“How is your Chinese?” Truth be told, I don’t know how to answer this question. In part it depends on who is asking. If you are an English speaking colleague for example, my Chinese is awesome. I may as well say I’m fluent. If you are a native speaker, I have to come out and admit that my Chinese is hopeless.
I have been learning Chinese on and off for longer than I can remember. I listened to my first Chinese podcast ([ChinesePod](http://chinesepod.com)) probably somewhere in the region of six years ago. Six years is a long time to be learning anything and still not have a feel for how you are doing. The truth is, when I stop and think about it, I’m surprised at how much progress I have actually made.
Sat here, in a café in Beijing (admittedly [one that serves a steak baguette](https://foursquare.com/v/alba/4b6a7b14f964a52073d62be3)), I can’t help but feel more than a little pleased with my progress. Buying a travel-card, topping it up, finding my way, ordering coffee, asking why there were so few people in the coffee shop, and finding out how many cups of coffee they’d expect to serve in a day, are just a few of the things I’ve accomplished, all without a word of English. A year ago, that would never have happened. So what has changed?
Last year I took a risk and cancelled my ChinesePod subscription. I had no podcasts to listen to, no practice sessions and generally felt as if I’d hit a dead end. For several months I debated a new approach in the hope that this would give my studies a much needed pick-me-up. In the end though, the pick-me-up came from an unexpected source: I simply started speaking more.
I don’t know what triggered it. It could have been the desire to keep my Mandarin going while in-between lessons, increasing opportunities to practise, or just that my [resident translator](http://alicialiu.co.uk/) decided enough was enough. Whatever it was, it has been the most significant boost to my Chinese for a long time.
I used to open my mouth and utter a few polite words, certainly nothing like a coherent sentence and would be met with full on praise for the fact that I could speak Chinese. Now, I stumble through something close to a sentence and am met with a response as if I was a native speaker. Gone are the niceties and the simplification. I’m just expected to understand. This has led to many a blank look and many a misunderstanding. I regularly have to admit defeat and ask for a translation. My language may not have improved, but I have certainly grown in confidence and it feels awesome.
I may just have found a way to break through the language learning plateau and start making progress again. It feels great to be back at the bottom of the ladder and starting to climb. If you have found yourself struggling to move forward, I’d highly recommend putting yourself out there and seeing how far you get with speaking, you’ll surprise yourself. When you do, please let us know how you get on.