Any language, including Chinese, is a vast sea of knowledge. Crossing the sea is indeed a mission. In order to accomplish this mission, one needs to possess special skills. In ancient times in China, the legendary Eight Immortals [八仙过海,各显神通 bā xiān guò haǐ, gè xiǎn shén tōng], who crossed the sea, had their own different special skills to ensure safe journey. Then, what are the special skills that we need to develop in order to efficiently cross the sea of Chinese language?
Here are eight practical skills and ideas that have been brought up after years of experience, exploration and expertise. To go with them are proverbs and idioms, distilled from vast Chinese wisdom.
The path towards learning a language may be long and winding. It is not the long road that one should fear. Instead one should fear lack of aspiration, as summarized in the Chinese proverb: 不怕路长只怕志短 bú pà lù cháng zhī pà zhì duǎn. The motivation can range from a simple desire to communicate in a new language or learning about a new culture to necessities like pursuing higher studies and business. Any of these aspirations will boost up the speed and maintain learning consistency on one hand. On the other, it will offset any mistakes and disappointments in the process.
Diligence implies being committed to the task at hand. One should dedicate oneself in the study and should persistently work on duties. If the objective is tall and time is short, one should be determined and do as a Chinese proverb say, 废寝忘食 fèi qǐn wàng shí--forget to eat and sleep.
Learning a new language not only involves handling an immensity of information, it also entails assimilating and rehearsing accurately and opportunely. It is but true that reading ten thousand books is not the same as walking a thousand miles: 读万卷书不如行万里路 dú wàn juǎn shū bù rú xíng wàn lǐ lù. As we said earlier, one also requires the right environment for a fruitful practice.
It is for this reason that the word for ‘study’ in Chinese is 学 习 xué xí, where Xué means ‘to learn’ and xí means ‘to practice’. Together, they stress the importance of the two wings of a bird, necessary in order to take off towards success. Any arduous task, without proper routine, is bound to slack or even fail. One should be quite strict in this regard, and assign time for learning, leisure, practice as well as rest. Without discipline, one will soon lose command over a routine. But with discipline and practical experience, 熟能生巧 shú néng shēng qiǎo, even a difficult task can be accomplished.
If you do not fall while learning to ride a bicycle, you will not learn fast. A student should take every mistake as an asset and learn from it. As it is said in Chinese, you can fall into a pit but you should not fail to learn from the experience: 吃一堑,长一智 chī yī qiàn, cháng yí zhì. Realize what you have already achieved. Then, set your next goal within achievable limits. Confident builds up slowly.
Language learning should not be limited to books and class rooms. Flash cards, word games, SLS (same language subtitles) movies and popular songs are some methods to learn a language in an interesting way. The more creative it gets, the more fun you will find in learning the language. 别具一格 bié jù yī gé. In fact, use all your potential, and do things your own way.
Patience is the key for learning a language. We should never rush the learning process. One should learn lessons slowly but clearly, progressing gradually rather than rapid jumps. While learning a new language, slowing down is never considered a problem but coming to a halt is: 不怕慢就怕站 bú pà màn jiù pà zhàn. When you converse with someone in any language, it is important that you are able to communicate. Even if you manage it in a broken sentence, you will achieve a lot. Do not foil your achievement by wanting to be perfect. This is the reason the Chinese stress on step-by-step progress: 步步高升 bù bù gaō shēng.
One may have all the above skills, but if there is lack of determination, then s/he may give up half-way: 半途而废 bàn tú ér fèi. A learner must give continuity and determination. An adage: 不到黄河不死心 bù dào Huáng hé bù sǐ xīn suggests, not giving up until you reach the Yellow River, the source of Chinese civilization. Once you get there, know that the sea is not very far away. By then, you will have enhanced your skills, which will see you through to your mission.