Jorge Sanchez

Jorge Sanchez

Jorge is the Monkey editor in chief at Mandarin Monkey. When he's not writing about Mandarin, he's learning Mandarin, spending time with his indoor cat, or playing outside.

7 Not Nosey Questions to Ask Your Mandarin Teacher


If you’re taking private or group lessons with one of our teachers, you already know that asking questions is something we encourage at Mandarin Monkey.


In fact, we start to wonder if you don’t ask any questions in class.


Our teachers aren’t the sit-quiet-and-just-listen types. They have a fresh perspective on teaching centered on participating in class to the fullest, speaking up, and getting curious about learning.


They’re even cool with you asking some questions that aren’t even about Mandarin.


Here are 7 questions that are totally okay to ask your Mandarin teacher:


1. How did you learn a language?

Every teacher was once a student. In a way, teachers are just students that got outstandingly good at their subject. Like some sort of highly evolved Pokémon, if you want to think of it that way.


While some of our teachers at Mandarin Monkey are native Chinese speakers, most of them speak other languages, too.


That means they can teach you a thing or two about learning because they’ve gone through the struggle of being a total beginner at some point—sometimes even more than once!


Teachers understand what it’s like to be a student more than anyone, and they likely have some gold nuggets to share from their student days that you can use in your own studies.


So ask your teacher what were some habits or techniques that helped them become successful at learning a language. What barriers did they face? What’s their secret to busting through a plateau? How do they memorize vocabulary?

2. Do you have a favorite success story?

Every teacher has a Karate Kid. A student who despite starting out as the underdog, defied the odds and became a legend.


Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? They make for great movies, but we can also learn from the protagonist and apply some of the methods that worked for them in our own learning.


So next time you meet with your teacher, ask them if they have a success story they’d like to share.


You’re not asking so you can compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone’s journey is unique. But a success story might be a good way to pick up study methods, habits, or techniques that you can add to your personal toolbox. If nothing else, they can be a great source of inspiration.


And if you think it’ll be weird to ask your teacher about other students, remember that you are your teacher’s next success story in the making, so they’ll be more than happy to share any tips to speed that along.


Speaking of which, you can’t get very far without asking about your goals.

3. What are your goals for me?

Whether you’re new to learning Mandarin or have already been taking Mandarin classes, you probably started out with a goal that you wrote down somewhere (you did write it down, right?) or if you’re a visual person, that you collaged on your vision board and hung up in your bedroom.


Your goal could have looked something like this: I want to be able to have a 5-minute conversation…with a toddler. Or I want to go to a restaurant in Taiwan…and order everything on the menu in perfect Mandarin. Or I want to play video games with native Chinese speakers.


Goals are fun. They give us a sense of direction. They help us see what’s possible.


But the thing about goals is that we create them based on our perspective and experience, which can be limited.


So we can fall into the trap of setting goals that are too small, and fall short of our potential. Other times, we set oversized goals that should have really been a series of smaller, more achievable goals over time.


In our individualistic society, we tend to think that goals should always come from us. And while we’re responsible for putting in the work, it may serve us more to depend on others who have the experience and foresight to create better goals for what we want to achieve.


I’m talking about our teachers.


That’s not to say you should let your teacher do all the work. Start a conversation to discuss both your goals and their goals for you. Then use those as starting points and milestones to guide you.


Not only will your teacher probably already have some goals for you to keep you progressing in your learning, but they also have the insight to see whether your personal goals are right for you, or if there’s a better way to approach where you want to go.


By the way, the perfect time to ask your teacher about your goals is during your free lesson, if you haven’t already done so. It’s lots more than a meet-and-greet, but an opportunity to kickstart your goals with a teacher that will be with you every step of the way.


Sometime after you’ve been taking lessons, you’ll also want to check in on your progress and how close you are to the goals you’ve set for yourself.


Which brings us to the next question

4. In which areas I’m I rocking it?

Don’t worry, you won’t make it weird by asking your teacher where you’re doing amazingly well.


Even when you have a good idea of which Mandarin concepts you’ve already mastered, your teacher will be better able to tell you the areas you’re excelling at.


It’s not so you can brag. But sure, you can do that, too! I mean, did you ever think that you’d be able to say (insert your phrase of choice) in Mandarin?


It’s more to keep you on track toward your fluency goals and to spend more time on those concepts you need the most help with. And less time on the ones you don’t.


Mastered beginner grammar? You can move on to something more complex. Got tones down? Then vocab building is next. Every element of the language you master is a handhold you can grab onto to climb toward your goals.


But sometimes, we may think we’ve mastered something, only to realize in practice that we’re a lot rustier than we thought.


Your teacher can evaluate your strengths objectively. They’re impervious to the self-delusion even the best of us can sometimes be blinded by just because we’re too close to our own learning experience. 

5. Where can I improve the most right now?

Just as it’s important to know your strengths in Mandarin, it’s also important to know your weaknesses. And even your—egad!— kryptonite.


Teachers can see what you can’t see, hear what you can’t hear, and devise ways to shore up the weaknesses you hadn’t even noticed.


Hey, it’s nothing personal. You want to know your weaknesses, right? It’s the only sure way any of us can get better at anything. Find the weaknesses, make them stronger.  


That’s why asking your teacher where you can improve the most has less to do with being humble and more to do with realizing that they’re the one with the superpower x-ray vision.


While you may have a pretty good idea of the areas you need to spend more time on, a teacher can help you figure out a plan for what to tackle next.


If there’s anyone you can feel comfortable admitting you suck at something, it’s your teacher. But also, be honest about those areas you do know are the most challenging for you, so you can work that into your goals and devote more time to strengthening those areas, together.


Knowing where there is room for improvement is often the first step to improving in the first place. 

6. What are your go-to learning resources?

Olympic athletes use all kinds of training resources, not just because they think more is more, but because relying on just one way to train can set them up for overuse injuries.


That’s why from pole vaulting to the decathlon, you’ll see athletes jumping rope, running, lifting weights, stretching, and even doing yoga.


The same can be applied to learning Mandarin. The more learning resources you “train” with, the better. Each will work different Mandarin “muscles” and you’ll keep from getting bored or plateauing on any one thing.


And although students are a great source to dig up new learning tools (if you come to the Hangouts and ask, you’ll get a hefty list), teachers have their own recommendations.


Plus, they could have insider knowledge into which resources other students are using right now that you can get in on, too.

7. May I have extra homework, please?

Back when you were in school, how often did you ask your teachers for homework? I’ll wait.


Okay, if you were that kid who, out of his/her own sheer volition would deliberately request such gratuitous punishment, thanks a lot.


Just kidding. As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of homework, and now I advocate that you ask your Mandarin teacher for homework. (I know, turned over a new leaf!)


Seriously though, supplementing your Mandarin lessons with deliberate, teacher-vetted homework is a smart way to absorb more from class, strengthen key concepts, and train your memory. (It’s no wonder that homework is one of the secret ingredients in the Mandarin Monkey Intensive Course.)


Homework will also:


       Make you better prepared so you can cover more new concepts in class


       Help you see the class material from a different perspective (outside of class) which helps you create new connections between concepts


       Allow time for questions to pop up that you can ask your teacher next time you meet


       Boost the time spent learning Mandarin so you’re working toward Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule to mastery  


What kind of homework, you say?


While reviewing the lesson’s vocabulary and grammar is always the type of homework you can give yourself, your teacher will have more suggestions based on your level, goals and how much you really love homework.

What Are You Curious About?

Which questions have you asked your teacher or are thinking about asking?


Leave a Reply