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Meet Your Mandarin Goals for 2015 – with just 3 Months Left

I don’t mean to scare you but the last quarter of 2015 is almost upon us. 2016 is approaching fast!

This got me thinking about my Mandarin studies, and how I’ve fared this year so far. My efforts were pretty solid at the beginning. Then I had a baby in April and progress took a nosedive. Chronic sleep deprivation left me in a zombie-like state and with zero short-term memory. I confess, my studies came to a standstill.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut or lose momentum with learning languages – especially if you meet a plateau or life gets busy.



This post is all about how we can refocus, get out of that study rut, and push through to end 2015 with a bang. Below are three strategies I’d recommend if you’re serious about meeting your goals:

1. Re-motivate yourself!

If you’ve been feeling like you’re losing steam, it’s time to get excited about learning again.

a. Remind yourself of the reasons why you picked up this crazy, beautiful language! What do you enjoy about learning and/or using Mandarin? Write down those reasons if it helps – clear bullet points that you can pin up somewhere.

b. Look at how far you have come! Perhaps commit to spending 10 minutes this evening listening to a podcast, chatting with a Chinese-speaking friend, or reading some text that you studied at the start of the year. Even if you’re not quite where you’d like to be, you’ve probably progressed and retained more than you’d think – and that’s motivating!

c. Get a professional evaluation of your level and give you feedback. Many of the free trial classes offered by online teaching services include an evaluation reports. Speaking to a professional about where you are and where you want to be can be very inspiring.

d. Remember to reward your EFFORTS and PERSEVERANCE – not just RESULTS. I wrote a post about this in January. It would be overwhelming and disheartening if you were to focus just on the ultimate goal (i.e. fluency). Instead, celebrate the mini victories (mastering 10 new characters!) and reward each study effort (chocolate!).

2. Rewire your HABIT LOOPS

OK, so you’re going to “reward your efforts”. Sounds good, but how do you ensure you get some study in before rewarding yourself with chocolate, especially if you’re in the habit of eating it anyway?

This is where you need to rewire your habits.

We are all creatures of habit – creatures of multiple “habit loops” to be precise.

A habit loop is a term coined by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. These neurological loops compose of a cue, the habit itself, and the reward. For example, a cue could be the first Facebook or email notifications you see in the morning. The habit is reacting by opening your phone and scrolling aimlessly while pouring your morning coffee. The reward is a little relaxation and amusement before work… plus a nice morning caffeine buzz. A classic habit loop right there.

The interesting thing about habit loops is that they quickly turn into cravings. So, eventually, you wake up and look for those cute little red notifications on your phone, turning straight to coffee and Facebook to start your day.

The good news is it is entirely possible to tweak this habit loop to boost your language learning.

In this instance, you want to swap Facebook with Mandarin study as the habit. The best way is to keep the reward as similar as possible. So if you’re looking for light entertainment first thing in the morning, choose a learning method you find engaging (watch videos, listen to a podcast, take an online lesson – whatever). Continue to sip your coffee too, of course.

To ensure you actually make this swap, be sure that the correct cues are in place. Turn OFF your Facebook notification sounds and messages on your phone and email, and set up a daily calendar notification so you get an alarm first thing that prompts you to open Skitter or attend your online lesson etc.

You may even find that when you tweak one habit loop you’ll likely feel motivated to continue learning during the rest of your day.

3. Plan Ahead

The Holiday period is a busy time of year. So how can you be sure to fit in the study you need during these last three months when you’ve got work events, social commitments and family obligations?

A bit of planning can help massively, especially if you have a specific or measurable goal in mind (preparing for an HSK test, for example). Try blocking time in your diary for study a week in advance, and be sure to choose times when you usually have focus and energy. If that means committing to 1 or 2 tutoring sessions each week to get you where you need to be, it’s probably worth budgeting for that. If we can find time for parties and find cash for drinks, we can do the same for our Mandarin, right?

None of these techniques are new or revolutionary but they can be very effective. We have just over 3 months to fill with Mandarin and make 2015 count.

I’m going to start by listening to a podcast when I’m feeding my daughter in the mornings, instead of reading parenting forums (bad habit loop!). How about you?

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Sarah Soulié

Sarah Souli é is British and lives in Los Angeles, after six years in Shanghai working in online marketing within EdTech. She has been learning Chinese since 2008, and currently contributes to the Speak Up Chinese blog. Speak Up Chinese is a newly-launched service based in Beijing. Their mission is to help you speak authentic Chinese with confidence, through 1-1 and group online lessons.

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