It’s probably time to learn Chinese

For over a century, learning English has been one of the highest ROI things a non-English speaker could do. English went from being a language spoken by a few million people on an island to the the language of a world-spanning empire to a de-facto global language in a few centuries. I think, despite accusations of provincialism from polyglot Europeans, English is still by far the most useful language in the world and that being a monolingual English speaker isn’t the worst thing in the world. I say that as someone who loves learning languages; realistically, there are many interesting things to learn in the world and our time is pretty limited.
However, the benefits of learning Mandarin have grown a lot over the past two decades. We’re in a critical period where the demand for bilingual English/Mandarin speakers is extremely high from maturing Chinese institutions looking to go abroad, but the supply of those speakers remains relatively low. The world also seems to be moving from a unipolar America-led situation towards a bi-or-multipolar one where China assumes a lot more importance, so speaking Chinese is a good hedge in that sense.
Learning Mandarin has been one of the most rewarding I’ve ever done, up there with learning how to program.
Before I explain how to quickly learn Mandarin, here are a few explicit reasons why you may want to:

Important reasons

  1. China is emerging from its copycat phase and is beginning to produce interesting technology and cultural products again.
  2. Almost as many people speak Mandarin as English; about 1.5 billion for each language.
  3. Very few Mandarin speakers also speak English. The oft-cited figure of 300 million english-speakers in China is laughable propaganda, and the true number is probably closer to 10 million, or less than 1% of the population.

Fun reasons

  1. Mandarin is the most over-rated language in the world in terms of difficulty to learn for English speakers. It has consistent grammar, extremely elegant and simple tenses, few phonemes that English speakers have difficulty pronouncing, no complicated honorifics, and many compound words whose meanings are immediately apparent. It also uses mostly subject-verb-object order, the same as English.
  2. Mandarin has benefited more from digitalization than any other language in the world. The most difficult part of Chinese is learning to handwrite 3000+ characters, but modern computers and phones use a phonetic input method called Pinyin which can guess which character you mean using machine learning, completely obviating the need to handwrite.
  3. Chinese speakers are extremely welcoming and encouraging of foreign language learners! I’m always puzzled why this aspect of language learning is so often overlooked by people discussing the relative difficulties of foreign languages. If you can speak even a little bit of Mandarin, native speakers will flip out, and bend over backwards to understand you, speak Chinese with you, and correct your mistakes. This greatly accelerates the speed at which you will improve. Any language I offer as a contrast to this friendly attitude is going to get me crucified, but I’ll meekly suggest that French speakers are substantially less encouraging of beginners, despite French supposedly being an easy language for English speakers to pick up!
  4. The linguistic legacy of ancient Chinese imperial expansion is visible in Korean and Japanese, and to a lesser extent in Vietnamese. With no background in Japanese, you can read some menus, get the gist of newspaper articles, read most signage, and generally get around in Japan if you speak Chinese. Amusingly, you will be more able to understand sophisticated academic texts or ancient novels than modern stuff, since the influence of Chinese on the Japanese language peaked during the Tang dynasty.
  5. The Chinese literary corpus (modern and ancient both) is huge, deep, and sparsely translated into English. It contains a lot of works that have no English equivalent, and a lot of philosophy that resembles the more practical of the Hellenistic philosophers who were interested in how to live a good life. You’ll gain access to a whole bunch of interesting material you otherwise would have no way to read.

How to become fluent in Mandarin

If you can go to China, do so.

You can learn Chinese without moving to China. It will take longer, especially in the beginning — you can go from nothing to conversational a lot faster if you are immersed. Your pronunciation will also suffer if you don’t learn in China, and your vocabulary and diction may be a little bit less natural. It’s still doable and worthwhile though. If you can’t move to China, you can skip over this next section and I’ll discuss some ways to simulate immersion without actually being in China.

Specifically, go to Beijing, Shanghai, or Chengdu

  1. Beijing is the central capital of the most centralized country on earth. The government is in Beijing, the best educational institutes are in Beijing, the movie industry is in Beijing, the art world is still largely centered in Beijing, Beijing is the startup hub of China, and Beijing is roughly tied with Shanghai as a financial hub. Modern Mandarin is based on the Beijing dialect, so if you learn Chinese in Beijing your accent will be considered easy to understand and “standard.” The inner city of Beijing (everything inside the 2nd ring road, and to a lesser extent everything inside the 3rd) is charming, liveable, and still has many of the courtyard houses and snaking alleyways that have made up the city since the Ming dynasty. Beijing (and modern Asian cities in general) is one of the most convenient places to live on the planet. Many business models that are marginal in American low-density cities are solid in ultra high-density Beijing: there are multiple profitable food-delivery startups, wash and fold laundry services are plentiful, there will be a grocery store, many restaurants, bars, and convenience stores within feet of wherever you live. The air pollution is bad, but a couple of good HEPA filters in your house eliminates more than 50% of your exposure, and going elsewhere during the winter eliminates another large chunk of it.
  2. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province, and is a good choice if being somewhere cool matters to you. Artists and musicians who have been driven out of Beijing and Shanghai by high prices have flocked to Chengdu, it probably has the best music scene in China, and it’s a really laid back place culturally. There are a lot of interesting design and architecture studios in Chengdu. Despite being geographically in the middle-south of China, Sichuan is culturally and linguistically “northern” so you can easily learn fairly standard Mandarin in Sichuan. If you do pick up a bit of a Sichuanese accent, it’s considered a cool one. The food is incredibly good. You have easy access to the Tibetan plateau and other very beautiful parts of the country. Chongqing is also a decent choice; a little less of an interesting cultural scene but a very dramatic looking city of massive hills and skyscrapers with light rail and even gondolas snaking through the buildings themselves.
  3. Shanghai is only a good choice if you think you’ll be miserable without easy access to Western food, if you are especially sensitive to air pollution, or if you plan to work in the fashion or finance industries, both of which are centered in Shanghai. The sheer number of foreigners living in Shanghai will make learning Chinese more of an uphill battle, and there’s a bit of a double-bind where if you move to a part of the city that has fewer foreigners, it will also have fewer standard Mandarin speakers so your accent will suffer.

How to get to China

The most accessible and easy way to go to China is to take a job teaching English. It’s also the absolute worst way to go there. It’s poorly paid, does nothing to advance your Chinese language skills, and ensures the people you will be in contact with through your job are people who specifically are paying to not speak Chinese with you. Here are some better options:

Go through your school

Most top colleges in the US have China study-abroad options. I’ve heard particularly good things about Middlebury, U.C. Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, and Yale . Stanford has a very swanky center at Peking University which is cool. Harvard and Yale have the oldest Sinology programs in the country but that may be of limited importance to you if your goal is simply conversational fluency. U.C. Berkeley has the UCEAP program which, if your Chinese is good enough, lets you take normal classes at the “Harvard of China,” Peking University. The biggest disadvantage of going through your college is the temptation to hang out with other Americans. There’s something about immersion that seems to accelerate language learning in a nonlinear way, and it can be derailed by even a small amount of daily exposure to one’s mother language. If you think being disciplined about not speaking English will be an issue for you, a study-abroad program may not be ideal.

Get a job that allows you to work remotely

If you’re a freelancer, or if you work for a company that allows remote work, this is a great option. Although changes to the exchange rate and cost of living have made this less true than it once was, being paid in USD and spending RMB will enable you to live very comfortably even in first-tier cities. Compared to working at a Chinese company or going through a study-abroad program, your daily Mandarin exposure will be reduced, but you can still speak it during every non-working hour. If you’re a freelancer you can also start mixing in Chinese clients once your Mandarin improves.

Get a job with a Chinese company

If you speak no Mandarin, this will be difficult but definitely not impossible. If you have skills that are in demand, many Chinese companies are hiring and have official policies that state English should be spoken in the office. In reality you’ll find that English is rarely spoken, but while that won’t be good for your initial productivity, it will be awesome for generating immersion and helping you learn quickly.

Attend a Chinese university as a fulltime student

This is tricky because most majors at most Chinese universities are objectively not as good as their U.S. equivalents. There are two solid exceptions: Tsinghua University and Peking University, the “MIT” and “Harvard” of China, respectively. Whether that comparison is accurate is hard to say. The student populations of PKU and THU are as strong as those at Harvard or MIT because the admissions process is insanely rigorous; every high school student in China takes one standardized test, and the top 0.01% or so get admitted to THU or PKU. The professors at these two schools, however, are much more of a mixed bag. Some are as good as those found at elite US institutions, and in fact some are returnees from those very schools . However, there are a lot of professors at both Peking and Tsinghua who would never be able to get tenure at a top US institution. If you identify a solid major at one of these schools, you can probably get admitted after one year of intensive language study, and you’ll emerge fluent and with an excellent network. Worth considering!

How to go from zero to conversational as fast as possible

What you need to do is basically the same whether you can go to China or not. If you can, everything will go more quickly, and require less discipline. If you can’t, it may be slower, but you can still achieve great results with these techniques.

  1. Set up your environment. Change your computer and smartphone language to Chinese. Download Sogou Pinyin, which is much better than the default Windows or Mac IME. Block Facebook and Twitter. Find a stream of Chinese TV and leave it on in your house whenever possible. Chinese TV is largely garbage but your brain will be absorbing the sounds in the background which is useful.
  2. Set up The Loop. My friend coined this term for the system we used for acquiring and remembering new words in Chinese. You need a dictionary and a spaced-repetition flashcard app. Pleco is both, and much more: a truly venerable app that got its start as a Palm Pilot app almost twenty years ago. In the meantime it’s developed into one of the most powerful apps I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. The app itself and several good dictionary files for it are free — you pay for additional features as you need them. The handwriting recognition, main dictionary pack, and flashcard functionality are must-haves; the rest you can decide for yourself if you need or not. You’ll start the loop either by walking around China and drawing (not writing; at this stage you won’t know the correct order of strokes for characters, so just roughly draw what they look like) characters you don’t understand into Pleco. You can hit the [+] on any character card to add it to your flashcard deck. Pleco has a bunch of different flashcard modes, all of which are useful for different things. Do a mix of them every single night. Don’t be tempted to import any pre-made flashcard decks. Making your own deck from the words you actually encounter is way more effective. This simple practice will improve your vocabulary shockingly fast.
  3. Find conversational partners. I learned a lot of Mandarin from hanging out in a mandarin-speaking Linux tech support group on IRC. You can find conversational partners on Wechat, on IRC, on Weibo (“Chinese twitter”), Douban (no US equivalent! Interesting hipster-y site focused on books and music), or on dating apps like Momo or Tantan. Have “thick face skin,” the Chinese term for being shameless, and keep speaking even through your embarrassing mistakes. Add any words you have issues with to your flashcard loop. Try not to use any phrases you haven’t seen a native speaker use. You should start conversation practice way before you feel remotely ready for it, because it will ensure that the phrases you learn are those which native speakers actually use, rather than the fifty-year-old ones being taught in textbooks.
  4. Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the importance of tones. Many foreign speakers of Chinese have horrible tones or seem to think of them as an optional part of the language. They aren’t; they’re central to conveying meaning and you will sound permanently foreign if you don’t master them. The typical tonal learning curve is to go from barely even being able to hear the difference, to being able to hear it after about 4 months of practice, to being able to repeat it with some effort after another 4, and finally to having mostly correct tones after 6–8 months of total study. This assumes that you are paying tones the attention they deserve, and working hard to correct your mistakes.
  5. Don’t waste time learning how to write characters, at least until you’re already conversational and can read fast. A lot of people seem to love the app Skritter, but I’d avoid it because it will just teach you how to write characters well, a skill which is not especially useful.

This content was originally published here.

Why This Latin Grammy Winner Is Teaching Children How To Speak Spanish Through Music

Marta Gomez, a Latin Grammy winner, is making it her purpose to teach children Spanish through singing. Partnering with the Global Language Project, Gomez has been able to record Coloreando, which won a Latin Grammy itself, and Coloreando Dos which boost Spanish-language appreciation with traditional Latin-American songs.

Marta Gomez, Latin Grammy Winner, performs in Barcelona.

“I consider myself a singer-songwriter,” she smiles. “All my songs are very political and poetic. And, I’m independent. With the first Coloreando, I got the invitation from Global Language Project to have a CD for kids. I always wanted to record albums for children…But when I got pregnant, I decided it was time to record an album for children because I wanted to see, to compose and to sing lullabies from around the world and music for children to listen, but also for the parents…I wanted to actually record CDs that you enjoy listening to as a child and as an adult.”

Over the course of her music career, Gomez has released 13 albums with over 100 songs. The two-time Latin Grammy winner has also founded the international campaign Nothing For War. Winning the Grammys was surreal for the artist. “For me,” she smiles, “this is huge; that this was going to actually change the way people saw me afterward. Some people have more respect. There are people that always love my music, but I realized that there are people who now enjoy my music. I’m very proud. Every day I look at my Grammy with pride, not only for me specifically, but because for me, it shows recognition to independent musicians. And I’ve always been independent.”

Gomez’s journey began at a very early age. Before she could speak her mother noticed that she could hum a melody. She was enrolled in a Columbian school that had a choir. The choir director took an interest in Gomez and she sang under the direction of that particular choir director for 10-years. From there she studied music at Berklee College in the United States. Now, she is transforming lives by breaking down the language barrier through music.

Marta Gomez, Latin Grammy Winner

“The children of immigrants in the States that are born into the U.S. speak English,” Gomez shares. “but they know their parents don’t. Their parents speak Spanish, and they come from Guatemala and Costa Rica and Colombia. Most of the kids kind of feel ashamed; they relate the Spanish with ‘my mom has to clean floors, my dad has to drive a bus’ and they kind of relate those two things: the Spanish with a hardy way of living. The Global Language Project wants them to know it’s ok; speaking Spanish is actually a tool… they want them to feel proud of the language, and how they do it is through music. Not only music but music that their parents listen to.” In order to achieve that Gomez chose very traditional songs that she could put a folkloric twist on.

One of the biggest challenges she faced was from being an independent artist to now producing commercial albums. “The most difficult part of it is when you learn that you don’t have to show or prove anything,” she shares. “Because all the time you’re thinking I should sound like her, I should move like this other singer or I should change the way I sing. Many doors close. It is very frustrating because they compare you to other artists, and you also compare yourself to others. But I think the most beautiful thing is when you realize you don’t have anything to prove to anybody.”

Marta Gomez, Latin Grammy Winner, receiving her Grammy

As Gomez navigates her music career from an independent artist to a commercial singer, she relies on these essential steps:

“What I enjoy more is knowing that if people are getting connected to the music,” Gomez concludes, “it doesn’t matter in which language you can use, of course, if you can pick up one word in Spanish, that would be great. But if not, at least to be able to be more tolerant. I’m pretty sure if you listen to music in other languages and you like it, then it makes you a more tolerant human being and it opens your mind to a new world.”

This content was originally published here.

5 Reasons You Need to Learn Chinese Names

Author’s Note: The advice in the below article applies to readers around the world, however I primarily use the term “Westerner”  in the text as I have mainly observed people from Western countries (i.e. those where the native language is English) being more dependent on English names. This wording is not intended to reflect every reader’s personal experience. 

Despite China continuing to grow in power and influence, I worry that many people  have yet to fully accept this reality. One area where this reluctance shows through is how uncomfortable many Westerners continue to feel when trying to pronounce or learn Chinese names. Feeling uncomfortable on its own can readily be forgiven – it is an unwillingness to try that really bothers me.  Some are embarrassed when trying to pronounce unfamiliar words. Others insist that Chinese names are too hard to pronounce. It is therefore no surprise that one of the more common phrases one hears among those new to China is “do you have an English name?” 

To many, learning how to pronounce a name may seem wholly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. However, it can easily relate to our own attitudes and prejudices, which will directly affect each of us as we continue to learn and grow. I’d therefore like to help you, the reader, understand why I feel learning Chinese names is so important, and will not only help develop closer relationships with our Chinese friends, partners, and coworkers, but also prepare us for China’s greater prominence in the global economy.

1) You’re in their country

I always feel that when visiting someone else’s country it’s best to learn a little of their language, if only how to pronounce basic words, questions, and names. Of course, you can always choose not to if you prefer, but many Asian countries, including China, focus a lot more on respect than their Western counterparts. Currently, in China it’s a common practice for visiting Westerners to take the easy path and rely solely on English names. But at the same time, making the effort to learn Chinese names and basic phrases will send a clear message to the Chinese, that you are serious about engaging with them and their country. And if that’s not enough, think about this – how would you feel if a Chinese person visited your country, and after you courteously introduced yourself, they flatly refused to use your native name and suggested you adopt a Chinese one instead? Therefore, while learning Chinese names may be difficult at first, it’s a simple way to show respect and interest, which can only lead to a better experience for all.

2) Don’t isolate yourself with an expat mentality

Photo by Fifaliana on Pixabay

While I believe learning Chinese names, phrases, and greetings is ideal for Westerners visiting China, it is even more important for those planning a lengthier stay. In a previous article I wrote about the dangers of succumbing to an expat mindset, and refusing to learn basic Chinese can tie into this, only serving to further isolate you. Refusing (or even unconsciously avoiding) to learn Chinese names and language not only will make it harder for you to integrate into life in China, it may even prevent you from working effectively (assuming you work at least part of the time in China). Even worse, I have seen many Westerners develop a pronounced apathy and even hostility toward the Chinese people in general due to this type of isolation. For hundreds of years Chinese immigrants (and those from many countries) have relocated to Western countries, integrated themselves into the countries, and learned the local language. Is it really too much to ask for us to at least learn to pronounce Chinese names?

3) A name is a very personal thing

I touched briefly on racism and hostility above, and the sad truth of the matter is that the Chinese people have long suffered at the hands of other countries, most notably Western nations and Japan. My home country of the United States is particularly guilty in this respect, with Chinese (and Asians in general) still subjected to regular bigotry. A recent example of this occurred when unidentified persons tore the nametags off the doors of Chinese students at Columbia University in early 2017. While their exact motives were never confirmed, it was clear that their intent was to directly attack Chinese students, as nearby name tags of non-Chinese students remained untouched. Names are a very personal thing to the Chinese. Chinese parents choose names for their children with care, with the chosen words (characters, in fact) representing their hopes and dreams for who their children will become. I encourage you to watch this video created by the Chinese students involved affected by the incident – it may give you one more reason to learn how to pronounce and understand Chinese names.

After growing up in China and later emigrating to the USA, I found that many people did not know how to pronounce my Chinese name. The mispronunciation of my name has caused multiple embarrassments and miscommunication throughout my education. I even had to go so far as to begin writing my first name as “Ray”, as opposed to “Rui”, which is how it is spelled in Chinese Pinyin. Despite greater convenience this has never felt entirely conformable, as no one should have to give up their own name.  – Rui Lin, Sino-US Trade Policy Specialist

4) We need to ditch Anglocentrism

Another reason we face a problem with Westerners being reluctant to learn Chinese names and use them in everyday conversations, is the rampant Anglocentralism which has persisted during and after the Western colonial era. Begun by Britain, and later joined by the United States, European countries, Russia, and Japan, the common view was that developing nations were somehow lesser, or not worthy (especially when their citizens were not Caucasian). In the time since, these citizens of developing nations and regions (e.g., China, Africa, South, and Latin America) have had to take on the burden of learning the languages of Western countries (namely English), while their Western counterparts have for the large part shown no interest in reciprocating. However, many developing countries, China in particular, are now set to take on a greater role, in terms of power and influence, on the global stage. Continuing to be ruled by outdated mindsets can only hurt those who hold them, as developing countries have no need to wait for Western mindsets to catch up. Focusing more on the importance of names to the Chinese is a simple way to start reversing the damages caused by Anglocentrism.

5) Preparing for Chinese companies going global

Photo by Ambreen Hasan on Unsplash

To build upon the previous point, China continues to develop, which includes many Chinese companies and workers traveling to and being based overseas. As their presence and power continues to grow, it is very likely that less and less leeway will be given to Western companies and employees who want to work with them but refuse to learn their language and culture. As an example, several years ago I observed that Tencent, the Chinese powerhouse behind WeChat, had placed job ads online for several US locations. For every single Manager or Assistant Manager position, Chinese language proficiency was required for regular communication with the head office. In addition, Chinese firms I have worked for in the past also mainly spoke Chinese in the office, and Chinese was essential while for communication with senior managers. So Chinese language proficiency may be all but required for many of us in the near future. Starting with learning Chinese names is a relatively easy first step, and may make it easier to learn more of the Chinese language, which can only lead to more opportunities.

Final Thoughts

I’ve presented several reasons above why I feel many Westerners should make a greater effort to learn Chinese names. And while these reasons certainly tie-in to the need for learning the Chinese language in general, the core issue is simpler than that to me. The biggest problem I see is not that other Westerners are not learning Chinese, but that their mindset prevents them from recognizing the need to learn about the Chinese language and culture.

Too many of us are still blind to the fact that China is challenging and/or surpassing Western countries in many areas, including economics, science, and technology. In the end, China will continue on no matter what we do. Whether or not we are individually prepared will directly depend on the mindset we adopt towards China and the Chinese people. Will we view them as equals and endeavor to treat them as such, or will we continue to ignore them as an unimportant country and culture? The choice is yours.

Additional Reading: For those of you interested in learning how to pronounce Chinese names, you can find some basic pronunciation guides in my previous article on Chinese Pinyin.

Thanks for reading!

Do you have any additional questions about taking a taxi in China? Do you have any personal experiences you would like to share? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section. You can also send a send a message directly to the author on social media.

Follow the China Culture Corner to receive regular updates by email!

This content was originally published here.

WATCH: Smug Hispanic Girl Won’t Speak English, NJ Teacher Gives Her 8-Word Reality Check

A Hispanic student in New Jersey was instructed time after time to practice English, but she smugly refused. Eventually, her teacher had enough of her disrespect and issued a brutal eight-word reality check to the Spanish-speaking girl, and it was all caught on video. Although many people say that we need more educators like this, her response to the disobedient student’s insubordination caused more than a little controversy.

New Jersey high school teacher Laura Amico reprimands 17-year-old Yennifer Pinales for speaking Spanish in the classroom. (Photo Credit: Screengrab/Twitter)

Seventeen-year-old Yennifer Pinales was speaking Spanish in one of her classes at Cliffside Park High School in New Jersey, when her teacher, Laura Amico, decided to set her straight. According to BizPac Review, the no-nonsense English teacher told Pinales that “the men and women who are fighting aren’t fighting for your right to speak Spanish, they’re fighting for your right to speak American” in front of the entire class.

“She said, ‘I’m so fed up with you speaking Spanish. I told you to practice your English,” Pinales recounted. “The teacher should apologize. She didn’t only offend me, she offended a whole community. I’m not asking her to lose her job. And if she doesn’t feel comfortable working with people speaking a second language then she should go someplace else.”

“the men and women aren’t fighting for your rights to speak Spanish they’re fighting for your rights to speak American”a teacher said this..

— manny‼️😈💦 (@amany_hamdan) October 13, 2017

After Amico’s admonition of Pinales was caught on video and spread widely over social media, about two dozen students from Cliffside Park High School staged a walkout during school hours in protest of the teacher.

“It won’t be the last time, it won’t be the first time, but addressing the situation hopefully will change something,” said high school junior Jasmeen Velasco, as reported by ABC 7. “She had no right to say that, especially in a classroom full of Hispanic kids, do you understand me? We all agreed that we were going to walk out during the fourth period but since our principal knew it was going to happen, we didn’t know what was going to happen, whether they would try to stop us,” added Velasco. “But we decided to walk out a period earlier so we could come out here and support.”

“I didn’t get more offended over the language, I got more offended over the soldier aspect,” said high school junior Eren Dayakli. “Like how men and women fight for us to speak American instead of Spanish, even though both of my uncles were in the military. They weren’t born here, they immigrated here from Turkey,” he said.

The difference, of course, is that Dayakli’s uncles immigrated from Turkey legally. We don’t have a problem with illegal Turkish immigrants invading our border and sucking up every last resource taxpayers have made available, nor do we have a problem with the public speaking Turkish, when the native tongue is English.

It used to go without saying that, in the United States of America, English was spoken in the classroom. However, thanks to years and years of open borders, our schools have been overrun with Hispanic children who do not speak English as a first language. Furthermore, they aren’t being made to learn proper English once they’re in our country.

Laura Amico should have been applauded by the school for mandating that her students speak English in an American classroom. She is an English teacher, after all. Sadly, though, that isn’t what happened. Amico was forced to apologize to the entire school over the PA system during morning announcements before she was permitted to return to teaching class. Pathetic. This is where the progressive agenda has gotten us.

Please share the story and tell us what you think by clicking one of the buttons below. We want to hear YOUR voice!

This content was originally published here.

How Long Does It Take To Learn French? An Honest Guide For Beginners

How Long Does It Take To Learn French? An Honest Guide For Beginners

If you are thinking about learning French, you’re probably wondering how long it will take.

If you are paying for classes, you might be interested in the financial investment – but more likely, you are just wondering how long it will be before you can actually use your French to start conversing with native speakers!

While there is no simple answer, in this article, I’ll do my best to give you an idea of how long it can take and some of the different variables involved.

By the time you finish this article, you’ll have a better idea of what you can expect as a French learner.

You’ll be able to set your realistic goals and expectations to match your own situation and .

What Does It Mean To “Learn French”?

Before answering the question of how long it takes to learn French, let’s take a step back and consider a more basic question: what does it mean to “learn French”?

Let’s assume you want to be a bit more ambitious than just learning a few stock phrases for your holiday and that your goal is to become “fluent”

But even then, what does being “fluent” actually mean?

Some people take fluency to mean native-level proficiency, while others would define it as simply a comfortable conversational level.

If your goal is to speak like a native, then it’s going to take you quite some time!

But from the perspective of a learner, perhaps a better way to understand “fluent” would be the ability to speak and understand at normal speed without lots of pauses to search for words.

Fluent speakers may still make a few mistakes, but they are able to speak naturally without too much hesitation.

So, how long does it take to reach this level of proficiency?

Different Levels In Language Learning

A useful tool we can employ when talking about different levels in language learning is the Common European Framework for Languages.

This guideline breaks language proficiency into six levels as you can see in this graphic:

If we are talking about being “fluent” in French as being able to hold without too many pauses or hesitations, we’re looking at something like the top end of the B2 level.

A C1 speaker can certainly be described as fluent according to this definition, even if they haven’t quite reached a native-like level yet.

So how long does it take to reach a high B2 level in French?

It can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, so now let’s look at some of the most important ones…

4 Factors That Effect How Long It Takes To Learn Frenchlearning french in paris

1. Your Native Language

Possibly the most important factor affecting how quickly you learn a language is how different that language is from your native language.

For example, Chinese is considered very difficult for English speakers, mainly because it so different from English.

However, if a language has a lot in common with your native language, then it will be easier to learn.

French belongs to the group of languages known as Romance languages, the languages descended from Latin.

This group includes Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian, and for speakers of these languages, French is quite easy.

English is located further away on the family tree of languages, but not so far: if the Romance languages are the brothers and sisters of French, then English is its cousin.

While the grammar is not quite the same, the two languages still have much in common.

As you’ve probably noticed, French and English share a great many cognates – words that are the same in both languages!

In fact, it is estimated that over a third of English words come from French!

This means if you speak English, even as a second language, when you begin studying French, you already have a large bank of French words you know already.

This is a great shortcut and makes French a lot faster to learn for an English speaker than for a native Chinese speaker, for example.

2. Is French Your First Foreign Language?

Another important factor is whether French is your first foreign language…

…or if you have learnt any other languages before.

You may have heard that each new language you learn is easier than the last and this is true, although perhaps not for the reasons you might imagine.

Let’s have a look at why.

One reason learners working on a second or third foreign language have an advantage is that they .

They know what works – and they know what doesn’t.

This means experienced language learners won’t waste time doing things that don’t help acquire the new language in the quickest and most efficient way.

For example, an experienced learner is unlikely to waste time rote memorising lists of vocabulary.

They already know that this not how our brains acquire language, and they’ve discovered better ways to make new words stick.

Experienced learners tend to be faster learners because they spend their time more effectively, on things that really work.

Having previous experience of learning a language also makes it easier to learn French because you’re less likely to become demotivated or intimidated when you encounter difficulties.

Very often, inexperienced learners can become blocked when faced with something new because they don’t understand how it works or how to approach it.

The Devil Isn’t Always In The Detail

Take the French expression qu’est-ce que c’est? (what is it?), for example.

To a new learner, this expression probably looks like a horrible jumble of strangeness.

  • Why do we say it like that?
  • Which parts correspond which English words?

Thinking like this is just over-complicating matters.

The best way to approach it is to stop trying to pick it apart and just accept that qu’est-ce que c’est? means ‘what is it?’ and leave it at that.

Experienced learners tend to be much better at this than first-timers.

Experienced Learners Worry Less About Mistakes

They are worried about making mistakes or sounding silly, so they prefer to keep their mouths shut rather than taking a risk.

This is ok at first, but eventually, you will need to speak French if you want to keep improving.

3. Intensity And Environmentstudying french

The third factor affecting how long it will take you to learn French is your learning intensity and environment:

  • How you study
  • How often you study
  • How long you study for
  • Where you study
Do You Study Every Day Or Just Once A Week?

Some people think learning languages is hard, and this is certainly true if you study for only one hour once a week.

By the time a week has passed, you’ll probably have forgotten most of what you learned the previous week and find yourself back at square one!

On the other hand, if you study for 15-20 minutes every day, French will become much easier.

Language learning is all about practice, and the more you use your French, the easier it will become to learn and remember everything.

What Is Your Learning Environment Like

There is a myth that if you go to live in a country, you will automatically ‘pick up’ the language with no effort at all – apparently just by breathing the air.

This is completely false! I should know… I’ve spent a lot of time living and working abroad.

You see… immersion doesn’t mean moving to France!

It means surrounding yourself in the language and making it an important part of your everyday life.

Lots of people sadly manage to live in foreign countries for many years without ever learning the language.

While others learn to speak fluent despite spending little to no time in French-speaking countries.

What you need is a learning environment that allows you to practice often and spend lots of time with language – listening, reading, speaking and living it.

Nowadays, you have the opportunity to do this with a huge variety of French online resources available at the click of button from your own home!

4. Motivation

Another factor that shouldn’t be overlooked is your motivation for learning.

If you ask two learners why they are learning a language and one answers that his boss is forcing him while the other says she is learning for fun because it’s interesting, which one do you think will be more successful?

Learning any language requires a large investment of time and effort, and sometimes you will become disheartened.

If you are learning because you are interested in that language, you will find it so much easier to motivate yourself during those moments of doubt.

It is very hard to learn a language when you don’t really want to.

So… How Long Does It Take To Learn French?how to learn french

With so many factors at play, it is almost meaningless to give a single figure.

However, we can at least look at a couple of possible answers.

According to the Alliance Française, it takes between 560 and 650 hours of lessons to reach a B2 level in French.

However, this estimate doesn’t take into account many of the possible variables, so in terms of months and years, this estimate could vary wildly depending on the intensity of study and other factors.

The US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) gives a more specific guideline, stating that 575-600 classroom hours are required to acquire enough French to “use it as a tool to get things done”, by which we can understand a level equating to B2/C1.

But, these hours are supposed to be completed within 23-24 weeks… in other words, these students are expected to reach a good level of proficiency in under half a year.

However, these classroom hours are supposed to be supplemented by students’ own personal study and, although they have no prior knowledge of French, the students are considered to have an above average aptitude for learning languages – and when this is not the case, the learning period is expected to be longer.

This kind of intense study under ideal conditions is not possible for everyone.

For a dedicated and motivated student studying in France and speaking French every day, the lower end of the timescale may start at about six months, but it could take up to a year or more to reach this level, depending on other factors.

When it comes to independent study, for an experienced, motivated language learner studying for an hour a day, six days a week and able to find an environment in which to practise regularly, it would probably take more like a year and a half to two years to reach this level.

For someone with less experience, less time to spend studying and perhaps a little less dedication, the timescale could easily be extended.

It’s a long journey – but it’s worth it

If you are thinking about learning French, the important thing is to be realistic – learning any language takes time and perseverance.

After the first few weeks when you will learn rapidly, progress may seem to slow.

However, as long as you keep at it, you will reach your goal.

Whether you learn French fast or slow, just try to stay motivated and don’t give up –  you will soon begin to realise just how much progress you’re making.

Are you learning French? What are your goals in the language? Leave a comment and let me know!



12 Spanish Movies to Learn Spanish on Netflix

The 12 Best Spanish Movies to Learn Spanish on Netflix

One of the most dynamic and effective methods of learning – while also improving your new language skills – is by using multimedia resources, such as watching the best Spanish movies to learn Spanish.

Besides using traditional techniques such as reading, memorizing and repeating the vocabulary and its translations, watching Spanish movies on Netflix will allow you to identify the different sounds of the letters in the words and the words in the sentences. Next up we will show you the best Spanish movies to learn Spanish, so prepare your popcorn and enjoy!

The 12 best Spanish movies to learn Spanish

(The Motorcycle Diaries)

The film is based on the true story of the journey lived by Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Alberto Granado. Both decided to cross the entire South American continent on a motorcycle, on a voyage which changed their lives forever.

This 2004 movie combines beautiful landscapes, masterful performances and real facts of a notorious character of Latin American history. Directed by the Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles, this film shows the audience a part of the vast Latin American culture. They talk in an excellent and fluent Spanish, which is excellent for learners.

(Like Water for Chocolate)

You will have a taste of the rich culture and traditions of Mexico with this movie of 1992. This story is based on the book of the same name, written by Laura Esquivel, and which has broken best-seller records since its release.

This movie counts on pleasant and easy-to-understand language for those who are learning or want to learn Spanish. Directed and produced by Alfonso Arau, this story takes you through conflicts such as life, death, love, family and tradition. While it’s narrated in the style of Mexican magical realism, is a cult film for Mexicans and Spanish learners.

El carro (The Car)

Soaked in humor and Colombian slang, this movie from 2003 is about family and how to solve conflicts when an external factor, which was desired by every member of the group, becomes a source of adventures and new experiences.

In this film, directed by Luis Orjuela, you can see how every character evolves through the story and leaves a lesson for you. Even when sometimes you might miss some details of the movie because the vocabulary, it totally will be worth watching.

Relatos salvajes (Wild Tales)

This is an Argentinian movie – a black comedy combined with drama that has been nominated and won several important awards in the cinematographic industry. Damián Szifron has written and directed this incredible movie in collaboration with Agustín and Pedro Almodóvar.

The movie was released in 2014 and it is about six whole different stories that explore the passion and human nature of daily behavior and how some situations can get out of control if we allow ourselves to be dragged by impulsiveness and revenge. At the same time, this film is sprinkled with humor and full of the Argentine accent and vocabulary, which makes it great to learn Spanish.

(Love’s a Bitch)

This Mexican film of 2009 was the first in the repertoire of Alejandro González Iñárritu. The movie unites elements of drama and violence with a very adult content.

The film narrates three different stories of human beings who are capable of sacrifices and terrible acts for the ones that they love, while also telling us about real problems of poverty in Latin American society with the characteristic Mexican accent.

(Spanish Affair)

The “Ocho apellidos vascos” film was directed by Emilio Martínez-Lázaro and released in 2014, belonging to the romance comedy genre. It is considered as one of the best Spanish movies to learn Spanish.

Some Spanish traditions about family and marriage are exposed in this movie, with a marked Spanish accent. At the same time and with a touch of humor, this story tells you about prejudice, stereotypes and xenophobia. Also, it makes us reflect and laugh at these factors that can separate families and prevent love stories. You can’t miss it!

El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes)

This is a dramatic film directed by Juan José Campanella with a great deal of suspense. The way in which it is carried, takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions.

Based on the story “The Question of Their Eyes” by the author Eduardo Sacheri, this film was released in 2009. It is about a crime story, full of mystery and a persecution that leaves no one untouched. You will totally enjoy this masterpiece which uses the peculiar Argentine accent, while you are improving your Spanish skills.

 (Maria Full of Grace)

A drama that was written and directed by the American filmmaker Joshua Marston. This movie explores human conflicts in an environment of certain realities existent in Latin America: the billionaire business of drug-dealing.

In collaboration with the United States, this film released in 2004 explores innocence and ambition, while making you wonder about facing consequences of human acts. It contains Colombian vocabulary, which will help you listen to the pronunciation of plenty of words you might not know.

También la lluvia (Even the Rain)

In this film directed by Icíar Bollaín, you will be able to listen to different accents of Spanish, such as Bolivian and Mexican, while learning some important things about Latin American history.

Released in 2010, this movie promises to transform your beliefs and make you question what is right or wrong. Besides touching other topics such as civilian rights, abuses and exploitation; this film will test your ears referring to Spanish pronunciation and vocabulary.


This is a suspense thriller of 2009, in which you can listen to different Spanish accents too. From the hand of the director Sebastián Cordero, this movie talks about relationships, workplace harassment and discrimination in Europe.

Also, this film explores the dreams of Latin American immigrants, the secrets of a disturbed man and how relationships can be transformed because of different elements, including employment relationship.


“REC” is a Spaniard movie belonging to the terror genre; it is packed full of suspense and will have you on the edge of your seat in each scene.

Furthermore, making use of a lot of simple Spanish words and phrases, this 2007 film directed by Jaime Balagueró y Paco Plaza follows the style of the popular “found footage” technique. This way, the beginners learning this vast language will have the chance to prove themselves on how much they know, while enjoying an unexpected story.

(Son of the Bride)

This film is from 2001 and is part of the work of the director Juan José Campanella. Also, this movie has been nominated for several relevant cinematographic awards and won some of them.

It combines drama and a little of the Argentinian sense of humor, bringing a fresh but realistic proposal which anyone can feel related to. It will make you think, laugh and even cry in certain moments of the story; all to make you ask yourself what you would do if you were in the same situation. Moreover, you will be improving your Spanish skills while enjoying this great movie.

Finally, after showing these 12 Spanish movies to learn Spanish on Netflix to you, we can assure you that using Spanish movies for learning is one of the best methods to improve your skills.

Likewise, by watching the best Spanish movies to learn Spanish you will be able to identify the correct pronunciation of every word and find out how to understand more than just the sentences, but the actual context to interpret everything else.

Don’t forget that reading is perhaps the most important component when learning a new language. Check out why learning a language by reading is so important.

The post 12 Spanish Movies to Learn Spanish on Netflix appeared first on Lingo Mastery.

This content was originally published here.

Do you speak Chinese?

After years of imploring my mother to take me with her to China, I could barely believe that I was finally on an airplane beside her. It felt like the beginning of those cheesy ‘return to the motherland’ stories that so many first-generation immigrants write when they finally visit their parents’ country for the first time, and I too was prepared to document everything with my camera for posterity’s sake.

Previously when people asked if I had ever been to China, I could only say that I had been once to shoot a documentary on porcelain producers with my college professor. But even then it had been to a different part of China than my mother’s hometown in the south, and I could only fumble over the basics of Mandarin while my white American professor stunned locals by speaking fluently.

As I approached my thirtieth birthday, it seemed more and more absurd that I had never been to my mother’s hometown. I had no idea what it looked like, much less where it was on a map. My sisters had visited when they were children and were infinitely more proficient than me in both Cantonese (which is spoken in the south and in Hong Kong), and Mandarin, the official language. I’d always wondered if my Chinese language skills wouldn’t be so awful if I had visited China as a child too.

After take-off and some excited chatter with my mother, I nestled into my seat to try and get some rest on the eight-hour flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong. A hand emerged from behind my seat and slammed my window screen shut. Snapped out of my drowse, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself and tried very hard to practise compassionate thinking about the person behind me.

After ten years of living abroad I was adjusting to my recent move back home to Australia, and still learning to tone it down. My time in the United States, and in New York City especially, had done wonders getting me out of my shell—just not always in a good way, if you don’t like being labelled the crazy lady for yelling at perverts and racists on the street. Confrontation is simply a way of life in New York. Women can count on being cat-called and harassed in English, Spanish or just plain old leering anywhere they walk. The city is also so crowded, staking out personal space feels like a daily existential struggle, and over there this sort of behaviour simply would not fly.

I took another deep breath, feeling just a little satisfied with my newfound ability to not respond. I re-nestled into my seat and reclined, determined to ignore the minor transgression and get some shut-eye when a series of heavy blows landed on the back of my seat.

Incredulous, I turned around to address the man behind me, politely asking him whether he wanted to swap seats with me so my reclining wouldn’t get in his way. He stuck his chin out, glared at me and enunciated carefully, “I’ll remember you,” a beautifully constructed, deadly, dread-inducing insult in Cantonese.

His reaction took me by surprise, but helped me realise that I needed back-up. When a Cantonese-speaking flight attendant came over to speak to him he retorted that he wasn’t doing anything, and she left. This went on. He would stop hitting my seat when the flight attendant arrived and start punching it again as soon as she left.

In between my calls for assistance, his wife remarked that just because wealthy Chinese people could now speak English and afford to send their children to study abroad, they thought they ruled the world. “Well, I know how to understand English too!”

It all made sense. The couple was from Hong Kong, and must have picked up on my mother’s unmistakably mainland dialect when they heard us speaking. Even though Cantonese is spoken throughout southern China and Hong Kong, there are also numerous regional dialects and local languages spoken throughout the mainland. The couple had us pegged as being from the mainland, and they weren’t about to let it go. The wife droned on and on about the mainland Chinese and their wealth, and how they thought they could do whatever they wanted now because they were rich.

Even in the midst of the woman’s misguided invectives, the situation felt absurdly comical. My mother had endured so much suffering under Communist China that she had been desperate enough to take the opportunity to immigrate nearly forty years ago to Australia—a country she knew nothing about, and whose language she couldn’t speak. It wasn’t China, and that had been enough.

It seemed futile to try and correct the woman with our family history. I, for one, wouldn’t have known where to start. Instead, my mother and I sat in silence, absorbing the woman’s words.

On the one hand, I could understand where she was coming from. In 1997, after 150 years of British colonial rule, during which Hong Kongers enjoyed a certain degree of democracy and unbridled capitalism, Hong Kong was handed back to China. Since then, tensions between the mainland Chinese and Kong Kongers have escalated significantly, with little recourse for Hong Kongers to complain.

Previously, under British administration, the finer points of British etiquette inculcated in Hong Kongers a cultural and linguistic identity distinct from their mainland counterparts, who had been urged by Mao during the Cultural Revolution to do away with bourgeois mannerisms. When travel restrictions between China and Hong Kong eased post-1997, Hong Kongers felt besieged by hordes of wealthy and ill-mannered mainlanders.

What’s more, many entrepreneurial mainlanders engaged in parallel trading by buying cheaper goods in Hong Kong and reselling them just across the border, while tens of thousands of pregnant women from the mainland gave birth in Hong Kong hospitals so their “anchor babies” could obtain Hong Kong residency, and consequently access better government services and education.

Videos capturing mainlanders letting their children urinate in public spaces or eating on the Hong Kong public transit system went viral. Peking University Professor Kong Qingdong further inflamed tensions by calling Hong Kongers “bastards” and “running dogs for British imperialists” on national Chinese television. In his tirade, Professor Kong expanded his critique of Hong Kongers to include those resisting the imposition of Mandarin, arguing that “Mandarin speakers don’t have the responsibility and necessity to speak the other dialects … but everybody has the responsibility to speak Mandarin.”

Even within the mainland, the Chinese government’s ambitious attempts to homogenise language and culture have been well-documented. Although the debate is far from settled, classifying Cantonese as simply a regional dialect of Mandarin, as opposed to a distinct language, reasserts the political and cultural superiority of a centralised, Beijing-approved Chinese identity.

Given the struggles for linguistic self-determination of Cantonese speakers in both southern China and Hong Kong, the hostility of this Hong Kong couple took me by surprise. It spoke volumes that even our common linguistic—and arguably cultural—marginalisation could not measure up to the Hong Kong resentment of mainland China and its inhabitants.

After several rounds of the flight attendant coming and going, I finally called for the inflight supervisor. A burly white Australian man approached to suss out the situation, and asked me if I spoke Chinese. Worried that he would ask me to interact directly with the man in my mediocre Cantonese, I looked him squarely in the face and said “No”.

We were on an English-speaking airline, after all, and while it felt awfully neo-colonial to appeal to a white man’s authority for help in dealing with a Hong Konger who wasn’t fluent in English, I needed help ending the harassment.

The supervisor ultimately resorted to threatening the couple with sanctions. If they didn’t move seats they would be placed on a Qantas no-fly list and there would be a police escort meeting them at the airport. Finally, they buckled, and quietly gathered their belongings to shuffle to the back of the plane.

As the supervisor left to attend to his other duties, I couldn’t control myself any longer. I turned around to address them for the first time in Cantonese and wished them a nice flight. Once I had sat back into my seat, my mother and I looked at each other and began giggling uncontrollably at the absurdity of the situation. The rest of the trip was thankfully confrontation-free and as cheesy as I had hoped for it to be, as my mother reunited in town after town with old neighbours and classmates.

But the incident on the plane kept me thinking about Hong Kong’s struggle for sovereignty. July 1, 2017 marked the twentieth anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong back to China. On its eve, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson responded to concerns about the undermining of Sino-British Joint Declaration, which had set out provisions to preserve Hong Kongers’ way of life and autonomy until 2047. His blunt response was that “the arrangements … are now history and of no practical significance, nor are they binding on the Chinese central government’s administration”.

The troubling statement is perhaps no surprise to those who have been paying attention, especially when China has already openly used heavy-handed tactics to counter dissent in Hong Kong. In response to Chinese intervention in Hong Kong’s governance and civil liberties, however, Hong Kongers have persistently fought back. Between the 2014 Umbrella Revolution and 2016 Fishball Revolution, in 2015, five Hong Kong booksellers were abducted and taken into custody in mainland China over the circulation of materials critical of the Communist Party’s leadership. They were later paraded in front of television cameras to read out written confessions. One of the booksellers, though, Lam Wing-kee, later retracted his statement at a press conference in Hong Kong and recounted the five months of solitary confinement he endured. Mr Lam dismissed suggestions that he relocate to Taiwan and open a book store there. Instead Mr Lam told reporters, “I want to tell the whole world: Hong Kongers will not bow down to brute force”—in Cantonese, of course.

Diana Tung

Diana Tung is a first-generation Chinese-Australian interested in examining the issues of gender, race, culture, and politics from an anthropological lens. Her writing has appeared in Overland and McSweeneys.

Diana was the recipient of the first Scissors Paper Pen mentorship, with mentor Ashley Thomson (founder of Homer). This piece was developed as a part of the mentorship. The mentorship is supported by artsACT. For updates on future mentorships, follow Scissors Paper Pen on Facebook.

Supported by

This content was originally published here.