As if learning Mandarin isn’t difficult enough, many distractions creep into our lives and keep us from advancing towards our goals. Here are five things to downscale in order to become a more effective learner.
1. Reduce your time on social media (unless you’re on Chinese social media)
It takes discipline not to let social media steal your time.
I don’t know what happened to us humans in the past 10 years. For many people social media have become an addiction that consumes so much time that could have been spent productively (and happier). We’re out of control and we’re not even aware of it. Just today I saw a father with his two young daughters in the playground staring at his phone for hours, while his children were playing. He didn’t even look at them! No matter if it’s Facebook, Twitter or TikTok, these apps are fighting for our attention and obstruct us from being real people who live in the real world.
According to Statista the average daily social media usage of internet users worldwide amounted to 145 minutes per day in 2020. That’s almost 2.5 hours that could have been used for learning Mandarin! 18 hours per week! 72 hours each month!
I’m not saying people should delete all their social media accounts immediately, but awareness is the first step to take back control. Drastically reducing our time on social media does have many upsides. Firstly, we don’t completely forget what we’re doing. Secondly, we’re not confronted with posts and ads we don’t want to see. And last but not least: imagine all the things we can do with the time we gain.
Or give this experiment a go: spend as much time as possible on CHINESE social media like Sina Weibo, WeChat, Douban and the like. Utilize them as a learning tool, “exploit” them like they “exploit” us.
2. Reduce your consumption of news (unless it’s Chinese news)
Bad news travels at the speed of light; good news travels like molasses.
It’s amazing that the amount of news that happens in the world every day always just exactly fits the newspaper.
Reading the news is another thing to get rid of if you have this daily habit. It’s not that “news” per se is bad, but the triggering way it’s presented to us. According to experts the human brain is attracted to troubling information because it’s programmed to detect threats, not to overlook them. Our brain is predisposed to focus on the negative unfortunately and this causes anxiety and depression. In my experience – I definitely check the news more often than is good for me – consuming the news is like a drug. It’s addictive. Especially Twitter. Even though it makes us feel bad, we keep coming back for more. We feel “informed”, although in most cases we only see what big media corporations want us to see.
Not reading or watching the news does have an immediate effect. Every time I didn’t consume the news for some days – especially the past one and a half year where every second sentence contains the word “Covid” – I felt less stressed and anxious and I had more time for productive things like writing this blog. The only exception I’d make is reading the news in Chinese. Reading the news in Chinese is a brain exercise:
- Mandarin version of the New York Times
- BBC news in Mandarin Chinese
- Chinese news from Deutsche Welle
- Australian ABC中文 News
- Baidu News
3. Put that phone away – (unless you’re learning Chinese)
放下手机，立地成佛 – put your phone away and “become a Buddha on the spot” (Chinese idiom).
The cell phone has become the adult’s transitional object, replacing the toddler’s teddy bear for comfort and a sense of belonging.
Constantly looking on your phone waiting for messages and other updates, is also not helpful when learning Chinese. I sometimes ask myself: am I using the phone or is the phone using me? Why do I keep this thing around me almost all the time? Mute those messenger apps or tell people you’re busy learning Chinese. Too radical? A first step could be to log how much time you use your phone and which apps in particular. If it’s mostly Pleco, Skritter or other apps for learning Chinese you’re doing extremely well.
4. Reduce Netflix & YouTube (unless you’re watching Chinese content)
Netflix and YouTube can be major time consumers if you let them. The reason I don’t have Netflix is the high probability to get addicted. I already spend enough time online, mostly sitting, and would rather do something productive and healthy. YouTube actually has the same addictive quality, so we have to be careful. But both Netflix and YouTube have a lot to offer to Mandarin learners too. You can watch interesting Chinese Series on Netflix. There are many great YT-channels which share first-class Chinese content for beginners, intermediate and more advanced learners.
5. No excuses (unless they’re excuses to learn Chinese)
The final thing to delete from your life are excuses. In particular things we tell ourselves to rationalize why now isn’t a good time to be learning Mandarin. Again, this is easier said than done. But think about this way: every time we give in to an excuse, we feel dissatisfied about ourselves, because we’re not doing what we ought to be doing. This is damaging to our self-esteem and our goals seem further away than before. But if we actually start the task, we’ll get a sense of achievement. We did it. And if we can do it this time, we can do it next time.
Instead of setting lofty goals like studying 80 hours of Mandarin this month, opt for Mandarin whenever you have to choose between several activities. This strategy focuses on the present and really helps.
Conclusion – taking back control
I didn’t intend to write such a preachy article, but then again, these things I summed up here we all seem to be struggling with. Long story short, this all boils down to getting rid of stuff we don’t need in our lives and taking back control. Claiming back lost territory from things that unfolded their negative influence so gradually that we didn’t notice. And if “getting rid” doesn’t work or isn’t the right answer, turning an unhealthy habit into a positive and productive one is probably the next best thing we can do.
What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment down below!
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