Studying Chinese

Did I Hit The Plateau Or Am I Just Lazy?

I think I improved a lot in my first year in China. My spoken Chinese is absolutely much better. In seven months I also got from failure to level 4 in Elementary-Intermediate HSK. But right now I don’t know how to improve, I don’t feel like studying and I spend my days more stressing about studying than actually doing it. Could it be this learning plateau?

When you are learning new stuff, there will come a time when you hit a plateau. At the plateau it feels like you’re not making any progress at all, no matter how hard you try. This can be a very frustrating experience, and unfortunately a lot of people give up learning and move on to something else –. But the plateau is not an end, it’s a natural phase of the learning process and you are in fact still making progress. (be an original)

One reason for the lack of motivation might be that I can survive in my daily life. I don’t know all the words but I can explain lots of things by using the vocabulary I have. I can talk with my Chinese boyfriend about numerous different topics. I can look at the menu in a restaurant and order food I know what they are. I don’t have to carry a dictionary with me when going to the local market. So maybe I’m just stuck with my level?

— it is also easy to become complacent in this stage, as basic communication is no longer a problem. At this level, what is not understood can usually be worked around or explained in Chinese. This stage can last for a long time, as pronunciation and tonal errors are slowly reduced, fluency is increased, and vocabulary is expanded.To make it to the next stage, a lot of hard work and self-criticism is necessary, as long as prolonged, intense exposure to Chinese. Everyday exposure is not enough. (sinosplice)

Now this sounds like me! And here my laziness comes to the equation as well. Just living in China isn’t enough to improve my Chinese from now on. For the next three or four years I will be attending formal teaching, but that still isn’t enough. On my spare time and especially on my holidays (right now!) I have to remember to study. But how to study when I totally feel like my motivation flew out of the window?

There’s a good topic on Chinese-Forums about the issue and they propose trying these things:

  • Read interesting Chinese websites/blogs
  • Write a blog in Chinese
  • Write a diary in Chinese by hand
  • Listen to Chinese podcasts while walking/exercising
  • Watch Chinese movies and TV-shows
  • Read easy Chinese books or comics

I think what I need now is something fun and interesting. I read two books from Chinese Breeze, they are meant for beginners and I truly enjoyed reading them. I have to find something similar when I go to the bookstore this week. I should also watch movies or TV-series in Chinese, but the difficulty of them still holds me back a little bit. I should just continue with 8090 which is a talk show about break ups! Language of that show is not too demanding and the topic is quite interesting.

I’m very good at planning things, but sometimes not as good doing them. I should keep in mind that next April I want to get the level 5 (old HSK) and in order to do so I have to study a lot more. Not just should and have to, but also want to.

Anyone else trying to beat the learning plateau?


  • Minna

    I don’t have similar learning plateau, but I have not studied Chinese for half a year. I just simply dropped, because the course timetable was not good and I “didn’t have time” to study on my own. Today I enrolled on the next Chinese course. Will I ever learn?

    Some encouragement: remember your dreams and keep on :) The studying might not be as fast as in the beginning (actually, I do not consider it being fast even in the beginning, at least it’s super slow when it’s about me and studying Chinese in Finland). Some holidays are still good, too.

    Chi Reply:

    That is good advice. Remember your dreams. :)

    Sara Reply:

    Minna, Good to hear that a new Chinese course is waiting for you. Is it at the university or at the summer university? I think studying on your own isn’t easy, atleast it’s not easy for me. I need the classes and the small kick in the butt to study harder. Of course it changes from time to time, sometimes I’m doing nothing but studying, sometimes the books seem too heavy to open. Studying outside China, when Chinese isn’t your major, is slow to almost everyone I think. No chance to practice and classes maybe only once a week.

    Minna Reply:

    The Chinese course is at the summer university (luetun ymmärtämisen kurssi II). I have already finished all the courses from which I can get ECTS, but if I ever want to understand or speak or read chinese, I really need that course. :)

    Well, but I’m so happy to hear that you can cope with your Chinese!

    Sara Reply:

    That course sounds really good! Do you have that course in May too? Maybe I could again come and take a little peek to what you are doing and say hello to my old teacher :) What do you think?

    Minna Reply:

    Good idea, but I’m afraid it finishes already on April. But if there’s any course going on, I’ll tell you! :) Im sure that our teacher would be happy to meet you; at least some of her students are really learning Chinese ;)

    Sara Reply:

    I was talking, well writing, with Rauno about meeting with Chinese learners that live in Tampere. It would be nice to meet old and new friends and to share experiences. Lets see if it works out :)

  • Chi

    Don´t worry, that is completely natural. Keep your spirits up! :) Ihmiset eivat ole koneita, jotka kehittyvat lineaarisesti. Kohta varmasti taas tulee nopeamman oppimisen kausi! Tsemppia ja terveisia!

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you Chi :) Kunhan tassa loman lavitse paasee niin sitten alkaa taas tunnit maaliskuussa ja saa vahan vauhtia opiskeluun.

  • Jocelyn

    Ah, I have been there before on the plateau, and I completely understand.

    I think your thought to find something interesting and fun to study is the right way to go. Particularly DVDs or even online movies — because that way you can pause them and look up the words. Or, as you said that 8090 series, which has simple enough language and is interesting to you.


    Sara Reply:

    Jocelyn, It’s good to know that other learners have had similar experiences. I was thinking to start a weekly routine. Once week with my boyfriend or/and with my friends gather together, eat some good food or snacks and enjoy a Chinese movie.

  • Angela

    I think I had the same problems with you.My English didn’t seem any progress.But I do read novel in English version and sometimes go through result of my final exam also seem no progress.After reading your blog,I think I should make a new plan for my English learning.I hope we Both can achieve our goal in studying.:)

    Sara Reply:

    Thank you for commenting Angela. It’s always good to have a clear plan, then the progress usually is better too. I really hope to improve my English too but feel like I don’t have time because learning Chinese is so time consuming. Luckily I have time to read books, blogs and websites in English. Wish you the best with your studies!