Hi everyone, Peter Galante, founder of Innovative Language Learning here.
I’d like to share my 2012 Chinese language success story with you this year. On January 1st 2012, I made a resolution to learn Chinese. What was different from past years?
1. I wrote out the resolution and left it on my desk, where I looked at it each day.
2. I listened to ChineseClass101 lessons or vocabulary lists each day during commutes, on my mobile phone.
3. I set smaller goals: weekly and monthly
4. I used my ChineseClass101 lessons as the study material with my tutor
The results…from the last week in November, my two 30-minute Chinese lessons are 99.9% in Chinese.
This year I have made a significant effort towards mastering Chinese. Here are a few changes I made that drastically improved my results.
Before: A Broad Written Goal -> Master Chinese
This Year: A Measurable Goal -> Speak for 30 minutes exclusively in Chinese (about my interests)
In the past, my goal was something along the line of “Master Chinese.” A broad ambitious goal, which lacked a measurable result. This year I changed my goal from ‘Master Chinese’ to ‘Have a 30 Minutes Conversation Exclusively in Chinese with my Chinese Tutor.’
Before: Attempt to Learn with Friends and Family
This Year: Pay for a Tutor
To each his own, but paying hard earned money for lessons…well, let’s just say come class time I was focused and prepared. Family members and friends are great, but sometimes things can break down fast. There is nothing on the line, and sometimes working something new into the routine can be difficult. My wife has tried to teach me her native language time and again, but it’s hard to create to proper professional environment to really learn.
By putting my money on the line, I approached things with the mindset of someone who was determined to get value from the service. My motivation was higher and my expectations of the service were higher. In turn, I demanded more from my teacher and myself.
Before: Use Tutor’s Recommended Study Resource
This Year: Use My ChineseClass101 Course as Main Study Resource
I have a Chinese teacher/tutor. We meet for 30 minutes a week online.
Before this year, our lessons were focused around textbook conversations that lacked topics I was interested in. At the same time, I was using ChineseClass101.com as my self study resource. This resulted in a disconnect between what I was learning on my own, and what I was learning in the classroom.
At first I was hesitant to ask my teacher to use ChineseClass101.com as our new study resource. In the end, I requested that my teacher use the series I was studying at ChineseClass101.com as our main study resource for our lessons. My teacher, a real rockstar, agreed, even though this meant some extra work on her end to create teacher guides for the lessons.
She was pleasantly surprised to see the classes were formatted in a way that allowed for easy integration with our lessons. Also, she liked that the lessons were based around much more current and relevant talking points than the textbooks we had been using.
This turned out to be a big break!
Now that we were using material I was studying on my own in the lessons, an interesting thing happened. My talking time in the lessons began to increase rapidly.
Remember my goal? 30 minutes of conversation in Chinese. And not talking in Chinese, but actually having a conversation.
At the beginning of the year, my total talking time in the class was about an average of 7 minutes and most of that time was spent repeating, drilling, or reading text. Our initial conversation was around a minute, and consisted of “how was your weekend?” My standard response, “Fine. And you?” And well, you get the rest.
Before: Reactively Answer Teacher Questions
This year: Proactively Control the Conversation
Now that I knew the study material (ChineseClass101.com) and was actively studying it before the lessons, I could write and practice conversations based around the vocabulary and grammar points of the lessons.
Our warm-up conversations soon shifted from the teacher asking about my weekend to conversations about relevant and current topics. To illustrate, we had a lesson about interviews and resumes. The warm conversation centered on how LinkedIn has become an important part of the employment process. This topic seems a bit difficult, right?
Well, it really wasn’t. It took a little bit of effort on my part to find out how to say LinkedIn. And that was it. A lot of the grammar was already there.
“LinkedIn is better than a resume. I don’t use resumes. I use LinkedIn. Do you know about LinkedIn?” etc.
And while I was speaking, a funny thing happened. My teacher listened with interest and began to ask me questions about LinkedIn. We then spoke about the Chinese equivalent!
When the conversation concluded, I looked at my watch. 8 minutes. It was by far the longest conversation we had ever had. And almost 1/3 toward my goal!
Now, was the conversation smooth and flowing at a native level? No. But it was 98% in Chinese. My teacher is very good in that if I say something in English, she’ll repeat back in Chinese and rarely if ever use English.
With this big win under my belt, I revisited my goal.
Before: 30 Minutes of Conversation in Chinese
This April: 10-Minute Conversation in Chinese
Smaller Goals were instrumental. After reaching 8 minutes in Chinese, I set the next goal to 10 minutes. I would put in the necessary work before our Skype lesson to ensure I could meet the minimum time goal for having a conversation in Chinese. And again, an interesting thing happened. I would constantly exceed my goals when I studied and prepared. Of course, I would fall short when I couldn’t find the time. This reinforced how critical preparing was to my success. And the more I succeeded, the more time I would put in.
The goals progressed monthly as follows: 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 25 minutes and finally 30 minutes.
I reached the 30 minute goal was reached in November. And we were a LONG way from weekend activities. The conversation included the following topics: personal finance, credit card point systems, exchange rates, and taxes!
Before: Talking About Topics in Books
This November: Talking About Topics I’m Interested In
So why would anyone want to talk about taxes in two languages? Good question. That is definitely a topic for a different post, but I’d like to emphasize the point that we were talking about things that interested me. As my Chinese skills progressed and our conversations became longer, I found myself wanting and trying to talk about my personal interests. This was very challenging at first. In the end, I spent some time compiling lists of words related to my interests. This was a big step. I was now using Chinese as a tool to learn about things that were very interesting to me! My teacher actually had limited knowledge on some topics and would often have to research things. I think she may have enjoyed learning about these things too. Although, I’m not quite sure about that.
The lesson: it’s important to learn to speak about your areas of interest and expertise in your target language. After all, it’s what you know and live and breath everyday. Conversing in an educated manner in another language is quite an interesting feeling! And quite a LONG way from commenting on flavor of foods! It’s motivational and invigorating, and inspires the quest for more knowledge and longer conversation goals.
This is just my own personal story on learning Mandarin Chinese. I hope it helps you to regroup to tackle whatever language you’re interested in learning next year. And please, if you yourself have a language success story, share it in the comments below to help boost our community!
To your fluency,
Peter Galante, Founder