Learning What You Need to Know

Taiwan Shilin Night Market

How do you answer this question?

Can you speak Chinese?

Do you reply with “Yes, I can speak Chinese“? Or is it “I can speak a little“.

Of course your actual answer might be more complicated.

What level do you have to reach to change that answer from “a little” to “Yes I can”?

To answer this, you have to determine your own goals. What is your reason for learning Chinese in the first place?

Do you live in a Chinese speaking society and want to be able to communicate with the people around you?

If that’s the case, then all you need to do is get to a level of fluency where you have enough vocabulary to get your point across. You may not be using the optimum vocabulary, but your meaning still comes across clear (”foreigners” tend to get a free pass in this area).

Or perhaps you have married into a Chinese family. All you want is to be able to say things like “Can you pass the soy sauce”?

The path here is a little clearer. If you make a determined effort to always find out how things are said in Chinese, you’ll find yourself being able to say them yourself over time, without having to ask for a translation. This works especially well with words and phrases that are constantly repeated.

Perhaps you work in an industry, where you deal with Chinese clients. In this case, it’s important to learn the vocabulary for the items in your industry. What types of conversations will you be having with your clients?

Listen to the word choices that the translators are using and try to come up with them on your own. Over time, the goal should be to depend less on them, as you’re able to come up with those word and phrase choices on your own.

Living here in Taiwan, I’ve seen westerners selling goods at the local night market. They seem fluent in Chinese, being able to bargain with customers and answer detailed questions about their products. In many cases, the Chinese they know is limited to that industry. They only learned what they needed to know.
How about you?

Are you focused on learning what you need to know? Or are you wasting time in areas that don’t match your final goals?

[In regards to using the CLO course, if you come across words or expressions that you feel you’re unlikely to use in your daily life, I wouldn’t spend much time reviewing them. Focus on the “that sounds like something I should know” items.]

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