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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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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Your accent isn’t important. Your pronunciation is.
Aug02

Your accent isn’t important. Your pronunciation is.

The majority of hard-core, nerdy, nitty-picky language blogs on the net promote having an authentic-sounding or ‘native’ accent as being the ‘holy grail’ of language learning. I’m looking at you, Ramses. I’m not saying having a decent accent isn’t important, or that your accent isn’t worth working on, but it definitely isn’t as important as many of these other language enthusiasts make it out to be. To clarify, the distinction I draw between an ‘accent’ and ‘pronunciation’ is as follows: Your pronunciation is your ability to pronounce words in a way that makes them intelligible to other speakers of the language. One can have the strongest accent possible, but as long as they are understood, they will usually be pronouncing things properly. An example of incorrect pronunciation would be pronouncing ‘down’ as ‘dawn’. Your accent includes things like your intonation and rhythm of speech. It is anything that makes you sound foreign. The classic ‘accent trap’ is pronouncing things exactly like you would in your native language, rather than actually listening to the way they are pronounced in the language you’re learning, and imitating it. So, as you can see, having good pronunciation is necessary for being understood. Your accent, however, has little bearing on you being understood. You can have the biggest French (or whatever) accent, and people will still understand. People like Ramses are extremely proud of their ‘native’ accents in the second-languages they speak (in his case, Spanish). And rightly so. It’s an impressive feat. However, I think putting too much emphasis on its importance is actually doing language learners a disservice, as it tends to scare them off and instill in them a feeling of helplessness. Ironically, I’m currently in the process of writing a guest post on his new blog, The Language Dojo, about how to acquire a native like accent. If you’re really that intent on pretending to be a native, and on impressing people with your impressive language abilities, then you should probably reconsider your motivation for learning another language. You have to be intrinsically motivated to learn a language, for more profound reasons than mere bragging rights, in order to learn it successfully. He says that you should be working on your accent, and trying to achieve a native-sounding one, from the get-go. Otherwise, he says, you’ll be learning bad habits that are hard to get out of. I actually have a completely opposite point of view about the matter. I was fluent in French before I started developing anything near to a native accent! As many of my readers will know, when I was 15 I spent 5 months in France living...

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The Secret To Learning Foreign Languages
Jul24

The Secret To Learning Foreign Languages

You lucky devils. Today I have decided to share with you all the one true secret that I believe is essential to learning a language. Sure, knowing this information alone won’t be enough to learn a language, but you also can’t learn one without knowing this rule. Surprisingly, it is quite logical when you think about it. However, I think that this secret is, unfortunately, largely absent from traditional language teaching in schools and the like, despite the fact that, unless they are native speakers, every language teacher knows this secret and would have had to consciously acknowledge it in order to learn the language that they teach to fluency. Yadda yadda yadda. You guys just want to know the secret, right? What is it, you ask? The overarching rule of successful language learning is that the process itself must be enjoyable. What is so frustrating about this rule is that it is extremely easy to forget. Chinese is my fourth language, and yet I often find myself getting frustrated at myself for forgetting characters, or for not learning as fast as I would have liked – but this is the worst thing you can do. The learning process must, above all, be fun and enjoyable – you can’t force yourself to learn a language. You may be able to mindlessly rote learn a few basic phrases, but to gain any substantial ability to communicate in a new language, the process itself must be enjoyable. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but people often say to me that I must have a gift for learning languages. I hate hearing this, because what the person saying that really means it that they think they aren’t gifted, and so they can’t learn a language. This is definitely up there in the biggest excuses potential language learners make. I always reply that I’m not any more gifted than anyone else. This isn’t false modesty, this is the truth. Really. The reason I’ve been, so far, relatively successful in my language learning comes down to these four things: Language learning is my hobby, not a chore. I’m not learning Chinese to get that big job promotion, or to impress people. I’m learning it because I absolutely love learning new languages and about the cultures of the people that speak it. Nothing gives me a bigger rush than speaking with someone from China about government corruption, the one-child policy or the growing divide between the ultra-rich and super-poor. Call me a nerd. I’m not fixated on the end result. Perfecting a language (if that is even possible) is actually a sad thought for me. That...

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Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning Chinese: The Start of the Journey
Jun07

Absolute Beginners Guide to Learning Chinese: The Start of the Journey

I recently received an email from a friend of mine who read my blog and really enjoyed it (if you like what I’m doing, let me know! Seriously, it makes my day), but who was still hesitant about making the first step in beginning the journey of learning Chinese, for the simple reason that he did not know exactly where to start. From his message, I understood that he was also unsure about what this journey entailed (for it is a journey, albeit an immensely enjoyable and rewarding one, if done correctly), or what to expect along the way. This article is for all of you in that very position. This is for all the complete beginners who don’t know where to start, particularly those that are on the fence about whether to start learning Chinese, or any other language, at all. There are 7 days in the week, and someday is not one of them. I will break my advice down into Myths, How to Begin, Essential Qualities of a Successful Language Learner, General Tips, and Motivation. This is a long, long, article. I tried to make it as comprehensive as possible. You have been warned. ———————————————————————————————————– Common Myths and Excuses About Learning Chinese (And Other Languages) I’m not talented or smart enough to learn a language. This one is particularly prominent in people who once tried to learn a language, but have since given up. This is common where people have learn a language for many years at school, but who didn’t really learn anything. Now, firstly, it’s important for me to say that your success in school language classes are not at all representative of your actual ability, as these programs are designed to cater for a large class and do not take into account the different ways people learn (which is essential in language learning, where some techniques that work for some simply don’t work for others). They are also generally not very fun, as they tend to be geared toward passing exams and having perfect grammar, rather than actually being able to communicate in the language. Some language classes can be fine, too, but in order to really learn anything, the student is required to venture further and engage with their learning on their own. The only way you can ‘fail’ is if you give up for good. Humans have an inherent ability to learn languages, we have always been good at it. Throughout history, it has been commonplace for people to be bilingual – speaking their mother tongue as well as languages from neighbouring tribes and villages. In fact, the majority of the world today are...

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