Not a “Language Person”? Not a Problem!

Are you gifted with languages? Do you see yourself as a “language person”?

Personally, I don’t see myself as such.

In the post I argue that you really don’t need to be a linguist to reach your goals with Mandarin. It’s just a question of drawing on qualities you already have, then stepping forth with confidence.


I first started learning Mandarin after graduating university. At the time I was excited to jump into something new, but I was also intimidated. My relationship with foreign languages was not happy until that point; I didn’t do badly at high school French, but my confidence was lacking. Forming sentences in real-time conversation left me red-faced, my words stumbling over each other in a race to be finished.

I’m just not a language person, I told myself.

However, having spent a number of years learning Mandarin (and plenty of that time making mistakes), I know now that you really don’t need to have any special talent for languages to reach a decent level of Chinese. You just have to leave fear at the door and draw on the qualities you dohave available.

The following are examples of qualities that can help enormously:

  • Curiosity
    Learning Mandarin is a lifelong pursuit, as is understanding Chinese culture as a foreigner. Much of the fun is found down the rabbit holes one follows when learning a new character. For example, you learn a new radical and, suddenly, the meanings of many other words open up! Those who are curious and have an intrinsic enjoyment for learning can thrive with Mandarin.
  • Goal-oriented
    Some people prefer to be more focused with learning, which can also totally work in your favor with Mandarin. For example, if you choose to focus on the HSK Test vocabulary you have a very clear path to follow. You’ll also likely enjoy regular classes and methodical learning techniques like Spaced Repetition.
  • Sociable
    Extroverts, rejoice! Learning Mandarin is going to be such good fun if you’re happy to practice speaking at every opportunity – not just in front of the mirror, but also with native speaking teachers and friends! For the more introverted out there, fret not: Mandarin is also a worthy solo pursuit (see Curiosity, above).
  • Knowing how to laugh at yourself
    It’s inevitable that you’ll make mistakes when learning Mandarin. All the tones and pronunciation and sentence structures… there’s plenty of opportunity to go wrong! It’s just part of the learning process. Being comfortable with laughing at yourself is therefore a truly a GREAT quality when learning Chinese (note: a teacher can help you refine this skill in private!)

So there we have it: you can be a ROCK-STAR Mandarin student by drawing on other skills and qualities you already have. Determination and perseverance will definitely come in handy, as long as you also have curiosity and enjoyment in place. No pre-existing magical language talents required. Promise.

Language learning is SO MUCH about having confidence anyway (explained in detail here). So, start out in the knowledge that you have many qualities you need to succeed with Mandarin. Feel confident about this and go for it!
Original Post by Sarah Soulie
Twitter: suxiaoya

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