Inspired by Benny’s effort to learn Mandarin (to whatever level) in 3 months, I took on the challenge too. After 4 or 5 years of study I still couldn’t talk!!! so I tried very hard over the last 3 months, and now? well, at least I’ve actually been doing it, talking that is, but oh so painfully slow.
For the past 3 months, even though I stayed at home in an isolated area in rural Australia, I have been studying Chinese and practising speaking it most of every day and night.
From Lang-8.com I made a few friends who agreed to help me talk Chinese, and they are all really wonderful people. They all liked the idea that they suddenly became a teacher! One chap said his work mates all laughed at him when he told them, but he didn’t mind at all, and prepared stuff for me just like trained teachers do. He even got his wife and son to help him record things for me to learn. They all worked very hard to help me. In return, they were happy to talk in English when necessary (which was quite often) to give them English speaking practice. Each of these people had slightly different accents, and along with their different teaching methods, I feel like I made great progress over the 3 months.
I kept up a weekly lesson with my teacher Xuni in Xi’an, and towards the end of the 3 months had 3 lessons a week with her. Because she didn’t want to practice her English at all, the time I spent with her always seemed even more valuable.
When my allotted 3 months was running out, and in a desperate measure to learn even quicker, I paid for some more lessons from teachers at http://www.glovico.org/. They were excellent too, and once again I really appreciated their attempts to speak no English at all.
The only problem I found with any of this was the sometimes very poor sound quality due to the slow internet. However, I learnt to treat that as yet another dialect that would force me to listen even more carefully.
Learning intensely like that, especially when you can feel you are making progress, becomes very addictive. It was so hard to call a stop to it all. And I think all my new friends were disappointed too.
And after all that, I’m still not very fluent. There is a lot to be said for being completely immersed in a language. That would be the only way to improve quickly, and I mean really immersed … no talkie English to any one at all … it simply reverses all of your new language learning.
Here is an excerpt from my last lesson with Xuni. I feel the biggest difference between now and 3 months ago is the fact that I am prepared to try and talk about almost anything. But what slows me down is still not knowing sentence structures (I think the structure I use is still English) and lack of vocabulary. I also have difficulty understanding what I hear. Even when I know each word that is said, I can’t always comprehend ordinary talk. Listening to this lesson again, I also lack confidence. I should just chat away and see what comes out …
Why did I stop I hear you ask? Well, I’m going to France!!!!
But I will be back!