Attributes of a Successful Language Learner
Apr14

Attributes of a Successful Language Learner

When people find out that I speak four languages (this is unusual in Australia, although I know it may not be so in some other countries) they usually immediately conclude either that I’m exceptionally intelligent or some sort of language genius. This can be frustrating at times, since because language learning is a huge passion of mine that has positively influenced my life in profound ways, I’m often looking to encourage others who are curious about learning languages or who have just started to learn one. It’s frustrating because the problem with such conclusions is that it is extremely discouraging for potential learners, as they will reason that they just must not be smart or lucky enough to have the gift of learning languages and so won’t even try. I firmly believe that I have no special language learning ability whatsoever. I don’t pick them up effortlessly, and only am able to learn them because I’ve developed my own method for learning languages that suits my learning style, and because I’ve realised that there are a number of common attributes shared by successful language learners. I learnt Italian in Primary School for 7 years, and never learnt much. I also did French all the way through High School, but only was able to learn it when I started researching the infamous internet polyglots Luca Lampariello and Steve Kaufmann, whose videos and articles gave me the tools needed to go forth and learn French to fluency. Anyone who spent the same amount of time learning languages as I do using a similarly efficient method could learn them just as well as myself. And so, without further ado, let me begin my personal analysis of what makes a successful language learner!   The Common Qualities of Successful Language Learners  1.    Motivation. Learning languages is actually not particularly difficult. The illusion of difficulty is created due to the amount of time it takes to learn one to fluency. Therefore, in order to ensure you keep at it long enough, you need to think about your motivation for learning your chosen language. Note that learning a language for bragging rights or to do well in school etc is generally not motivation enough. I don’t have a perfect formula for what constitutes a sufficient desire to learn, but in my case it is the wish to communicate with people from various cultures without difficulty and learn about their way of life. I love travelling, too, and realise that the only way to forge meaningful relationships and assimilate into a new society is by speaking the language. I also have am convinced that continuing learning...

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8 Ways To Win The ‘Language Power Struggle’
Feb04

8 Ways To Win The ‘Language Power Struggle’

What is it and why do you need to win? A ‘language power struggle’ is the term that has been unofficially been adopted to describe the phenomenon where two people from different linguistic backgrounds, each learning the other’s tongue, engage in a battle of wits to determine which language will be used for the exchange. As a quick disclaimer, I still think that it’s important to be respectful when trying to win this battle. No need to be a dick. The general rule should be that, out of general decency, the person trying to speak the language of the country the two people are currently in should prevail. In my hometown of Melbourne for example, although I will definitely try out some Chinese on the Chinese people I meet,  if they indicate that they absolutely want to speak English then I will, of course, concede. I’ve been in China for about three weeks now, and I’ve actually had an overwhelmingly positive experience in terms of speaking Chinese. I’ve really only met a couple of people who insisted on speaking English (even after I pulled out a number of the nifty moves I’m going to teach you below), so it hasn’t been a huge problem so far, even in the big cities where you would expect that more people would speak English. I quickly ejected myself from the conversation in these instances – ‘cos ain’t nobody got time for that. In all seriousness, while it may seem harsh to just walk away from a person merely because they won’t speak Chinese with you, but it’s absolutely necessary if you’ve come all the way to China to learn and are serious about learning. Your time here is (I assume) limited, and not only is time spent speaking English to people time not spent speaking Chinese, but I’m convinced that speaking too much English disrupts the immersive environment that you should be creating that, if achieved, greatly accelerates the rate of language acquisition. Compared to most European countries, in China people are much less likely to speak English in my experience, even though they are all forced to learn it for years at school. People are also generally very self-conscious and will generally rather speak Chinese with you (if you show some signs that you speak it). They’re also often very interested in learning about your country and culture, and in sharing theirs, making for the perfect language learning environment. Therefore, unless you’re Chinese is at a very basic level, you shouldn’t have any problems finding people who are willing to talk to you in Chinese. Really, you shouldn’t be doing language...

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The Importance of Reading and How to Do More of It
Jan28

The Importance of Reading and How to Do More of It

I’ve been spending an hour or so every day the last few days reminiscing about my childhood and playing the Chinese version of Pokémon! Why is reading in Chinese so damn important? Reading, when learning any language, is a useful method of acquiring new vocabulary, grammar patterns, and of seeing how words are used, and in what context they are used. In Chinese, however, reading has an extra level of importance due to its system of writing. Unlike a language that uses an alphabet in its written form, reading in Chinese allows you to constantly review the characters you’ve learned. If you’ve ever tried to learn characters, then you’ll be familiar with the constant struggle of memorising them, only to forget them moments later. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re making lots of progress, only to realise that although you’re learning 10 new characters a day, you’re forgetting 20. The fact is, without a regular and sustained routine of review and practice, basically any given character you learn, no matter how easy it may seem, will eventually slip from your memory over a long enough period. The power of reading is that the constant recall of every character will help ingrain it into your brain. I haven’t done a huge amount of reading into how memory works, but my understanding is that new information passes first from your short-term memory to your long-term memory (‘learning’) but that the information remains vulnerable and likely to be forgotten unless it is recalled or reviewed a number of times over an extended period. Eventually, though, after enough reviews, the paths in your brain should theoretically be strong enough that the information basically won’t be forgotten. Being in China, I’ve been thinking a lot about how such a large amount of people are able to learn the thousands upon thousands of Chinese characters necessary to become functionally literate. The secret I believe is due to the fact that the characters are everywhere, unlike in my own country where my only exposure to them is when I open my textbook. In China, you can’t escape characters; they’re on every corner, on every shop, every sign, and every subway station. Even when surfing the Internet or messaging their friends, Chinese people are practicing their characters. How they are able to retain a working knowledge of so many characters, when taking this into account, suddenly becomes clear. My theory is that recreating this character environment, at least until they are so ingrained that they will not easily be forgotten, is necessary to learn and retain enough characters to be literate in the first place. How do I...

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The First 24 Hours in China
Jan09

The First 24 Hours in China

If you’re from somewhere like Australia or America and have never done much travelling before – you might want to start elsewhere than China and ease your way into it. Although I have travelled before, including in Asia, China is the country most unlike my own in comparison to the others I’ve visited. And, despite being relatively China-literate (and yet so illiterate compared to some of the foreigners I’ve met here so far), I was pretty shocked from the moment the plane touched the ground. So you might want to start with a more ‘comfortable’ Asian country before coming here. On the first leg of my flight, from Melbourne to Shanghai Pudong, I befriended the Chinese family sitting next to me and shamelessly pestered them for language practice for the 10-hour journey. In reality, they were actually pretty stoked that I spoke their language (even though the daughter spoke quite good English and studied in the States) and even let me use their iPad to watch some Chinese TV shows aimed at 13 year-old Chinese girls. Language-tip: Fly with a Chinese airline! I don’t know whether it’s out of some sort of China-loyalty or what, but the plane was packed with Chinese with only a couple of foreigners scattered around the place. You’ll probably be seated next to some poor Chinese guy who will have to endure your endless questions. I transferred at Shanghai to a second flight destined for Beijing. I watched a couple of other foreigners trying to ask airport staff whether they spoke English so that they could tell them where they were supposed to go to catch their connecting flight, but their efforts were in vain: people don’t really speak English here. People will tell you that in the big cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, etc, you will find people who speak English at every corner, but it’s a lie, I tell you! I’ve only met a few who could, and they were at places that had a lot of contact with foreigners. You would think at a major airport you could find someone who could speak it, but from what I saw in Shanghai, I wouldn’t count on it. But maybe I’m just used to Europe, where you can pretty much count on people speaking English in many countries (and on them insisting on it, which is annoying if you’re trying to learn their language). I noted when I spoke to my Australian friend who met me in Beijing that many tourists in China have this arrogance in expecting people to speak English, as if they should just so they can help out some silly...

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December Challenge!
Dec29

December Challenge!

Okay, so the short answer is that I failed. The long one is that I succeeded. What? Turns out, December ain’t a good month for doing a one-month challenge. I mean, if you’re an obsessive and goal-oriented person like me, then every month is one-month challenge month. However, at least in Australia, you basically have to write most of December off productivity-wise as it signifies the end of a year of school, university, work, whatever, and so everyone is out and ready to party. It’s also the start of the Australian summer – this is bad news for Chinese study and other nerdy endeavours. To top it off, this December was particularly bad as I am just recovering from a week of hectic food poisoning that nearly killed my whole family (not literally, but it got nasty). Coupled with the week I spent away in Hobart on holidays (where studying Chinese wasn’t really an option as I was only travelling with one other person), that gets rid of two full weeks from my month of study. Therefore, I had half as much time to complete the challenge. But I got much more than half-way through! In fact, if I kept up the average amount of words I studied per day I actually studied for the whole month, I would have beaten my monthly goal. Therefore, the long answer is that I succeeded in my mission. Kind of. Not really though. Anyway, let’s have a look at the cold hard facts. Part 1: The Input/Listening So, here is a record of all of the listening I did (podcasts, TV, etc) over the month. I actually did pretty well for this stage of the challenge. My goal for the month was to listen to 1 hour and 30 minutes of Chinese EVERY DAY. You can see that many days I made that, some I went over, and most fell slightly short. The overall amount of listening comes to 2355 minutes, which sounds like a lot when you put it like that. Averaged over the month, that’s 78.5 minutes per day. My goal was 90 minutes. But it’s not over yet! I have to add the time I spent doing my audio/character Anki reps, too. 2355 + 299 = 2654 minutes. Per day: 88.46 minutes, Goal: 90 minutes. Ah! So close! A mere 1.54 minutes a day extra and I would have done it! Oh well, close enough for me!     Part 2: The Words/Characters Now for the interesting bit. The other part of my goal for this month was to learn a total of 500 news WORDS (including however many...

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