No, not that F-word. The claim of being ‘fluent’ in Chinese. Here are 3 Key Milestones to know when you’re nearly there.

Recognizing understatement as a hallmark of Chinese character, why would anyone ever choose to use the F-word and bring upon themselves the no-win glare of the spotlight, inviting everyone to scrutinize their language skills? It’s a sure-fire way to forfeit the respect of all the Chinese who would otherwise have had huge respect for you. How will you know you’re getting good? Let’s talk about when you should claim (inner) victory, go out and celebrate.

Yǔ gǎn 语感 is an instinctive feel for a language. It’s the bomb. There are standardized tests like the HSK which provide an objective assessment of your skill level, but what we’re talking about here is that Zen moment, that inner awareness of personal progress, worthy of a surreptitious fist bump.

Milestone 1 – Thinking in Chinese

The first milestone is a realization that you’re thinking in Chinese as you prepare to speak and as you listen. This yields massive benefits in selecting the right expressions and communicating subtleties. You no longer ping-pong between Chinese and your native language, a habit which causes common mistakes and slows everything down. In other words, you’ve achieved full brain-immersion.

Milestone 2 – Being Mistaken for Native Chinese

The second milestone many foreigners strive towards is becoming indistinguishable from native Chinese speakers on the phone. Are you able to follow a complex phone conversation with no visual cues or body language? Can you then take it up a notch so that the first time a person you’ve only spoken to on the phone shows up and is shocked to discover “you’re a foreigner?!?” In that moment, you know you rock. And most likely you’ll need to dodge a compliment.

Milestone 3 – Picking Up A Dialect

The third milestone is learning a dialect. Many foreigners with excellent Chinese – and typically, Chinese spouses – can follow what’s being said in another dialect by listening and drawing upon solid foundations in Mandarin. But those taking it to the next level, able to converse in multiple dialects are truly beyond the F-word. They are almost the C-word: Chinese.

What are some of your favorite inner victories?
No matter what your Chinese level, we’d like to hear how you stay motivated
and celebrate your own personal milestones.