Lessons from Chinese Lessons

Matt | Decision Making,Learning Chinese | Monday, May 11th, 2009

Having lived in China for almost four years I have had a lot of amazing experiences and have made a lot mistakes.  You’d think that I have also learned a lot from each of these mistakes.  Unfortunately I don’t always.  But one area that really sticks in my mind has to do with learning Chinese because that was a personal goal for me in going to China.

Learning Chinese has taught me a lot.  I have made and continue to make mistakes when it comes to learning Chinese such as,

  1. Language exchange is not a good way for me to learn a language, but it is a great way to practice fluency and to learn how people really use it. (usually we’d end up speaking mostly English because it was easier and I was afraid of making mistakes)
  2. You need to speak the language to learn the language (sorry for all us shy people out there who are afraid of making mistakes)
  3. Getting a Chinese girlfriend who can speak English does NOT guarantee your Chinese will improve (see #2)

But the main lesson I took from studying Chinese was

If you want to do anything start NOW.  Today.  This instant!

When I first started learning Chinese I didn’t really know where to start so I kept putting it off.  I waited and wasted months and months.  For awhile I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back for a second or third year and I kept thinking, “What’s the point of learning it if I’m going to leave in a few months?”  But looking back this is something I regret because I ended up staying almost four years and I think I could have made more progress if I only had kept starting. Enjoy every second you can and keep working towards your goals.

Another friend of mine is a retired teacher from Canada.  She and her husband have been living in China for about seven years.  Every year they struggle with deciding if they’ll return to China after the summer break.  Every Fall when they return they always think about studying Chinese, but talk themselves out of it saying this will probably be their last year.  Seven years later all they can say is a few words with broken tones to order their favourite Chinese dishes.  Now I’m sure if they had realized at the start they’d be in China for this long they’d have committed to learning the language.  But it’s funny how time flows like water in a river never to be seen again.

So when I returned to Canada I had a few goals to get set up and doing the things I wanted to be doing.  I didn’t wait to get an apartment in the area I really wanted to be in.  I found a great place near a beautiful park so I can run in the mornings before work.  I got a job in place I (think) I want to work.  But at least I’m working and this will help me achieve my financial goals.  This weekend I went out and bought all the furniture I need.  This week I’m going to sign up for a Toastmasters club here in Toronto as this is something I really enjoy.   And I’m going to find a hockey team or a skating skills program as that is what I want to work on this summer.

Enjoy all the time you have.  Do whatever you think you want to do now.  If you’re thinking of what’s the point of signing up for a three month course when you might leave in three months, sign up!  At least you’ll have learned three months more than you would otherwise. If that is your goal, keep starting.

Don’t waste the time you have.   We don’t know how much time we get.  All we know is what we can do with the minutes we have in front of our faces.

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