Motivation to study Chinese has dropped

March 21, 2012, 10:15 AM posted in General Discussion

I've been studying Chinese for about 2 and a half years at this point and I've found lately that my Chinese has got worse.  I am forgetting words and expressing myself has become a lot more difficult in face to face encounters.  I think I need to find a new thing to bring a new freshness to studying Chinese and I was wondering if anyone had any good suggestions?

Also, I like studying Chinese in topics for example I've done most of the music ones and most of the computer related ones and now I'm stuck as to which topic I should go to from here, any suggestions for that?

I would appreciate any advice at all - thanks.

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March 21, 2012, 11:12 AM

Couple of quick thoughts mate. Firstly I notice your comment about studying in topics. That obviously has the advantage that it's something that interests you. But the other advantage is that you get some repetition/reinforcement and each lesson kinda builds on the last. So in that vain, have you tried one of the series. There are series at different levels and they go well for that reason. I think it can help interest.

The second comment would be that I have often been surprised at just how much I've got out of a lesson whose topic I thought would normally bore me. CPod has a great way of making a really interesting and entertaining lesson out of mundane topics. And on that, bringing those 2 thoughts together reminds me of the Lao Wang series. Business topics generally would have no interest for me. But the Lao Wang series was superb.

Anyhow, good luck mate.

ps. I guess you've tried diversifying?..watching movies, reading stuff, working on another area like writing?

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Yeah I totally agree with you in terms of that picking random lessons can be more informative than one might have previously thought, but when I do that I find that sometimes the vocabulary is harder to remember because it's kind of unrelated to other lessons I am studying.

In terms of reading stuff, I think I'll give that a shot. I don't usually read cause I assume it's too complicated for me and I'll have to search up too many words and forget them straight away, but I'll try it anyway and see how I go.

Thanks for the advice!

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March 22, 2012, 04:23 AM

Hi, I think many students run into a wall or find themselves on a plateau just around the 2.5-year mark. I guess you're not in China now?
Just throwing out an idea--how about opening a twitter account and following some people tweeting in Mandarin? Everything is bite size and there's fast action all the time. Won't do anything for your speaking or hearing of course, but it can be quite engrossing esp when many people are thinking and talking about some major development in the world, or near you.

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Hi zhenlijiang,

I like the idea about following people tweeting in Mandarin. Do you have any suggestions about who to follow? I don't know how twitter works but think I might take up your idea.

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Another good suggestion, I do have a renren account but the only things I see is just what my friends post which is a different thing I guess. I have considered signing up to Weibo, could help.


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March 23, 2012, 01:59 AM


很久没看到你。I think you've reached a level where you need to decide what you want to do in life using your Chinese skills. Maybe it's working in China? 

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Hey Jenny,

I think you have a valid point, I guess I need an overall goal for trying to improve, before I had one but I think I already achieved it. I have considered working in China, but that would still be a few years away anyway.

On a slightly different topic, do you know of any reading material that would suit a Intermediate to Upper-intermediate level?

Thank you!

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March 24, 2012, 06:08 AM

I could cut and paste your post under my username, because I feel the same way. I'm not making progress in my Chinese studies, and it seems that life is getting in the way. I can certainly look back to the time when I first started learning mandarin, and think I really have come a long way. At this point, that's insufficient. I get daily reminders about how lame my Chinese is.

I think i'll list the problems for me, and then the potential solutions. I don't know how you've been working with Chinese and Chinesepod at this point, so hopefully some of the solutions will be helpful, if not repetitive with what you're already doing.


1. After 3 years, learning Chinese is just another task, not new and fresh the way it was when I first started.

2. My job is busy, and I don't have a lot of time to study.

3. It's unclear that existing techiques, tricks are making measurable improvement in my Chinese. A person that knows no Chinese at all, and then learns 100 words and a couple of sentence patterns feels they've made significant progress. A person that knows 2000 words and 20 sentence patterns, and then learns 100 words is not making as much progress in relative terms.

I guess some of the solutions/suggestions below ultimately only address the boredom aspect of learning Chinese. I'll add more as I can.


1. ask for help from others (you've done this)

2. change up your existing routines

a. listen to a newbie lesson in the car during your commute. shadow the entire lesson.

b. manually write out the lesson in hanzi.

c. learn a single sentence from a advanced lesson.

d. take any sentence, and substitute words in that sentence to make a new sentence.

e. create a 5 minute spoken presentation in Chinese (you don't actually have to give it)

f. translate your favorite song into Chinese



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Good list of suggestions, I think a change in routine would be the best for me in this situation - thanks.

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March 24, 2012, 07:10 AM

I have been studying chinese on and off (and I do mean OFF) for 10 years now.  In those 10 years I have many times felt that my chinese is actually getting worse.  In retrospect those seem to the be the times when I am ON as opposed to OFF.  I recently moved to China and every day I really feel my chinese is getting worse, but objectively I can see that it is actually improving.  I think it is basically "ignorance is bliss".  You feel you are getting worse because you can suddenly see how much further you have to go.  So really its probably an improvement.

As well I would completely agree with pretzellogic's comments about busy work schedules  (when my work schedule is super busy, my progress stops).  It is an adult learner problem.  Adults usually have to make a living and daily communicate with various people  (spouse, boss, clients) who speak their mother tongue.  Adults also have higher expectations of their use of language.  Inability to communicate at that level results in humiliation and discouragement.  So its pretty natural to feel discouraged. 

I guess the only thing is to stick with it, and the way to stick with it is different for everyone because everyone's lifestyle is different.  I just always have tried to create situations to use chinese as much as possible.  Learning a language isn't an intelligence test, its just a tool, so the more you use the tool, the more familiar you will get with it. 

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You hit the nail on the head. I remember the time I used to hit the gym regularly. No matter how hard I tried, I didn't seem to be making much progress, because everybody else was just so much bigger! But of course, once I stopped going, I realised that the progress I had made was real. It just "little" in comparison to the others, who had been gymming for longer.

To darkstar, don't get discouraged, because language progress is very incremental, and it will take years to accumulate. Patience is key. If you are like me, you could lose interest for a while, but if learning Chinese is truly in your blood, you will come back to it. I've been learning for perhaps 20 years, in an on-off way, and the "off" periods can sometimes last 2-3 years. But I've always come back to the task, and right now I'm more motivated than ever.

The source of that motivation is work, where I have to interact with Chinese CEOs, CFOs, and Chairmans of companies in China. In other words, once you make Chinese truly relevant to your day-to-day life, motivation will jump 10x.

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I guess at the moment because I'm not in China it's hard to make it relevant to my day-to-day life. Previously I had motivation because I would be preparing myself before a trip before China just by learning all the day to day things but now I need something else, hopefully I had find something.


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It funny you mention the whole fact that when you feel like you are getting worse you are actually improving. I have had people say I'm getting better, but because I'm so critical of myself maybe I blind myself with expectations so much that I can't actually see I've improved.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

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March 24, 2012, 08:58 AM

I feel like it's important to do something that interests you. Don't make studying a chore. Think about the things that entertain you in your native language and see if you can find a substitute in Chinese. You like twitter? Get on 微薄。You like reading novels? See if what you want to read has been translated into Chinese. You like dating shows? Check out 非诚勿扰。Actually, I think that last one is entertaining for just about anybody.

If a method isn't working for you, don't keep forcing it. Try something new, and try something you like doing.

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Yeah I did watch some 非诚勿扰, it is quite entertaining, maybe I should get back into that, find a way to make studying less like a chore. You know of any good intermediate level reading material?

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March 24, 2012, 11:37 PM

It's quite remarkable you made it to Intermediate/Upper Int in just 2 1/2 yrs without living in China. 

I'd second bababardwan's comment about movies - they can be a fascinating & effective adjunct to CP lessons.  I watch movies w/subtitles.

For me, the most motivating thing is talking to Chinese I happen to come across, whether in the US or China (I live in the US).  My favorite stories often derive from random encounters. 

Recently while waiting for a plane in Shanghai, I started talking with a woman sitting near me.  She works for Holiday Inn & her English was good, but we mainly spoke Chinese.  At one point, she broke out laughing.  She said "I just realized, I was translating my Chinese into English, but because you're an American who speaks Chinese, I was translating it back into Chinese."  It was fun for her, fun for me, and very motivating.   


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I used to get motivated by speaking to Chinese people I come across, but now I just get embarrassed haha. I guess I have just have high expectations of myself.

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March 25, 2012, 12:14 AM

It may sound stupid but how about coming to China for a holiday ?  Once you get here you can live cheaply.  If you stay in a dorm in a YHA Youth Hostel you can live for 100 RMB per day.


Train travel is relativley cheap and people will talk to you on trains in English or Chinese.


Sometimes I think of learning Chinese as like driving a car.  Anyone can learn it, it's just that some take much longer than others.


Sometimes I think of it as like playing the piano.  If you don't practice every day you notice it.  If you don't practice for three days the audience notices it.

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A holiday could be a good idea, however I am studying at the moment so I can't do anything anytime soon. I have a few opportunities to apply for scholarships to go to China, I guess that would help - thanks.

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March 25, 2012, 12:58 AM

I've been studying Chinese for 22 years and I can tell you it is not all sunshine and puppies.  I have been living in China for 5 years and I have days when I cannot create a coherent thought and I have days when I can have a 45 minute conversation about the decline of the US economy with a taxi driver on my way back from the airport.  I have a private tutor whom I have worked with for 4 years.  She helps me a lot. 

There are many things you can do to help your motivation.

1.  Like Johnball66 says come to China.  If you have a degree in anything, you can even come here to teach English.  I recommend Appalachians (spelled wrong) Abroad through Marshall University.  They are expensive but you can use them as a resource to vette schools and then come over on your own.

2.  Go back and review your lower level materials.  I recommend 60-20-20.  60% of your study should be at your current level; 20% should be review; and 20% should be way above your level.  When you are doing your 20% review of what you have learned, you really see how far you've come.

3.  Hook up with a Chinese speaker, and by hook up I mean connect with not have booty call.  Boyfriends/Girlfriends are a good way to learn pillow Chinese, but you want someone you can just talk to.

4.  Acknowedge that you will have periods of time when you just don't feel like studying.  Do something else.  Give yourself a set period of time - two to four weeks - and consciously avoid it.  You'll find you miss it.

Hope this helps.