Immersion Vs Structured Learning (Podcast)

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Catch-Up With Will Hart: How to Nail Chinese Sentence Structure & Visiting China for the First Time I'm Learning Mandarin

Links: Our Masterclasses on Sentence Mining & Tones Upcoming Mandarin Retreats Will's Youtube Channel — One year ago I interviewed someone who totally transformed my perspective on learning Chinese and particularly reaching high levels in the spoken language. By now, listeners will be familiar with Will Hart, the Mandarin learning phenomenon who became incredibly fluent in Chinese within the space of just a year and a half.  Since I last interviewed Will here last year we’ve become friends and collaborated on a number of Mandarin learning projects. A few weeks ago he interviewed me on his YouTube channel in Chinese, which I reposted as an episode on this podcast.  I wanted to catch up with Will again to discuss what he’s been up to since the last time we spoke. In this episode Will tells us about how his learning methods have evolved over time. He also shares his experiences of immersing in Chinese both in the UK as well as on his first ever trip to China last month.

Anyone who studies a language has to combine a mixture of approaches which broadly fall into two categories: naturalistic and structured. Naturalistic approaches involve learning through immersion in the target language environment, reading books, watching TV and having conversations. Structured approaches involve focussed and deliberate study, such as learning grammar rules, memorising vocabulary and repetition drills.

Traditionally, highly structured approaches were favoured in classroom environments. But it’s fair to say today’s online language learning community has waged war on this idea. Language should be all about fun, enjoying yourself. The influential linguist Stephen Krashen argues that the most effective way to acquire a language is to expose yourself to content which you can comprehend and immerse yourself in activities which you enjoy. The more time you spend doing this, the more you will gradually progress closer and closer to fluency.

I have been heavily influenced by these ideas and I think I’ve benefited from them immensely. It was largely through immersing myself in content I enjoyed that, despite not living in China, I was able to self study to a level where I could comfortably engage in meaningful conversations with native Chinese speakers. But, I have also learned from experience that relying too heavily on immersion alone when studying Chinese has its limits. This is particularly the case when it comes to tones and characters, two aspects of Chinese which many learners find hard to master.

So in the latest I’m Learning Mandarin podcast I discussed these issues with a friend of the blog, Lionel Rowe. Lionel speaks fluent Chinese which he acquired while living in Beijing for a period of seven years. His learning methods were much more structured than mine, particularly at the beginning, so I thought it would be interesting to discuss our different language learning experiences with him.

You can listen to the full podcast below or on Anchor.

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