My learning journey began at my hometown Hamburg in Germany, just with a text book and a tandem partner. Half a year later, I found myself in a Chinese course at Leipzig University. I am writing to you now from Taiwan where I am visiting the Mandarin Training Center where I arrived around five months ago.
I haven not always been a passionate language learner. At middle school, I have been told that I have got lots of problems with my English pronunciation. That influenced me and as I was (still) listening to what my parents said, I chose to take Latin courses instead of Spanish because with Latin there is no room to make mistakes in pronunciation, right?
Well, ten years passed since then and now I think that I made the wrong choice. I mean, I don’t regret that I have learned it at all but I prefer to be able to speak Spanish now rather than being able to “speak” Latin.
More importantly, I kept my limiting belief, that I would not be a good language learner for quite some years and so, for that time I didn’t think about learning a new language.
Just when I got addicted to traveling, my wish to learn foreign languages awoke again to live.
Good Authors like Tim Ferris and Benny Lewis have shown me that learning languages is not necessarily as hard as it sometimes feels at school.
So, for language learning, your personal motivation plays a huge role. And there are good reasons not to learn Chinese, just as Tomas points it out at Nihaositgoing.com but what can motivate you, to learn consistently?
I do not know what your motives are, however, I want to share with you, what inspires me to learn new languages and I hope that you find your own motivation to study new languages.
Learning foreign languages can be so much fun, if one knows how to learn!
Reason number one: Sense of achievement
I love those moments when I push my limits, as I am doing when learning Chinese. Especially in the beginning, those moments of success, when I apply simple things come very fast.
For example, in my first few months of my “journey” to learn Chinese at home, I worked at a breakfast service in a hotel. Sometimes there were Chinese guests and I was hesitant to talk to them in Chinese, because I represent my Hotel…
But I really wanted to!
So, when I was sure that they really spoke Chinese I said the most basic things, like “What do you want to drink?” – 你想喝什麽？ and “Where in China do you come from?” – 你在中國哪裏？
The Chinese people I met appreciated my effort to learn their language and that felt good.
Before I started my studies, I played way too much computer games. On some days I did not really do anything else than playing my favorite game League of Legends!
Especially on these days, I realized how good it feels to still do something I consider to be useful.
Number two: Learning is just interesting!
My father often told me, “whatever you do, at some point it gets interesting, when you understand more and more. He said this with a background in as a doctor and passionate scientist and I can confirm for myself that this definitely holds true for learning new languages as well!
Chinese characters often reveal clues about their culture, history or pronunciation.
After some time, I became fascinated by some really nerdy details, for example there are characters which have been forbidden because they are part of the real name of Chinese emperors.
With this knowledge, you can figure out dates of old texts a little bit better. I don’t know if you care about that and in the beginning I certainly was not interested into anything related to classical Chinese but now I think this is amazingly cool!
Learning a foreign language makes me curious to get to know the country behind it even more.
For example, in my first half a year learning Chinese at home, I read five books about China. I reached that relatively high number because I had got a lot of time and no pressure. In contrast to a more forceful environment like at school, I was free to read or not, and I did.
There was a synergy between learning Chinese, learning about China and having exchanges with my language partner. I ended up backpacking a month in China just before my Sinology studies began which I decided to enroll in during this six-month learning process.
Number three: Foreign language skills enable deeper understanding about the country
In my Sinology-course at University, we must learn Chinese. This is one of the key competences.
Of course, it is possible to learn from other cultures without knowledge of their language but how much bigger may the understanding be?
For example, Chinese characters sometimes give clues how they are meant to be understood. Look at the word “culture” – in English and German, this word has Latin roots from the word “colere” – and means foster, inhabit, or cultivate. This etymological association is closer to agriculture but for Chinese it’s a completely different story.
The Chinese translation is „文化“, wén huà. The first component meant in ancient times something like letters, writing, literature, literacy, depending on the context.
化“, huà means development or something like transformation.
It is too easy to interpret too much into the letters, but it is fair to say that the conception of culture is quite different to that of English and German.
Learning foreign languages even makes traveling way more interesting. Understanding what people say in their native language enables meeting more people, to travel without relying on google maps, to understand explanations and their sense of humor
Reason number four: Advantages in the future!
Above all that, foreign language skills can be very useful for some jobs. Maybe my Chinese skills will enable me to get an exciting job but that is definitely not the reason why I study.
A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture at my National Taiwan Normal University given by Professor Lloyd, an American-born Dutch Sinologist who mastered Chinese to say the least. He gave a clear message to his students which he picked up when he was studying at Harvard. The ones who are passionate to learn Chinese are the ones who are way more likely to stick to the process.
If you learn a foreign language, you can find out your own reasons.
Motivational scientist divide motivation into extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is related to motives such as money, marks, or avoiding punishment. In that case, the action itself is not as important as the result you hope to get or avoid.
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from within. In that case you enjoy the action in itself, without a reward from the outside. In the past, I was intrinsically motivated to play computer games, and now I am intrinsic motivated to learn Chinese, among other things.
I think, even if there is an environment which gives you the right amount of pressure like a language course or school, there is a way to find intrinsic motivation. This motivation, wherever it comes from, is what I wish for you, my friend.
Rage against the Machine, Guerilla Radio
“It has to start some place.
It has to start some time.
What better place than here?
What better time than now?”
Do you also learn a foreign language, or do
you want to learn a new one?
What motivated you?
Do you have got any questions about language learning or motivation?
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