Introduction – Why Learn Chinese?
Language learning can be a chore, we’ve all been there, so it’s vital to find your Chinese language motivation and your passion to study. In this article you will learn how to find your motivation to continue to learn Chinese by examining why you started in the first place.
“When you feel like quitting, remember why you started”Unknown origin
This article will discuss the 6 groups of Chinese language learners presented by the keynote speaker, Jared Turner, at the Swire Chinese Language Conference in June 2023. The original podcast can be found here.
It is focused on students that wish to learn Chinese, but upon reflection it can help you rediscover your Chinese language motivation.
The article will also review the key reasons for burnout and how you can avoid them.
Review the 6 groups of learners below to see which groups of learners you identify with, to help you to rediscover your passion to learn Chinese.
1. Language Enthusiasts
Language enthusiasts are learners that enjoy the challenge or tackling something difficult.
This group of learners are internally motivated by their own curiosity and see language learning as its own reward. If you fall into this category is likely that you enjoy a challenge and your original motivation to learn came from just that. This category of learnings typically don’t need external motivation, and can generate their own desire to progress in their studies or goals.
If you find your Chinese motivation learning at an all time low, and you fit into this category then it may be time to reflect on why you decided to pick this challenge. Learning Chinese certainly isn’t easy, in fact its often cited as being the hardest language for native English speakers to learn.
Remember that it was the difficulty and prestige of learning this language that drove you to start, embrace the grind.
The HSK Exam
As I fit into this group I would personally suggest to progress through the HSK exams as tool to learn Chinese. This provides a real, meaningful result from your study and is a great way to benchmark your progression. If you book an exam date, it will give you a deadline and a target to aim for, meaning you can’t let you Chinese language motivation drop if you want to pass the exam.
You can see below the annual statistics for people who take the HSK exam every year, just 76,000 participants in 2009.
Out of the small number of people taking this exam, those outside of Asia is even smaller. So if you fit into the group of westerners taking this exam, you are in a very small minority of people taking on this challenge.
2. Cultural Connectors
Cultural connectors are people that wish to learn to speak Chinese so they can engage with aspects of China.
If you fall into this category, it means that your primary reason for learning is to connect with the culture in China and her people. It may be that you are interested in Chinese dramas, music, films, food, history, culture etc and learning Chinese is a key method for you to engage with those things.
If this was your key motivation to start studying Chinese, it may be time to start planning your next trip, meet some new friends or learn to cook some new recipes. Your motivation comes from enjoying the benefits of speaking Chinese.
A great suggestion for those in this group is to reach out to Chinese people either personally or through communities. There are are Chinese – English language exchange events, such as this. You may also be interested to try using Tandem or HelloTalk for language and cultural exchange. You might even make a few friends along the way.
This is an incredibly natural way to learn the language, and you will quickly pick up the way that native Chinese people speak with each other. One key benefit of this method is that you will avoid those awkward textbook phrases that just aren’t used in modern day China. Plus, you will get a first hand introduction to certain things most people won’t get to experience, such as a delicious hot pot.
3. Aspirational Learners
Aspirational learners are those who have been inspired by others to learn to speak Chinese.
If you fall into this group, it’s likely that you’ve wanted to learn to speak Chinese for a long time. Perhaps you saw a Youtube video of a foreigner speaking fluent Chinese and want to be like them.
In the modern age, it is unsurprising that this group is quite large. There are some global celebrities who have popularised speaking Chinese in some form. For example the famous John Cena “Bing Chilling” or Mark Zuckerburg giving a speech in Chinese Mandarin.
The recent trend really has linked learning a difficult language like Chinese Mandarin and intelligence and success.
Learning Chinese: Idols
For you, the best way to find your motivation again is to be re-inspired. Reach out to other learners in the community and find your inspiration from other learners success stories. Perhaps even finding a mentor for you to look up to and learn from, and keep you motivated.
I would recommend you to reach out to communities like the Chinese Language subreddit (found here), or discord servers dedicated to learning Chinese.
Furthermore you can check out media personalities creating content on the basis of their Chinese language skills. This was certainly one of the initial inspirations for myself and many to learn Chinese. An example is below. Searching through most media platforms such as Youtube or Instagram will surely inspire you.
4. Functional Learners
Functional learners are people that are required to learn Chinese through necessity, for example a foreigner living in China, or perhaps married to a Chinese person
For these learners, and for the learners in point 6, Chinese learning motivation more external than internal (as perhaps for point 1). Therefore your focus should be on what you have to gain from learning this language.
It may be impressing your Chinese husbands family, meeting friends around you or even further business opportunities. The key point here is to focus on what you have to gain out of improving your Chinese speaking level.
You may also reach out to the sources of your Chinese language requirement and openly discuss ways and means of improving in those specific areas. For example, if you live in China then a local tutor to help you with things like ordering food would be essential. If you are doing business in China, perhaps a business language course may be more suitable.
5. Career Focused Learners
Career focused learners are those who see learning to speak Chinese as an opportunity to further develop themselves, particularly their career.
With the rapid rise of the Chinese economy and the important of it around the globe, it’s not surprising that there are a lot of job and business opportunities for those who can bridge the gap between the West and China, starting with the language
LinkedIn and Beyond
To find your Chinese learning motivation, you can check job vacancies that benefit from your skills. It may also be worth reaching out to others on a platform such as LinkedIn to find others who have leveraged their Chinese speaking ability to further their careers.
I would recommend starting out on websites dedicated to finding foreigners jobs within China, you may also check out Chinese companies based in the west for an easier introduction.
Outside of that, if you are fortunate enough to work for a global company, there is a strong chance that you already have Chinese colleagues. If you are brave enough to spark a conversation with them in Chinese, I’m sure it will be met with happiness and praise.
6. Obligated Learners
Obligated learners are people that have external pressure driving them to learn, for example a person with Chinese heritage born outside of China.
For these kind of people, learning can feel a lot more stressful due to the inherited responsibility from external factors.
In order to help refuel you for this challenge, consider engaging with your heritage. Connect with your family and your history to see if you can find your inspiration to continue learning.
I would recommend to focus on the positives of learning rather than the negatives of not learning. Hope and reward is a far better motivator than guilt.
My Chinese Language Motivation – A Reflection
From a personal perspective I would definitely fit mostly into the first category, a language enthusiast, however that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Like most people, there will be multiple factors which influence their decision not only to start learning, but to continue to learn. Whilst being a language enthusiast definitely started me on the journey to learn Chinese, it hasn’t been the only factor influencing me to persist.
There are also opportunities within my work and daily life to use Chinese, generating these small moments of happiness and reward from my hours of study. Not to mention the incredible people that I have met along the way during my study which to continues to fuel my Chinese language motivation.
If you’re interested more in my personal journey, you can check out my blog here.
Losing Chinese Language Motivation
In summary there are a lot of reasons why a person may start to learn Chinese. The above categories aren’t exclusive and many learners will fit into multiple categories. However here are also several reasons why a person may lose their Chinese language motivation.
Chinese Mandarin is Hard, Really Hard
What you are trying to do is really hard, so patience is key.
“Rome wasn’t built in a single day”John Heywood, 1538
It’s important to remember that learning any language, and learning Chinese specifically, takes a long time. It isn’t something that can be rushed or completed quickly. Forming good habits and sticking with it consistently is the most important thing to see meaningful results.
You’re Studying Too Much
Your Chinese learning motivation will be at zero if you’re studying too much. It’s important to keep it playful and fun. Sure, it’s important to do the basic, boring things like studying vocabulary, but it’s equally important to use your new language skills for something you enjoy.
Watching a TV show or films in Chinese can be a great way to immerse yourself in the language and might not feel like studying.
Making friends and hanging out is another great way for you to practice without it feeling like mundane studying.
You’ve Lost the Road
You may have lost the goal that you started with. It may be time to review the above categories to really review internally what your key motivation really is to continue to study
Keep it Fresh
It may be time to switch it up if your study plan is feeling like a chore. Introduce some new material or study tactics to take the monotony away from what you’re doing. Push your comfort zone and put yourself into some challenging situations to see what you’re really capable of, or what you need to work on next.
The key thing is to keep in mind why you originally started to help give you fuel to continue. As with most things in life, pure willpower will only take your so far, before your Chinese language motivation is gone. It’s important to set reasonable goals, based on your personal objectives for studying.
It is also worth considering that your motivation may change over time. What might have started as a hobby, inspired by a bi-lingual friend, may turn into something else entirely as you progress through life.