Learning Chinese through Setting Goals

Navigating the long road ahead

When I first came to Taiwan, I assumed I would pick up Chinese without much effort. After all, I was constantly exposed to it everywhere I went, so even if I didn’t want to, I would automatically learn, right?

A year later, feeling like I hadn’t learned much, I realized that things didn’t quite work this way. I actually had to put in effort to learn the language. To make things easier on myself, I decided to focus on listening and speaking only. Learning to read and write characters just seemed like too much for me.

Three years later, while I don’t consider myself fluent by any means, I have learned a lot about the learning process, especially through creating the CLO course and communicating with listeners.

Through this process, I have tried to create the tools that would have helped me the most, were I to start learning again from the start. Like anything else you want to accomplish in life, it can be highly beneficial to set goals for yourself when you have a long, arduous task in front of you.

When you begin, it may look like a long road ahead from the start to the day you consider yourself fluent. However, with some due diligence you can find that the goal isn’t as far off as you think.

Many people “want” to learn Chinese, but give up early when they realize how many characters they would have to learn to be literate. Constantly being bombarded with new vocabulary, while easily forgetting old words can also make it easy to give up. What I have found is that having a system of learning greatly reduces the complexity of this process. This system can be broken down into 4 steps.

  1. Determine where you are
  2. Determine where you want to be
  3. Set a time frame to reach your goals
  4. Allocate the time necessary to reach your goals

So for example, if your goal is to be able to write characters, set a goal of how many characters you want to know.

Looking at our course, you need to know about 500 characters to get through level 1 and level 2. A moderate pace would take you a year to finish two levels (you can adjust this pace for yourself). This means you would need to learn 1.36 characters a day to achieve your goal. All of a sudden that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

Learning to write characters usually involves writing it over and over again. You can practice using the worksheets we’ve created for you here along with our new character introductions. For me personally, I have a habit of writing 50 characters (half the worksheet) each day. This is a combination of new characters and reviewing old characters.

It is important to note that this process is MUCH harder up front. Of those 500 characters, over a hundred are introduced in the first ten lessons. This means a lot of time will be spent up front where it seems like you aren’t making progress. However, once you’ve made it past those ten lessons, all of a sudden things become much easier.

New characters will be easier to learn since they will mostly be based on characters or elements you already know. Plus you will find yourself spending less time on stroke order since it will now be more natural to you.

A similar process can be used for learning new words with the new memorization mode on our flashcard program. Choose a range of lessons and learn the vocabulary associated with them by logging in once a day.

By dividing up the chore of learning into daily, manageable steps, you will find the process much easier, as you will actually be learning something new each day. The above steps add about 30 minutes to my daily routine, but the results have been much better than the haphazard, plan-less program I was using previously. The way I look at it, another year will pass whether I put in daily effort or not. This way though, I know exactly where I will be a year from now, rather than just hoping I have improved.

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