As a language fetish, I have spent tens of thousands of dollars—in US, not NT—for learning foreign languages. I have tried anything that promised to make me fluent overnight. Rosetta Stone, iPod listening, visual dictionary, language travel, dictation, TED.com subtitles, and so on. Those tools did make me fluent overnight, in my dream. When the next day came, I woke up with self-hatred and a new credit card receipt, yet started hunting for the next elixir to suppress my language hangover.
I haven’t been efficient at learning either. After studying Chinese for five years, I stopped telling people how long I had been learning because I found most “waiguoren” at similar level would count their learning period in terms of months, not years. They were talented, I was not. It’s called life.
But somehow I have made it. I work in a Taiwanese company, communicating with my colleagues in Chinese. What overcame bad investment instinct and slow learning? What is the secret of my success (sort of)?
It wasn’t a difficult question: The answer was time. In TLI (Taipei Language Institute) alone, I have spent six years, 300 weeks, over 1,000 hours. If I still cannot speak Chinese fluently after that, I am finished as a human being.
So that was my moment of enlightenment: Your language level improves in proportion to the hours you practice. Maybe I should write a book on this topic and save fellow language enthusiasts without talent (but with credit cards).
And only after this satori experience emerged the real question: How did I motivate myself to spend that many hours? I know you want to hear the answer right away, so here it goes: People.
In TLI, I have been studying one-on-one with Ms.Xu for six years. She is easily the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and thoughtful teacher I have ever studied with in Taiwan, but that’s not the entire reason why our study has lasted for that long. It is because we look forward for studying/teaching with each other. The two hours I sit with Ms.Xu, filled with mutual respect and intellectual stimulation, as well as genuine joy, is one of the bright spots on otherwise grim Mondays.
It’s all about the people in the end, and I am grateful for TLI for providing me with this rare opportunity in my life.