As the Year of the Monkey swings in to greet us, it’s a great time to reflect on the language learning goals we want to accomplish for the New Year. For those who follow the Gregorian (solar) calendar｜Gōnglì | 公曆 rather than the Lunar Calendar｜Nónglì｜農曆, now ma
y also be considered an ideal time to assess the resolutions you made two short months ago and what roadblocks you may be facing putting those resolutions to action. Did you plan to study Mandarin a certain number of days per week but haven’t yet found the time? Or did you tell yourself that by the end of the year you would be reach a certain level of fluency but have now realized that your weekly routine is not keeping you on track to reach that goal? Read more for some effective tips on setting effective goals to stick with your Mandarin studies! Busy lives and daily routines of work, study, or family life, which likely stayed constant as the year changed—whether from 2015 to 2016 or from the Year of the Sheep to the Monkey—make it hard to turn our goals into reality, despite the best intentions. Over the years of Mandarin learning, I have realized the importance of making goals; they help clarify what you are working towards and how you can get there. They also keep you motivated, and help to see the improvement that you achieve over time. The big question is, how do we go about making effective language learning goals that help us achieve all of this?
As an Operations and Business planning professional, I have experienced goal-making in both theory and practice, being applied to businesses who have a lot to gain or a lot to lose from unrealistic or flimsy goals. Because of this, I firmly believe the goal-making process of businesses is a solid approach that can be applied to language learning. Regardless of whether you consider yourself a “goals” oriented individual or not, and regardless whether you are studying Mandarin as a hobby or because it is required for your job, goal making is helpful for anyone serious about language learning. Studying a foreign language, especially one as challenging as Mandarin, requires a significant investment of time, money, and energy. It can be extremely difficult as you face fears of speaking with others or traveling to China where comprehension of the language becomes a necessity. You need to understand what it is that you hope to accomplish and why you are investing so much time and effort. Keeping in mind the tried and true lessons from the business world on goal making, below are three tips for creating effective Mandarin learning goals. Whether you write them down or just make a mental note, going through this 3-step process will help clarify your efforts towards Mandarin fluency.
1. Create long-term goals | 长期目标｜Chángqí mùbiāo
In Chinese, there is a popular idiom that goes： 活到老，学到老 | Huó dào lǎo, xué dào lǎo, which means you are never to old to study. As you age, you must continue to learn.
Mandarin learning can be viewed as a life-long hobby. As a hobby, it inspires learners to see the world from a different perspective －开拓视野| Kāituo shìyě － just like any foreign language does. It’s lifelong, because no matter how much you improve, there will always be more to learn. From classical Tang Dynasty poetry, to modern business jargon, the Mandarin language offers more than one could accomplish in a lifetime of learning. And while it’s a hobby, it’s also hard work, making it a challenge to remain motivated on a day-by-day basis. For this reason, just as every successful business needs a vision; language learning also cannot lack this essential piece. Long-term goals are important to ensure that you always keep the big picture in mind – why are you learning Mandarin? Your long-term goal could be as general as becoming fully fluent in the conversational aspect of the language, or more specific as someday being able to do business in China completely in Mandarin. Personally, I have identified my long-term goal as being able to someday read Classical Chinese novels like Dream of the Red Chamber | 红楼梦| Hónglóu Mèng) or the original novels that my favorite Mainland dramas are based on, such as Legend of the Condor Heroes | 射雕英雄传| shè diāo yīngxióng chuán, based on the original book by Jin Yong | 金庸|. While this goal feels like it’s in the far and distant future, it is one that I can align my short-term goals towards.
2. Create short-term goals |短期目标| Duǎnqí mùbiāo that are both easy to measure and implement
Imagine yourself one year from now, ringing in the Year of the Rooster: what proficiency level do you hope you will be able to speak, read, or write in Mandarin? Assessing language-learning goals can be tough because they are harder to measure, but it is important to find a way to measure them nonetheless. One way to do so is by identifying a concrete example that proves you have reached a certain milestone in your language learning process. Such measures may seem silly, but I have found the sillier they are, potentially the more effective they become.
One example: when I was in Taiwan studying Mandarin a few years ago, I created two short-term goals for myself that I wanted to be able to measure throughout the year. The first goal was to be able to understand the conversations of passerby on the street. If you live in China, Taiwan, or if your city has a Chinatown, you will often hear small portions of random conversation in Mandarin by people you pass by on the street or in a restaurant or store. This is an excellent way to assess your proficiency, as it shows that you have reached a level of fluency that does not require situational context to understand a conversation– you can hear the words in Mandarin and directly understand what was said, no matter what topic it is about. My second goal that year was to become fluent enough in the language to be able to watch my much loved Taiwanese dramas – colloquially known as idol dramas | 偶像剧 | Ǒuxiàng jù – without English subtitles. This was important to me because much can be lost in translation. To be able to watch a drama or a movie in its original language is the best way to truly understand it. This goal was fairly easy to assess; by the end of the year, I found I was able to drop the English subtitles, and while I did not understand every word, I still considered it a success.
3. Create action-oriented goals: identify what you need to do
A goal is just a wish until you can come up with a way to turn it into a reality. Think about what actions you need to take on a weekly basis to get closer to reaching your goal. Thinking back to my two goals in Taiwan: in order to achieve the first, I made an effort to go out and speak to local Taiwanese people on a daily basis. As the year progressed, I could feel my understanding of the language increasing bit by bit. If you do not have the fortune of living in Taiwan or China, achieving this goal may mean taking a regular trip to Chinatown or going to a Chinese restaurant or bubble tea shop once a week. In working towards my second goal, I decided it would be beneficial to try to watch one episode at least four days a week. Since I enjoyed the dramas so much, you can imagine there were quite a few times when I exceeded my goal!
Goal making in language learning absolutely benefits from the tried and true process that successful businesses have adopted. Ten, or even twenty years from now, what do you dream of being able to achieve with your Mandarin ability? Using that dream, what can you start to do now to make that happen today, tomorrow, and next month? Finally, how can you measure it to know you are making progress, slowly but surely, over time? When you break down your language learning dreams into action-oriented short-term goals, you can make seemingly far-fetched visions of language fluency into a reality. If you view Mandarin learning as a life-long hobby, you can create challenging goals along the way to keep you motivated, and at the same time, continue to be inspired and have fun. I encourage you to follow the Chinese saying活到老，学到老 | Huó dào lǎo, xué dào lǎo and continue on a path of lifelong learning. And true to the Year of the Monkey, be clever in your goal making process this year. If you follow these three tips introduced today, I’m sure you will achieve all that your heart sets out to – 心想事成 |xīn xiǎng shì chéng, 万事如意 | wàn shì rú yì.
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