Monday, January 24, 2011

Self Loathing Broke My Think Box: How Self Esteem Affects Second Language Learning

Are you the type of person who believes he can do anything or do you think you're a less intelligent person with lower level capabilities?  Do you approach any task believing you'll finish it or do you approach tasks wondering if they're even possible?  How you view yourself can deeply affect your ability to learn a language, and those who genuinely believe they can do anything are usually the best language learners (and sometimes jump off buildings wearing a cape, but that's neither here nor there...).  When it comes to language learning, the important factor isn't how smart you are, but how much confidence you have in yourself.  Most language teachers would agree that students who are self-confident learn better because they always put forth some effort.  Students who don't believe they can learn are less likely to make a reasonable attempt to do so and sometimes even give up entirely.  Success in language learning is strongly related to a person's view of himself because those who believe they are incapable of learning don't feel the need to waste time trying.  The good news is that if you recognize that you are able to learn a second language (and I genuinely believe that all people are) your efforts to learn will most definitely be rewarded.  If you believe you can learn Chinese, or any other language, you can.

Take some time now to tell yourself how wonderful you are.  Tell yourself that you were born with a brain - not a half a brain as your overbearing mother may have told you, but a complete, crinkled, gooey, functional brain that can store and process information that is useful and relevant to you.  Remind yourself that if you just exercise your brain once in a while, it can easily reach peak optimization and that's all you need in order to reach your language learning goals.  The fact of the matter is that you've learned before and you'll do it again so why not put those learning abilities to good use by acquiring a second language?  Think about the last time you learned how to do something.  It doesn't matter whether you learned how to solve differential equations or how to diaper an elephant.  What matters is that you did, in fact, learn something.  How did you learn it? What methods did you use? Can you apply those same methods and principals to language learning? Definitely! It's time to start recognizing that you have the tools, and the abilities, to learn a foreign language.  Change the way you think so you can change the way you learn, which brings us to our vocab words for today: "can" (kěyǐ), "learn"(xué) and "Chinese"(zhōngwén) See where I'm going with this?

Our first word is "can" which is "kěyǐ" (可以).  The first half of the word "kěyǐ" is "kě" which is pronounced as if it rhymes with "duh" as in, "Duh, of course you can (kěyǐ) learn Chinese!"  The second half of the word is "yǐ", which rhymes with "see" as in, "See, I told you that you can (kěyǐ) learn Chinese!"  You'll remember from a previous post that Mandarin Chinese uses four distinct tones.  Both syllables of the word "kěyǐ" use the third tone.  Learning the tones can be as simple as saying the word aloud over and over so that your brain gets used to hearing it correctly.  You don't need to memorize the tones for each word if you make an effort to train your brain to always hear words spoken as they should be.  As mentioned before, you CAN (kěyǐ) do this, you just need to figure out what techniques work best for you and put those techniques to use.

Put simply, any average person can learn (xué 学) anything.  Learning is a matter of committing information to memory by means of the conscious or unconscious will.  If you tell your brain to learn (xué) a word in Chinese enough times, your brain is going to remember that word.  You might also learn (xué) the word by reading it over and over so many times (learn - xué - learn - xué - learn - xué - learn - xué)  that your brain starts remembering on its own.  Then, when you see or hear the word in English (LEARN), your brain automatically reminds you that you also know this word in Chinese (xué).  When you figure out which method of learning works for you, make a valiant effort to use that method in any way that you can and you'll begin to see real results with regard to your language learning.

We've all heard (and discussed in an earlier post) that some languages are more difficult to learn than others.  Chinese (zhōngwén  中文) is a language that has a reputation for being one of those more difficult languages.  But, if you've been following this blog, you probably already have at least one word of Chinese (zhōngwén) stored in your brain somewhere, so don't let yourself believe for one minute that you can't learn Chinese (zhōngwén).  You may remember that we learned the word "wǒ" which means "I" as in "I (wǒ) can (kěyǐ) learn (xué) Chinese (zhōngwén)".  How about that? We just put together a sentence!  So you see, anyone can learn Chinese with a little effort (a cute tutor wouldn't hurt either...).  All that stands between you and the ability to order far too much dim sum in Mandarin at your favorite Chinese restaurant is the ability to recognize that you can (kěyǐ)  learn (xué) Chinese (zhōngwén).  Start believing in your own abilities and building up your self-esteem, because when it comes to a person's ability to learn (xué), a little self-esteem goes a long way. Think box fixed.

1.  kěyǐ  可以   can
I can (kěyǐ) learn almost anything, if I put my mind to it.

2.  xué  学  learn, study
If I study (xué) enough, my think box might fall out, but I WILL learn (xué) Chinese.

3.  zhōngwén  中文  Chinese
Once I learn enough Chinese (zhōngwén) I'll then have the ability to embarrass myself in not one, but TWO languages.  This will be my crowning achievement.  

Don't forget to check out this week's interactive vocabulary list.

For help with pronouncing Chinese words, click here.

Photo courtesy of Kai Hendry via Flickr.


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