Confused Laowai recently wrote up an interesting blog post that goes a bit into motivation–and how that changes–especially after being abroad, in the country of the target language you want to learn. It’s a very interesting topic, and very much worth the read (it’ll make the following post more relevant as well). I think this is a topic that, while everyone experiences it, seems to be rarely discussed.

Let’s start with a quite from Confused Laowai to get the ball rolling!

…moving to Taipei has changed my motivation to learn Chinese. Before I came here, moving to Taipei was my goal. I wanted to improve my Chinese as much as possible so that I can function in the society. When I arrived, I realized I could function pretty well and the intense focus on the language was downgraded.

He goes on further to say:

Habits and motivation will change. This is a challenge. How do you change with it, that’s the question here? I’ve just been slow in trying to figure this out. But I promise I will!

Love the positiveness here!

My own experiences

I’ve gone through my own journey of motivations for learning Chinese. First, as a challenge in university. I had been studying Japanese and was rather annoyed at the lack of emphasis on Kanji.[1][2] My roomate at the time was learning Chinese, it looked fun, and I love Chinese characters so I took the course and enjoyed every minute of it. I was motivated by the pure passion to deciper the language and the characters, everything was a mystery and I wanted to solve it.

Later I would come to study abroad for a summer in Taiwan, deciding then I wanted to return and pursue an MA. Motivation to study Chinese, then, became to prepare myself for life in Taiwan and for pursuing a degree here as well. After arriving in 2008 that was my core focus, although life (such as jobs) did get in the way and broke my focus.

After getting into my program my motivation became to read the material I was handed and the write papers. This actually had a negative affect on me where–my reading and writing are fairly passable, but my speaking lags very far behind where it should be. And, as Confused Laowai (yes he has a real name but I love this moniker too much to stop using it) so poignantly noticed: I too realized I could function pretty well and the intense focus on the language was downgraded (that’s called plaigarizing kids, please don’t try this at home).

And getting that motivation back is difficult sometimes. However, in my case, impending pressure (doom?) for two major oral exams–literature review and thesis defense–as well as a presentation on a chapter from my paper, have slowly begun to push me to get my act together and really focus on getting my speaking where it needs to be.

That said, it is very difficult to build that motivation when you’re at a point that you feel like you can just ‘get by’.

How about you?

If you’ve abroad–what is your motivation? How has it changed? If you studied the language prior to moving abroad, has your motivates changed with reality? If you only started learning abroad, what were your motivations? How have you kept yourself motivated to keep going, and to break past any walls you’ve hit along the way? Let me know in the comments below!


1. There were students that were literally boycotting and campaigning against the teacher who, bless her poor heart, was trying her best to really pushing learning Kanji on us. It got so bad that the students wrote a petition and gave it to the dean.
2. This is also why I think Japanese is taught so poorly in schools. In order to keep students and not intimidate them, Kanjji are usually kept until the very last and introduced gradually almost a year into the course. This causes people to be even more intimidated and say, “why can’t I just use hiragana/katakana instead? It’s sooooooooo much easier!”. Yes, Nakama, I am looking at you, you awful awful book.