GUEST POST: Finding motivation in language learning – Todd Neve
Aug24

GUEST POST: Finding motivation in language learning – Todd Neve

Finding motivation in language learning Todd Neve Of course we would all love to speak another language. But few are willing to commit the time to learn it. Even less are able to stay motivated for the time and effort it takes to become fluent. My own language journey started in school, like everyone else’s. And like almost everyone around me, I bitterly despised those French classes. It felt like I was being forced to learn what I couldn’t possibly hope to achieve without living in France for twenty years. It was not until I was in my gap year that I started to learn another language again: this time, Spanish – with a fresh attitude. Then earlier this year, with the generous help of the Walter Mangold trust fund, I was able to travel to Madrid on exchange and make the leap to fluency. So what was the difference this time? Truthfully, I was not incapable of learning a language. I just hadn’t applied myself. The difference was all about my level of motivation. So here is my practical guide to finding your motivation and staying motivated. An important first step to take is to truly convince yourself that speaking another language is possible. Reach out to someone who was in a similar situation and successfully learnt to speak a new language. It’s not enough to hear or read about a stranger’s experiences. For me this involved seeing friends (including Dan) return from exchange, fluent in other languages. Without someone to inspire you, you’ll always find an excuse to give up. The next step is to clearly define your reasons for learning the language. From my experience in sport, athletes will often train the hardest when improvement will bring the opportunity to travel to cool places and most importantly meet exciting, new people. How can speaking the language make your life more exciting? Start with clear reasons that inspire you. For most language learners, these reasons will relate to the country’s people and their culture. If you’re looking to improve career prospects, have a well-defined job in mind that you are passionate about. Be clear about how speaking the language will help you get it. Next, find a way you’ll be able to use the language. The clearest (and most fun) solution is to move overseas, especially if this is your first time learning a language. Pick somewhere you’d really love to live and find a reason to live there – to work, study, volunteer or even learn to salsa. Make it clear and make it happen. You should aim to be at an intermediate level when you...

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Chinese Interview on SBS Mandarin
Nov09

Chinese Interview on SBS Mandarin

Hi guys! I’ve actually been neglecting my Chinese in recent months due to my return to law school (and reality) – however a couple of weeks ago I was interviewed in Chinese by SBS’s Mandarin channel about living in China, learning Chinese and about Asia Options (an organisation I’m a part of). It was broadcast today. The interview was actually on the day of my Chinese oral exam at University – it was a great warm-up! You can listen to it...

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The Danger of Perfectionism
Sep26

The Danger of Perfectionism

CHINA UPDATE: I’m back in Australia! I was in Nanjing for just over 5 months at Nanjing University. It was a phenomenal experience, my Chinese improved immensely and I had a ridiculous amount of fun. I find myself continually daydreaming about the time I spent over there. I did quite a lot of travelling and feel like I have a good grasp of what the country is all about and what it stands for (and yet there is infinitely more to learn). —- Perfectionism is a quality that many people possess – maybe due to a lifetime of parental pressure or societal expectations more generally, or perhaps because of the common characteristic of education of emphasising a ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ answer or marks-based system, which can condition students to have a crippling fear of making mistakes. Particularly, in regard to language learning, being subjected to years of rote-learning  verb conjugations throughout school can leave you with an acute sensitivity and distaste for small errors (even those that don’t affect your meaning) and often an expectation that an incorrectly executed grammar pattern might result in an embarrassing correction by the person you’re communicating with (as language teachers often do). Perfectionism is often characterised as being a good thing. And, often, it can be. For example, spending hours ensuring your university or college essay is correctly cited and reads well will often pay off and may very well be a worthwhile endeavour. However, speaking a language is an instantaneous phenomenon. You don’t have time to agonise over every word that comes out of your mouth, and a belief that this is important is likely to result in you being too afraid to open your mouth, or too slow to engage in a proper conversation if you have to make sure every sentence is flawless speaking it. If you think you are a perfectionist in your language learning (I used to be, and often still am) then I encourage you to stop reading this article for a moment and think for a moment about what the ultimate goal of languages is. Go on, do it. … … I think that the obvious answer is that language is a vessel for communication. Perfectionism then can, I believe, be defined as worrying about flawlessly using the language to the point that it becomes a barrier to communication. If you agree that communication is the main purpose of language, then you must see the incompatibility of perfectionism with this goal. When I was learning French, I got so caught up with trying to speak it perfectly and with an impeccable accent that I was often...

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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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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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