Repetition is a fundamental part of successful language learning. Until you hear or read the same vocabulary or structures again and again enough times within meaningful contexts, they just won’t commit to long-term, procedural memory no matter how much you may want to remember. A love for repetition is perhaps one of the biggest advantages children have when learning their first language. I am simply amazed how my nephews can watch the same Sesame Street video or read the same Dr. Seuss book a zillion times without getting bored. We adults aren’t quite so patient. We tend to view such repetition as punishment, not pleasure. Fortunately, there are two ways to eat our “repetition cake” without having to eat the “boredom broccoli”. Read on to see what they are.
It is interesting to read claims on the web that the traditional grammar-based language teaching model is “under attack,” when nearly everyone still subscribes to this archaic approach. The vast majority of language classrooms, whether in high schools, universities, or private language schools, still spend most class hours teaching and testing explicit information such as grammar rules and lexical items out of context. I read on a blog a few years back that: “Anything students need to know has to be taught, not caught.” This soundbite seems logical, but it underpins the major misconception widely on display in traditional language classrooms and programs: the notion that languages can be taught. The truth is that languages can only be “acquired,” not taught.
If you will visiting or moving to China, you would do yourself—and those you meet—a big favor by memorizing these top ten tips from Learn Mandarin Now: 1) Learn at least a little Mandarin. 2) Avoid fake taxis. 3) Prepare yourself to use squatty potties. 4) Avoid taboo topics: politics, Tibet, Taiwan, human rights, and Internet censorship. 5) Learn to bargain (the national sport!) 6) Cash is king. 7) Don’t refer to elderly individuals by their name. 8) Never stick chopsticks in your rice bowl. 9) The number 4 is bad luck. 10) Avoid bad luck gifts like clocks, white wrapping, and green hats. Read on to learn more about each.
If you are learning Mandarin Chinese, check out this video interview Olly Richards from I Will Teach You a Language recorded last year. Olly is a great interviewer and even went to the trouble of getting a complete transcript made of the interview (available for free on his site). In the interview, we discuss: 1) My journey to learn Mandarin Chinese. 2) The ways in which Mandarin is actually an easy language. 3) How to learn Chinese characters the way Will Smith would. 4) How to best learn tones. 5) The myth that you need to move to China or Taiwan to learn Mandarin. 6) Differences between the Mandarin spoken in Mainland China and Taiwan. 7) The importance of chéngyǔ (成語, “idioms”), which are usually 4 characters in Chinese. 8) My top 3 resources for learning Mandarin Chinese. 9) More about my Master Mandarin guide and how it can help beginning and intermediate learners.
Is it ideal to learn Japanese in Japan and Mandarin in China or Taiwan? Yes. Is it a mandatory condition? Absolutely not. Let me be clear: living in Japan and Taiwan for a number of years was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I go back to visit as often as possible. But while living in a Japanese or Mandarin speaking country can certainly provide learners of these languages many advantages, it’s critical to understand that it’s not a requirement for success. In today’s world, “I can’t learn Japanese or Mandarin because I live in rural Kansas” is an excuse, not a reality. With Internet access, a little creativity, and a lot of hard work, you really can learn any language, anywhere.