, two posters of vocabulary are hanging on my office wall, so I’ll be forced to face it while I’m working, constantly being remembered that the weekly Chinese courses are approaching again.
While I struggle to hang on in Chinese and achieve my goal HSK 3 in half a year, I repress the question of why. Repressing is good, it’s easy and if you are not reminded, you almost forget it by yourself. Almost.
Then at the latest the subconscious pipes up or the friends and colleagues who wonder why you learn Chinese. That the posters hang on my wall have not missed out on my colleagues and that I’ve never got time has not missed out on my friends. The Top 3 questions follow immediately: Why do you learn Chinese? Would you like to go to China? You don’t need Chinese in your job, do you? In order to cover up my reasons, which I do not know for myself, I have set myself a strategy: the answer shortage strategy. That means: Answer as short as possible, so that they are satisfied and you do not have to think up any further justifications. “Why do you learn Chinese?” – “Just for fun”. “Would you like to go to China?” – “Not really, but maybe I’ll go there one day.” “You don’t need Chinese in your job, do you? – “No, but who knows, maybe I will need it in five years. Gotcha! I admit that I hope for a better job and career opportunities through Chinese, maybe not immediately, but eventually.
The truth? Chinese is without question a world language. Over 1.3 billion people live in China. The Chinese economy is booming. However, Chinese has never been my passion.I have always preferred to learn other languages first. It is not among my top 3 travel destinations. I do not feel attracted to Chinese men. I think, that I would be overstrained with the culture. I prefer other asian food. I do not watch Chinese movies. I know nothing about Chinese art. I do not know anything about the Great Wall of China (except that it exists). Therefore, my interest in China is low.
And yet there is one explanation that outweighs all of my mentioned reasons: the Chinese language is a challenge. I neither study Chinese for career reasons, nor because it’s my hobby. But because this strange, complicated and unknown language motivates me to go beyond my limits. It dares me to master this challenge. Language is power. Going to a foreign country and being able to communicate shows respect towards a culture. I cannot stop to attend my Chinese classes, because that would mean I give up and fail. I hate failing. I hate failing more than lagging behind.
I need the weekly “kicks in the butt” to stay motivated and to continue working for my goals. It’s just something I have to do.Success begins in your head. Save it there as a motivation. Who does not use poorly made motivational quotes for a temporary enthusiasm. Quotes are practical. Quotes motivate without actually doing anything. Improvement means work. So rather going to bed earlier after all.