You want to learn Mandarin Chinese, but like everyone who goes down this path, you want to know how to learn Chinese fast. It’s natural to want shortcuts, and some will say, “there are no shortcuts.” This idea of ‘no shortcuts’ is misleading, and this article is going to explain why you absolutely have the ability to learn Chinese ‘fast.’ To understand why we need to define a few points in the landscape.
1. What is ‘The Game’?
Think of ‘The Game’ aspect of how to learn Chinese fast literally. Just like you want to win the game of basketball, you want to become literate and fluent in Chinese. The metrics of success include:
- Reading and understanding content written in Chinese
- Points: How many characters do you know?
- Points: How many words do you know?
- Points: How well can you understand sentences, paragraphs & stories (grammar)?
- Listening and understanding when Chinese people speak
- Points: Taking action as a result of what was spoken to you in Chinese
- Points: Distinguishing between sounds that sound similar to the untrained ear (e.g., zi, ci, si)
- Chinese speakers understanding what you say and what you write
- Points: A Chinese person taking action based on something you said or wrote
- Points: Easily using your unique skills in China (e.g., Phil booking band gigs in Chengdu)
- Points: Making Chinese people laugh
- Points: Using Chinese to move the people around you emotionally
2. How to Learn Chinese Fast – The Metagame
Stay emotionally content on your journey. Know how far along the path you’ve traveled, and know when it is time to update your strategy. The metrics for success include:
- Waking up feeling motivated to learn more
- The habit of study becoming second nature (i.e., not an emotional struggle to start)
- Consistently improving your external environment
- Surrounding yourself with encouraging (or at least not discouraging) friends & family
- Taking moments to reflect on how far you’ve come & reminded yourself of why you want to learn Chinese.
- Experiencing a sense of meaning as you level-up.
The reason it’s a game and metagame is that, ultimately, you are learning Chinese (the game) because you hope that this new set of skills will integrate into your life and become a part of a larger picture (the metagame). It’s a picture of you, but a you that also is fluent and literate in Chinese.
3. Define what “fast” means to set expectations
It’s a well known psychological truth that one of the primary sources of emotional discontent is unmet expectations. “I thought my friend was coming over, and at the last minute, they canceled. I’m disappointed.” Winning the metagame means staying (relatively) emotionally content, so making your expectations reasonable means that you’ll meet a lot more of them. Some say, “In that case, never have expectations.” Sounds a lot like solving a headache with a guillotine! After all, meeting an expectation is super satisfying; you want to dispense with that?
‘Fast’ Compared to What?
People used to think Chinese was impossible to learn for a westerner to learn. After someone proved that theory wrong, it became “Ok, you can learn it, but it takes 10-15 years, and why would you even bother? You could get a Ph.D. in that amount of time!”
Starting from that frame of reference, if we tell you that you can reach literacy and fluency in Chinese in 1-2 years, that’s fast. Extraordinarily fast.
Still, 365-730 days doesn’t feel all that fast when you’re in it, and there are a lot of skills that give you far more instant gratification. It’s far too easy to set an expectation that “fast” means “nearly instantaneous.”
DEFINITION: Learning Chinese ‘fast’ means becoming fluent & literate within 1-2 years. If you remember that, then on day 200 of spending three hours per day on Chinese study and not yet arriving at fluency won’t feel disappointing because you set the proper expectations.
Chinese is “Big” Not “Hard”
Chinese is a big language compared to other languages. Remember that whole ‘game’ vs. ‘meta game’ thing? From the perspective of ‘the game,’ Mandarin is NOT all that challenging. Each item you need to learn is straightforward (especially with resources like TMBM), but there are more steps than other languages. After all, you don’t have to learn an entirely new writing system to learn Spanish.
The reason we point out that each step ain’t that challenging is to emphasize that your attitude towards the ‘meta game’ is far more important than ‘how fast.’ The better your attitude, attentiveness, and daily time spent on the task, the faster you’ll get through it.
BUT SERIOUSLY THOUGH HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
Knowing the Path, Walking the Path
Our goal at Mandarin Blueprint has always been to help you know the path. It’s PREP for a journey, not the journey itself.
“Sooner or later you’re going to realize, just as I did, that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” ― Morpheus
We know you can win the metagame, and we’ll always do our best to provide encouraging words and through technologies, but you wake up in the morning it’s ultimately your responsibility to answer the question: “How do I keep showing up?” Still, we’re happy to help, so hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re feeling stuck on the path.