Sunday, March 15, 2009

too few learners of Chinese

Even though many more people have taken up the study of Chinese, there are still not enough doing so, according to this article. It says there are 40 million foreigners learning Chinese. But how many will actually become speakers of Chinese? I think the drop out rate is very high. And what percentage of learners reach a decent level of reading skill in Chinese?

For reading, it really helps to know what word to expect next. If you know what words are likely to come next then you can read much faster with only a glance at the words or characters. Just like a cloze test, if you can't fill in the blanks then you are not familiar enough with the language so while reading you have to do a lot more work. In Chinese and Japanese as well, it becomes much more critical because there is often no clue to the pronunciation of the words. A strong knowledge of the language will make reading much easier which is why I would recommend learners to put off learning to read Chinese or Japanese until they have a good command of the language.

To me, it does not matter how many learners there are of Chinese if the success rate is low. If, for example, you have 100 million learners of Chinese but only 10 million of them are successful, that is worse than having 40 million learners where 20 million succeed. What we must consider is the final outcome and not just the number "in progress."

My formula for success is listening, then speaking, then reading, and finally writing. Each one reinforces the next. If all aspects of language learning are undertaken at once, then where is the reinforcement?


  1. Don't worry man, we'll save the world in 10 years. I mean, spreading our language learning skills.

  2. thanks for the post. Once I've reached a certain level of German and have worked out some of the kinks in my language-learning process, then I'll start on Mandarin and most probably use your method of learning with some adjustments.

  3. I kind of disagree that reading and listening have to come seperately. In general, input is more important than output and should come first, but you can pick up new words at a much faster rate if you listen AND read.

    Chinese and Japanese are a different story though (especially Chinese) since the text is un-phonetic. But if you're learning a language with a phonetic script, you might as well read and listen simultaneously. Just my 2 yen's worth...

  4. I think the same sort of exposure can happen with reading. The problem with chinese is that you have to blast through a few thousand characters first. I initially started my study of chinese in a classroom setting, but then later i started using Anki to increase my knowledge of characters.

    I think there's nothing wrong with learning the pronunciation of all the characters from pinyin as long as you have a good grasp of how pinyin is supposed to sound. Once you have that, all that's left is a matter of perfecting your accent.

    When you have about 1500 characters, you can start reading real books. You just skip over any words you don't know and keep on going. In the same way that your TV dramas work, this gives you exposure to those unknown words and pretty soon you start figuring them out. You can look up the pinyin pronunciation if you want (and i recommend it).

    I'm trying this now by working through the collected works of Lu Xun, along with some other books that i found at the library. Giving up the dictionary is actually quite liberating, and your reading speed increases quickly.

  5. It really depends, each person has different skills. So, for me, I have to start with reading. Mostly, because my listening is horrible. After reading, listening. Then writing. Speaking is the last.
    I did that with English, now I'm doing with French.


No profanity. Please be considerate of others. Thank you.