Positive Learning Methods for Chinese

Positive Learning Methods for Chinese

Mindset is everything when it comes to learning a language, especially one with as large a time commitment as Mandarin Chinese. As well as gifting you with the motivation to learn every day, your mindset also directly affects how well your brain absorbs the information you learn. Therefore, having positive learning methods is essential and the ideal state of language acquisition is one that is 100% stress-free. This is yet another reason why traditional language learning methods do not work; they are inherently stressful. 

You remember those high school language classes, right? You get pumped with information through repetitive drills and tons of homework. And then you are expected to regurgitate cold knowledge with great accuracy in exams and quizzes throughout each year. All the while, you are going through the most stressful time in life: Adolescence. 

Research has shown that stress or various other negative emotions can create a ‘blockage’ in your mind that can hinder the acquisition process. Dr. Stephen Krashen calls this “The Affective Filter.” His research shows that even if you were to get understandable and engaging content, a high-stress environment would negate a large portion of your gains.

The best way to combat this affective filter is to maintain a calm and positive state as much as possible. Here are some great ways to do that:

Use Positive Learning Methods You Know Work

If you are spending time with Chinese and you know it is time well-spent, then your fun levels increase, and your stress levels stay way down. The flip side is also the case. If you have any doubts about the efficacy of your methods or tools, you will not be able to relax for long. 

What stressed me out in university was the knowledge that the methods I was using to teach myself outside of class were far more effective. When it ‘clicked’ that university was mostly a giant waste of time in comparison, my boredom and stress levels increased even further.  

See Language Learning as a Fun Game

Aim to create the most entertaining and chilled-out positive learning process you can, all while being in contact with Chinese as much as you can throughout the day. Timeboxing is a simple way of turning any activity into a fun (and highly efficient) game.

Aim for “Flow State”

Stress-free doesn’t mean challenge-free. If your workload is too low or your tasks too easy, you will become bored, and boredom can be just as bad for your progress and motivation as anxiety. You don’t want such little challenge and workload in your day-to-day acquisition process that you get bored. Instead, try to hit that sweet spot known as “Flow state.” 

Flow state is the point between anxiety and boredom where you forget you are even consuming a foreign language and are just enjoying the content. 

The difficulty level and length of time spent learning should be decided by what has you in flow state most often.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Positive Learning Process

You will make mistakes. Or you will look silly. You will forget words and phrases you got right perfectly a week before. Guess what? None of it matters.

Looking and feeling silly is a necessary part of the language learning process, and it is a sign you are getting out of your comfort zone. Roll with the punches and learn to laugh at yourself, and you will be far better off for it.

Set Realistic Expectations

Shoot for the stars, but perhaps one of the closer ones. Take into account as many factors as you can when setting time-based achievement goals and aim high but within the realm of possibility for your situation. See this post about SMART goals for a reminder of this.

Know That Fluency Is Possible

Fluency is possible within one year (even six months), as long as you have the right methods, habits, and a positive learning mindset. Phil and I are both fluent in Mandarin, and so are many thousands of other Chinese learners around the world. We are not especially smart; we just built good habits and showed up every day.

Follow Your Emotions

Let your emotions be your guide. Feeling energized? Make some engaging SRS flashcards. Feeling lazy? Put on a Mandarin podcast, take a walk, and let your mind wander. Let your unconscious do the heavy lifting of processing the Chinese. Feeling nostalgic? Watch a movie from your childhood dubbed in Chinese. Feeling curious? Check out a word you saved into pleco a while back and see how to use it in a sentence.

Be Open-minded…

Be willing to try new tools, techniques, and resources for learning Chinese, because you never know what you might end up finding that engages you.

For example, I used to think comics were for nerds and kids until I realized how many high-quality comics have been translated into Chinese, all accessible from smartphone apps. If reading comics makes you a nerd-child, then that’s what I am now, I guess. The same goes for watching those “cheesy” Chinese TV shows and movies. Man, am I glad I took that leap! Now I’ve always got one of those crazy shows on, and I’m picking up new words from them all the time.

…but Also Be Brutal About Learning Chinese

Never let yourself be frustrated by a medium or piece of content you don’t enjoy. Drop it and go find something else. It may just be that your level isn’t high enough to enjoy that particular content right now.

Be Around the Right People

I firmly believe that we are the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. Find positive learning communities on social media platforms or Meetups in your local area and take part actively.

Take Time to Reflect on How Far You’ve Come

Take Time to Reflect on How Far You’ve Come

Whether you want to keep a journal or blog, record yourself regularly, or just be more mindful, it’s a great idea to stop every few weeks or months and take stock of your progress.

You could even do this daily. Think to yourself: “Do I know more Chinese than yesterday?” and make sure the answer is “yes” by never having a zero-day.

Remember to Enjoy the Learning Process

We, humans, adapt to successes very quickly. As soon as we realize a dream, we add another one. On the one hand, this is how we all have the potential to achieve greatness. On the other hand, it is a bit of a drag because we are rarely satisfied long-term by achieving our goals.

Whatever your goals are with Mandarin, achieving them will become normality sooner than you can blink, so you must enjoy the learning process.