Patience and The Linguist

Patience and The Linguist

One of the biggest problems with the approach of formal language education is that there seems to always be present a growing need for the students to learn faster. Faster. Faster!

The pressure to absorb information quickly is an on-going issue. Because so much of learning is about digesting information, actual learning takes time.

However, those in charge of educational systems around the globe seem to think that large quantities of information being, quite literally, shoved down a student’s throat is productive. And when the student can only retain about 50-70% of what they have learned, long-term, and they can only use that information with moderate accuracy, it somehow becomes the student’s fault.

But I have some thoughts…

  • Why do we require language students to learn the same amount of content in one year that a native speaker would take 2-3 years to learn?
  • Why do we not acknowledge that a brain that has already adopted and been shaped by a native language is not going to be able to learn a second language at the same rate as native speakers of said second language?
  • How do we not see that the filter of one’s native language is used to process information about any subsequent languages? (This filter adds additional steps for the language learner to think through, if true mastery is to be achieved.)
  • Why don’t we acknowledge that memorizing vocabulary and grammar constructs is not the same as actually learning a language?
  • Why aren’t we allowing language students the time to digest information before requiring them to learn more information?

I am two years and nine months into my Chinese language journey. According to native and non-native Chinese speakers, the consensus would be that my Chinese level is lower than the level of my peers who have learned Chinese in a formal setting. The chart below demonstrates how my language skills compare to those of my peers.

HSK Level (1-6) 2-3 3-4
Pronunciation Skills Intermediate Beginner
Amount of Grammar Memorized Beginner – Intermediate  Intermediate – Advanced
Ability to Use Known Grammar Advanced Intermediate
Speaking Skills Beginner Intermediate
Reading Comprehension Intermediate Intermediate
Translation Skills (Chin. to Eng.) Intermediate Beginner
Listening Skills Beginner Intermediate
Writing Skills Intermediate Intermediate
Dedication/Consistency Extremely high Varies
Motivation Extremely high Varies
Joy Extremely high Varies


SnailI learn slowly, but I learn well. I review often and compare Chinese grammar constructs to those in English. Slowly, but surely, I am starting to actually FEEL Chinese. The language no longer just abides in my head. The language is starting to become a part of my being. My goal is to one day speak this beautiful language from my heart – not from my brain.

This is the difference between memorizing aspects of a language and becoming one with the language. Language is a living and breathing entity. Approaching it as such, while giving it the respect that it deserves, I believe will ensure exceptional success with the language in the future. So, I am in this for the long haul. I may be moving at a snail’s pace right now, but the benefits of learning with patience with show in the future.

In regards to my current Chinese level, I may not be able to communicate in the language as well as my peers at the present time, but I fully expect to catch up to my peers within two years, and to surpass them within four years. My goal is to speak clearly, to use grammar naturally, and to comprehend spoken and written Chinese more like a native speak with each passing year.

In summary, by many accounts, I am not performing up to par. But, I believe that my patience and my attention to detail will pay off in the end. This is the ground work for the linguistics research that I expect to be a part of in the coming years.

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