When you want to be able to make writing your first Mandarin essay nice and easy, it pays to put plenty of thought and effort into the preparation. As the old saying goes ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’ To give you plenty of food for thought we’ve put together everything you need to know to get things moving. All you need to do is work through the following steps, and you’ll be submitting your essay in no time at all.
Check you understand the basics
There are so many things you have to think about when writing an essay, particularly when it’s not in your native language. But as with any cognitively demanding task, the process for getting started is always the same. Check you understand the following basics and you’ll be heading in the right direction:
- Do you know what the question means?
- Have you made a note of the final submission date?
- Make sure you read some past examples to get a feel for what’s expected of you
- Do you understand the question that has been set?
- Do you know who you can talk to if you need advice along the way?
- Are there any restrictions on the dialect you should be aware of?
Once you can write the answers to the above down on a single side of the paper, you are ready to tackle the main part of the problem: putting pen to paper.
Set aside time to write
The chances are that you’re not going to be able to pen the entire essay in a single sitting, and that’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or to worry about, and it’s natural that you need to work across multiple days when writing your first essay.
If you want to be able to make great progress, the most important thing is sticking to a routine. You need to have consistency in your application, and you need to be able to know when you are at your most productive. It’s no good staying up late one night and then carrying on early the next morning. You’d be far better off writing for the same amount of time but on two successive afternoons. Think about how your studies fit in with the rest of your daily life, and then choose the time that seems most appropriate. If you box it off and decide it’s only for writing, you’ll be in a great routine before you even know it.
Clear space so you can focus
As well as having time to write each day, you need a place to write too. The world is full of distractions (most of them are digital and social) so that means you’re going to want to keep yourself to yourself, and your phone in a different room. It might seem a little boring or uncomfortable at first, but you need to practice the habit of deep work. It’s what will allow you to create the most in the shortest time — ideal if you want to have plenty of time leftover to spend doing the other things that matter to you.
Have a daily word count in mind
Telling yourself that you want to write an essay today is one thing, but if you’re really going to push yourself to stick to your goal then you need to get quantitative. If you have a word count in mind that you need to hit, then it will prevent you from giving up and throwing in the towel the minute you start having to think and concentrate more than feels normal. Just like working out in the gym, it’s the temporary moments of extra effort that really drive the big differences. It’s when you’ll see the biggest improvement in your writing ability, and the lessons you teach yourself will stay with you for years to come. Ideal if you want to become a fluent Mandarin writer, as well as an engaging face-to-face speaker.
Read widely to provide context
When you’re immersed in an essay it can be all too easy to become blinkered and fail to pay attention to everything else that’s going on around you. Of course, you want to be focused on the task at hand, but you don’t want to be single-minded to the point of ignoring other great learning resources that are just a click away.
Reading widely is one of the best ways to improve your essay writing because it exposes you to techniques and approaches used by the best of the best. You’re not expected to be able to instantly write like a native speaker after an hour of reading. But what you will be able to do with consistent application is build up confidence and familiarity with written Mandarin. Over time this will reflect on the quality and depth of your writing as you gradually improve and take onboard lessons you’ve learned.
Take a break before you proofread
Last but not least, you need to remember that essay writing is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s all about taking the time to get things written before you hand them in, not racing through to try and finish on time. If you want to get the most out of your writing you need to take a day off between finishing your draft and proofing it. That way your brain will have had plenty of time to reflect on the work you’ve produced, and you’ll be able to spot many more little mistakes and places for improvement than you would if you proofed right away.
Writing Mandarin is a challenging task that will test your language skills and make you think hard about how to apply what you’ve learned so far. It might be slow going to begin with, but that’s great as it means you’re pushing your limits and building on your existing skills. If you want to be able to master Mandarin, you need to persevere and stay the course. Once you do, you’ll start to improve a lot faster than you expect.