Can you Learn Chinese in Less Time than You Spend on Your Daily Commute?
If you found this blog through Google or another search engine, you have seen the advertisements that promise that you can learn Mandarin Chinese in 30 days (or something like that). Hopefully you have the good sense to know that is this is not really possible. What those programs can do is to teach a student “survival” language, so that they can navigate certain situations. A student who learns Chinese “in 30 minutes a day” won’t be able to have a free-form conversation, but they will be able to memorize useful phrases. Language acquisition is slow, ordered and complex. No matter how flashy the app, you cannot leap-frog the stages of language learning.
Is Immersion the Answer?
So if you can’t learn Mandarin Chinese in a month, or 30 minutes a day, or in 5 minutes a day, what is a time-pressed student to do? The good news is that when it comes to language learning, quality is more important than quantity. The quantity of simple exposure to Mandarin Chinese does not determine how much a person can speak. If all a learner needed to do was just listen to Chinese, then expats who have lived in China for years would all be fluent. I promise you that there are many expats who have lived in China for a decade or more and cannot say more than a few sentences. There are many reasons for this. The most relevant reason that just being in an environment is not enough is that the person needs to understand what they are hearing. They need input, but it needs to be comprehensible input.
You can’t learn Chinese in a month. You can’t learn it just by living in China and not doing anything else. The good news for language learners who don’t have loads of time to learn a second language is that when it comes to language learning, is that quality is more important than quality. You will need more than 30 minutes a day for a month, but you also don’t need to hire someone to follow you you around all day speaking Chinese.
Classes With Comprehensible Input Are the Best Use of Your Time
According to the research, instruction (i.e. classes) really do help students acquire a language. If done well, a class will make it easy for the students to understand the input they’re getting. This is the missing piece of the puzzle if you just go and live in China/Taiwan. There is plenty of input around there, but students won’t understand what they hear. Classes also supply input that is compelling and interesting to students, if they are well-designed. With an app, or a survival program, students just memorize phrases. That is enough input to help students get through common situations. It is not, however, enough to achieve true fluency. It is also kind of boring.
Most students don’t have a great deal of time to learn a second language. Many language learning apps promise to help save time. Students, however, won’t learn true communication just by using an app. Jumping into a language environment is not enough either. A thoughtfully designed class can work with the limited time a student has and help them acquire a language without memorizing.
More on how language learning actually works:
A brief outline of the theories of Stephen Krashen, phD.
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