Learning Mandarin Chinese can be exciting yet overwhelming. It can present a challenge to native English speakers. Unlike Spanish, French, or German, where an English speaker can correctly guess the meaning of a few words, Chinese uses a different system of writing and pronunciation. It is not surprising or uncommon to run into mental resistance when learning Chinese. There are several barriers that can cause one to quit or become frustrated with the Chinese language. One such barrier is the fear of failure. When we fear failure, we are basically saying that we are afraid of letting ourselves or other people down. Fear of failure is being afraid of not living up to other people’s or one’s own expectations. We harshly and unjustly criticize our abilities by saying that we are not good enough. Essentially, we become our own worst enemy. We chastise and berate ourselves for not having the skills to learn Chinese forgetting that our grasp of the English language is a work in progress.

Most English speakers know when to use the words “under,” “below,” and “beneath.” However, most native English speakers probably do not know the rules for when to use those words in the right context. They know the difference intuitively, but these 3 words can be confusing to anyone who’s trying to learn English as a foreign language. In a similar way, expect some aspects of Chinese grammar to be difficult to grasp even when a native Chinese speaker speaks without really knowing the rules. Understanding that even native speakers have not perfected their own language can set your mind at ease, can help you to eliminate perfectionism, and can silence your inner critic.

How do you deal with your inner critic? Denial is a sure way to failure. Rather than deny that the inner critic exists, acknowledge and accept the fact that this person is real. This person is the part of yourself that is afraid of change. Learn to stand up to that person, and you may very well be amazed at the results in your life.

Another way to deal with the inner critic is to set realistic expectations. Adults tend to hold themselves to a set of standards that they would not normally place on children. Does one expect a 3-year-old child to recite all of Shakespeare’s sonnets? Does one expect him or her to write a 20-page single-spaced literary critique of The Iliad? They why does one expect to learn Chinese and all its nuances in just 3 weeks?

The solution to overcoming the fear of failure in general is to stop over analyzing something and just do it. It is simple but by no means is it easy. To start, just listen to Chinese music, Chinese podcasts, Chinese news, and anything out there that is in Mandarin Chinese. Even if you do not know what is being said, the important thing is to get used to hearing the language spoken as it is spoken in real life and not some stilted unrealistic dialog in a textbook. The human brain is indeed a marvel. When you constantly exposure yourself to a foreign language, the brain begins to pick up on syntax and basic grammar. Also, pick up some Mandarin Chinese newspapers or read them online. Notice the characters that repeat themselves. As the study of Chinese progresses, the characters will start making sense, just as we learned how to read the Roman alphabet. Thus, the focus of Chinese learning, or any other learning, should be improvement, not perfection.


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