Chinese writing


Gobbledegook? Not necessarily.

People often ask me what it’s like to learn Chinese. They tend to assume I’m either a linguistic talent or unusually dedicated. I’m neither.

The idea of learning something like Chinese is intimidating at first. It seems like an impossible challenge. Many who attempt it give up at the first hurdle.

Mandarin and code have a lot in common. Let’s unravel some of the similarities.

1. Elude the gatekeepers

These are the certain types of people who’ll tell you “That’s REALLY difficult” whenever you express interest in learning Chinese. The same goes for code. This mindset intimidates potential learners. Similarly, you really don’t need a huge body of ‘prerequisites’ (e.g. perfect Chnese tones, or a CS degree) to get started.

2. Check your ego at the door

Do you get mad every time someone corrects your pronunciation? I once had a problem saying the Mandarin word for ‘student’. One day, a Chinese yarn seller at a local market called me out on it. She repeated the correct word about six times. I never forgot how to say it after that.

If your code gets corrected by someone who knows more than you do, just listen to them and take the corrections on board. Don’t take it personally! There’s no room for prima donnas in this field.

3. Be prepared to fail

Fail and fail hard. And get used to it, because failure will be the order of the day from now on. Hopefully, you’ll soon become immune to it.

The same applies both for coding and learning to speak a challenging language. You’ll feel like an idiot at first. People will constantly misunderstand. Then, little by little, you’ll start to see the light.

4. Dive in head first

The best way to learn fast is by doing. Don’t hang around for months just learning grammar and vocabulary. Get out there and start speaking to shop assistants, waiters, taxi drivers and so on. Whatever little you know, start using it.

If you’re coding, no need to spend ages memorising all that stuff on Codeacademy. Just find a project you’re interested in and get out there and build it. Google for help as you go along. Or ask people. You’ll get there in the end.

5. Shift your mindset

Learning a so-called difficult skill like Mandarin or coding requires a change in the way you think. Be a problem-solver and approach challenging issues from a place of curiosity. View failure as both inevitable and also as a chance to learn. Take criticism and enjoy it. And most of all, don’t be intimidated. People have been learning these skills for years. You can do it too.