11 minute read
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell proposed that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get really good at something.
I’m not quite convinced. But I do know that the more time I devote to learning Mandarin, the more I learn Mandarin. And I’m not exactly counting the hours.
So even if you don’t subscribe to the 10,000 hours idea, making more time to study Mandarin every day is still the best strategy to get really good at it.
Here are 21 tips to help you do just that.
1. Make learning Mandarin a priority
This goes without saying, yet it must be said.
The journey of a thousand steps begins with the first step (thanks, Captain Obvious!)
And that first step is making a commitment to learn Mandarin every day and sticking to it.
If you need some extra motivation, remember that the future, fluent-in-Mandarin you is counting on today’s you to take that first step.
2. Set a time of day to learn
When’s the perfect time to study Mandarin Chinese?
The short answer is whenever you can.
But according to the field of chronobiology, the science of the human body’s inner clock, there is an ideal time for everything, from when to study to when to take your vitamins.
Moreover, research on circadian rhythms identified certain chronotypes, depending on whether people learned a task better in the morning or later in the day—aka early birds and night owls.
Though there may be some real differences in the brains of morning people and, err, not morning people1, you don’t need to hook yourself up to a fMRI to see when your brain is most primed for learning Mandarin.
Experiment with whichever times your daily schedule and responsibilities allow, and work with your own internal clock to find your personal sweet spot.
If you find you tend to retain information better in the afternoon, then stick to that. You won’t necessarily get more time to learn Mandarin, but you’ll surely get more out of however much time you’re already putting in.
One caveat: don’t let finding the “perfect time” to study Mandarin lead to procrastination, though.
3. Become a morning person
Even if you’re not a get-up-before-the-sunrise person by nature, there are some practical advantages to studying Mandarin first thing in the morning.
For one, it’s probably easier to carve out some time to study in the quiet hours of the morning instead of the afternoon when work gets hectic, the kids get needy, or the house chores start piling up. Second, your brain might be best primed for learning after a good night’s sleep.
Although I’m far from an early bird, I usually find that I can fit in a good hour of focused Mandarin learning between 7am and 8am. Plus, checking that off the list first thing just sets up my whole day on a positive note from the start.
While we’re on the subject of studying at a time that works best for you, Mandarin Monkey offers lessons both during the day and night. So whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, you can find a lesson at a time that jives with your internal clock.
Your first two 50-minute lessons are free! As a bonus, they also count toward you making more time to learn Mandarin.
If you make Mandarin learning fun, you’ll automatically make more time for it.
Not a groundbreaking idea there, right? But it’s one that always gets overlooked simply because of its sheer simplicity.
So find a way to make learning Mandarin Chinese fun so it will be something you actually look forward to in your day.
You want to make it almost as engrossing as binge-watching your favorite TV show.
5. Limit the screen-time time drain
Speaking of which—have you ever been watching a series on TV, only to realize you hadn’t even gotten up to use the bathroom in two hours?
Or how about waking up early to take on your day only to lose the first hour to scrolling through social media or your inbox?
Be vigilant and do whatever it takes to take your time back from all the screens competing for your attention—time that you can invest back into your Mandarin learning.
Set some ground rules: watch TV as long as it’s in Mandarin or Taiwanese movies (same goes for Mandarin videos on YouTube), turn off those notifications, set a time limit for social media, and for goodness’ sake can you use the bathroom without your phone!?
6. Learn mandarin in your sleep
You could try to learn Mandarin in your sleep (although not entirely!) by listening to Mandarin while you snooze.
Okay, so the science is iffy 2, but it turns out, it could actually work!
You could start with the Mandarin Monkey Podcast WhisperCast Episode.
7. Make your bed (trust me)
Fact: making your bed is a Navy Seal-approved secret to having a more productive day.
Use it to crush your morning and leverage the momentum to make more time for Mandarin!
8. Use a timer
“How can I make more time to study Mandarin?” you ask. I then proceed to hand you a baking timer.
Wait, I thought you said this article was about learning Mandarin, not baking?
Culinary skills aside, you’d be surprised to learn that the humble baking timer can be a powerful productivity tool to help you make more time for Mandarin.
How? For one, using a timer helps “encapsulate” your Mandarin-learning to dedicated, daily sessions of whatever length you choose. That way, it doesn’t eat up into every other thing you’re already juggling in your busy day.
Using a timer will also help you get a better grasp on how much you can accomplish in say, 30 minutes of dedicated, focused Mandarin study instead of random, unmeasured blocks of time (during which you’re probably spending more time looking at your phone than you thought).
Quick caveat: try to use an analog timer or if you do use the timer on your phone, make sure you don’t get distracted by the added screen time.
9. Chunk your Mandarin learning
Chunking is a way to break up a complex subject (does it get more complex than Mandarin?) into more digestible chunks that you can work on, one by one.
It’s the divide and conquer approach but for learning.
There are many ways to chunk Mandarin, and it’s really up to you to figure out your unique strategy.
The way I like to do it is to chunk key areas I feel are my weakest. For example, instead of tackling grammar, which is a monster of a subject in and of itself (with tentacles even), I chunk it into most common sentence patterns, or all the uses of “le”, etc.
Of course, you can continue to chunk these down even further into even smaller units.
Chunking not only transforms Mandarin into bite-size pieces that you can then master individually, but it also makes it a lot more doable to make time for Mandarin.
After all, who doesn’t have 15 minutes to review common sentence structures in Chinese.
10. Mingle with other Mandarin learners
If your friends are getting in the way of your Mandarin learning, maybe you need new ones!
Just kidding. But there is something to be said about making friends that are also learning Mandarin. It won’t directly contribute to more time for Mandarin, but it’s a great way to get more practice in.
And just like time, practice is golden.
One way to meet new Mandarin-learning friends is through Mandarin Monkey’s WhatsApp group and weekly Hangouts. You can ask questions, talk about random topics, share and listen to funny stories and just, well, hang out virtually with friends while you practice your Chinese.
With just a little support through Patreon, you can get access to both the WhatsApp group and the Hangouts.
11. Learn Mandarin as a family
If you have young children, why not get them learning Mandarin, too? You might even learn a thing or two from them.
Plus, you’ll be reinforcing your own learning since teaching is sometimes the best way to learn.
No little ones? Get your boyfriend or girlfriend interested, or your parents. Speak Mandarin to your dog, even.
Learning Mandarin as a family is a great way to add more Mandarin time to your day without trying!
12. Grow your comfort zone
We’ll always want to do more of what we’re good at, especially if it’s something we want to be good at.
It’s a reinforcing feedback loop that works something like this:
You make time for mandarin → your Mandarin improves → you want to make more time for Mandarin. And the cycle repeats.
13. Take Mandarin lessons
One way to both grow your comfort zone and gain confidence in your Mandarin is to take Mandarin lessons online.
An experienced teacher’s feedback has immeasurable value in your learning journey, and the classroom style and structured lesson plans could be just what you need to push your progress forward.
Plus, you’ll be able to bounce off ideas, discuss common challenges, and practice your speaking and listening skills with other students.
Mandarin Monkey offers the first two lessons entirely for free. It’s the easiest way to learn Mandarin Chinese online, so you really have no excuse!
14. Evaluate your goals
If you checked off all the tasks on your to-do list today, if none of those tasks got you closer to your goal, would you call that a productive day?
Think about which goal would give you the most satisfaction if you achieved it today.
Now, do at least one thing that moves you closer to that bigger goal, before you do anything else.
15. Steal tips from others
Find out how others are making more time to learn Mandarin in their day, and adopt some of those techniques yourself.
16. Do double duty
I know you’ve heard that multitasking doesn’t work, but sometimes you get busy.
As long as you’re devoting some dedicated time to single-mindedly studying Mandarin, it’s okay to mix in some more “passive learning”.
Listen to a podcast or audiobook while you clean the house, study some vocabulary in between meetings, get creative.
17. Bring a Mandarin book (better yet, a podcast)
The more Mandarin you can pack in your day, the better, so take your learning on the go to fill in those gaps when you’re just waiting or taking care of any relatively mindless tasks.
The Mandarin Monkey Chinglish podcast combines entertainment with education, which makes for a really fun way to learn Chinese without needing to focus intensively.
18. Learn Mandarin while you work out
Play a podcast during your cardio sessions, count your reps in Chinese, learn the vocabulary words for the all gym equipment.
Going after your Mandarin goals just like you do your fitness goals can be a great way to help you make progress in both.
In many ways, making time for the gym is just like making time to learn Mandarin in that seeing the results will keep you on track.
Plus, if you’re already at the gym, why not give your mind a Mandarin workout, too!
19. Set your Mandarin learning environment
Okay, so this one isn’t specifically about Mandarin. But if you want to devote more time to Mandarin learning, you’ll want to make sure your home environment is working for you and not against you. For starters, a clean, organized home helps foster a clean, organized mind. For others, it may be more about creating a “curated mess”.
Either way, you want to help limit distractions, so make a plan to get house chores done before you sit down to study.
Also, remember that the reverse of “out of sight, out of mind” also holds true. So place something on your desk that reminds you of your Mandarin goals. For me, it’s a big, hefty, red Mandarin grammar reference book.
20. Move to China or Taiwan
If you were thrown into full-immersion Mandarin—such as moving to China or Taiwan (say, you wanted to move there to teach English, like Tom did)—you wouldn’t have to make time to speak Chinese because you would be forced to.
But you don’t have to leave the country to create a full-immersion learning environment. Actually, some even go as far as to say moving to China might even set your learning back.
Without even leaving home, you can recreate an immersive learning environment. For example, try speaking only Chinese for a predetermined amount of time (you’ll want to start small on this one) and eventually work up to a “Chinese Only day”.
If you don’t have anyone to practice your speaking with, you can do the whole thing with listening, too—podcasts and movies count. (Of course, we’re totally cool if you want to talk to yourself in Chinese, too!)
21. Don’t wait for motivation to learn Mandarin
One of my all-time favorite quotes about motivation is “Motivation is a unicorn fart” (credit to Mark Freeman).
Yes, motivation is magical, when it actually happens. Just like unicorn farts, it’s also very elusive and sometimes downright the stuff of fantasy. Waiting until you feel motivated enough to make time to learn Mandarin will only ensure you make less time for it.
Like any worthwhile endeavor, learning Mandarin requires that you commit to it every day—even when you get bored. Whether you study just 30 minutes a day or two hours a day, these 21 tips should help you get started carving out some more time and continuing to improve at your own pace. Got any tips of your own? We want to hear them!
Very informative! I multitask and listen to podcasts (Mandarin Monkey of course!) while cooking dinner for my family and while exercising. For me, Mandarin learning must be fun so I enjoy doing language exchanges to meet other language learners around the world. Wish I could do #20 but my kids might wonder where I’d gone! After this pandemic is over though, I’m planning a trip to Taiwan!!!
Then you better, come and see us!
Hi Susan! Thanks for the comment and so happy to hear you found the article helpful! Always welcome any feedback or thoughts here. It’s funny, I also listen to the Mandarin Monkey podcast while cooking, cleaning up and at the gym. For exercising, it’s great that the podcasts are over an hour long so usually I listen for a whole hour at the gym and then finish it on my way back home from the gym. Taiwan is on my list too, I mean it’s the birthplace of bubble tea. Oh, and of course, Tom & Ula are there, too. 🙂