How to Study
Good LL Teach
Some Good LL
Where to Aim
When coming to China, we bring a lot of 'baggage' with us. I'm not referring here to our suitcases and trunks, however, but to our personality make-up.
We come with our degrees, diplomas and doctorates to prove that we are intelligent. We may also come with a high MLAT score (MLAT = Modern Language Aptitude Test). This tells us that we are able to learn languages well in a classroom setting. We may come, too, with some previous language learning successes. "I did well at getting basic Swahili when on a short-term program to Africa," you may recall.
We also come with our attitudes. "I had many Chinese friends back home and it was through them that I got an interest in China," you recount. Then we come with our motivational drives. "I want to become an accepted member of the local Chinese community as quickly as possible," you say.
Finally, we come with our own individual personalities -- introvert or extrovert, inhibited or outgoing, anxious or carefree. And soon we discover that our personality plays a large part in the speed with which we master Chinese. It sometimes hinders us doing the very thing that we desperately want to do, such as going up to strangers and talking to them in Chinese.
So let us now take a deeper look at some of these affective factors and see how we can find ways to overcome the negative ones.
High Self-Esteem vs. Low Self-Esteem
What is self-esteem? Basically, it is the extent to which we believe we are capable, significant and successful. We get our self-esteem from the accumulation of accomplishments and failures, as well as other people's assessment of us.
If you are secure in yourself and confident in your ability to master Chinese, you have a tremendous advantage over those who have a low self-image. Confidence is extremely important. A colleague of mine loved learning Chinese and interacting with anyone whom she met, happily chatting to all her neighbors and local shopkeepers. No emotional energy was wasted on wondering whether she might not master the Chinese language. I don't think it ever entered her head!
The person who believes in their own capability at learning languages will approach the task with a greater measure of confidence and therefore be more open to allowing the new language to go deep into their memory. This person's confidence will not be undermined when they make stupid mistakes.
Uninhibited vs. Inhibited
I remember a pronunciation class where one of the students found it impossible to make one of the sounds. After a few futile attempts, he was heard to mutter, "What a stupid sound anyway!", he refused to keep trying and kept quiet for the rest of the lesson. This kind of barrier inhibits, rather than facilitates learning. Language learning involves making many mistakes; but mistakes can be seen as a threat to our ego. The lowering of our defense mechanisms involves self-exposure to a degree manifested in few other tasks. When faced with this threat to our ego, it is hard for us to lower our defenses, and yet keeping the barriers up will seriously slow down our rate of learning.
Extroversion vs. Introversion
The amiable, outgoing and talkative person has a tremendous advantage over the quiet, reserved person who has to exert great effort to open their mouth when in large groups. I envied a friend of mine who loved making people laugh with their faltering attempts at communicating in Chinese. I quickly realized that the 'actor' who enjoys performing before an amused 'audience' has a tremendous advantage because they are continually creating opportunitites to hear and use the language. However, once the introvert has found their friend -- which often takes some time -- then conversation flows and fluency increases.
What if you lack confidence and are easily inhibited or are introverted, shy or nervous? Forcing yourself to go out and talk with people who happen to cross your path would be too traumatic for you. Telling yourself to be less inhibited or less introverted will not help either. Is there some way that allows you to be yourself and yet enables you to communicate freely? Yes, I believe there is.
You need to find Chinese people who are gentle, caring and empathetic, and set up 'safe places' for communicating with them. You can do this by analyzing how you feel when with different people. Maybe one of your school teachers is especially warm and friendly; or maybe someone else's tutor is very empathetic and caring. Then why not hire them for language practice once a week? Also, when at the local shops or market, as you try to chat with people, some will make you feel a little nervous. Others, on the other hand, because of their gentle, empathetic personality, will allow you to relax and feel free to say whatever you want without feeling bad about your faltering attempts. It is this latter group with whom you especially want to spend time. You might ask them whether they have time during the week for chatting (maybe during their slack time each day), possibly exchanging English for Chinese. If you find it difficult going up to people to ask them, perhaps a friend or colleague could ask for you. It is best, however, if you first find your own conversation contacts as you will sense best those with whom you feel most a ease.
So note those people who make you feel good about your Chinese and spend as much time as possible with them. Why not think now who some of these people might be, and plan your schedule to spend time with them. You'll be glad you did!