The Real Secret to Learning Chinese

  • July 10, 2018

China’s Mandarin language is about as vast as the country is big: tens of thousands of characters, intonation, and a grammar fundamentally different from latin-based languages. Studying Chinese can be extremely rewarding, but the road toward fluency can be a bit a bumpy at times. When embarking upon learning such a daunting language, is there a special tool that’s best for navigating it?

A memorization strategy?

Hard work?

A special app?

study Chinese


While understanding the way your brain memorizes information is important, and putting in long hours of study is key, neither would be possible without the essential factor that fuels them: Passion🔥

This may be obvious, but when you find yourself gritting your teeth to make it through a practice book activity, the resolve you had 15 minutes ago can burn away fast. And a simple thought of flipping through Instagram stories can sound much more appealing. This is especially true if your reason for studying Chinese is lacking a motive that isn’t as appealing as your other interests. You may be equipped with the most cutting-edge resources, but when fatigue comes, it comes with a loud message of “Do something else.” Passion says “Keep going, its so worth it!” 💪

The wonderful thing about passion is that it isn’t only active during “study time.” It’s the thing that naturally drives you to make friends with Chinese people, and makes you eager to pull out your dictionary app every time you think of a word you don’t know. Its what makes studying feel more like a hobby. It turns looking up a vocabulary word into a reflex reaction.

But enough theoretical talk. Where does passion to study Chinese come from… practically?

Generally speaking, we humans are most motivated by what can bring us the biggest reward. The reward of getting an A+ can be motivating. But this is usually only if that A+ is in the context of a much bigger reward, such as our parents buying us a car or going overseas to study at a prestigious university.

Studying Chinese must have a real, rewarding motivation behind it. And a real reward will be one that has the potential to change your future for the better.

Some examples:

Some people create an account on Chinese social media and set out to become the equivalent of a Youtuber in China. This places them in a context where they need to be producing Chinese language and expressing their thoughts in a way that they find entertaining or meaningful. Through comments on their content and interactions with fans, gateways to new vocabulary open up. As their number of followers grow, likely so does their passion for improving their language ability.

Others spend time browsing online for openings in the job field of their dreams. They see the infamous “HSK 6” listed in the job requirements. They envision themselves in that work environment and see the HSK test as the only opponent standing in their way. The vision of their ideal job keep them constantly asking their Chinese friend “怎么说(how do you say) ….?”

Still others fall in love with a Chinese speaker, and Mandarin is their avenue for better understanding their soulmate and extended family. (Although, marrying someone for the sake of having better Chinese usually isn’t advised 😅)

But perhaps the most common way people find their passion for Chinese is simply by coming to China. A new world is laid before a traveler’s eyes, and it begins to become real with every new phrase learned. Steps into this new world may include ordering food, going on adventures with other foreigners, or a first date with an attractive and kind-hearted Chinese person. Spending time in China offers a whole new context with a potential to alter one’s scope for the future.


In the end, you’ll have to find and believe in your own, personal reason why learning Chinese is going to change your life. And once you’ve found it, you’ll be able to hear it whisper deep down: “Keep going! Its so worth it!” 🔥






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