I became interested in China as a place and Chinese as a language through a Stephen Chow movie. I remember it clearly: Looney Tunes style fight scenes, word-plays I had no hope of ever understanding, and some novel philosophical basis to the bizarre comedy. The movie was Kung Fu Hustle（功夫）and I was 17-years-old. The experience sparked within me a passion to download (sorry Steve) the entirety of Stephen Chow's illustrious (at times) filmography and watch the whole catalog in an obsessive, Pokemonish way. After working through those movies and viewing Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers（十面埋伏）, a strong passion reverberated through my chest, and I had a real desire to become Chinese and fly around on bamboo all day. But I cast these emotions aside.
Fast forward to the end of my senior year of high school. I chose to join the Navy on what was basically a favor for a friend to get free stuff – I walked up to a recruiter's table for a free US Navy water bottle and walked away with a contract. Upon completing the lengthy enlistment process my fate was revealed to me: I was to go to the Defense Language Institute to study Chinese.
Upon suffering through boot camp, where I learned such impressive skills as how to sew a button (I am not crafty) and how to fold and hang clothing ( by any means ), I arrived at DLI to fulfill my true purpose. I was ebullient. I approached learning the Chinese language with a fervor I had previously only saved for chasing women and playing Shenmue II (way ahead of its time, really). I approached Chinese language acquisition in a way that was, I felt, extremely simple. Based on an analysis of how I had learned English as a child, I realized that I needed to watch a ton off TV, read as many books and comic books as possible, and surround myself with Chinese people to correct my mistakes.
It sounds easy because it's so simple, but it can be difficult to implement. Diving completely into a foreign language with media as your main tool might seem an uncertain process, and many, many teachers have told me that the methods I use just don't work. A friend of mine who was just as serious about Chinese as I am and a little more abrasive (with negative, penetrating teachers) f aced expulsion for trying to “buck the system.” Fighting The Man alone is difficult. Add to that the unique challenge of trying to abandon your learning paradigm for a completely new one and the task seems impossible.
But it's not. I firmly believe that anyone can learn a foreign language, and linguistic research consistently supports this. The extent to which you learn a language and the rate at which you learn are determined only by the amount of time and focus you devote to the task. That time and focus will in turn determine how much you gain from learning the language and how much you enjoy what you are doing.
This blog will do three things. It will:
Identify basic mental model shifts important in becoming more productive in your language learning.
Describe techniques used to optimize the time you have and provide examples of ways in which they can be executed.
Render support. Depending on your location, many aspects of language learning can be daunting and the process can seem lonely. But there are many like-minded people no different than you who have begun this journey and are walking up the long mountain of language mastery with you.
The road is long and winding, but the soul still burns...