Psyching myself up to practice Chinese

I just got back from Beijing, having spent 6 weeks there.  As soon as I got back, the next day I was participating in a video conference with an amazing group of language experts (more details on that another day) and as part of the discussion they asked me how my Chinese language progress was during my stay.  We ended up talking about how sometimes people emotionally get ready for language practice and how other times people check out emotionally.

Case in point:  As I mentioned in the previous post, while in Beijing I spent part of the time with a host family.  I recall one afternoon when I was about to go home for dinner, but I was emotionally worn out that day and so I decided that it would be easier to go get some dinner somewhere else.  Dinner at home would have meant that I would have had to speak Chinese the whole time and that day I had reached my limit of “daily practice.”  Sure enough, I grabbed a little dinner somewhere else and arrived home that night late enough that there wasn’t much more time for extra conversation.  It was weird because the exact reason that I had decided to stay with the family was to get personal practice time and here I was “avoiding” the situation.  On the other hand, I remember another evening when I knew that I’d be home in time to watch the cooking show.  My host family loves to watch the cooking channel and it was alway a good time to chat with them about food.  I found myself rushing home to make sure that I was there in time to watch TV with the family.  So one day I avoided going home to get out of practicing and another day I rushed home to made sure that I’d have time to practice.

As we talked during the video conference about how disappointed I was at myself for not taking advantage of every opportunity to practice Chinese, one of my colleagues said, in essence, “Give yourself a break Orlando.  You’re just human. We don’t learn languages like machines.”  It sounds like pretty good advice in general.  Learning to speak a foreign language is not like turing on the ON button.  Give yourself a break every so often.  When your daily limit is reached, it’s OK to check out for a while as well.



5 Responses to “Psyching myself up to practice Chinese”

  1. Lingomi’s Reading List for July 30, 2010 « Lingomi Blog Says:

    […] sometimes, even when you’re motivated, the best thing to do is take a break. People aren’t machines. People don’t learn like machines, and most attempts to do so […]

  2. Dani Wang Says:

    You really sound like you’re working hard at your Chinese! Spending just a few weeks in China can advance your Chinese more than months in the classroom. I often find students understand a lot of Chinese but are afraid to practice talking in Chinese.

  3. Orlando Says:

    That’s the mystery, isn’t it Dani? Why do we get afraid to practice sometimes? And I’m not a shy guy at all.
    Anyway, I’m back in Austin and my month in Beijing was fantastic. Tons of practice, tons of talking, lots of progress.

  4. rob martinsen Says:

    Hey Orlando, great anecdotal experience, I actually have read some research on that very topic in short term study abroad, (Wilkinson, 1998). Always fun to hear your experiences.

  5. Jake Beus Says:

    I’ve been reading through your blog posts about language learning. You are obviously well-traveled and invested in language learning. Would you consider taking a look at as a language learning resource? It has words, phrases, and verbs from native speakers in Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and German.

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