Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Goals and motivation for learning Chinese, part 2 – Long-term goals

This post is about long-term goals. To see the introductory article about goals and motivation in general, please follow this link.

Long-term goals

Let’s start from the beginning, let’s answer the basic question: What’s your long term goal? What’s your final destination, so to speak? I can hear lots of “I want to learn Chinese!” when I ask this question (I’m not sure about you of course, but this is a common reply from real students).

Stop, right there!

What do you mean when you say “I want to learn Chinese”? Before you say anything, I’ll list a few goals that I know many people have.

  • Be able to chat with my Chinese friend
  • Understand a film in Chinese
  • Be able to do business in China
  • Be able to read The Journey to the West in Chinese
  • Teach Chinese in your country
  • Pass the highest level HSK exam
  • Pass a university course taught in Chinese

I think these are all reasonable interpretations of what “I want to learn Chinese” means, and they may all be right for different people! As you can see, these goals are wildly different. It might take a thousand times longer to achieve the proficiency needed for the last goal compared to the first, for instance. And no, that’s not an exaggeration.

If you want to read classical Chinese or pass a written exam, you don’t need to care very much about pronunciation, but that becomes extremely important if you plan on teaching Chinese in the future. Handwriting isn’t necessary if you want to be able to talk with Chinese people while travelling in China, slang is useless if you want to read history books. And so on.

To be honest, we already know that you want to learn Chinese, so let’s break it down a little bit, shall we?

Start with the list of motivations you should have made after reading this post and think what kind of long-term goals are related to what you’ve already written down. Sometimes, the motivations and the goals will be almost identical, sometimes not. What you want to achieve is of paramount importance, so don’t just jot something down quickly and leave it like that. Think carefully, discuss it with a friend, take a walk.

What long-term goals do you have? What is long-term, you might ask? I would say anything that takes more than a couple of months can be said to be long-term, but the time might stretch up to a lifetime. This means that you can and should have more than one long-term goal.

For instance, I had these long-term goals when I started learning Chinese:

  • Explore Chinese enough to know if it’s worth continuing with
  • Pass all courses and learn the material, not just pass the tests

These goals are modest enough and reasonable for a person who has never studied Chinese before. My course stretched over two semesters, so as soon as I knew that I wanted to learn Chinese properly, I formulated some new goals:

  • Be able to function socially with Chinese-speaking people
  • Be able to read a novel
  • Pass a university course taught in Chinese

As you can see, these goals are on different levels again, but they are still long-term. To pass the university course, I definitely need a reading ability that enables me not only read a novel, but read it quickly. However, even if you can survive a university course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can socialise in a relaxed manner with natives, because the skills involved are very different. Also note that long-term goals can change faster than they are achieved. Just because you have set a long-term goal doesn’t mean it will be there until it’s reached. Goals need to change according to your life, general situation and motivation for learning Chinese.

Look at what you have written so far and try to break it down further. You don’t have to remove anything, but if you think it will take years to achieve your long-term goal, you definitely need more easily attained milestones. For instance, if your taking a course, formulate a couple of goals that describe what you want to have achieved at the end of the semester.

Analysing long-term goals

I tend to separate my learning into the five areas of speaking, listening, reading, writing and vocabulary (as I have done on this website as well, see the menu to the right), not because they are entirely separate areas, but because it’s easier to handle that way. It also helps you to analyse your goals and see how to accomplish them.

When you go through your long-term goals, please have this in mind. How much do you need to focus on speaking, listening, reading and writing respectively to achieve your gaols? This question is very hard to answer, but asking more advanced learners or teachers is a good idea. For instance, is reading more important than listening if you want to pass a certain exam? Is writing really necessary if you only want to chat with friends?  Do you need to spend time polishing your pronunciation or not?

Go to the next article about short-term goals.

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