Studying Chinese

When you feel learning Chinese is the hardest thing you’ve done (June Goal Check-In)

Chinese is hard

If you think it’s easy to learn Chinese, then there’s no need to read this post. If you became fluent in three months, then skip this post too. But if you feel like learning Chinese is the hardest thing you have ever done, then please continue.

Some of my grades from spring semester are out already and I went to the office to check them. I really shouldn’t have. I’ve done very very poorly! Some grades I just can’t understand how they are possible! I went from being the top of my class (20 students in class) last year to being perhaps the worst (3 students in class).

I feel like that whole semester was for nothing, feel very humiliated that I got poor grades. I only saw grades from 5 courses, but I don’t really look forward seeing the rest (4).

What I’m trying to tell you, and my self, is that it is okay to feel disappointed, it is understandable to feel that learning Chinese is hard. If you feel like crap because your Chinese isn’t improving, don’t worry, it is okay, I feel too.

What is not okay is to get stuck or give up. I can admit having a feeling like “I got such terrible grades, what’s the point in going forward?” But that’s exactly what you, and me, should do. We might be disappointed right now, but lets not be discouraged. Lets find the reasons why our studies aren’t going as well as we would like to.

My June Goal-Check In isn’t anything to be proud off. I did poorly on my exams and then let my self to a summer holiday mood (even though I have summer course every morning for a month). I’ve watched countless hours of American TV. I needed to get my brain out of learning Chinese, I really needed a break.

But I can’t let my break to last until September when the new semester begins. Learning Chinese isn’t easy for me, it requires a lot of work, a huge amount of hard work. I have to write by hand (Skritter app) in order not to forget characters, I have to study grammar over and over again, I have to read books and watch TV in Chinese, I have to find ways to improve my spoken Chinese. Nothing seems to be enough.

So if you do feel that Chinese is super hard then don’t worry, you’re not the only one.


  • Michael

    Don’t be discouraged, I would be very happy to know what you already know. – A Swedish speaking Finn living in Australia dating a girl from China. 

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    How great to have a fellow Finn to comment here all the way from Australia! Unfortunately I’ve forgotten my Swedish while learning Chinese. Are there lot of Chinese people there?

    Jack Reply:

     Yes, especially Brisbane!

  • Chopstik

    You truly understand success only when you have failed previously. Keep your head up and keep working at it. And, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve studied off and on for more than 15 years and feel like I’ve forgotten far more than I’ve retained. In my case, I’ve accepted the best I’ll ever be is acceptable, never proficient nor fluent.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Yes, there is only one way to go from down and it’s up!

  • Nuli! Nuli!

    Don’t worry. Best in class does not mean best in life. Practicing in the wild is what matters most. People often have the feeling they “know” Chinese because they have good grades in class. Yet, they don’t know about neither about Chinese culture (but you watch dramas, you speak with your boyfriend, you fo to Museums), nor about real Chinese language (the one you won’t hear in class or read in textbooks). If you feel that you’re improving on those ones, it’s enough to go on. 2 solutions only: 加油!加油! and 努力!努力!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you Nuli! Nuli! I really appreciate how supportive everyone is, I don’t feel so scared to check the grades for rest of the courses. Luckily I’ve also sent some time with my boyfriend’s friends recently and had a chance to communicate with more locals.

  • Nathalie

    I’m sorry you didn’t do as well in your exams as you did in class. I find exams are not always a good reflection of what you have learned (especially if you are too nervous or too confident during the exam). I’m glad you are still going at it though. As Nuli! mentioned, you are still immersed in the culture. This is a lot better than knowing everything from the textbooks (in my opinion). Don’t give up! I know you can do it!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Nathalie, I think my problem was being too confident this semester. I had the best grades last Autumn in my class (but not the best Chinese level) and perhaps thought it would be easy to continue like that during the spring. Then I also chose way too many courses and didn’t have enough time to work on all of them. I’m not going to repeat these mistakes next semester!

  • Tom

    My lowest grades in college were in Chinese, I just couldn’t keep pace with my classmates. Learning Chinese takes time, and the goal is to ultimately get language proficiency, not good grades. So just focus on your own progress without comparing yourself to your classmates.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    It’s hard not to compare, but I try to concentrate more on my own learning. Now thinking of ways to study more efficiently next semester, first step is to take fewer courses.

  • Chris Waugh

    Hey, Sara,

    I will admit to my reading of your post being interrupted by getting dinner and the Beijing vs Guangzhou football match (it’s currently half time and nil all). I apologise if that means I’ve misread anything.

    The numbers you give suggest to me that the dilletantes dropped out leaving you only with serious students for competition, and if I’m reading them right, it’s therefore no surprise that you’d drop from top of the class to bottom. Specifically this bit:

    “Some grades I just can’t understand how they are possible! I went from
    being the top of my class (20 students in class) last year to being
    perhaps the worst (3 students in class).”

    If I’m reading that right, then I would say don’t be discouraged. You’ve got serious students to work with and even compete against, use that as motivation. These results don’t mean that you haven’t progressed or aren’t good enough, they mean that you’ve done well, but the others in you’re class have impressed the teachers better on test day.

    This is all a very clumsy attempt at saying don’t be discouraged, but take these results as a spur to keep going, persist, do better, and succeed. 加油!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Hi Chris,

    I wasn’t as clear as I should have. On the first semester there were about 20 students in my class, then for the next semester us 本二上 students chose our specialization and from two groups (30-40 students in total) only 3 chose “Teaching Chinese”. So right now there are only three students in my class/group, including me.

    I really appreciate comments and encouragement from you and others, I will do my best to use this for motivation to keep on learning!

  • Null

    Don`t care about competition. there are still many advantages in studying foreign language. For me, i feel like my mind is more widened after i began to study foreign language.maybe you can keep remind yourself studying chinese not only for competition, then you can have much more motivation

  • Jack

    Okay, I think bad grades don’t reflect how much you have learn in real life.  I have read (and proof read!) several of your essays and I am certainly impress by your progress. From memory – I think you were saying your essays were too short – and I think it is perfectly understable (my first two years when I was living oversea, I couldn’t even write one page of English essay in reasonable time (that was back in junior high).

    But I think you are struggling right now because your brain is trying to adapt to the language. There is a internal struggle going on – let me just say – you know you become proficient in the local language when you found you have difficulty speaking your own mother tongue! Your brain is still trying to adapt, and fit Chinese into it. But slowly, you will find you start dreaming in Chinese, or find it is actually more effortless to speak in Chinese than in Finn! That day will come, and you will know in your heart you have master the language.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you Jack and others who wanted to cheer me up! It did work well :) Like I commented to someone else, it’s hard to see your own progress and feel like there haven’t been any improvement when there actually have been a lot of it.

  • Ordinary Malaysian

    Only three in the class and you are bottom. Does that mean you have not done well? Unless the difference between your grades and the others’ are wide, then it does not say much. Don’t worry. Nobody is saying learning Chinese is a breeze. It is the third hardest language in the world to learn. Even here, Chinese students don’t do well when it comes to their Chinese language grades. These Chinese students may be attending vernacular Chinese schools all their student life and yet, most of them complain that they don’t get good grades for Chinese language. You watch Chinese movies, read Chinese books, do get to talk Chinese with friends and others, are right there in China and getting immersed in Chinese culture and way of life everyday, all of this ensure that you will sooner rather than later become proficient in the language. Don’t worry. Keep going. Class grades are not the best barometer of one’s proficiency or command of a language. But like you say, if you want to better your grades, maybe cutting down on some courses may help. But not to worry. You will eventually reach where you want to go as far as your command of the Chinese language is concerned.  

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Okey, it might sound a bit silly to complain that I’m the worst from three :) I could think that one of them has attended some high school in China and the other is a 华侨, but that wouldn’t make me want to study harder. I guess because I haven never been that excellent in school (usually justa average) I hoped to be good in my passion, Chinese.

    I’ve gotten over the “shock” now and should be okey when I get rest of the results in August/September.

  • JOY

    I totally know how you feel!    Many times I’ve thought about quitting university when I don’t think I’m learning anything – even after hours and hours of studying.  BUT then I realize I am making progress, even if it’s very small.   I’ve learned not to be so hard on myself. I’m doing the best I can.   It’s such a difficult language but that’s what I like about!  :-)  加油! 好好学习!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    加油JOY! I guess it’s hard to notice your own progress. Others have adviced me to take a look at old text books or essay and see from them how much I’ve improved.


    I have these feelings a lot. But I feel like when I do get something right I feel super accomplished. The most embarrassing is when people correct you, even though you know they’re just trying to help you.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    You are right, I remember the feeling of accomplishment when I had my first spontanuous conversation in Chinese ( a very short one) and when I read my first Chinese book. Those feelings keep us studying even when it feels really hard.

  • Peter Hu China

    These characters from this photo is called“繁体字”,normally people in China don’t use them anymore, we keep “繁体字” as a form of Chinese culture.Actually learning “简体字”is not that difficult, I think the only problem for those whose second language is Chinese is that the four tones(especially the third tones,we Chinese remember many third tones words so that we can pronounce them well),however,you know,learning a languge is like learning an instrument,we just need practising. In my opinion,the second trouble that the learners of Chinese will face is that how to write Chinese characters,such as“笔顺”. We are happy to see that the Chinese grammar such as tense and plural are all simply,much easier than Westerns langauge,every noun has no “s” or “es” in Chinese,and we need not to worry about “ed” or irregular transformation of verb,such as do did done.