Learning Chinese has changed my life.
The passion has taken me out of an environment where I had a computer games addiction and has brought me to interesting places in China, Taiwan and University Leipzig.
My new life started 2015 when I bought my first textbook. I usually enjoy learning a lot, even though it takes a lot of discipline.
I didn’t stop learning for more than three years and hope to learn for at least three more in universities and abroad.
In my year in Taiwan it was what I did most of the time.
What is it, that makes me want to sit in class rooms, coffees and at home, spending years looking at those funny looking characters and trying to listen to a language that has five tones?
Chinese is my subject where I feel personal growth. With its depth in history, it is a very interesting one. It may be useful for my career, but that’s not the main reason.
Everyone’s personal story is a bid different.
Here I share my own, and if you learn Chinese as well, your story is a different one, but the reasons might be similar.
My learning journey began at my hometown Hamburg in Germany, just with a text book and a tandem partner. Half a year later, I found myself in a two-year Chinese course at Leipzig University. I wrote this article in Taiwan where I visited the Mandarin Training Center where I stayed for a year. I edited this text back in Hamburg for this new blog.
I have not always been a passionate language learner. At middle school, I have been told that I have got lots of problems with my English pronunciation. That influenced me and because I trusted my parents advice, I chose to take Latin courses instead of Spanish because with Latin there is no room to make mistakes in pronunciation, right?
Well, ten years passed since then and now I think that I made the wrong choice. I mean, I don’t regret that I have learned it at all but I prefer to be able to speak Spanish now rather than being able to “speak” Latin.
More importantly, I kept my limiting belief, that I would not be a good language learner for quite some years and so, for that time I didn’t think about learning a new language.
When I got addicted to traveling, my wish to learn foreign languages awoke again.
Learning foreign languages can be so much fun, if one knows how to learn!
The 4 hour work week guy Tim Ferris and the polyglot Benny Lewis have inspired me that learning languages is not necessarily as hard as it sometimes feels at school.
Reason number one: Sense of achievement
I love those moments when I push my limits, as I am doing when learning Chinese. Especially in the beginning, there are those moments of success, when I apply a simple sentence structure and a Chinese speaker understands me.
For example, in my first few months of my “journey” to learn Chinese at home, I worked at a breakfast service in a hotel. Sometimes there were Chinese guests and I was hesitant to talk to them in Chinese, because I represent my Hotel…
But I really wanted to!
So, when I was sure that they really spoke Chinese I said the most basic things, like “What do you want to drink?” – 你想喝什麽？ and “Where in China do you come from?” – 你在中國哪裏？
The Chinese people I met appreciated my effort to learn their language and that felt good.
Before I started my studies, I played way too much computer games. On some days I did not really do anything else than playing my favorite game League of Legends!
Especially on these days, I realized how good it feels to still do something I consider to be useful.
Number two: Learning is just interesting!
My father often told me, “whatever you do, at some point it gets interesting, when you understand more and more. He said this with a background in as a doctor and passionate scientist and I can confirm for myself that this definitely holds true for learning new languages as well!
Chinese characters often reveal clues about their culture, history or pronunciation.
After some time, I became fascinated by some really nerdy details, for example there are characters which have been forbidden because they are part of the real name of Chinese emperors.
With this knowledge, you can figure out dates of old texts a little bit better. I don’t know if you care about that and in the beginning I certainly was not interested into anything related to classical Chinese but now I think this is amazingly cool!
Learning a foreign language makes stimulates my curiosity to get to know the country behind it even more.
For example, in my first half a year learning Chinese at home, I read five books about China. I reached that relatively high number because I had got a lot of time and no pressure. In contrast to a more forceful environment like at school, I was free to choose reading or not, and I did.
There was a synergy between learning Chinese, learning about China and having exchanges with my language partner. I ended up backpacking a month in China just before my sinology studies began which I decided to enroll in during this six-month learning process.
Number three: Foreign language skills enable deeper understanding about the country
In my Sinology-course at University, we must learn Chinese. This is one of the key competences.
Of course, it is possible to learn from other cultures without knowledge of their language but how much bigger may the understanding be?
For example, Chinese characters sometimes give clues how they are meant to be understood. Look at the word “culture” – in English and German, this word has Latin roots from the word “colere” – and means foster, inhabit, or cultivate. This etymological association is closer to agriculture but for Chinese it’s a completely different story.
The Chinese translation is „文化“, wén huà. The first component meant in ancient times something like letters, writing, literature, literacy, depending on the context.
化“, huà means development or something like transformation.
It is too easy to interpret too much into the letters, but it is fair to say that the conception of culture is quite different to that of English and German.
Learning foreign languages even makes traveling way more interesting. Understanding what people say in their native language enables meeting more people, to travel without relying on google maps, to understand explanations and their sense of humor
Reason number four: Advantages in the future!
Above all that, foreign language skills can be very useful for some jobs. Maybe my Chinese skills will enable me to get an exciting job but that is definitely not the reason why I study.
At the Mandarin Training Center in Taipei, I attended a lecture at my National Taiwan Normal University given by Professor Lloyd, an American-born Dutch Sinologist who mastered Chinese to say the least. He gave a clear message to his students which he picked up when he was studying at Harvard. The ones who are passionate to learn Chinese are the ones who are way more likely to stick to the process.
If you learn a foreign language, you can find out your own reasons.
Motivational scientist divide motivation into extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is related to motives such as money, marks, or avoiding punishment. In that case, the action itself is not as important as the result you hope to get or avoid.
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from within. In that case you enjoy the action in itself, without a reward from the outside. In the past, I was intrinsically motivated to play computer games, and now I am intrinsic motivated to learn Chinese, among other things.
I think, even if there is an environment which gives you the right amount of pressure like a language course or school, there is a way to find intrinsic motivation. This motivation, wherever it comes from, is what I wish for you, my friend.
Rage against the Machine, Guerilla Radio
„It has to start some place.
It has to start some time.
What better place than here?
What better time than now?“
Do you also learn a foreign language, or do
you want to learn a new one?
What motivated you?
Do you have got any questions about language learning or motivation?
Any comments, feedback, or wishes, for example what you would like to read on Sinologiestudent.de are highly welcomed! This blog is quite new I am very grateful for comments, subscriptions, suggestions and any help in sharing the content!
So, if you know a friend who might benefit from this article, I would be very grateful if you could share this.