Turn Inspiration into Skill

A lot of the time I find myself raring to go, ready to practice some Chinese, but without knowing where to start – based on my current skills where is the best place to start practicing? Or, which area of practice will be most effective? Usually this procrastination ends up just wasting the time that could be better spend actually practicing.

37 Signals, a web application company, recently posted an article entitled “How do you turn inspiration into skill?” on their blog. The short but to-the-point article discusses how work by other designers can be a great source for inspiration, but a lot of the time this inspiration alone doesn’t amount to anything. Ryan, the writer of the article explains:

So I got thinking. How did I develop the basic skills I have right now? Mostly by copying heroes. When you’re fresh starting out, you have no fear of diving in and copying something directly.

Basically, a large part of how designers gain skill comes from copying or mimicking other designers’ work. The same can be true for learning a language too. Maybe we should just find some text we like and tease out the structured sentence patterns, ‘steal’ the keywords that we want to use ourselves, rewrite articles, and so on.

Taking an example from a Chinese language magazine I bought recently about how to utilise Twitter for business, the first paragraph starts:



zài chéng zhǎng zhōng de wǎng lù shè jiāo méi tǐ fēng cháo zhī zhōng, “tuī tè” shŭ yú qí zhōng de yī xiàng, qí tā hái yǒu Facebook hé MySpace děng.

From this sentence we can extract the basic pattern, giving us a frame of our own:


Then we can use this sentence as we please, to suit our needs. This sentence happens to be quite suitable for business related topics, so we might choose to write a sentence about the mobile phone market, which is very competitive at the moment:

在競爭激烈的手機市場風潮之中,「蘋果iPhone」屬於其中的一項,其他還有Google Android和Windows Phone等。

在竞争激烈的手机市场风潮之中,“苹果iPhone”属于其中的一项,其他还有Google Android和Windows Phone等。

So we have taken an existing sentence structure, and reused it for our own means, and in the process learnt a bit more Chinese 🙂

Try it yourself, pick up a Chinese magazine or book that is in reach, spend a minute or two flicking through it to find a reusable sentence structure, and post it below:

6 responses to “Turn Inspiration into Skill

  1. Goos post again! I have the same problem that I use too much time thinking how to study than to actual studying. I also enjoy reading about different learning methods and sometimes use too much time for that. It would be so much more better to just start studying!

    That’s a good tip to find excisting sentence patterns and use them to create your ow. Recently I’ve used that technique to write my essays.

    p.s. I would also recommend having an idol whose example you could follow. I read this one blog about Finnish guy learning Chinese, actually my friend’s bf, and he is so determined and hard working that everytime I read the blog I want to study more harder.

  2. I agree, but I’d also think that perhaps a reason people avoid studying is because, well, maybe the way they are going about it is wrong. There is a reason we procrastinate and it’s not because of laziness, it’s due to lack of motivation. If you find yourself putting off opening up that textbook, then my advice would not be to force yourself to use it, but instead think of something else you want to do. For me, this is often watching some cartoons (海綿寶寶^^) or movies, in Chinese. If watching a movie doesn’t tickle my fancy, then maybe I’ll just lie back and read, or not, while listening to some Chinese songs, or even movie dialogues (it can be fun trying to guess who is saying what and in what situation etc………….. ok maybe I’m weird). If you like computer games, then reinstall them all in Chinese, even logging on to MSN and starting up conversations in Chinese. This is actively using the language, while not stressing you out and making you feel like your studying.

    People seem to have this idea engrained in their minds that unless it’s stressful/dreaded/boring or whatever, it’s not “real” studying. Personally, I think we have to get away from this.

    Anyway, my two cents.

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  4. In fact, I really learn Chinese like this, by copying!

    1- Before I watched a lot of Hong Kong movie but in Cantonese. Starting studying Mandarin, I switch and put the Mandarin dub track. I also watch a lot of Taiwanese series (even if they’re so boring…). I watch all these with subtitle and every time it’s seems that a sentence is funny or useful, I wrote it on a paper. I did this during all the movie or the serie. After I took all the sentences and put them in a notebook, get the meaning or the pronunciation of new word and learn all these sentences… (I also did this for Japanese).

    2- I chatted a lot in Chinese and also sent a lot of text messages. I put every new word on the notepad and all “interesting” sentences as well.

    I already got good basics with this system but late I found a website with the same method (even if it’s applied for Japanese studies): All the Japanese All the Time , which stresses a complete immersion and the use of a space repetition software. You also can get tons of very good advices on this website concerning learning languages.

    All the Japanese All the Time: http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog
    Anki: http://ichi2.net/anki ; a very nice space repetion software
    What spaced repetition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaced_repetition

  5. Hi Nico, thanks for the comment – you’re the second person to recommend Anki, I have had a quick look but I didn’t get it straight away, I’ll have to go back for a second look.

    I think keeping a notebook is a great idea, I did do this for a while, but you have to be strict with yourself and go back on a regular basis and review what you’ve written.

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