Throughout our blog, we focus on observing words as they are used “in the wild,” ie. as they are used by Chinese people in real life. This is deliberate. We think that authentic material is “good for you” in the same way that many people feel about organic food. Here are 6 reasons why.
1) You know it’s real
Language learners know that not all words are created equal. Some words are “need to know” because of how frequently they’re used and their expressive power, while others are useless because they’re so obscure. The problem is that you don’t know what kind of word you’re dealing with until you give it a test drive in the real world with some trial-and-error. Nothing is more discouraging than to spend time learning a word only to find out that no one in China uses it.
By contrast, the moment a Chinese person or a newspaper uses a word, you know right away that it’s a “real” word. You don’t have to worry that it’s a word that was last used in the last century, or that using it will make you stick out like a sore thumb.
2) You get a richer understanding
Words “in the wild” reveal many clues on the nuances of their usage. For example, you know:
- whether it’s formal or casual
- whether it’s positive or negative
- what the rules on grammar are
- what value judgments they convey
Words “in the wild” provide rich cultural context that you can absorb while learning the word. For example, you will be exposed to the issues in Chinese soccer and how societal values for marriage are changing.
4) You get a more memorable experience
Encountering words “in the wild” feels like it engages more of your senses. More is at stake. You will not forget what they called Ma Yingjiu. This makes it more memorable. Memorable experiences lead to better retention and higher fluency.
5) Closer to your ultimate goal
The ultimate goal for most learners is to be able to communicate in Chinese as it is really used – not pass exams. “Real world” learning is closer to this goal, and hence is better preparation for it.
6) Improves your motivation
Authentic content makes us want to learn more. Real world examples bring home the fact that over a billion people speak Chinese and that there is a world of Chinese content that we will be able to access once we are fluent.
This is not to say that there isn’t a place for scripted materials. In particular, a beginner would probably benefit from the extra structure they provide. But on balance, we think authentic content is the way to go.
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