Well, I already wrote about my opinion about Taiwanese learning foreign languages, so of course I also would like to write something about my experience while learning Chinese.
Most westerners still think that Chinese is very hard to learn. The reason for that opinion is very probably related to the characters, because they absolutely don’t share any similarities with the western way of writing. Usually westerners do not even understand one Chinese character. Furthermore the Chinese pronunciation also seems to be very strange for westerners, already leading to confusion about actually where to start learning Chinese.
My start of learning Chinese was quite easy since I directly started to attend Chinese classes when I came to Taiwan. However, just taking Chinese classes by chance is also not the best idea in my opinion, at the beginning everyone should consider what he/she actually wants to learn. Meaning: The most important goal for me to reach was speaking and listening comprehension. Other things, namely writing and reading characters are surely two very important aspects; however, in my daily life in Taiwan, speaking and listening comprehension is the most important. If I had much more time, of course I would like to practice using a pen to write Chinese characters again, but actually I’m probably just able to write my Chinese name and address, everything else is written by the computer, using Hanyu Pinyin as input method, however, as you can see, I don’t have any problems in expressing myself clearly isn’t it?
So is learning characters totally useless? This of course is an error in reasoning, because if I didn’t learn any characters before, I wouldn’t have a chance to recognize the characters I’m now writing using the computer. Writing Chinese characters really helped in developing a basic comprehension of the Chinese language. However, I don’t think that the number of characters one is able to write says something about one’s general Chinese ability. I think knowing the meaning of commonly used characters and furthermore knowing how to write Chinese using the computer is already fine, because time also needs to spend for learning how to speak.
Regarding speaking, one also should consider carefully. I always paid a lot of attention to the pronunciation while attending Chinese classes, of course also because my teacher did correct every mispronounced word immediately. However, while talking to my friends, I discovered that using my own „feel for the language“ is the best method. I know that my Chinese pronunciation does not rank among the best, but many people say that it is very standard….well, and for me this means that I already reached my goal, haha.
So what’s the best method to learn Chinese? I also don’t know…probably the most important is to set a clear goal to reach right from the beginning. And then to practice all fields, that is speaking, listening comprehension, writing and reading, because all of them are essential. I attended Chinese classes for two and a half years and spoke, read, and wrote characters almost every day. Using the things I have learned every day helped me to find out what is important and what may more belong to some kind of expert knowledge. In this way, I’m probably some sort of a natural Chinese speaking foreigner, but definitely not a model student among the foreigners, haha. Regarding myself, however, I think it’s totally okay this way! 😉