Just like in building a skyscraper where every brick counts, vocab is the fundamental in learning a new language. In their early stage of learning Mandarin, many people find themselves struggling in memorizing Chinese words. With this observation in mind, I came across a youtube video where reports an amazing news about a border collie named Chaser who has demonstrated a comprehension of more than 1000 English words.
In average, the Chinese learners who have reached HSK-level 4 have 1200 vocab, while HSK-level 2 which requests 600 vocab has already promised the basic daily communication ability in Chinese. That made me grasp firmer on my belief that everyone can learn a new language. Even for the language like Mandarin Chinese that is so different from English, there is still hope for English speakers to speak Chinese. Having said that, how can we learn vocabulary more efficiently in studying a new language? Here is what I think.
Method matters. Finding the right tool really can shorten your learning curve, especially when it comes to memorizing new words. It doesn’t have to all be tedious drilling and repetition. In my previous post HSK Test Prep Discovery, I recommended skritter as the write way to learn Mandarin. That’s a tool you may consider aside from using flashcards. Recently I had a conversation with a student on the topic of the use of mnemonic, and we talked about a keyword associated method that enables our brain to memorize new words with seemingly less effort and much better results. I have been working with her by applying this method for a little while and we both have come to conclude that it works well. If you happen to be interested in it, we can get into its details in our session if you contact me for helping you improve your Mandarin Chinese.
Adequate input is important. When I started learning English, I spent a lot of time on listening to VOA news and watching English movies. From there to where my English skills are at now, there is no doubt a big leap. Likewise, in Chinese learning, or any other new language acquisition for that matter, spending enough time to immerse ourselves within the environment of the target language is just too important to skip. If you ask me how much time should I spend on learning Chinese every day? I would suggest 2 hours ideally. If that sounds too much, you may want to be flexible, aiming for using fragmented time as much as you can. The point is to make time for it and you will see that if you have done it, result will come.
Consistent interaction makes it all a difference. Language learning is a consistent effort. My own experience in learning English is the testimony. Up to today, there are three categories in my English vocab that I’m aware of. They are: 1) words which I use and speak in the same way as I do in my native tongue Mandarin Chinese; 2) words which I comprehend but still need my effort of searching for or pronouncing when in a relevant context; 3) words that are completely new waiting to be put on to the will-soon-work-on-list of my vocab bank. In daily English communication, I take note on the words that I don’t know yet and pick the words that don’t naturally come to me for practice in next round of conversation. I found this is a great way to expand your vocab size in learning a new language, and for sure learning Chinese is no exception.
Finding the right native to practice also means a lot for language learners. You want to find someone who encourages you, and not everyone is that type. I learned this in my own experience too. Years ago, I went out with a group of friends, most of whom were my coworkers from different countries. We were on a subject of Chinese people speaking English, and a friend of mine mentioned that Chinese people have trouble to pronounce the English phonic z. To make his point, he asked me—-the only Chinese in that group at that moment—-to say the word zoo aloud, which I did without knowing what the fuzz was all about. After that, the group laughed. Obviously, it was the least encouraging learning environment for me, and I realized immediately that this friend of mine is the last person I would like to learn English from. Well, I didn’t hold the grudge against my friend though because I knew then and know now that he was oblivious of how his approach would affect me as a language learner. Luckily, I didn’t flinch, took this as a learning moment instead and grew the ‘thick skin’ to practice on this word. Because of this experience, when it comes to coaching people in learning Mandarin, I’m fully aware of the importance of being patient and that being encouraging is a great quality that an individual can have. Now with a smile on my face, I’m proud of that quality of mine.
Alright! That’s all my thoughts on this topic. Let me know how you think of it by leaving a comment.