Lately, the internet has been buzzing with discussions about learning Chinese quickly (in three months, to be more precise). This is obviously not the first time people have been discussing learning languages quickly, and each time the discussion starts, someone asks a question which might seem stupid to some people, but which still is a genuine and legitimate question:
Why do we want to learn a language quickly anyway?
I always stress that our main motivation for learning (at least in the short-term) should be pleasure. We should strive to find ways of studying we thoroughly enjoy, because only then will we be able to spend enough time to reach our long-term goals. Also, leading this kind of life is far more enjoyable than cramming in things you don’t really enjoy.
Image credit: world.werner-kunz.comEnjoying is learning.
So, if the goal is to enjoy ourselves, why is it important to learn a language quickly? Well, we might have extrinsic reasons for wanting to learn the language. Perhaps we want to be able to communicate with Chinese-speaking people where we live, or we plan to find a job where proficiency in Chinese is necessary. In this case, the quicker we learn Chinese, the better.
The quicker the better? Really?
Writing the last sentence of the previous paragraph, I felt bad. Having that kind of attitude towards language learning is counter-productive and harmful to any kind of long-term learning. We might be able to force ourselves to reach limited success in learning a language, but if we hope to master Chinese, we really have to like what we’re doing.
Still, these are real questions and not everyone has the same idealistic approach to language learning. There is a way to reconcile these two standpoints, which involves stopping using the work “quick” and start using the word “efficient” instead.
Learn Chinese efficiently
Hacking Chinese is about learning Chinese efficiently (this is indeed the core of language hacking). The definition of efficient is that you gain a lot per unit of time. The goal of learning languages efficiently is something I think we all share, even though we may have different ideas about what is efficient. Who want to spend twice the time to learn the same number of characters, for instance? On this website, I mainly write about how to make the most of your studies, how to overcome problems and save time. I write about efficiency, not speed.
Not an arbitrary difference
But wait, isn’t this just a different way of saying the same thing? Is there really a difference between efficient learning and quick learning? Yes, I think there is, and it’s far from arbitrary. Here’s why “efficient” is a much better word than “quick”:
- Efficient emphasises on solid learning for the long term, quick is more about shortcuts that might actually come back to haunt you later
- Efficient is desirable for every single learner out there, including those who study part time in their home country; quick mostly applies to people immersed in the environment with strong external goals
- Efficient is a wider concept that includes learning finer nuances, whereas quick smacks of sloppiness
- Efficient focuses on the road, quick mostly on the destination (or the time it takes to get there)
- Efficient is useful for those who desire speed, but quick is not necessarily helpful for those who strive for efficiency
Let me finish by highlighting the last of the points above. Note that the methods that can be used to learn Chinese efficiently are in essence the same as those that can be employed to learn the language quickly. This means that most of the things I’ve written are helpful for anyone, regardless of why you want to learn or what your goals are. Put simply, learning efficiently is always good, whereas learning quickly isn’t necessarily always a a good thing. My wish is that people stop staring blindly at speed and start focusing on efficiency instead, because after all learning Chinese quickly is just a matter of doing it efficiently, combined with investing lots of time.
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I've been learning and teaching Chinese for more than a decade. My goal is to help you find a way of learning that works for you. Sign up to my newsletter for a 7-day crash course in how to learn, as well as weekly ideas for how to improve your learning!