Remaining confident in yourself and your ability is really important for progressing in Mandarin Chinese or any language that you’re learning. Today I want to talk about how to deal with ‘confidence hits’. In other words, how to get over a situation in which you felt your language ability was severely lacking.

The journey of learning a new language is a long one and along the way you’re bound to experience many highs and many lows. The highs are exhilarating. The first time you’re able to string a complete sentence together, the first time you’re able to understand an entire song in your target language or the first time you have a complete conversation with a native speaker of your target language.

These are all experiences that you’ll relish and likely never forget. However, it’s how you handle the lows that will ultimately determine your success.

You see, at some point in your journey to reach competency in your target language, you will have the experience of not being understood by a native, you will use the wrong vocabulary during a conversation and you will fail to understand someone when they start speaking to you.

I am not saying this to demotivate you, but rather to prepare you. Once you accept that these things are, at some point, going to happen, you’ll be much better prepared to deal with them!

So, how should one deal with these difficult situations?

Well, when these things happen, and they will happen, it’s easy to feel demotivated, to feel like you’re not making any progress. This often leads people to believe they aren’t good at learning languages, or that they’re better off investing time into something else.

This is a big mistake!

Rather, you need to accept that learning a language takes time and commitment and that giving up at the first sign of difficulty is not smart.

The best way to handle getting knocked down is to turn it into a source of motivation for yourself. If you weren’t understood in conversation this time, make it your mission to be understood the next time. Replay the conversation in your mind and try to work out exactly what you said wrong.

Don’t be afraid to ask your tutor for advice. You can even role play the exact situation with him/her so that you’re ready and confident the next time that situation arises.

Mistakes are really important in language learning as they allow you to identify your weaknesses. As the old saying goes, learn from your mistakes.

A smart language learner realizes that making mistakes is necessary as they create opportunities to learn and improve. A not so smart language learner tries to forget their mistakes.

My own, personal experience

I remember one night in Beijing, early on during my stay in China, a friend and I bravely ventured out on our own to find a place to eat dinner. We sat down at a pretty little restaurant that we liked the look of. Before we’d even had a chance to look at the menu, the waiter came to take our order.

I was excited to practice a new phrase I’d learned – ‘请你再给我们两分钟’ (Please give us two more minutes). I confidently said it to the waiter and all I got was a blank stare. He then smiled and said ‘不好意思, 我听不懂’ (sorry, I don’t understand).

I tried again, but he still didn’t understand me. Eventually, he apologized again and went to find another waitress who knew some English. I felt so embarrassed. I didn’t try to say anything in Chinese again for the rest of the night. I just wanted the table to come to life and swallow me whole.

However, the next day I reflected on what had happened and I realized that there was no point in letting that one incident destroy my confidence. So I went back to the audio recordings I had been working from and did my best to emulate exactly what I heard, so that next time I’d definitely be understood.

Looking back, this experience served me well in that it made me truly appreciate the importance of tones in the Chinese language.

To sum up, be prepared to take a few confidence hits during your language learning journey, but don’t let it get to you! Get right back to the books. Understand that mistakes are necessary for progress and growth and don’t give up!