Have you ever heard someone say “break your frame”? You’ve probably heard “frame of reference” before, and this ‘frame-breaking’ falls into the same analogy. A frame of reference is, effectively, the constraints (frame) you put on your perspective. It’s impossible to see a problem from every possible angle simultaneously, so a frame of reference is a prerequisite to thinking about, well, anything. 问题来了! (A problem has arisen!) How do you know if your frame is correct? The only way to find out is to break it and try another occasionally. This is the first step in how to learn Chinese.
Breaking Frames Helps You Grow
Think about the last conversation you had with someone where you disagreed about how to solve a problem. Why did you disagree? One possibility is that you both were using the same frame of reference, but came to a different conclusion about how to solve the issue. For example:
Shared Frame of Reference
Problem: Our son got bad grades on his report card
The frame of reference shared by two parents:
Better grades are the path to a better future.
Mother’s Proposed Solution:
Talk to son and find out what he needs to do better in school.
Father’s Proposed Solution:
Ground the son for a week by forcing him to stay in his room.
In this example, while the mother and father disagree on the solution to the problem, they are on the same page about where they want to go. Let’s modify the example a bit:
Different Frame of Reference
Mother’s Frame of Reference: Better grades are the path to a better future.
Father’s Frame of Reference: Good grades in school are just one of many paths to a better future.
You don’t have to imagine the specific solutions to know that they are going to be not just different but also pursuing a different goal. Consequently, the conversation the mother and father need to have first is to answer the question ’which frame of reference needs an update?’
Suppose that after this conversation, the mother decides that there are indeed other paths to a better future apart from better grades. Now, they can have a discussion that takes a more extensive picture into account.
The critical take away is that the mother grew as a person because she broke her frame. She expanded her avenues to solve the problem and now will be a better resource for her son. It doesn’t make the issue of a bad report card less complicated, but it does expand the tools at their disposal to fix it.
The Deeper the Break, The Greater the Growth
Perhaps the most daunting (but simultaneously rewarding) aspect of how to learn Chinese is how many frames it breaks. For example, what exactly is a Chinese character? Is it like a letter? No. Is it a word? Not always. So what the heck is it? It looks like you need to break your frame for what the components of a language are supposed to be.
That’s daunting. If Chinese were a person, they might say “You think you know what a word is? Psh, you better break your frame, bucko.” Geez, who knew Chinese the person would be so sassy? ;-).
Don’t forget, though, that allowing for new frames of reference into your thinking has immense potential to help you grow. Imagine how much improved your ability to, you know, THINK ABOUT THINGS will be when you’ve re-evaluated even the most fundamental layer of language? Language is the system of tools we use to reason, and NEWSFLASH: Your native language is not “right” about the best way to build that system from the fundamentals on up. It’s merely one frame of many, and that frame can (and perhaps should) be broken.
How to Learn Chinese? Stand in Awe
Mandarin is the most successful ‘brain operating system’ (language) in the world, with more native speakers than both English and Spanish speakers combined. That means that, from a purely numbers-based perspective, it’s winning the natural selection race. That fact alone should open up the possibility in your mind that Mandarin can not only supply you with new frames of reference but perhaps the best set of frames for thinking and problem solving our human race has ever evolved.