Intermediate to Fluent Chinese in 30 Days: Final Post and Lessons Learned

While I failed the 30 day blogging challenge, the 30 day Chinese learning challenge has had some interesting results for me.

Main takeaways:

  • You need to put in the hours
  • There’s a lot of time in a day that can be used for language practice
  • The most important thing is to build a habit
  • Consistency is the name of the game
  • Replace Facebook time as language learning time

Putting in the Hours

When I started this challenge, I committed to 30 minutes of comprehensible input per day. Which is stupid and pathetic. According to the Foreign Service Institute, it would take a native English speaker 2200 hours to become fluent in Chinese. I realized that I was fooling myself with such a weak attempt at learning that I needed to change my learning regimen. I’m not sure what the numbers would be for a native bilingual speaker of English and Tagalog, but I don’t think it would be that different. Adding together all of my past classes, I have probably studied Chinese for 200 hours. That means I still have 2000 hours to go to become fluent. If I studied for 30 minutes per day, I would need 4000 days or 10.9 years to be fluent. That would be waaaay too long. I plan to become fluent by the time I’m 35, five years from now. At the minimum I should be learning one hour per day on average. MINIMUM. Which means I needed to find a way to maximize the amount of time I’m learning in a day while still being able to work on my other projects. I needed a daily system and a habit.

Daily Habit

First, I looked at language learning opportunities within the day, and tried to insert some language learning during those periods. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

Shower Drills

Every morning, I play either the podcasts I downloaded from Popup Chinese using DoggCatcher or the iKnow Chinese Core 1500 Listening exercises for about 20 to 30 minutes while I take a shower and get ready for work. It takes advantage of what otherwise would be unproductive time. Of course, I need to turn the volume up since the shower would otherwise drown out the sound.

Transit Practice

I walk to work and back. It’s not that far but it’s still a total of fourty minutes that I can use to do some listening practice. This can be in the form of podcasts or music (via Kugou). If I’m feeling particularly daring, I would even answer some flashcards.

While Working

Depending on the task I’m doing, I can sometimes listen to Chinese music on Kugou to get exposed to the sound even if I’m not actively learning. I’m not really sure how much it helps but this is simply in line with the principle of maximizing comprehensible input.

Dedicated Study Time in the Evenings

Aside from my day job, I have numerous projects that I’m working on in the evenings. I decided to set Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays as language study and blogging time. While I don’t always get to follow this weekly schedule, it helps to have designated days to remind me. During these evenings, I watch videos on Youku, take up free lessons on Chinese Institute Online and other sites, and read news. Sometimes, I would get lazy and just lie in bed while answering the flashcards in iKnow. Even if I didn’t get to bring out my books and write notes, I still get some practice done. Really, there should be no excuse not to learn.

And the total?

All in all, I can get about two hours of exposure every day without having to sacrifice my other commitments. And developing a system has helped me turn language learning into a sustainable, lifelong habit that I can reuse even for studying succeeding languages. I fully intend to become fluent in Korean and Japanese too.

Language Meetups

I organize and join language exchange meetups. While not as regular as I like, it helps a lot. In the last meetup I organized, I had a very fruitful conversation practice with a fellow learner who stayed in China for a year — much much longer than my 1.5 months and another fellow learner who stayed in Taiwan for quite a while. The native speaker that was supposed to come wasn’t able to do so, but it still a good meetup nonetheless.

Facebook Time is Language Learning Time

One of my the most important realizations from analyzing how I spend my time is that Facebook is a huge timesink. It’s unproductive, doesn’t really help me fulfil my language learning objectives, and just makes my heart ache whenever I see people traveling. Really, I don’t know why keep opening that app. Nevertheless, whenever I open Facebook, I remind myself that I can use that time to do flashcards instead. So I do. Not all the time, but it’s a good trigger to start learning.

Time is Not an Excuse

The commitment to learn has made me question how I use my time. Whenever I find myself randomly browsing the web or watching Youtube videos, my commitment reminds me to stop what I’m doing and start learning. I learned that there’s a lot of time in the day. I had a lot of time during weekends that I never put to good use before. So time is never an excuse to not learn languages. In fact there is no excuse not to learn anything so long as you have made a commitment to learn and you’re willing to put in the work to achieve your goal. It isn’t always easy, but I believe it can be done. I’m still 200 hours and 2500 characters shy of my goal, but I’m definitely on my way.