Da Shan's advice for learning Chinese (also applicable to other languages)

I found this advice from the comedian Da Shan/Mark Roswell about his experience learning Chinese. For those who haven’t heard of him, he achieved very near-native (educated) level fluency in Mandarin Chinese and is a celebrity in China – though he is not well-known among people elsewhere. I think his advice is pertinent to anyone learning a foreign language and in line with what LingQ advocates. As one who teaches English in China (and who has taught from English textbooks geared for Chinese), I agree with what he says about the way in which Chinese learn English as being overly systematic. Yet it seems quite a few Chinese, especially those ambitious to learn English, have an intuitive awareness about the need to learn from authentic material, despite facing a struggle to have to navigate this on their own. The main problem I found learning Mandarin from textbooks is the audio CD that usually comes along with it…spoken slowly, clearly, and not the way people actually speak. In most cases, I think it is better just to use the textbook itself rather than the audio (except, perhaps, for the first month or so of learning).

Here are his thoughts:

“I studied Chinese for 4 years in my university in Canada. I think one of the things my teacher did very well was to get away from traditional textbooks as soon as possible. We used the standard textbooks for 2 years, because you have to learn Pinyin, you have to learn the basic characters, and basic grammar. For those things, textbooks are the best, because they are very logical. Everything is nicely arranged for you to learn in order. But language itself is not like that. In many ways, it’s not really a very scientific thing. I think many people in China who study English make a mistake. They try to use very scientific methods to study something that itself is very un-scientific. So in the third year, my teacher just showed us short stories or newspaper articles or things from everyday life to learn. Anyway, it’s very difficult at first, but I think the biggest advantage is that you can learn from authentic materials that way. Textbooks are written by Chinese people for foreigners, while novels or newspapers are things that Chinese people write for themselves. So the same thing, we [English speakers] will make textbooks for Chinese people probably differently from the way we would actually speak to native speakers. So I think when you get to a certain level, it’s good to get away from the textbooks and just go to the real living language that people actually speak.”

In summary (TL; DR = too long; didn’t read):

Use LingQ with authentic texts.

“Use LingQ with authentic texts.”

Agreed, and don’t wait two years. Try after a few months.

I think language learning/acquisition is somewhat amenable to scientific inquiry, although I agree with Da Shan in the sense that its reach exceeds its grasp by a long shot in language academies.