My story might be similar to that of the set of people who started learning Chinese under the Confucius Institute as far back as 2008 and this set of people can be seen as pioneer students of the Confucius Institute in Nigeria. Although I joined few years later, I shared similar experiences with the pioneer students.
For most people, if not all, we were at the time, students of our different majors, most of which weren’t related to linguistics. For most people, if not all, we weren’t too ambitious and didn’t have much enticements to the language.
Some of us didn’t even intend to get this serious as to write HSK (hànyǔ shuípíng kǎoshi 汉语水平考试) Level examinations, which are the Chinese Proficiency Examinations till Level 6, the highest level.
Some of us joined the classes to know why the Chinese people came to our institutions, while some persons who had seen a lot of Chinese movies on Kungfu (pronounced as gōngfu功夫 in Chinese) as kids and had loved the popular actors, Chéng Lóng成龙 (Jacki Chan) and Lǐ Xiǎolóng 李小龙 (Bruce Lee), thought they will be taught how to play the martial arts.
Some, who thought the sounds of the Chinese language were funny, came to learn and then back at their hostels, while they played with their friends, mimic the native speakers.
There were also a couple of us who were getting bored studying our majors, and do not mind spicing up our lives with the a cool activity such as learning a foreign language and there was also another set of people who were up to date with the speedy and constant growth of the Chinese economy, could see where China was headed – towards becoming the seat of world power, and saw learning their language as a necessary plus to their desired future.
Some who were business-oriented and loved to import products from China did find this as an opportunity for business expansion at their doorsteps.
These and many more were the motives of the pioneer students who frequented the first classes at the Confucius institute.
However, not all who started this journey continued to the end.
When the excitement wore off and classes got very serious, not all of us could cope with the stress of studying two majors simultaneously so some persons dropped, some postponed the learning to the future while a couple of us pushed on.
The individual stories of the several fun and exposures we had and the many challenges we faced over the past few years are longer than can be contained on this column but there were a few things we paid attention to that made starting off on this journey quite some fun.
- Visualize. You may need to ease your tensed-up nerves, relax and perceive the Chinese language as a language worth learning. Visualize success and progress. The state of your mind is very important.
- Unlearn. You may need to come to class with some space in your head to accommodate what you will be taught and you will create this space by unlearning and disabusing your mind of the garbage you may gathered before class about how extremely difficult and impossible it could be to learn Chinese.
And very importantly, do not take advice about learning mandarin from a non-mandarin speaker. The fears of their tales and assumptions might cripple your enthusiastic spirit from learning the Chinese language as a beginner.
- Practice. If you are in your home country, you may not have many native speakers, besides your teachers, to speak with, however, you can seize the opportunities in class to practice what you have learned and let them sink in.
If you are in china, like a fish inside water, you have many options all around you. But there is still a chance of not improving on your speaking ability if you are reluctant to speak the few sentences you know, if you stick to your English-speaking friends or friends that could speak your mother tongue, or you lose interest in progressive learning.
It is important to note that practice is of paramount importance in learning a new language. At this stage, you may be likened to a child that is learning to put words together so speak, speak and SPEAK!
- Explore. There are a lot of Chinese movies, video clips and dialogues for beginners online, you may need to develop interest on seeing the clips and speaking alongside with them, and also laying hands on some free mandarin materials online.
You can learn simple Chinese songs, and travel to places in China, as well as putting in some efforts to make friends with the non-English-speaking Chinese.
Attached here is a playlist of the videos under this series. Feel free to learn or keep busy with them.
There are also a few clips about cities in China and stuffs about China already there and more to in view. You may visit and subscribe. Thank you.
I wish you the best in your mandarin journey. I am enjoying some success, you will too.