Learning with Comprehensible Input: My Chinese Experience-Alicia Arango
When Alicia booked my Chinese lessons, I was surprised with not only her pronunciation, but also with the accuracy of her Chinese at large. She had only started self-studying in January of this year, and, in her own words, "wasted 1 month using traditional methods" until she switched over to Comprehensible Input. I hope her story can be a source of inspiration to you.
Language carries an intangible, yet pliable kind of beauty. It is a concept that never ceases to call forth within me a renewed sense of wonderment. I often peruse through the depths of my memories in an attempt to locate the origins of my attraction to the Chinese language - to comprehend just how I wound up slowly reading, speaking, and understanding a foreign tongue widely considered to be the most difficult language to learn as a native English speaker… without the aid of teachers, formal lessons, or any method of traditional language acquisition. If I were to pinpoint the start of my Chinese journey to one defining moment that plunged me down the rabbit-hole of language acquisition, I would place that moment as the summer of 2018, when I was nothing more than a high school senior.
In the summer of 2018, and like any typical high school student, I was whittling away the summer afternoons by doing what I loved most - watching tons and tons of cinema and TV. The surge in popularity of Asian pop culture had opened up my interest in watching Asian content, and as I perused through the endless lists of Asian shows and films, there was one particular TV show that grabbed my attention. That show wound up being the very first Chinese show that I ever watched, and I still remember its name - Love Me, If You Dare. I ended up binge-watching that show in less than two days. The storyline was so engaging, and the sounds of the Chinese language so interesting to my English-accustomed ears, that I immediately followed up that Chinese show with more Chinese shows. When all was said and done, I probably spent well more than 50 hours watching native Chinese content before my life’s priorities dragged me in other directions. However, what I didn’t realize was that, by spending so much time consuming Chinese-language content in the span of simply a few weeks, I had unconsciously learned and internalized many of the foundational elements, structures, and phrases of Chinese. It wasn’t until a couple years later that I finally understood what had happened.
(My very first Chinese TV show - definitely recommend giving it a watch!)
Fast forward to the beginning of 2020. I had been carrying my Chinese experience for almost two years now, and had gradually come to realize that I truly wanted to learn the language. So, I made the resolution to do just that. I had just returned from a brief stint living and working in rural Colombia, South America, and, inexplicably to me at the time, had randomly acquired the ability to speak Spanish. I had chalked it up to the magic of living in a foreign country, and did not initially delve deeper into understanding the process behind my Spanish acquisition. It did not cross my mind that I could replicate the same results for Chinese without living in the country itself. So I simply did what most others do -- googled how to learn Chinese and looked up videos on YouTube.
I read countless conflicting articles on the internet, and started watching YouTube videos that attempted to teach Chinese through vocabulary drills and grammar rules. But within a matter of weeks, I became frustrated - even a little perplexed. None of the words and grammar that these videos presented were new to me! I was already intuitively familiar with the grammatical structures, such as the verb 不 verb structure, 虽然 ... 但是/可是, 太... 了, or double verbs (看看， 看一看), or accustomed to the interrogative phrases, like 为什么？ 你说什么？Or 怎么样？I wasn’t learning anything that I already knew. It was during this time of frustration that I came across Dr. Stephen Krashen’s theory on second language acquisition - the process of immersion, but specifically Comprehensible Input.
(Practicing my Chinese handwriting)
Comprehensible Input really changed the game for me, in terms of learning Chinese. Dr. Krashen’s theory and five hypotheses solved the mystery behind my previously inexplicable knowledge of basic Chinese. I knew that if I had already learned this much of the language without even trying, then how much more could I achieve if I actively employed this method? So I immediately ditched the useless videos and traditional methods of study, and instead focused on immersing in comprehensible Chinese content - mostly children’s shows. I also incorporated graded readers and children’s short stories, all written in Simplified Characters with an accompanying audio, as a part of my daily Chinese “studies.” I made a rule to spend time immersing with the language for at least 1-2 hours every day, and, so far, I have kept to that rule and even exceeded above and beyond on some days. Only recently, I started TPRS/CI lessons with Keren, and I am excited to see how far my language journey will take me under her professional guidance and direction!
(One of many Chinese short stories that I have read)
This is my story and method for learning Chinese, and I have never looked back since. I am constantly learning something new in Chinese every day, and I still have a long way to go towards fluency. But language learning never stops. There will always be something new to learn and discover, because language acquisition is truly a lifelong journey. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be proud of the strides you have made along that journey. When I look back to where I was 2 years ago and compare that to my current self, I am proud of how far I have come. And I am proud of the small strides I make daily, even if all I achieved that day was nothing more than finally grasping the meaning of that one Chinese character that always seemed to stick out like a sore thumb.
Take pride in your achievements. Never stop learning. And, most importantly, enjoy the ride!