Mandarin learning anxieties

Learning Mandarin ought to be exciting and fun. Unfortunately, anxieties creep in constantly. 

To cope with learning anxieties is to develop a healthy mindset. And recognising some factors that cause anxieties helps a lot.

Here I identify a few of them.

Self-consciousness

Some students are reluctant to speak Mandarin in front of others. They are very self-conscious and are terrified at any possible mistakes. Some difficult Mandarin pronunciations, such as “qu”, “si”, do not make it easy for them. It is even worse if they are over concerned with the four tones.

Mandarin learning anxiety

Quite often, mistakes cause anxieties, and anxieties cause more mistakes.

Instead of having fun and an exciting learning experience, learning Mandarin generates a lot of anxieties. 

This self-consciousness is often a personal trait.

To overcome this self-consciousness, students need to know that, when learning Mandarin, mistakes are inevitable and they learn how to deal with mistakes. 

Also, practice when nobody is around is a good alternative. Speak Mandarin in front of mirrors, speak Mandarin before bed, or speak Mandarin while in bathrooms. Basically, practice speaking Mandarin alone. With sufficient practice, speaking Mandarin with people will become easier.

Teacher-induced anxiety

Another type of learning anxiety is caused by Chinese teachers.

When students first sign up for a Mandarin class, they do not have any anxieties. They are curious. Anxieties are often developed later, in classrooms. 

The culprit is very likely to be a Chinese teacher.

There are Chinese teachers who love to demonstrate their perfect pronunciations and they are eager to correct their students. These teachers often make speaking with the right tones the top priority. 

However, since Mandarin sounds are truly unique and difficult, many students just can not get all the tones right instantly. For this reason, they get corrected over and over again. 

Constant correcting students causes huge psychological issues and make them believe that they are not talented enough to learn Mandarin. Vulnerable students can not help but thinking everybody is laughing at them.

One solution could be change a teacher or self-study Mandarin.

Self-studying Mandarin is a viable solution as there are abundant learning materials available nowadays. 

Chinese tests

Tests in general cause great anxieties. 

Big tests, such as HSK, cause severer anxieties. Even students can take the same level of test again and again, that doesn’t not eliminate anxieties. It increases the level of anxieties in reality.

There are also tons of mini tests which have infiltrated into everyday learning. Many online learning platforms include a feature of tests. Students’ performances are recorded, calculated and aggregated to quantify their progress. 

I think this feature changes the purpose of the learning from enriching lives to answering questions. Why can’t they just let students enjoy a story without the pressure of answering questions?

One way to address the anxieties caused by tests is to think about the purpose of taking these tests. Is it really necessary to take them? 

If you’re not applying for a Chinese university, you really don’t need to take HSK. Then you can use more interesting textbooks, enjoy the learning experience more, and set up some of your own soft goals for learning. 

For online learning platforms, chose the ones that don’t test that much.

The two overlapping writing systems

Another type of anxiety is caused by the two overlapping Chinese writing systems, traditional Chinese characters and simplified ones. 

For most students, it is not a problem. They usually pick one system and stick to it until they are proficient, then they can adapt to the other without much difficulties. 

Unfortunately, there are some students who have to learn both systems at the same time. That is really stressful.

These students are university students who major in sinology, Chinese studies or translations.

Anxieties come in because these students have to study both writing systems, because they are forced to dig into both traditional and simplified Chinese texts and they have to roll out research papers if they want a place in the highly competitive academic world in the future. 

Their level of anxieties is way high. And I can’t think of a good way to help them out. They get caught in a bad system. 

The really sad part is that nobody is going to read their papers, for which they have paid a huge emotional price. 


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April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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