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Learning Chinese? Four signs for you to avoid bad experience

Learning Chinese is hard. But that is not the worst. 

The worst scenario is that, after you spending years of learning, you find out that you still can not understand those people who are sitting around you are talking about. 

Bill Bryson put this terrible experience nicely in his Neither Here Nor There. The difference was that he was talking about his French learning experience. 

His experience in Wallonia, France was like this:

“...... hardly anyone in Wallonia speaks English. I began to regret that I didn't understand French well enough to eavesdrop. I took three years of French in school, but learned next to nothing. The trouble was that the textbooks were so amazingly useless. ...... at no point did they intersect with the real world. ...... How often on a visit to France do you need to tell someone you want to clean a blackboard? How frequently do you wish to say, “It is winter. Soon it will be spring”? In my experience, people know this already.”

It was sad, but he made it hilarious. 

What Bill Bryson experienced is also happening to countless Chinese language learners.

If you’re leaning Chinese, the following are four early signs that tell you that you are heading down this direction. 

#1 Useless Chinese textbooks

The content of Chinese textbooks is so out of touch with reality is the number one sign.

Similar to Bryson’s French textbook, useless Chinese textbooks is also filled with useless sentences, such as, “clean a blackboard”, “this is a pencil”, or anything that comes to your mind.

Other boring content include biased opinions or propagandas.

This kind of textbooks are stale and mind-numbing.

#2 Rote memory is the only thing required

If it happens in a Chinese class that students are required mostly to memorise many new words, work on many grammar drills, and copy a Chinese character stroke by stroke, it is a bad sign. 

There is no time allocated for genuine conversations or no time to express your opinions. 

It definitely leads to a bad learning experience.

#3 “Right” tones are emphasised all the time

over correction of tones

You’re subjected to endless pronunciation drills and constant corrections of your tones.

You feel that you need it because you always get your tones wrong. 

The reality is that you can not accept yourself because you have an accent. 

This is the third sign, telling you you’re stressed out.

#4 Uninspiring teachers

Chinese teachers who are going through motions or who lack some essential teaching skills also contribute to bad learning experiences. (Read more here: The necessary Chinese teacher’s skill set)

In Bryson’s case, he did not say bad things about his French teacher. What he did say reveals that his teacher did not do anything about the useless textbooks, did not encourage students to communicate in French or inspire them to continue their study.

An uninspiring teacher is a terrible teacher. 

It is almost guaranteed that you’re wasting your time.

Take actions

Bland, boring and uninspiring Chinese classes lead to bad learning experience, which leads to a cynical view of learning Chinese.  

There are several things you can do, such as:

  • Try a different textbook
  • Join a Chinese learning community
  • Change to a different Chinese teacher
  • Self-study Chinese
  • Re-evaluate the goals you want to reach (I think it is the best to set soft goals.)

If you don’t do anything, you’ll be like Bryson, wondering how amazingly useless your whole Chinese learning experience is.