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What is it like learning a new language from zero? Glad you asked.

Every language is different, each one with its peculiarity and its pain points. However, the learning process may go something like this.

Disclaimer: This is heavily inspired by my experience studying and learning Mandarin Chinese, but I would go so far as to argue that no matter what language you’re learning, chances are that you’ll go through similar stages.

  1. Start from 0: 阿什么都不懂 During this first phase, you’re happily aware and proudly admitting that you know nothing at all. 你对这门语言感兴趣,所以才开始学习,但你也很清楚你还有很长的路要走。如果有人问你,《你会说XX话吗?》,一定会说《不会,才刚开始学习!》,

  2. Okay, 我可以的 The second phase usually starts with a boost of confidence once you realise that on certain topics you’re okay to make small talk. 你对你的能力有自信,虽然谈不上很复杂的话题,但至少可以谈论天气,爱好,很简单的话题基本上都没问题。

  3. Nope, 算了 Just when you thought you were getting there, you realise that actually, you’re not quite there yet. Warning: this phase might come filled with self doubt. 本来以为我还行,为什么别人说的话我根本就不懂呢?难道我不够努力吗?我哪里还不够好?

  4. 慢慢来 It’s typically at this stage that you realise that slow progress is the way to go. Fluency is not going to come overnight, but with persistence and dedication, and you have both.

  5. Can I speak the language? 一点点 After studying the language for years, you have settled on a modest but confident 《一点点》, in response to someon asking you if you can speak the language (extra points for modesty if you’re actually learning Mandarin). 你了解自己的能力,也了解自己的极限。

  6. It’s all in the attitude, 自信点 At this stage, you know that you have knowledge and skills, so you decide to just go for it. 听不懂,是吗?假装。You adopt mannerism and sayings from you target language, and you feel confident enough to finally use them. 哦不好意思可以再说一遍吗?对对对。

  7. Keep making mistakes, 没事了! You’ll never fully stop making mistakes - and isn’t that the best and most human part of it all? Yes, it can feel frustrating to still find yourself making mistakes after years of studying and practicing your target language. But let’s try to switch the perspective here: how amazing is it that, even after years of practicing, you still have the opportunity to learn and grow?

About The Author: Gloria is an Olea Ambassador (Team 1.0, March - Sept 2023) and holds a 1st Class Hons in Foreign Languages Applied to Law and Business (LEA) (English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese) from the University of Nice as well as a Master of Chinese Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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