Motivation or Diversity – which is more important?

I remember being in primary school, and my teacher mentioning to my parents that I wasn’t very interested in reading. After talking it through with my parents it became clear that I thought the books we were reading were boring and I didn’t have any interest in reading them. The solution to the problem turned out to be comics.

The Beano Comic

My parents bought a huge pile of second hand comics, hundreds of them. It worked, the comics acted as a stimulant, a catalyst to encourage reading and also promote reading as a fun activity.

20 or so years later I was faced with a similar situation, but with learning a second language, Chinese. Though I am not specifically promoting reading Chinese comics as a method to learn Chinese (though if that’s your thing then go right ahead). The point I am trying to make is that when starting out learning a language motivation everything. Probably just as much now, being an adult, as when we were children.

When learning Chinese what I ended up doing for the first year was to force myself through the textbooks. While at the same time buying magazines and books that I someday hoped to be able to read. Then as soon as I had a vocabulary large enough to read enough of those books I ditched the textbooks and started reading them, and also chose Chinese courses that didn’t rely on those boring textbooks. And, well, it seems to have worked so far.

The problem is that when given a choice of materials, there might be a tendancy to stay within a comfort zone by only choosing learning materials that are of a specific area of interest. Which in the long run might have a negative affect on learning.

Ultimately the question comes down to what is most important – to have the motivation and be able to maintain it long enough to learn a second language, or to force your self to read learning materials that bore your to death, yet are more diverse?

What choices have you made whilst learning Chinese? Do you stick to the textbooks? (do you even like the textbooks?) or are you out finding your own learning materials to maintain motivation?

6 responses to “Motivation or Diversity – which is more important?

  1. I think motivation is the key to language success. If you don’t have any motivation you can’t keep your self studying. For example in Finland we have to learn Swedish because it’s the second official language. But no one really likes to learn it and I was no different. So after learning it for 6 years, I forgot basically everything in two years. I didn’t had any motivation to improve or even keep my language skills.

    But I started learning Chinese even I didn’t have to. I chose Chinese because it is so interesting and different. Now I kind of have to learn it in order to do better in daily life and have a relationship with my boyfriend. But no one forces me to be fluent, that is something I just want to achieve.

    I don’t have to learn how to talk about Space technology in Chinese, but I want to learn everything I will need in my daily life, later in work and the things that interests me.

    I think motivation is more important, but you also need diversity in your studies in order to cope with life and work in China and/or Chinese. If you are learning just for fun, then no problem, just learn what you want is it usefull or not.

    1. I agree, my thought is that now I can focus on what I want to learn – on the subjects that interest me. Then progressively learn other words as I go, which seems to be working great so far.
      Though I do think that a good grounding is needed, which is why everyone should probably force themselves through a year or two of boring textbooks first.

  2. I fully agree about reading stuff. I went through the textbooks in classes a few years ago. I moved away and stopped studying for a few years, although I still speak daily. Recently I have wanted to get back into studying, but looking through the textbooks, I find them mind numbingly boring.

    Although reading is a good exercise, I find that unless you are going to spend hours memorizing a list of vocab, you risk recognizing a lot of characters but not getting the tones right. For this reason, I would like to find material that I can read, and that has audio to go along with it. I know a lot of English newscasts are just audio of articles that appear elsewhere. I am sure that Chinese is the same. However, it is pretty hard to find. It could also be subtitles to Chinese movies, audiobooks, or podcasts with a transcript. Do you know of any sites with such materials. (or would you like to start a page? :)So far, the stuff I have found has mostly been right out of the textbooks.

    1. I would love it if the selection of Chinese audio books was the same as English. Though as with most things the available selection of materials is far less with Chinese. If anyone knows of a good audio book resource I’d also be very interested.

  3. This is an addition to the post I just made. Does anyone know where to find subtitles that can be printed out for Chinese movies. Chinese subs for English movies are usually srt files. However, Chinese subs for Chinese movies are usually vob files which are some type of video file that can’t be printed.

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