So what does all this look like practically?
You need to have a plan…
…a plan about what you are going to do for the entire first year to learn the language.
If someone was coming to China today to learn the language and asked me for a plan… here is what I would tell them (in our context as of today):
- Everyday, Monday through Friday, attend university four hours a day from 8:30-11:30. This will allow the student to have structure and motivation to stay the course because they are enrolled in an official program. My goal for them to learn from this program would be: how to read and write characters, grammar and listening. Both husband and wife would be required to attend. Thus children, would need to attend school, daycare or be watched by a nanny (based on age). This means you will be in class 20 hours a week. It requires sacrificing your personal time to do what you want and time with your children. (But you get natural breaks with the holidays and semesters.)
- Everyday, Monday through Friday, attend spoken Chinese classes three hours a day from 1:00-4:00. The student would review the university material, learning how to say everything correctly and saying it many times with a teacher, one-on-one. They would do this for the first half of the time. The second half they would use a pinyin based lessons to continue learning how to speak and say sentences correctly. My goal for them to learn from this program would be: pronunciation, grammar, tones. They will spend at least 80% of the time speaking with a teacher correcting them the entire time. Both husband and wife would be required to attend (but the wife could do two hours instead of three). Thus children, would need to attend school, daycare or be watched by a nanny (based on age). This means you will be in class 15 (10) more hours a week speaking. It requires sacrificing your personal time to do what you want and time with your children.
- The evening would be given to spending time with family as well as doing any of the necessary homework for the next day. Each student would be encouraged to go out and speak with someone on the street.
- The summer/winter breaks would be used to focus on weak areas or learning Bible terminology. A personal tutor can be hired and learning will continue, as well as using the summer time to talk to people on the streets with the nice weather.
- Saturdays are days of rest.
- Sundays, you will attend Chinese church services. Also, you could be use the free time to focus on spiritual terminology, studying Bible passages or the songs we sing in church.
This is a basic plan that could be used to put someone on the right path to learning Chinese. If someone just did the above plan for an entire year, they would have a great foundation in the language.
But the plan I proposed above is basically a full-time job for both the husband and the wife for one year. I don’t think most missionaries are thinking about that when they land on the field. But that is what it takes to learn the language, at least that is what it takes to learn Chinese.
Of course there are other factors, like limiting english, creating an environment to learn, attending all church events, having enough money to make life comfortable, eating out instead of making everything homemade…and I could go on…
…but the idea is you have to spend the majority of your “productive hours” everyday learning the language. It will take sacrifice to do it. This isn’t easy. But you can do it! You can prepare yourself. You can know what it is going to take a head of time and be prepared. You can make the commitment to do it. After all, the motivation is already there! That is why you are coming in the first place.