I’ve had quite a few messages from people worrying that their Chinese hasn’t improved quite as much as they think it should have. I felt exactly the same a few months into my year abroad in Taiwan. It’s frustrating but you’re not alone in feeling this way.
So, as you ready yourselves for a Christmas break from studying, help yourself to some tips from people who have been through the panic and come out the other side.
- Go to class.
It’s so easy to convince yourself that it’s fine not to go. Or that you shouldn’t go because you haven’t done your homework. If your attendance is not on point and you’re not prepared for class, then this is the first place you can make improvements.
- Look out for extra classes.
A lot of Chinese universities are really good at offering free classes in singing or crafts. I joined a yoga class that was taught completely in Chinese. It wasn’t the most social place, but I got really good at saying “breathe” and naming body parts.
Other people I know have learned mah-jong or joined a Chinese Opera society.
- Make friends who you only speak Chinese to.
The easiest way to do this is to find people who don’t speak English so you’re not tempted. I was lucky enough to make friends with people who were patient enough to speak Chinese slowly to me. I also lived with Taiwanese girls who were wonderful. They helped me with my homework and their friends spoke Chinese to me.
Some people LOVE teaching Chinese and will be really happy to help.
Chat to everyone you can. I may have missed class because of nights out, but I made friends on those nights out too.
- Get to work.
I never got around to this one, but some of my friends volunteered in orphanages or got jobs in bars. In Mainland China some of my friends managed to get involved with embassies from their home countries and met some pretty cool people.
You’re doing fine. Everyone goes through this.
You ARE making improvements. It’s difficult to quantify getting slightly quicker at learning vocabulary and making slightly less grammatical mistakes and having a slightly better accent.
One very reassuring piece of advice I was given was to watch a film or TV show now, and then watch it again in 3 months. Then you’ll see what I mean.
One last thing, multiple lecturers have recommended “going to bed with a dictionary” or “getting a long haired dictionary” which is a fairly dehumanising way of encouraging you to get a partner on your year abroad. Feminism aside, this actually works. Imagine meeting a girlfriend/boyfriend’s family in Chinese. Or dating in Chinese. Chatting about nonsense in Chinese. Your vocabulary and grammar and accent will get so much better. Also, you might fall in love.