Discouragement in my study progress

I know this has probably been said before, but here goes.

I only work part time teaching as my purpose was to study Chinese while here. I am studying Chinese at a university here in Tainan and the teacher is good, so no complaint there.
But I find that since I need to work as well to maintain my life here, I am so tired at the end of the day that I usually just crash and have no motivation to study Mandarin at all.

I have a local friend that talks with me but since her English is so much better than my Chinese, if I insist on only using Mandarin, i will be stopping every 1 minute to look up the words and get her to correct me. Usually those that speak better English just default to English and I lazily go along with it as it is easier to communicate but no progress for me.
She is very patient but I feel very strange when I am struggling away in Mandarin when we can just use English. Because of this strange feeling, I gave up.

In addition, I don’t find just reading flashcards and a book is overly useful. I find it useful to go and use it, but again, I lack the energy and motivation to go out and do that. I think part of it is the stupid look I get from people and then they say ‘ting bu dong’ sometimes without trying. My friend suggests it is because they see a foreign face and assume are speaking English and not Mandarin.
Then I need to make up fake reasons to go out to different places to use the Mandarin. I tend to just hang out at home and listen to English music and TV when I have time due to being tired. I think I may just be a bit depressed as well due to the big move, who knows.

Do podcasts work for anyone? I found movies dont work because they speak too fast and I have to pause the movie every minute which makes the movie torture.

Basically I suck at learning. I wish I could find motivation but I feel more depressed at the slow progress and perhaps the method I am using.

I have no specific methods, and I’m all over the page. I need some direction, help :blush: :snivel:

Do you have any hobbies or activities you like participating in? Maybe you could join one in which most of the people speak Chinese. My old roommate; he was Taiwanese, but he was into couch-surfing, and hung out with lots of foreigners. I’m not sure if he learned his English from that or if he already knew it, but his English was good and he’d never studied abroad before.

I’ve heard of Taiwanese people participating in Toastmasters to improve their English. Is there any equivalent for practicing Chinese?

Everyone goes through this. At the start, it’s all fun; you only know 10 words, so learn another 10 and you’ve doubled your vocabulary! Progress! Once you’re pretty good you can communicate, watch TV, read books, and you get a nice sense of accomplishment with everything you do (which will presumably wear off after a few years). But in the middle… it kind of sucks. You’re always short of vocab when you want to express yourself. Everyone on TV speaks too fast, and you probably wouldn’t understand it anyway even if they spoke slower. At this point, there’s little to do but work hard and enjoy each small improvement; you order something at McDonalds and not get a mystified look from the server. It’s a small victory. They add up. Understanding 1 line of a newspaper article is 1 more line than you could before. I went through I phase where I hated Chinese, but because I’d come this far, there was no way I could quit. I just had to force myself to keep going, and not be one of the majority that doesn’t make it. For me I’d alway think how shameful it would be to go back after studying in Taiwan, meet my China friends, and still suck. They’d think I was an idiot, and I’d have wasted all that time and money.

My way of getting past this is probably going to be unpopular; it was to study. And study. And study some more. I didn’t see the point of trying to read books or watch TV as I couldn’t keep up. I’d speak as much as possible, but during the day you’re not going to be hanging with your friends, so I’d study. The books are structured in a logical progression to teach you Chinese. So that’s what I followed. My vocab got bigger, my grammar got better, and everything progressed. One day I grabbed a novel of the library shelf during a break and could discovered I could understand 80~90% of it, so then I decided to start buying books and things only got better from there. That’s just my way and how I motivated myself, everyone is different.

Yeah, good old-fashioned studying is part of it. We didn’t learn our native languages just through talking and hanging out, it took years of school as well.

Chinese, if you include the written part, takes 5 X more time than a European language to learn. It’s also normal to feel disheartened at times and feel like progress is slow. Just keep at it, give yourself a goal, even if you don’t reach the goal on time, you will still make progress. I used the brute force approach to learning Chinese, two hours a day class, 1-2 hours a day study, 2.5 years.
Having an environment or people to practice with is very useful, but it can be hard to find that I understand. Finding a bar or place to hang-out with local Taiwanese can work well. I knew one guy who used to go to a ‘talking bar’ (basically girls talk to you when you have beers there, nothing more), and he found it a fun and useful way to practice Chinese.

Just to add that for me the podcasts were and still are excellent for learning new vocab and listening practise. I listen when I go out for bike rides or walks. Easy to get 10 hours a week of extra listening in this way.

That is what happens with traditional teaching of languages, for the majority of people (most of whom don’t write in; they just fade away and speak English.)

You need to find someone who is going to get you fluent, by stages. That means that each thing you “learn” will be “learned” so thoroughly that the Taiwanese will understand you, because you will be using and understanding that language so automatically there will be few issues. It also means getting things focused on you, so that what you are using outside your class is useful to you.

I cannot begin to say how ridiculous and discouraging a statement like “Chinese takes five times as long to learn as language X” is. That is assuming a lot of thing – most notably that the learner wants to write characters by hand from memory, and that the class is taught traditionally. All the statistics about how “hard” Mandarin is are based in old methods. And no one got their native language from school (not their fluency; people get literate at school, and they learn “school” words, but they enter school perfectly fluent in their native language).

If I were you, I would get a tutor. There is a thread here somewhere about working one-on-one with a tutor. When you pay someone, they are obliged to do what you want. Throw away the ideas about “learning” and don’t try to make your tutoring session into a replica of a buxiban class. Get waaaay more repetition than you think you need. Make your tutor write you things with strictly limited characters in them (if reading is one of your goals) and read them repeatedly in various ways with your tutor. And just have your tutor tell you what things mean; the mime-and-picture route is a waste of your time. Link similar things to similar meanings over and over and your brain will do the rest. You don’t get that kind of input in a typical class, and that is why most normal people don’t become fluent in the typical buxiban class (and why you have like one advanced class for every ten or fifteen beginner classes).

Ironlady, I qualified the statement which is based on the amount of time it takes to deal with the written part of the language, especially if you want to learn handwriting which is of course usually a waste of time in the end I understand there are better ways to go about it.

I did after all learn Chinese too and I also took subject specific classes in areas of interest which helped a great deal.

[quote=“headhonchoII”]Ironlady, I qualified the statement which is based on the amount of time it takes to deal with the written part of the language, especially if you want to learn handwriting which is of course usually a waste of time in the end I understand there are better ways to go about it.

I did after all learn Chinese too and I also took subject specific classes in areas of interest which helped a great deal.[/quote]

Yes, we all did. We’re the minority who learn successfully that way. Most people are not.

But those statistics are also based ONLY on rules-and-output methods of teaching. There are radically different methods available these days, and there are no statistics floating around on how hard (or rather, “not hard”) Chinese is when approached that way. So everyone continues to bandy about the old numbers, based on solely the old methods, which does Chinese a disservice and, incidentally, hugely influences policy decisions in the US about putting Chinese programs into schools.

I want to apologize for the late reply to everyone. This week has been pretty crazy for me so I haven’t had even a second to think out a reply but thanks for all the suggestions.

To John, I haven’t really thought about any specific things I would like to join. I am part of a group of locals here but the young guys have known each other for years and I’m not really included in the group. My language skills are enough to have basic conversations, but when they start getting into deep detail, I’m out which makes me feel very strange.

I could ask the university to get language exchange going with different people, but then as I mentioned, if they speak good English, the inevitable default to English will likely occur, or again, I will be feeling very awkward.

[quote=“R_jay”]Everyone goes through this. At the start, it’s all fun; you only know 10 words, so learn another 10 and you’ve doubled your vocabulary! Progress! Once you’re pretty good you can communicate, watch TV, read books, and you get a nice sense of accomplishment with everything you do (which will presumably wear off after a few years). But in the middle… it kind of sucks. You’re always short of vocab when you want to express yourself. Everyone on TV speaks too fast, and you probably wouldn’t understand it anyway even if they spoke slower. At this point, there’s little to do but work hard and enjoy each small improvement; you order something at McDonalds and not get a mystified look from the server. It’s a small victory. They add up. Understanding 1 line of a newspaper article is 1 more line than you could before. I went through I phase where I hated Chinese, but because I’d come this far, there was no way I could quit. I just had to force myself to keep going, and not be one of the majority that doesn’t make it. For me I’d alway think how shameful it would be to go back after studying in Taiwan, meet my China friends, and still suck. They’d think I was an idiot, and I’d have wasted all that time and money.

My way of getting past this is probably going to be unpopular; it was to study. And study. And study some more. I didn’t see the point of trying to read books or watch TV as I couldn’t keep up. I’d speak as much as possible, but during the day you’re not going to be hanging with your friends, so I’d study. The books are structured in a logical progression to teach you Chinese. So that’s what I followed. My vocab got bigger, my grammar got better, and everything progressed. One day I grabbed a novel of the library shelf during a break and could discovered I could understand 80~90% of it, so then I decided to start buying books and things only got better from there. That’s just my way and how I motivated myself, everyone is different.[/quote]

Hi R_jay, have to agree with your assessment. The first steps in Chinese show such a large improvement due to knowing so little to start with. I think I am starting to go into the phase you describe, and for the same reasons I’m sticking with my study. Otherwise its a huge writeoff of time for no reason.

Thank you for your suggestions :slight_smile:

[quote=“headhonchoII”]Chinese, if you include the written part, takes 5 X more time than a European language to learn. It’s also normal to feel disheartened at times and feel like progress is slow. Just keep at it, give yourself a goal, even if you don’t reach the goal on time, you will still make progress. I used the brute force approach to learning Chinese, two hours a day class, 1-2 hours a day study, 2.5 years.
Having an environment or people to practice with is very useful, but it can be hard to find that I understand. Finding a bar or place to hang-out with local Taiwanese can work well. I knew one guy who used to go to a ‘talking bar’ (basically girls talk to you when you have beers there, nothing more), and he found it a fun and useful way to practice Chinese.[/quote]

Thanks HH. I don’t really have a goal so that could be why I am feeling discouraged.

So from your schedule, almost 3-4 hours a day? That’s a lot of study :slight_smile:

As I said in the previous post, I have access to Taiwanese people, but its the uselessness I feel when I can’t even get simple sentences out without grabbing a dictionary. I probably need to find a way to get past that.

I also get a bit embarrassed easily. For example, I tried to say in class that the teacher takes an interest in us. So I said, laoshi dui women you xingqu. She then had a good laugh because in Mandarin, it means that she likes us romantically. :blush:

I was thinking about using podcasts, but I am not sure which ones are good.

Can you tell me which one you use?

[quote=“R_jay”]Everyone goes through this. At the start, it’s all fun; you only know 10 words, so learn another 10 and you’ve doubled your vocabulary! Progress! Once you’re pretty good you can communicate, watch TV, read books, and you get a nice sense of accomplishment with everything you do (which will presumably wear off after a few years). But in the middle… it kind of sucks. You’re always short of vocab when you want to express yourself. Everyone on TV speaks too fast, and you probably wouldn’t understand it anyway even if they spoke slower. At this point, there’s little to do but work hard and enjoy each small improvement; you order something at McDonalds and not get a mystified look from the server. It’s a small victory. They add up. Understanding 1 line of a newspaper article is 1 more line than you could before. I went through I phase where I hated Chinese, but because I’d come this far, there was no way I could quit. I just had to force myself to keep going, and not be one of the majority that doesn’t make it. For me I’d alway think how shameful it would be to go back after studying in Taiwan, meet my China friends, and still suck. They’d think I was an idiot, and I’d have wasted all that time and money.

My way of getting past this is probably going to be unpopular; it was to study. And study. And study some more. I didn’t see the point of trying to read books or watch TV as I couldn’t keep up. I’d speak as much as possible, but during the day you’re not going to be hanging with your friends, so I’d study. The books are structured in a logical progression to teach you Chinese. So that’s what I followed. My vocab got bigger, my grammar got better, and everything progressed. One day I grabbed a novel of the library shelf during a break and could discovered I could understand 80~90% of it, so then I decided to start buying books and things only got better from there. That’s just my way and how I motivated myself, everyone is different.[/quote]

That’s how I felt about learning English and Taiwanese. So I approve this message.

I also think its OK to hit plateaus in learning sometimes. Like R Jay says it happens to everyone and I think its part of the learning process. Its a chance to examine how far you’ve come and reassess your learning goals. Maybe you may even decide that the level you’ve reached is sufficient and you don’t want to go any further, at least for the time being. And if and when you do decide to start back up again, you can try a new approach.

I’ve done lots of things to learn Chinese that, in retrospect, seem like a waste of time. I used to copy vocab out of storybooks and make flashcards. I read books that I understood very little of. I hung out with Taiwanese people in conversations where I knew almost nothing of what they were saying. I hung out with Koreans and Japanese whose Chinese was as poor as mine but at least it forced me to practice speaking Chinese because they couldn’t speak English. I worked at two different Taiwanese companies, and had a miserable time dealing with the work culture (that’s a different story though). I tried to make it a habit to read signs and product packaging label and learn new words, even as I was wondering to myself, “What is the point of learning the ingredients in a tube of toothpaste?”

There were lots of others but my point is that I “wasted” a lot of time on different learning methods with limited results, but from a different point of view, I was learning which methods worked for me and which didn’t. And in the end the effort was worth it.

I was thinking about using podcasts, but I am not sure which ones are good.

Can you tell me which one you use?[/quote]
I run my own podcast, teaching Chinese from here in Taichung. One difference between this podcast and others is that it is progressive - so the lessons get harder and reuse older vocabulary that was taught, so you’re constantly making progress.

I had the same issue before where I would constantly take in material but wouldn’t see progress, which is why I created this podcast in the first place. Even when you find people to talk to, after a while you find that your ability stays at the same level since you’re constantly talking about the same things - weather, food etc. without much progression beyond that. This is especially difficult if their English is better than your Chinese.

Podcasts are great. I listen to them during my daily commute to and from work, and that’s an almost effortless 10+ hours studying Chinese right there, and best of all you’ll be using time that would otherwise have been completely wasted.
I have been using Chinesepod for almost a year now, and it really helped a ton with becoming able to understand Chinese as it is really spoken. I got the 1-year basic package, which is like 120 US$. You can download their shows and accompanying PDFs, so you can pretty much use them where ever you are. And they have a ton of material for all levels. I personally can only vouch for their upper-intermediate and advanced/media stuff, for both of these levels they have more than 300 shows each.
A possible downside of Chinesepod is they are Shanghai based, so there will be a mainland twist to the whole thing both in pronunciation and (more importantly) vocabulary. They have some test lessons for free, so try them out and see if you like it.

So my routine is basically, I listen to 2 shows on the way to work, repeat them on the way back and in the evening I go over the PDFs, which takes maybe 30-40min. This way I have a quasi-automatic 100min of studying Chinese every day, no matter what. This makes motivating myself much easier, since on some days I top it off with some more studying and on other days I don’t, but I won’t feel bad about it because “Hey, I did something already anyway”.
I find this routine very useful for keeping myself motivated over the long run, which is crucial if you want to push through those (sometimes lengthy) times of discouragement.

Sometimes good things come out of discouragement. After my first year in Taiwan I rented a room, worked with a Chinese computer company, and taught some English. If you’re among enough people, you’re going to run into a lot of them who can’t or won’t speak English. Once I took my clothes to be washed, and I was furious when I got them back; the condition of the clothes was terrible (at least to me). In my anger I could say nothing. I didn’t have the Chinese vocabulary to tell the owner what was on my mind. I was so upset of not being able to express myself that I determined to learn to speak Chinese as soon as possible. For several years I carried a notepad in my shirt pocket, and when I would hear something that I could understand from the context or environment, I’d write down that word using zhuyin (bo-po-mo-fo). Usually, I would have the opportunity on the same day to speak that word to someone, and I discovered that if I spoke a word in Chinese, then that word would become mine. I would never forget it. It became part of my speaking vocabulary.

By the way, learning zhuyin was undoubtedly the best thing I ever did in learning Chinese. After learning the sounds of Chinese, I began “hearing” certain sounds more frequently than others. By knowing zhuyin, I could then jot down those sounds in a notebook. I began learning the sounds (characters and words) that I heard most frequently. In the evening I would review my notes, the words I had heard that day.

Later I experienced frustration when trying to learn to read Chinese. I studied Computer Science in college, so I knew how to write software. Around the same time, I was looking for software development ideas: What project could I develop that would be challenging and that would useful in the real world? That’s when it hit me to develop a program to make Chinese easier to read. That was about 15 years ago, and the program is now called Chinese Toolbox. I applied the principle of frequency (that I discovered when learning to speak Chinese) in the program for learning to read Chinese. Those characters that you encounter most frequently in your reading are the ones you will learn first. Chinese Toolbox makes it easy to read Chinese text, so you can read a lot, articles or stories that are genuinely interesting to you. When you have time, check it out. I guarantee that it will be useful to you. Most of what I’ve developed in this program is free (Chinese Toolbox FREE), so why not take a look?

When you begin to make progress in Chinese, even if it’s small, that progress will become a source of encouragement and even happiness. I hope what I’ve shared here is helpful.

When I stayed in Taiwan for a month, I hadn’t studied mandarin in a long time but had always recited a song or two I learned in my head every day. Reciting those songs helped me a lot. I had almost no friends when I arrived and quickly met
new friends(mostly girls hehe).

The girls I met barely spoke or spoke no english at all, which forced me to speak what little mandarin I had to them. We often used a translator on an iphone to communicate which worked out fine—except in the clubs :frowning:

Sometimes they spoke english but I would communicate in English sometimes while mostly asking the meaning for things or how to say something in english. A week into my vacation I was very comfortable speaking in mandarin and by the second week my thinking started to switch to mandarin. Then I became inspired to learn describe things in detail when I became frustrated I couldn’t really express my opinion or have a deep conversation. Things that weren’t relevent to me before suddenly became relevant
and I wouldn’t know what was relevent or not if I remained immersed with English speakers or english period.

The occasional english conversation was refreshing though, and I did go out of my way to communicate in mandarin over english. After my trip ended I was so pumped up to learn mandarin and so comfortable speaking in it that I found it wierd to be back in an english speaking country with little speakers around me, and like you, their english was so good that it was too wierd to speak in mandarin to them.

You need to immerse yourself with taiwanese who suck at english so that it forces you to communicate with them/want to talk and listen to them in mandarin. When you go out, only communicate in mandarin. Its for your own good.