It is 3am – Do you know where your Chinese homework is?

So there’s no crisis in the White House but there might be a crisis in your plan to learn Chinese. What are you waiting for? There is international business and travel in your future. You will soon be enjoying long chats with the locals and doing business in Beijing. Yet you might be spending your time elsewhere. Don’t be the person who didn’t get the job 5 years from now. Don’t let the future you lie in bed at 3am, wishing that you’d studied more. Do the work today.

Keep It Simple

I listened to an excellent podcast today. This person was describing how to build a business and he had a simple point: get the basics right and then worry about the rest. What are the basics of studying Chinese?

Here is a simple recipe: mix 1 cup of vocabulary with 1 cup of grammar. Stir in long hours of memorizing. Mix in 4 cups of practice. Finally, bake the mixture in the oven for a few years and *poof* you have a fluent speaker. Just like that. It looks easy and in many respects it is.

Becoming Fluent is Hard Work

Learning Chinese is simple. Becoming fluent is hard work. You need to memorize words and how to use those words. After that, practice. Practice saying the words properly. Practice saying them in sentences. Practice asking questions. Practice answering questions. Practice some more. It sounds tedious and here is the secret no language school wants to tell you: it is tedious. If you master something, that implies it is now easy for you. When you do something easy over and over, it is tedious.

If you take the time and make the effort, you can master a language. Want proof? You already speak one language fluently. If you didn’t, you couldn’t read this blog post. The real questions you need to consider are: Is learning Chinese a priority? How will learning Chinese improve your life? Do you want to speak Chinese fluently?

Do You Really Want to Be Fluent?

Maybe not. In fact, probably not. It depends on your goals. Do you want to use your Chinese to negotiate business deals? In that case, I suggest that you apply for reincarnation in China (hopefully after a long, wonderful life). If you want to have extended conversations in Chinese and love the language, then fluency is worth it.

If you want to do business in China, you should study both Mandarin Chinese and Chinese business culture. You will benefit immensely from the ability to understand both what people are saying and how business is conducted. You probably should not become fluent in Chinese. You are probably doing worse than wasting your time. In fact, you may actually be making your life more difficult. The more fluent you are, the more people will expect you to have mastered the culture. Someone who speaks some basic Chinese can  make some big errors and get away with it. On the other hand, once you are really fluent, even the small cultural missteps can (and will) be used against you.

So What About 3am?

When you lie awake at 3am, do you dream of the future or regret the past? Sticking to it and learning Chinese could change your life for the better. It could lead to an exciting international career with interesting people. It might lead to a rich and fulfilling life, but if you don’t study, nothing will change. So where is your Chinese homework? I hope it is not 3am. You probably learn faster during the day.

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