SUPERCHARGE YOUR MANDARIN
Do you want to get better at everyday Chinese? Do you find yourself struggling to expand your vocabulary? You don’t need Chinese classes. You need this one very simple and effective tip.
During my recent visit to Shanghai I discussed with Elisa Montalvo how she levelled up her Mandarin Chinese way back when she was first learning.
Elisa is a dance choreographer with Disney Shanghai and So You Think You Can Dance China. She’s been bouncing around China since 2012 and has a not so secret obsession with travel—especially to the Grasslands of Inner Mongolia.
LEARN THIS PHRASE
How do you say this?
How do you say this?
zěn me shuō?
Everyday Elisa would ask friends, colleagues, and strangers ‘how do you say this?’ and they would tell her. She’d ask again and again and slowly her vocabulary started to expand.
She openly admits to making a lot of mistakes and embarrassing herself. But she learnt how to say the things that were useful and important in her life. By asking people the simple question ‘how do you say this?’ she would actively understand how to use the word or phrase in context next time.
Elisa now teaches and choreographs dance in Chinese. In the beginning, she would mix Mandarin and English to learn new words. She would ask her students what something was called by pointing to a body part and saying ‘how do you say this?’ They would respond and she would continue to ask until she remembered the word or phrase off by heart.
Never be afraid to look silly. Never be afraid to ask questions. Be curious. Go outside and communicate in Mandarin Chinese. No one cares if your accent is off or you stumble on your words. They care that you are trying. The more uncomfortable situations you put yourself in the quicker you’ll learn. Immerse yourself with the language and be prepared to fail.
Be willing to put yourself out there and practise. At the beginning you will be nervous to speak Mandarin Chinese. Maybe you’re scared of looking like a fool? Most people are willing to help you once you make the effort. Look for opportunities to ask questions and expand your everyday vocabulary.
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