I'm currently taking an intensive language course in a Beijing university and, as of late, I've incurred some difficulties, namely that the course itself is providing to be a challenge to me. As background, before this experience I had studied Chinese electively during my undergraduate in mathematics for a year and a half (which meant I could only study around 3 hours of classes per week). Upon arriving in Beijing I was placed in a "lower intermediate class" but the issue with this class was that I felt too comfortable with it; so recently I decided to switch to the "upper intermediate class" suffice to say, though I hope I made the right choice, the level is certainly a step up and the students, likewise, have a better general level of, not only speaking, but reading and writing too. Indeed, at times I do feel out of my depth however I would think it's better to be challenged than to be sitting idle in a lower class, right or wrong? That is perhaps my first question.

My second question is more general, namely, how does one make the most of having classes everyday and being in China? Then a little more specific: what is the best way to improve one's writing? My writing is really abysmal, sometimes misplacing even simple characters in my head. I used to write a diary a few weeks ago but even that doesn't seem to help too much because I still encounter the same issues of memory loss with respect to characters. I do have classes everyday and, as such, am learning and trying to absorb masses of new information. I should be trying to learn those characters but it's hard to know where you draw the line (when am I trying to learn too many characters?).

I know I'm probably not making sense, but in short whilst I try to meet everyday with Chinese people, listen to Chinese music, watch Chinese shows as of yet I'm not sure whether I'm improving fast enough or whether I'm taking the right supplementary steps with my classes to achieve my goal of improving my Chinese or whether in fact it's simply a matter of time (I've only been here for a month and a half and still have ten left).

closed as too broad by Claw, songyuanyao, NS.X., Thomas Hsieh, Stan Nov 9 '15 at 8:36

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 3
    This sounds too open-ended and subjective for an SE forum. – Ming Oct 23 '15 at 6:00
  • Having said that: 1. be challenged, and rise to the challenge; 2. if you're there with foreign friends, don't. You end up speaking English all the time, only talking to each other, and the one with the best Chinese skills becomes the temporary leader and does all the talking at restaurants etc. So it's better to be alone. Go talk to people yourself, even if it's every day stuff like at a restaurant or cafe. You can do more by creating your own mini interview and going to a park to interview people; 3. the way to improve your writing is to practise, practise, practise, and then practise some .. – Ming Oct 23 '15 at 6:03
  • .. more. Look at a script that looks nice, and emulate it; 4. remembering characters is going to be tough, you can't just rote learn the stroke order and the meaning, and hope it'll stick. You need continual practise, and you should try to look for/come up with your own mnemonics. Yes you'll forget some, that's why you need to continually practise, re-visit your old memorised characters, don't let them slip. You'll know when you are trying to learn too many characters at one go because you won't be able to. Everybody's limit will be different. I found 20-25 new words every fortnight quite ... – Ming Oct 23 '15 at 6:09
  • .. easy, with about 20 min practise every day. When I did a study thing in China like you, I practised for about 10-15 minutes every morning, had classes, then practised all afternoon in my own time, focussing on class work, and then characters, for about 3-4 hours. That meant I could keep up with everything easily, with 20-25 characters every few days, but your mileage may vary; you will be there for longer than I was, so you can burn yourself out. Don't forget to take breaks! And I guess after all this: try to enjoy yourself. That's the point, right? Good luck :) – Ming Oct 23 '15 at 6:12
  • Get a Chinese girl or boy friend and keep talking all day long. Or some close friends. – John Oct 27 '15 at 6:56

I'm a native speaker of Chinese but have no experience in teaching, just share some personal ideas :)

For the first question. I think it depends on how many you can absorb the new characters, words, etc. If the answer is seldom even provided that you review them frequently, it implies the challenge really helps you little, and you'd better lower the difficulty. Maybe you can ask your teacher for advice.

For the second question. To improve one's writing, reading and imitating paragons of articles, essays, or papers, would be an efficient way. As a professor who teaches English says,

A large vocabulary is more than knowing the difficult words; it is knowing the easier words more thoroughly and using them with greater precision....

Learning Chinese is exactly the same. That's why I suggest "imitating", it helps you think in Chinese, from the macroscopic structure to the microscopic wording of an article. Besides, keeping a diary habit helps you review what you have learnt, and if you can practice not only the new characters but also some elegant expressions, that's even better.

For the last concern. Yes, saturating yourself with Chinese can build your intuition for the language. However, the main objective of music and TV shows is entertainment, so for learning purpose, it's better not to rely on them much.

I urge you first of all to stop using English if you possibly can, in all contexts. If you can't, then anyway make sure you have long blocks of time every day (without exception) in which you do not speak or read any language but Chinese — preferably at least six hours at a time.

Also, it's helpful to learn phrases and sentences by heart. This may seem tedious but it's very effective at putting those phrases and sentences into your belly so that you fully possess them. If there is audio material in your course, I urge you to listen to it and repeat it aloud enough times that you actually memorize or 3/4-memorize it. Review earlier material to make sure it's still in your belly.

Finally, don't give up. Learning Chinese is an extraordinarily rewarding thing to do, but you've got to give it time — quality time, not just days spent but months immersed. You can learn it to a high level if you make this commitment and follow through.

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