When learning Chinese Grammar, less can be more

There is always a grammar section included in each lesson in traditional Chinese textbooks. Each section presents a long list of grammar points and followed by simple drills. 

Students are asked to study each point and complete the exercises.

There are also grammar books that follow a similar pattern, each grammar point followed by simple drills.

This way of learning Chinese grammar is time consuming and it does not produce the best learning results.

The limitations of unlimited grammar points

I’ve seen many such Chinese textbooks. 

On average, there are ten grammar points per lesson and twenty to thirty lessons per book.

That means that the total number of grammar points which students have to learn per book is around 200 to 300. 

Everything must be talked about. Everything presented is equally important. The number of grammar points is only limited by the thickness of the Chinese book. 

There are also grammar books dedicated to Chinese grammars. Sometimes, grammar books come in volumes. The number of grammar students have to learn is massive.

However, with the number so great, explanations so fastidious, these grammar points become useless as a practical guide. They will actively harm students’ learning process.

To make the situation worse, these grammar points tend to follow Latin grammatical concepts, which do not work well with Chinese. 

Chinese Grammar

Learning grammar at the expense of genuine communications

Learning hundreds of grammar points requires lot of time from students. And the simple repetitive format makes learning them dull and painful.

Also, when students are fully occupied by hundreds of grammar points and thousands of grammar exercises, they do not have time for genuine communications. Consequently, they rarely have opportunities to use Chinese to express themselves or to have a natural conversation. 

There is a big difference between grammar exercises and real communications, either verbally or in writing.

When doing grammar exercises, each one has only one correct answer. Failing to get the correct answer is considered unacceptable. 

When having a real life conversation, people are more tolerant of mistakes and ambiguity. 

Chinese is a living language. 

According to Philip Collins, in his To Be Clear, he wrote “a living language changes in the mouths of its speakers. Everyone who speaks a language is simultaneously writing its dictionary.”

Genuine communications are more important. Clarity and brevity are more important. Don’t sacrifice them for the sake of learning more grammar points or doing more grammar exercises.

Ways to deal with hundreds of Chinese grammar points

If you are learning such a Chinese textbook, I recommend you to do the following:

  1. Ignore them all if possible.
  2. If you can not ignore all of them, pick 2 - 3 points per lesson and study them. 

If you opt for the second option, do the following:

  • Pick the ones that teach sentence structures, which orchestrate words into coherent Chinese.
  • Learn practical word usages in Chinese, such as the difference between and .
  • Ignore the rest.

Also, there is absolutely no need to worry about “adjective”, “adverb”, “verb”, or “noun”, as in Chinese, a noun can be an adjective, and an adjective can become a verb.

When learning Chinese grammar, less can be more.


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