Studying Chinese

Becoming fluent in Chinese

While I’m still not done with my goal setting for 2012, I wanted to first think of my long term goals. Before I started my degree at the Sun Yat-Sen University, I said I want to be fluent when I graduate. Right now it feels like a huge task to become fluent during the next two years.

But when I look at my last year and years before that with Chinese. Have I spent too much time doing nothing useful? Yes! Can I spend more time learning? Yes, absolutely. But if I want to reach fluency in two years, then I need to start working harder. And that is what I’m ready to do.

Fluent Chinese in three months?

I started really thinking about all this when I read that Benny is trying to learn fluent Mandarin in three months. Let’s take a look what kind of goals he has for these three months:

  • That’s fluency as in being able to do most of what I can do in English, in social situations in Mandarin.
  • I won’t hold up the flow of conversations (on either my side or the person I’m talking to)
  • something along the lines of level C1 (European Common Framework of languages)
  • will be to be able to read menus and signs + newspaper headlines

He brings up the C1 level, but is only aiming for the oral part of it. So what does this oral C1 mean?


  • I can understand extended speech even when it is not clearly structured and when relationships are only implied and not signalled explicitly. I can understand television programmes and films without too much effort.


  • I can express myself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. I can use language flexibly and effectively for social and professional purposes. I can formulate ideas and opinions with precision and relate my contribution skilfully to those of other speakers.
  • I can present clear, detailed descriptions of complex subjects integrating sub-themes, developing particular points and rounding off with an appropriate conclusion.

I think that even when you take the reading and writing out of the combination, it is still impossible to get to C1 in Chinese in just three months. However, if Benny does it and proofs it well enough, I’m ready to eat my hat.

When will I become fluent?

What I thank Benny for is that his project made me think of my own goals and how much effort I’m putting into my Chinese studies. Like I said in the beginning of this post, I want to be fluent when I graduate in the beginning of 2014.

What does fluency mean for me?

With HSK I want to pass HSK6. The Fachverband Chinesisch thinks that HSK6 with a good score would be more like B2 than C2 (Hanban that coordinates the HSK exams consider HSK6 to be the same level with C2). I haven’t taken the HSK6 yet, so you have to wait for a while to hear my own argumentative opinion about this. My plan is to pass HSK6 in December 2013.

My listening is at perhaps at the B1 level at the moment and I want to get it to C1 in two years. I want my Mandarin to be as good as my English, but note that my English is far from perfect. I want to understand almost everything in news, movies and TV-series (not including really technical stuff where I would have problems in English  too).

In reading I want to be able to enjoy reading Chinese novels and history books. Right now I’m just about to finish my first Chinese novel and I’m thinking about my goal for 2012. How many books should I read this year in Chinese?

In spoken Chinese I want to also get to the same level than my English is. The problem is that month by month I feel like my English is getting worse due to the lack of use of spoken English.

In writing I want to be able to write a blog like this but in Chinese. With same level of difficulty than I’m writing in English right now.

What am I going to do in order to become fluent?

This is what I’m going over at the moment. Thinking of my goals for 2012 and how high I should aim that I’ll be fluent after two years. I’m not looking for impossible goals, as then I would just give up, but I’m ready to do more work than ever before with my Chinese. And I have to as Chinese is my only skill at the moment and I probably won’t study other degrees after graduation.

If you have any advice or tips for me, they’re all welcome! I would also like to hear what are your goals and how fluent in Chinese you want to become?


  • Vyara

    My dream is to be fluent in Mandarin, in particular so that I will be able to communicate in such a way that I can express exactly what I want to say, and in particular to be able to read Chinese poetry.


    Sara Reply:

    Good luck with your path to Mandarin fluency Vyara! It’s really impressive that you want to be able to read Chinese poetry.


  • ordinary malaysian

    As with the mastery of any language, I think reading a lot and widely will definitely help. Watching TV helps a lot too. From what I have read of your written Mandarin, you should soon be on the way to fluency.


    Sara Reply:

    I agree with you that reading is important and luckily I enjoy reading a lot. I’m going to finish my first Chinese novel in a few days and alrady bought another book which I will start soon. I’ll write more about that in a separate blog post.


  • Stanley

    are there any debate or speech club at your university? maybe you can try participating in those to help improve listening and speaking skills in Mandarin.


    Jack Reply:

    Nah, I think debate or speech club would be too frustrating for learners. Have you ever seen debates in high school? They speak like god-damn machine-guns! Its barely intelligible for native speakers. And the delivery is so impassionate its usually driven at intellectual level.

    Its definitely not for learners. I think TV/Soap Opera/ dramas are the best way to learn, because they speak the most standardize form of prounciation, and its usually about everyday situation which is relevent to the learner, and lastly, the delivery is usually emotional, the body language and gesture, facial expression transmits the subtleties in langauge that are easy to understand.

    Trust me Sara, stick with day time Soap Operas. I don’t know what’s on CCTV, but if you can find something like “Days of our Lives” equivalent, you are gold!


    Sara Reply:

    I’m watching 裸婚时代 at the moment which I like quite a lot, usually Chinese TV series are too dramatic and too something for my taste. I can’t stand Days of our Lives, but if there’s a Chinese version of Desperate houseviwes, then I’m interested! I also like watching Chinese TV dating shows as their language is quite easy and related to daily life and relationships. 非诚勿扰 is on TV right now and I’ll go watch it when I finish answering to your comments :)


    thenakedlistener Reply:

    Jack’s right, especially the bit about the “Days of Our Lives” equivalent. Soap operas are so controlled in delivery and presentation that they’re perfect learning fodder.


    Sara Reply:

    I don’t have any idea, but I wuould like to communicate more with the Chinese students and atleast find a hobby club or something where I could make new friends. I will have to be more active in this during the next semester.


  • lyzazel

    Well, I agree with you: Chinese in 3 months is nearly impossible. Benny won’t do it. He has never become fluent in a language in 3 months, let alone Chinese.

    You, on the other hand, seem to be making good progress. Congratulations!

    I hope I’ll be able to get on learning more Chinese at some point too. Currently I’m stuck with having done only all the Michel Thomas Mandarin which, while having given me a fair introduction, is very little.


    Sara Reply:

    He could become conversational, but not fluent in C1 level which is his goal. I think Chinese becomes harder the deeper you get into the language. First it seems like that there’s no grammar, but after studying you notice all those interesting grammar rules you haven’t encountered in other languages you’ve learned (if those are European languages). There are more and more vocabulary and characters to remember, which is hard especially if you want to or need to be able to write by hand. I also think that having fluent spoken Chinese means that one can also understand the local culture and what kind of topics people usually talk about. Hardest part of listening would be to understand Chinese people from different parts of the country, everyone having their own accent.

    But Chinese is an awesome language so I don’t mind even though it feels little bit hard at times and need a lot of effort. It’s totally worth it!

    I’m not familiar with Michel Thomas, but is it something like Pimsleur?

    Good luck and hope you find the time to continue with Chinese!


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