I have nothing against ChinesePod, myself (especially since I know someone that works there.. sorry buddy!!), and think they offer some really great services for any level learners of Mandarin. That said, their recent few adverts, which I consider to be a form of scare-mongering, made me think about people that get into language learning and why. The ads go something like this:


You know Chinese immersion schools have become mainstream when small towns in *New Jersey* start intensive programs http://fb.me/uy3ADG9H

Anyway, sure, I’m from Jersey so maybe that’s part of it, but it’s the core of the form of advertising that gets me. Basically, the goal is to say, “Look! Mandarin is spreading! Get on it before everyone else does and you fail like the Jersey Shore!”

This is the entirely wrong mindset to go into Chinese language studying, and will eventually lead to burnout, failure, or mediocrity.

Let me make my point as succinctly as possible. One thing I realized, and very quickly, after entering into graduate school at National Taiwan University, is this: YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL. I know it sounds harsh, but this is something that people overlook. They think, “I’m going to BEAT EVERYONE AND BE THE POKEMON CHINESE MASTER!” The problem with this is the fact they only have three points of reference: their teacher, Chinese people, and their classmates. It’s easy to think you’re easily able to surpass all these nuts, until you get into an environment with other foreigners who can, despite everything you’ve been told, can speak, read, and write some pretty slick Chinese.

So keep that in mind. The only real competition is yourself. Follow your own goals. Don’t let "the other” get to you. Don’t follow trends. Go with what’s in your heart.

The lyrics of this song, despite being in English, describe this situation perfectly:

Death Cab for Cutie: You Are A Tourist

Youtube Video


When there’s a burning in your heart
An endless yearning in your heart
Build it bigger than the Sun
Let it grow
Let it grow
And there’s a burning in your heart
Don’t be alarmed

When there’s a doubt in your mind
‘Cos you think it all the time
Framin’ rights into wrongs
Move along
Move along
When there’s a doubt in your mind

When there’s a burning in your heart
And you think it’ll burst apart
Oh, there’s nothing to fear
Save the tears

When there’s a burning in your heart
And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born
Then, it’s time to go
And you find your destination with so many different places to call home
Cos’ when you find yourself a villain,
In the story you have written
It’s plain to see
That sometimes the best intentions
Are in need of redemptions
Would you agree
If so, please show me


I had a comment below from John, who lives in Shanghai with an excellent blog full of some great pictures and videos, that read:

I think you misread the intent of the tweet… I’m pretty sure he was just making fun of New Jersey (aka the East Coast’s sport of choice).

Yes, being born in Jersey does entitle me so much ridicule and sadness (if even has a bad rep in Taiwan), but the core point John made does make me realize I should probably explain myself a bit more in-depth (which was also the reply I made to his comment):

Actually, I would agree with you but this was kind of a trend in other tweets. For example, you could make the same argument on this post:

chinesepod (@chinesepod)
11/5/9 下午5:34
Mandarin classes are hardly unusual in US cities, but in Wyoming? It’s America’s least populous state, but they’re… http://fb.me/SbsdasDF

But with this one,

chinesepod (@chinesepod)
11/5/5 下午4:32
When schools in rural Kansas are offering Chinese language classes, you know it’s gone mainstream http://fb.me/AehZQNf8

While these have to be taken in with the greater context of their other posts, giving you a feel of ‘pressure’ (marketing) to study Chinese and study it now, it’s this use of “mainstream”, such as in the original post quoted above (“You know Chinese immersion schools have become mainstream”), that bothers me. To me, and again I know ChinesePod is doing it entirely for marketing purposes so I don’t blame them, it’s the mindset that I think is wrong. It’s forcing people to feel like “If I don’t study Chinese NOW I’m forever doomed to be outclasses by my peers!” This is the problem. It’s all relative. 20 years ago when Japan’s economy was booming it was Japanese that was ‘mainstream’; 100-200 years ago it was French; now it’s Chinese and Arabic or Spanish in the states..

Anyway the point I’m trying to make is that it shouldn’t feel like pressure to learn these things just because they’re showing up in Jersey, Wyoming or Kansas, but rather because you want to.