Keeping up the motivation

I’ve been aiming for HSK 4 pretty much since I passed HSK 3 three years ago, and it took until I was a fulltime Mandarin student this Summer to feel confident I had the required level of understanding and realising I would just need to undertake a bit of vocabulary cramming to get there. Now the HSK 4 is behind me and I’m waiting for the result, I can’t help but feel a lack of motivation to keep studying. What am I aiming for now?

The reasons I started studying Mandarin 7 years ago back in university were completely random. As a second year student I felt I had got the hang of university and ought to be participating more in extra-curricular activities. I was neither sporty or sociable, and possibly due to the influence of a new friend from mainland China, I chose Mandarin. It was just once-a-week, with little pressure, leading to 10 extra credits on my transcript, and I liked it. I liked that others were bemused by this choice. At level one we wouldn’t be examined on characters, so I found them irrelevant, and overwhelming I suppose – I stuck with pinyin. However, I was keen enough at that stage to apply for the Study China Programme – a partly-government funded month-long trip to China – and although not chosen for the Easter programme, I made it onto the Summer 2008 Hangzhou cohort. It was something of a turning point, as most people on the programme were beginners and I went into the intermediate group, which boosted my confidence and furthermore I found I had picked up quite a few characters (that photographic memory only my mum raves about) so received praise from the teacher. It was my first long trip away from home and I spent the month overwhelmed by culture shock and homesickness.

Throughout the following two years my Chinese progressed somewhat through language exchange and odd bits of self-study, mostly writing characters and little speaking, while getting through my year abroad in Germany and the final year of my law degree. When the time came to think about what to do after graduation, and with the little desire to go into the legal profession, I came across the British Council‘s English Language Assistant Programme, a year-long programme in one of many countries teaching English. Still feeling the buzz of learning this unusual language, I decided to apply, went to interview and finally was posted to Nanjing. Little thought was put into this decision, since I felt I had no other options, and I embarked on this year pretty unprepared, so it wasn’t a surprise that it was a real struggle early on. I found my Chinese was the best within the group of teachers posted in Nanjing (there were four of us at my school) and could help everyone to order food, take taxis, etc, but I missed home terribly. However, after passing the halfway mark, a visit from my family and a trip to HK, I found my first Chinese boyfriend. It wasn’t a serious thing, but it helped my Chinese no end. He was a local, had never left the province and spoke not a word of English (do 哈喽 or 三Q count?). The following months were much more exciting. Finding Chinese friends meant I got a real insight into Chinese lives and culture, trying a lot of great home-cooking along the way.

Back in the UK after the year was over, I had a serious case of reverse culture shock and maintaining my Chinese and finding Chinese friends at home became very important to me. I completed HSK 3, discovered 微信 and 陌陌, moved to a flat right next to Birmingham’s Chinatown and lived this kind of half-Chinese life. I’m sure my friends thought still think I was crazy! I made the Chinese language very much part of my life and managed to maintain my level reached in Nanjing but also increase my knowledge of colloquial Chinese, regularly chatting exclusively in Chinese using 微信. I guess I would have bobbed along that way even longer, but then I met my now-husband and began this whirlwind romance which brought me to live in China now and finally taking the time to study Chinese fulltime. My motivations for learning the language changed. I wanted his family to get to know me – the real me, not just in the ‘oh look at the pretty white foreigner sitting in the corner’ way – and for me to get to know them and learn about my husband’s upbringing.

Before we took the leap to come here, I held an ambition to one day reach the point where I could work in China on an equal footing to a local, that is be hired for my skills rather than my appearance or status as a foreigner. Whilst being able to find teaching jobs very easily is a blessing, teaching is not my calling in life and I have found I’m much more suited to personal tutoring or one-on-one coaching of friends rather than 60 (or even 6) in a class type situations. This ambition has definitely changed since being over here, as I feel more and more as if I am valued simply as a foreigner and nothing more. I admire the multiple bloggers (for examples Linda Living in China, China Elevator Stories, Marta lives in China, Laowhynot amongst others) who have found themselves real jobs based on their merits, but I acknowledge my current lack of profession/specific skills, so don’t think this is a realistic aim.

I’ve also realised that while living in China is something that I want now, I can see that it won’t be forever. My husband and I will inevitably make the move back to the UK where we can both follow our dreams and career ambitions. I hope that my Chinese skills will lead to career opportunities there and have multiple ideas for my career back in the West. Moreover, as we are currently expecting our first baby, Chinese will never to cease to be important to me. I hope to raise bilingual children, no easy feat I’m told, and think this will only be possible if I am also proficient in Chinese, especially should we move back to the West sooner rather than later.

Since the HSK exams are good markers for Chinese proficiency, I shall aim for HSK 5. With a new baby to be my focus in 2015, who knows when I will have a chance to sit the exam, but I need a goal and I will reach HSK6 eventually. Yes, I will!

14 thoughts on “Keeping up the motivation

  1. For me it is not the problem to study the language itself but to improve in it. For the past four months I have been studying vocabulary and characters but they all are the ones I know already, i did not start to study new ones…I think the reason for this is that I have been just too busy with my moving process, renovations and job hunt. Furthermore I do not aim for HSK thus giving me less reason to study harder 🙂


  2. 加油!Keeping your motivation is kind of hard if you don’t have a clear goal. Taking the HSK is definitely a good goal! I am also thinking lately of trying to pass HSK 6 but after 4 years without going to class/studying, I get tired easily. And I am also kind of lazy, haha. But I am trying to read at least a few pages in Chinese every day, to train my reading speed.

    BTW, thanks for your mention! 😛


  3. Studying a language is a journey and there are times when it will come easier than others. I think the further you progress, the easier it becomes to find more enjoyable ways of improving your skills and vocabulary. You are probably reaching a point where you can follow conversations and TV shows. Soon you’ll be able to read more and more stuff in Chinese, too.

    I took the HSK 5 in August of last year and still hope to take the HSK 6 one day. Honestly, since my son was born this past April, there isn’t much time to study. I could maybe fit in an hour or two at night when he’s sleeping, but since that’s really my only “free time” most days, I rather do other things. On the other hand, I’ve probably improved my spoken Chinese a bit because I have to use it all the time with doctors and my mother-in-law.


    • I really wanna find a good Chinese TV show I can get into and follow, my hubby is always nagging me to stop watching so many UK BBC programmes, and he is right! I just find Chinese dramas so over-the-top.

      Having the MiL around must help a lot, mine came to stay for a month and (challenging though it was) it was good for my language, particularly my Dalianhua!


      • Maybe 裸婚时代? That was the first one I watched and it was decent. Plus there’s a lot about pregnancy in it and some interesting social issues that come up.


  4. One more comment. . . is raising a bilingual child difficult? Must you be proficient in Chinese? I’m surprised to read this. I have read some articles on the subject and my understanding is that it’s not hard as long as each parent speaks his/her mother tongue to the child starting as early as possible (preferably birth). So as long as your husband speaks Chinese, which I think would come naturally whe talking to one’s own child, you guys should be fine! I think it helps if you understand what he’s saying, sometimes, of course! Anyways, I don’t think you should worry.

    Oh, and I totally forgot to mention. . . congrats on your pregnancy!! Are you going to tell us when you’re due???


  5. I’ve probably read too much into it to be honest. I’ve read articles where they say people just expect it to happen, but in fact you need to keep an eye on the exposure levels of each language. The one-parent one-language is the simplest and what we plan to do from birth (well, whilst living in China) but then in the future if we move back to the UK, I will have to work hard for Chinese exposure as dad will probably be out all day so only have evening and weekend time – so we’ll need lots of stories, books, possibly Mandarin mum/toddler meet-ups.

    Alternatively, at that stage, we could switch to the home-language (Chinese) outside-language (English) approach, so I would need to be ready for that.

    Thanks 🙂 I’m due in March! I have really enjoyed your posts since your late stage of pregnancy and have found a lot of useful tips, so thank you very much!


    • I guess that’s true. I’ve been with my step-daughter since she was three and a half and her English, quite frankly, sucks. I’m always working when she’s home from school (I tutor grade school and middle school aged kids). I think it would have been better if I was with her as a baby.

      Spring is a great time to have a baby! I’m glad some of my posts helped. Let me know if you have any questions about anything.


      • You are having your baby in the UK? That is so great! I really think it will make the transition to motherhood easier if you have familiar things and people around.


  6. Yes, I am. I’m not brave enough to give it a go here in Guilin, and am terrified that if I was advised a c-section I wouldn’t know whether to trust the doctor or not! As you say, it’ll give me a chance to get used to it my way, in my environment, with less pressure from Chinese family members. Have you got any plans to take your little boy back home for a visit?


  7. HSK6, now that’s a big goal! I only did the old HSK (I think it would be considered HSK5 in the new system), I haven’t actively been studying Mandarin in the recent years and I’m terrible when it comes to writing by hand, since I’m just so out of practice. Thanks for the mention in the post!

    I hope our son will learn enough German with me when we stay in China. He’s surrounded by Chinese-speakers (who are afraid he won’t learn Chinese well enough because I speak German with him, hahaha). But I’m positive it will work out. Just like you said in your comment, we’ll have to integrate a lot of German in our lives (and Chinese in the future if we stay in Austria for a longer period of time).


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