Learning a new language is a fascinating experience. It can be transformational. Your perceptions about the people, their culture and traditions can change significantly. That’s how I felt 11 years ago, when I first met my husband and I had to learn French to be able to communicate with my in-laws. Now, I am learning Chinese and I feel the same way, as if a whole new world would have opened in front of my eyes.
But…yes, wait. Something is different. I now happen to be a full-time working mom and all the time I used to have in my hands is no longer there. How do you make a commitment, find the time and make it happen while being a mom?
Here are 7 tips that help me in sustaining my Mandarin learning efforts.
1. Learn it with your husband
My husband started to learn Chinese with podcasts in the car because he had a long commute. “Why wait until we retire to learn a new language?” he would wonder. I am a competitive person and I didn’t want to fall behind so I started also. It was fun to check on each other’s progress and practicing our broken Chinese made our dinners quite enjoyable.
2. Learn it with your kids
At the same time, we decided to sign up our kids for Chinese Saturday school. We thought that learning Chinese would make our children (4 and 7 years old) more open-minded and give them more opportunities. I also signed up to be the class mom, which helped me learn at the same time than my daughter. Learning as a family makes it definitely easier. We are all in it together. We all have homework. No excuses.
3. Make it flexible with Skype
My husband and I both work full-time and raise 2 children. Like all parents we are busy and our plates are full. We found an affordable online tutoring service via Skype twice a week, from 9:30pm and 10pm. The kids are in bed, so no guilt. But yes, I guess we are a little bit nuts. Anyhow, we really enjoy our teacher, and… it is a real pleasure to learn while sipping a glass of red wine.
4. Do it 10 minutes at a time
It is quite difficult to find time to study and do homework. At night, I am really tired. During the day, not a chance, and in the evening, it is all about the kids. ‘Well…what about commuting time?’ would ask my ‘dear’ husband. I guess, at the beginning I didn’t think that 10 minutes could make a difference but… he was right, it really helped. And now, it is like coffee. I kind of need my free Chinese podcast in the morning. It gets me going.
5. Enjoy the food
Like many people, we love to eat good food. Since we started learning Chinese, we became more interested in the cuisine. We started going to a local Chinese restaurant. Added bonus: we practice Mandarin with the owners and we get desserts for free!
6. Have a 10-year outlook
With my husband we said it would be great to be fluent in 10-years from now. Low pressure, it helps us take it easy, and if we are fluent in 4 or 5 years from now, we will have exceeded our expectations!
7. Plan a trip
I have never been to China. We are planning to go there as a family. It gives me additional motivation to sustain my language learning efforts, and the preparation of the trip is a much of a learning opportunity as the trip itself.