“You’re crazy” “It’s impossible” “It’s going to take you at least ten years” they told me.
“Ok, I’ll do it in one year” I replied.
And I did.
That was over fifteen years ago when I challenged myself to learn Chinese in one year. Before internet was a thing. Before smartphones and apps and all the learning tech we have today. It was just me and my Chinese dictionary. My notebooks. And my Walkman. Oh yes, I even had to use cassettes.
But I did it.
At the end of the year, I went to Taiwan to test and see if my Chinese could ‘survive’ for one month.
“You’re wasting your time and money” “You can’t make any progress in one month” “You need at least six months to make any difference” my ever optimistic friends persisted.
One month later, they couldn’t believe the transformation.
I had done it again.
I fell in love with Taiwan on that trip. And I knew I had to go back. Three years later I was ready. New challenge, new life, I even had a place at a university in Taiwan. So off I went again. My usual optimism. I was set to go from fluent intermediate to become bilingual in Chinese. In just one year.
But this time I failed.
I royally failed.
I was in a road accident where I sustained head injuries. Forget about learning Chinese, I had to learn how to use language again! Coming home early was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. I felt like I was giving up on my dream, but I knew if I didn’t take care of myself first, there would be no dream to pursue.
I never made it back to Taiwan and my Chinese dream lay dormant for many years like a sleeping dragon.
Two months ago, the dragon suddenly woke up.
And I knew it was time to take my Chinese to that level. To say I was rearing to go would be a major understatement. However, on reflection, I decided to hold back a bit. Just a bit! You see, over the years, time and again, people ask me how I managed to learn Chinese in a year. In addition to it being the dark age of Internet, I was also working and engaged in several other full-time activities, and I was living in a country where I had to learn Chinese in a second language. While time, technology and environment were not on my side, I actually used the context to develop ways to effectively and efficiently learn a language when we are exceptionally busy, and to recreate a learning environment almost identical to if you were living and learning in the country of your target language itself.
This time round, I want you to see and experience that all for yourselves. Day by day I want to share my learning challenge with each of you. Yes, I’m going to let you in on some of the secrets behind real learning. You are going to have a front row seat! And by waiting to start it on the 1st of January, I hope many of you will join me with your own personal challenge and we can all meet our learning challenges together!
So time for the crazy bit! What is my actual challenge?
I always thought, that to take my Chinese from a fluent intermediate level to an advanced level I would 1) need help from a teacher who could really challenge and push me; and, 2) go and live in China or Taiwan for a year or two. With neither of those two options working out, I’ve now decided to do it solo. After some analysis and consulting Chinese speaking friends and teachers, I’ve realised that the main thing holding me back in Chinese is vocabulary. Though I am fluent in reading, writing, speaking and understanding Chinese, use a good range of grammar with relatively few mistakes and have a clear understandable pronunciation, my vocabulary levels are relatively low, at approximately 1000 characters. If I were to add another 2000 to this, I would be able to understand most articles or programs and find it even easier to engage in lively and in-depth conversation on a far wider range of topics.
So this is it:
I hereby challenge myself to learn 2000 Chinese words or characters.
In just three months.
Come join me! Choose your language. Choose your target. Choose your time period. And let’s get learning!
It will be crazy. It will be exhausting. But mostly it will be deeply satisfying and awesome!
Come on, it’s time to wake up your sleeping dragon.