- The good news is you are about to discover something really interesting about yourself and your attitude to learning Mandarin.
- The bad news is that people simply cannot learn Mandarin in 6 months.
Three Types of Reader
1. Already fluent in Chinese (or at least on the way there)
You probably surfed over here to give me a piece of your mind! You were going to tell me that it's impossible, that I was misleading people, and that you were going to be unsubscribing from my blog.
Don't worry, I agree with you. I already commented on someone else's blog to this effect, and they were only promising native-level speaking in a year. On 10 minutes a day!
2. Still learning, probably still struggling
You're making progress, but not as fast as you'd like. You probably came here to learn something - just in case you were missing a trick. You know it's hard to learn Chinese, but if maybe there was something you could do to speed things ...
3. Not yet started (or only just begun)
Perhaps you're still a bit naive about how much effort it will take to learn Chinese. That's not a bad thing - I think we all have misconceptions about the challenges your journey will offer. You came here because you're keen to learn Chinese, and a 6 month time investment is about what you're prepared to put in.
The Truth about learning Chinese
The reality is you can't learn to be fluent in Chinese as quickly as six months. You can make good progress though, and have basic conversations, but you won't be fluent. And of course there's reading & writing, which is another challenge altogether!
(I'm ignoring the statistical anomalies of a person who moves to China, and spends 6 months, morning until night, learning Chinese. If you are that person, then this post isn't for you :-)
There were two things that got me thinking about this:
- I was listening to music using the Spotify app, and randomly typed 'mandarin' into the search bar. One of the items which came up was a track which claimed to feed you subliminal messages which would allow you learn Chinese. Honestly.
- Also, there has been lots said about the Heisig method of learning to read & write Chinese. This is an impressive method, and I've learned (with 90%+ recall) about 850 characters in the last 40 days. Heisig's book certainly offers a short-cut, but lots of work is still involved ... it's no miracle
Ultimately, it's about learning a skill that you will use forever. So does it really make a difference if it takes 6 months, or 6 years? You will be progressing all the time - it's not even clear to me what I mean by "take x years" ... after all, how will I know when I get there? And will I really be much worse 3 months before I get to there.
Efficiency in your efforts
Of course, you can waste time while you're on the way to fluency. I've done a bit of a brain dump of things that are "smart" - but would love to get your comments below on what you have found.
- Don't waste time. Listen to podcasts while travelling to & from work or school. And while getting dressed in the morning.
- Don't waste space. Maybe you could label your furniture around your house in Chinese. Even if you don't try, it's going to go into your brain.
- Wordpacks. I've made some suggestions how I learn vocab which gives you more bang for your buck. You can see all related posts here.
- If you're learning to read or write Chinese, the Heisig approach listed above is a great time-saver. Here was my latest post on the topic when I wrote this.
- Change direction. If you're tired of listening to podcasts, then learn to read some more characters. If your head is full from that, read a blog or two about learning Chinese.
- Listen to Mandarin music - traditional or pop. I am currently listening to Wong Faye.
So do something. How far can you get in the next 6 months?
I'd love to hear from you - leave a comment below. Please.