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Biggest Mistakes – Why most people can’t learn Chinese

Posted by Grace Feng on December 12, 2015

This is a guest post by Sia Mohajer, the owner of learnmandarintoday.com. He will share with you the common mistakes that he had experienced learning Chinese and give his advice on how to overcome them. It’s an interesting read and I can’t help trying myself with his friend’s trick, the trick to deal with unknown tones: say everything as fast as you could using only the fourth tone. At least that works for my ears. :-) I also like his suggestion on “exaggerated pronunciation practice”, I’ll give two thumbs up to that brilliant idea. After all, discipline and determination are what really count in the end, I do admire Sia for having both and also being able to inspire others.

 

Author: Sia Mohajer

Mistakes are important. Very important. Making them isn’t enough, you need to learn from them. However, us humans have a huge-vested interest in not acknowledging our mistakes and consequently – not improving as fast as possible.

When it comes to language learning, mistakes offer a uniquely rich opportunity; each one is a chance to take your Mandarin to the next level. If you leverage all your mistakes I promise you can seriously accelerate your Mandarin learning.

Today I’m going to share with you some of the biggest mistakes people commonly make. I’ve seen this in my own Mandarin learning over the past seven years and also from countless others.

Forgetting the Importance of Tones

This is a big one. Chinese is a tonal language and if you mess up the tone, you may sound like you’re saying an entirely different word. If you aren’t aware of what tone you are saying, you really don’t know what you’re saying.

I see my coworkers and fellow Chinese learners encountering this problem often. They will attempt to say a word but are clearly saying the wrong tone. They have not conditioned their hearing to the point where they can distinguish the differences and may begin to argue with the native speaker, “but I said 上 shàng not 像 xiàng ”.

Another important mental habit to get yourself into is asking yourself, “Do I know ALL the tones for what I just said or want to say?” If you keep asking yourself this question, you will not allow any words to pass by without recognizing the tone.

I had a good friend of mine who used to jokingly say when he didn’t know the tone. He would just say everything as fast as he could using only the fourth tone.

Third and Fourth Tone

This took me three months to get the difference between a native speaker saying a third and fourth tone. The difference is fast and subtle, but extremely important.

The best way to build the listening skills necessary for this is to drill it. You can try a few different methods that I have found very useful.

  • Have someone say a word individually, and you say if its third or fourth tone.
  • Switch between saying the tones aloud.
  • Actively listen for it when others speak to build that auditory-perception skill.

 

Not Exaggerating

If you have children or teach elementary school children, you know how annoying children’s TV shows can be. They speak as if they are speaking to viewers who are developmentally delayed and each word and syllable is exaggerated almost to the point of being funny. If you spoke to an adult like this, he or she wouldn’t be too happy.

As painful as this may be, exaggerating pronunciation works. The ability to parse long strings of syllables and words into small, almost separate but overly exaggerated parts, allows you to condition the small muscles of your mouth and train your tongue to be able to enunciate every syllable of speech clearly.
The mistake I see many Chinese learners make is they just learn a word or attempt to read at the same speed with which they speak their native language. Big mistake. Maybe later, but definitely not when you start.

If you practice exaggerated pronunciation for only five to ten minutes a day, it will really help your overall pronunciation and fluency.

 

Not Practicing Enough

If there were commandments to studying Chinese, this would definitely be up there as number one. Practice really does make perfect. It seems slightly redundant here to be repeating this, but I feel I need to re-stress it.

The time invested into any hobby, whether it is Chinese or curling, isn’t so much a function of the total amount of hours but rather the amount of hours multiplied by the intent and focus behind each hour. The quality is REALLY what makes it count. Putting hundreds of QUALITY hours into anything will allow you to excel insanely quickly. So quickly that others will think you had some sort of magic formula that they will want you to share with them.

This is what my friends and coworkers thought of my Chinese language learning. How did you do it? Wow, it is amazing how fast you learned Chinese! For me, it was about a keen focus and determination that allowed me to put in quality hour after quality hour. You may be thinking how can I stay focused for so long and not space out, procrastinate or just simply put off my Chinese learning until a later time. It’s simple.

 

You Can’t Succeed Without Great Habits

Think of diets. Most of them fail miserably. Why? Simply because it is difficult to plan your meals and workouts if you have a job, children or a life. The same goes with language learning. Instead, focus on daily habits that you MUST do every day, like walking, going to work, coming home or watching TV.

Stack your study habits onto daily activities and you have the recipe for learning Chinese in ten different ways, every day. You will be successful. Don’t stop at just Chinese, the same goes for anything you are attempting to learn. For me, this is the pathway for supercharged learning.

For example – walking time = Flashcard review

Taking public transportation time = Listening to Chinese Podcasts

These are just a few of the more common mistakes I see people making almost every day when it comes to learning Chinese. Don’t be one of these people!
Remember to acknowledge the areas you are lacking and focus on the topics I explained today.

  • Don’t forget tones.
  • 3rd and 4th tones are important.
  • Not exaggerating.
  • Not practicing enough.
  • Not making awesome daily habits.

I hope this post has been useful and if you want more info/strategies on how to learn Mandarin, head over to my site at www.learnmandarintoday.com. Thanks!

 

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3 Responses to “Biggest Mistakes – Why most people can’t learn Chinese”

  1. nothing

    Kyle:

    02-03-2016 7:32 pm

    Maybe this is a personal one for me but I think that a huge mistake a lot of people make is rushing into the Chinese characters.
    Trying to deal with i) pronunciation ii) tones and iii) the characters all at the same time (in week 1!) makes starting out in Chinese really difficult. Much more difficult than it needs to be for sure!

    By taking the foundational steps a little slower, nailing down pronunciation/tones and getting a little but of spoken Chinese under your belt first it’s much easier to pass through the first few weeks of Chinese. THEN it makes sense to start overlaying the characters.

    Otherwise the first few weeks are taken up with handwriting 你好 and 我很好 over and over by hand! Not very fun and that’s time that could be better spent practicing speaking and getting a feel for the language.

    Just my two cents though! Interested to hear what others think about this. I’ve written (quite extensively!) about this in this page: https://sensiblechinese.com/how-to-learn-chinese-characters/

    Cheers

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      02-09-2016 3:28 am

      Hi Kyle, thanks for sharing your experience on the order of learning as a starter. I totally agree with you on picking up character learning later. Diving into it at the very beginning easily leads to frustration.

      Your site is lovely, thanks for sharing. :-)

      Grace

      Reply

  2. nothing

    有田笔记:

    03-14-2016 9:34 am

    中文真的这么难学吗?
    suffer chinese websites is a quit good way to learn chinese
    my site is http://www.shengliyoutian.com can we chang a links

    Reply

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