Have you ever heard of the language learning immersion syndrome? Most likely not since I just made it up, but you maybe have experienced it. Just like confused laowai and zhongruige, I came to Taiwan all excited to improve my Chinese in an immersive environment. Months passed by, and unconsciously, the motivation to push myself with the language slowly faded. It did hit me at some point, I had this uncomfortable feeling of stagnating despite an environment providing everything I had wished for.
I think this happens because once in immersion, we are no longer completely focused on the language, we simply cannot. Our focus is scattered with apprehending the whole new culture surrounding us, learning how to deal with daily life errands, keeping up with work or school, all that, taking some energy away from our original ideal language learning master plan.
With that said, I still think language immersion program can be great, especially for beginners, but living in the target country is certainly not a requirement to master the language. As Benny the Irish polyglot puts it, “Travel is not necessary to learn a language; travel is necessary for cultural experiences.“.
To remedy my dwindling motivation at improving my Chinese, I started watching those Asian dramas like in the old times, crash at the bookstore on some afternoons to challenge my reading, subscribe to blogs in Chinese, practice writing small blurbs on lang-8, keep up with my daily Skritter session, attend more cultural and social events etc.. Opportunities abound, I just need to sort out the ones suiting my personal interests.
Once let free on our language learning journey, the challenge resides in finding learning material which both stimulates personal interests, and at the same time challenges one’s current language level. If it’s too easy, we quickly fall into boredom, and if it’s too hard, our motivation takes a blow. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to figure out where to get this kind of material, and so it can be a struggle to keep fuelling one’s motivation.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve rekindled with my semi-hobby of watching dramas (I know, sue me), and despite still wanting, at times, to smack some sense into the characters, not too mention the nonsensical scenarios, it still greatly helps my listening comprehension and is a good way to pick up on the latest hip Chinese expressions. Since anything food related tends to pick my interest and is also this blog’s editorial line, here are a few culinary dramas that I’ve enjoyed watching: Amour et Pâtisserie 沒有名字的甜點店, Happy Michelin Kitchen 幸福3颗星, Happy Noodle 幸福的麵條, Sweet Relationship 美味關係, Corner with Love 轉角遇到愛. If you had to watch only one, then I’d recommend Amour et Pâtisserie which is only 14 episodes long so the storyline doesn’t get too crazy, is actually pretty funny, and features mouthwatering French pastries.
Okay, so now, I feel like I need to salvage my reputation, so let’s talk about books, a more respectable hobby, right? 😉 It’s great because I happen to finish my second book written in Chinese. Books printed in Chinese, especially in traditional characters can be quite a challenge to acquire abroad, so I am quite glad to be in Taiwan for that. I wanted some light reading, and so I picked a book called 「熱血！愛呆丸」written by Toby.
After a few years backpacking abroad, Toby comes back to Taiwan with her French boyfriend Sandro, who she met on the road. They settle in Taipei for a while, and then in the Taichung’s county countryside where Toby was raised. Her book tells their adventures around the island, getting used to life in Taipei, Toby reflecting on her own island and people, and Sandro’s discoveries of Taiwanese delicacies, local culture and beautiful sights. Toby did a great writing job at relaying her boyfriend’s impression, and sharing her own thoughts. The duo also participated in the Taiwan Best Trip Contest, where they ended up as runner-up. She also just published her second book about her working-holiday experience in Canada, 「在加，打工度假：愛與勇氣的小宇宙之旅」, which should also be a fun read since she happened to work on a cherry farm and in the camp kitchen at an oil plant in some remote part of Canada.
Let’s end with some culinary wisdom from Sandro, who thinks that you should taste a dish three times before judging on whether you like it or not. I fully agree with his approach to foreign cuisine as it is indeed quite baffling how one dish can carry the same name, yet taste significantly different depending on where you eat it.
I have a few other books that I’d like to introduce here, so stay on your toes. In the meantime, wherever you are, whatever ways you do it, keep your Chinese learning mojo alive!