Learning Mandarin Can Change the Way You Think

Written by: Anna Rugg

What language do you think in? Most likely your mother tongue, but if you’ve learned a second (or more) language you might think in another language some of the time. The language you think in shapes the way you think.

As a native English speaker, learning Chinese in China (http://keatschinese.com) has been a rewarding, albeit difficult, process for many reasons including broadening my horizons about how people think.

This journey has led me to realize how amazingly differently two people can express the same thought or describe the same object. It has also shown me how a deep understanding of a language is necessary for clear communication.

After studying Mandarin for a while, you might find yourself saying OK twelve times in a row like how a Chinese person says hao. You might throw in words like suibian or mafen even into conversations in your mother tongue. And you may never be able to draw squares the same way again. (Chinese characters are drawn in very specific ways.) Subtle changes to the way you think and process language can occur without you even realizing it. And if you do stop to ponder how learning Mandarin has influenced your thinking, you might discover even bigger changes.

Here are a few larger changes that I have noticed.

Different Ways of Describing the Same Thing

Different languages describe things in unique ways. And not just things that you think might be culturally subjective like how crowded a place is or how spicy a certain food is.

You know that black tea we drink in the West? Well, it is red tea in Mandarin. Brown sugar also just turned red, and oranges are described as yellow on this side of the world.

glass of tea

After learning the “correct” colors of these and other objects in Mandarin, I can start to see why they are referenced in that way. Black tea leaves produce liquid tea that has a reddish color. Brown sugar has red undertones.

When I view the world now, I often wonder how other people would describe what I am seeing.

Concise and Direct

“Can I have this? Yes or no?”

I’ll never forget the first time we were in China and an English student asked me this. It comes across as rather rude in English, but after studying Chinese for a while, I realized this student was just imposing the simple, direct grammar of Mandarin into her English.

Chinese is very direct and doesn’t use more words than necessary. Sometimes English speakers would be better off cutting the fat out of our speech and just saying what is necessary.

Entirely New Concepts

Some things just don’t translate well because they are entirely new concepts.

How do you translate renao (热闹) into English? Exciting? Bustling? Kind of like going shopping in a crowded mall at Christmas time? Getting close, but you can’t totally capture this concept. Certain concepts just simply don’t exist in other languages.

Learning these new concepts makes me wonder what other concepts and ways of thinking are out there that I have never explored.

people crowd

Relationship Terms Used Very Differently

Another way that the language of Mandarin is very different from English is the way in which relationship terms are used. In English familial terms like grandma, grandpa and the like are only used for blood relatives. In Chinese you extend the use of the familial term to those who are of similar age in relation to you. Those men who are your grandpa’s age, you can call grandpa, even if it is the first time you have met them.

China and Mandarin place a very high value on community and family. The West tends to value individuality and doing things yourself more so. This can be a good thing when kept in the proper perspective. However, humans were not meant to live isolated lives, and viewing yourself as part of a larger family can be a very good change in Western thinking. Especially if it leads you to care for and want to help others more.

Learning new ways of thinking stretches my mind and makes me want to learn more. These and other differences between Mandarin and English make me wonder how many other ways humans view the world and pattern their thoughts.

Baby Talk to Chinese Friend_1024

Exam stress

How to deal with stress when it comes to studying? Can exam stress be avoided?

Exam stress is a serious problem…

…but exam stress can be eliminated. Read how.

We live under constant stress, it is almost inevitable. Our body is constantly adapting to it. If we know what is stressing us then we are able to deal with the stress. It basically means adapting to stress changes.

How to recognize stress?

To a student stress can be a challenge or overload. The boundary between one and the other is a matter of each individual in a given time. The first step to an identification of stress is to have good knowledge of yourself, meaning you must really know yourself well. Signs of stress are shown in the physical and psychological level.
A typical physical signs of stress are:

Methods of study

What are your methods of study?

Do you study alone or in groups? What kind of methods of study make you learn better? You must know these answers in order to give your best while studying.

Psychological research has shown that everyone has a different learning style or methods to study. Some people learn better while listening while others need to see things. Here the various common studying methods are discussed.

Auditory learners: Hear it, learn it

Some people remember a material well when they hear it again and again. In this study method, audio tapes, pod casts, or hearing somebody speak helps. This means one must find a way to hear the lesson again and again to memorize it completely.

This method to study works best by using debates, discussions, oral interpretation or lessons on tapes.

Visual learners: Seeing is learning

This method to study involves visual stimulus to memorize well. This means these type of learners need to see the things frequently to learn them. In this studying method, flash cards, sticky notes, charts, or videos can help to remember well.