Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Learning in class

Image source: sxc.hu/profile/cobrasoft

Image source: sxc.hu/profile/cobrasoft

Contrary to most hip language learning bloggers out there, I don’t think that learning languages in class sucks. Sure, if that’s the only thing you’re doing, you won’t learn very much (depending on the institution, of course), but with the right attitude, formal education still has a lot to offer.

To start with, classes offer you structure and guidance. This is a double-edged sword. If you think that this means that you can relax and enjoy the ride, you’re wrong, but if you see the teacher and lessons as a resource among other resources, then they are truly useful. If you’re enrolled in a language program, there are three things you need to ask yourself:

  1. What do I want to learn which is not tested by this school?
  2. What do I want to learn that is not emphasised in this school?
  3. What does this school teach that I don’t want to learn?

If you want to learn native-like pronunciation, you can’t take a conversation class with 25 foreigners, you need individual tutoring. Attending class might still give you useful theory and other insights, but it won’t be enough. If you don’t care about writing Chinese by hand, but your teacher gives you tests with handwriting twice a week, you need to figure out what do about this, otherwise you’ll end up wasting hours learning something which doesn’t bring you closer to your goals. You need to understand the importance of counting what counts

This all boils down to comparing your own goals for learning Chinese with the goals (curriculum, examination) of the school you’re attending. They will never match perfectly, sometimes there are huge differences. In general, if you’re enrolled in a language program, you need to be clear about what you want to learn, what the program will teach you and how you will handle the difference between the two.

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