Who Can’t Learn Chinese?
Doctors, lawyers, and engineers can’t learn Chinese? Am I out of my mind for saying this? Nope, I’m just trying to get attention :). Of course doctors, lawyers and engineers can learn Chinese just like everyone else. BUT, in several years of teaching, I have noticed a pattern in my adult students worth talking about.
Language Learning is Different
Doctors, lawyers, and many other professionals are often good at school. That is how they became doctors and lawyers. Those professions require lots of schooling! The people who get through all that schooling, well, they tend to be pretty good at school.
And therein lies the problem. Learning a language is not like learning other things!
In math, science, history, etc., people take notes. They make flashcards. They study. These are all great things. But they are not what is takes to learn a language. Students need input for that. All the study skills in the world won’t help a student learn a language if they don’t get enough input.
How Students Get Frustrated
I have had a lot of adult students over the years who are used to being at the top of the class. They are often (you guessed it!) lawyers, doctors, engineers, or they are retired doctors, lawyers and engineers :). Many of these students are suddenly frustrated by Chinese class. They are not at the top of the class anymore!
It is also especially frustrating because the way to learn at the beginning stages, is really just to listen. That is it. That is it. That is all you have to do. As long, as your teacher is providing comprehensible input, you will learn the language. Looking for patterns is great and all. Many folks who are traditional good students tend to be quite good at that. With language, however, finding the patterns is actually not that useful in the beginning stages. They don’t know enough language yet to detect a pattern. They see a face when they are really just looking at burnt toast.
The Good News
This is the struggle and beauty of language learning. It is tough, because a lot of people who thought that they would have any easy time actually don’t. It is also really cool, because it levels the playing field. Many people who never though of themselves as particularly good students, can suddenly find themselves doing quite well! All people have the potential to learn a second or third language, even doctors and lawyers and such :).
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More on how language learning actually works.