The most important factor in the success of learning Chinese

In the movie Matrix, people can learn a new skill in a few seconds. Whether it is martial art or piloting a helicopter, just load it up to the brain. Outside of the movie world, learning a new skill means that we have to clock in enough hours and to do enough exercises. Learning Chinese is no exception. 

Everybody knows that Chinese is a difficult language. But that did not stop people from coming up something that will make learning Chinese easy. 

What if there is indeed one thing that will guarantee the success of learning Chinese, what would that be? Many people would say, half jokingly, that: (1) being super smart; (2) having a Chinese girlfriend. 

We all know that it is not true. This most important thing for the success of learning Chinese is actually something very simple, really a cliche. It is being persistent.

Below are three stories of people who started to learn Chinese. Each one has some advantages. The first man is very smart. The second one has a Chinese girlfriend. The third one is persistent. 

You’ve probably guessed the ending.

The smart one

Everything comes easily to this smart man. All the numerous rules of Chinese grammar, all the new words, and strange Chinese sounds, nothing is difficult.  

At the start of his Chinese class, his performance is spectacular. 

He has native-like pronunciation, mastering the tough sounds, such as j, q, x, in a second. Chinese grammar is easy. His Chinese teacher teaches him more advanced grammar to test his boundaries. He understands it instantly and can make a few correct sentences. 

However, he is the first one to drop out of his Chinese class. 

He performs well in the class but hardly spends anytime outside of the classroom studying. Although he can understand and comprehend quickly, but without consistent of practice, Chinese has never become part of his habits. 

Other project soon replaces learning Chinese.

The one with a Chinese girlfriend

He is surrounded by Chinese people, his girlfriend and her friends and families. They are all very willing to help him learn Chinese. 

When they know that he learns to use “你好吗 (ni hao ma)?”, they are happy to explain several other ways of greeting. They tell him that nobody says “ni hao ma” to friends or families. They are also keen to correct his pronunciation and the tones, trying to help him sound better. 

He is overwhelmed by all the teaching and constant corrections, and he eventually quits his Chinese class.

Having many Chinese friends to talk to is great for higher level students, but disastrous for lower level students, because many people don’t know how to help.

The persistent one

The third man has an average IQ and he is living in an environment where not many Chinese people are around. 

In his Chinese class, there are things he understands well, and things not so well. After class, he finds time to review past lessons, to do homework, to listen to the recordings, or to spend a few minutes on vocabulary. 

There are times he isn’t very much in the mood to study Chinese, and there are times he is distracted by other things. Fortunately, he always manages to get back to his Chinese lessons and books. 

He carries on. 

After finishing the first introductory Chinese course, he signs up for the next. A year later, he can use Chinese to exchange ideas with his Chinese teacher and with other students. 

When he finally has a trip to China, he finds that he can talk to most Chinese people. He does not understand one hundred percent of what Chinese people say, but he understands enough to get him around and to have a good time.  

He considers his time spent on learning Chinese is rewarded.

The moral of the story

These three stories tell us that the most important thing that guarantees the success of learning Chinese is being persistent. 

Brilliant brains have shortcomings. 

Helpful friends can make matters worse. 

Only persistence always produces great learning results.


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April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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