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10 Thought-Provoking Quotes For Learning a Language

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I’m sure most of us have started to learn something and reached a point where you just want to give up. Especially when learning the Chinese language, which can be a challenging language to speak, read and write.

I chose many of the quotes below because, when the going gets tough, sometimes a feel-good-thought provoker of a quote can make you think twice about throwing in the towel.

1 . …And in my dream I am able to read them all….

“Shelves full of books are all around me. Opening the different volumes I take a look, and find the pages covered with writings in unknown scripts — tadpole traces, bird feet markings, twisted branches. And in my dream I am able to read them all, to make sense of everything despite its difficulty.”

Jonathan D. Spence, Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man

This quote struck a chord with me, especially with learning Chinese. My understanding is that this is referring to the desire to expand knowledge from learning, even though it’s challenging.

2. It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop

譬如为山,未成一篑,止,吾止也。譬如平地,虽覆一篑,进,吾往也

(pì rú wèi shān, wèi chéng yī kuì, zhǐ, wú zhǐ yě. pì rú píng dì, suī fù yī kuì, jìn, wú wǎng yě.)

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

Confucius

No matter how long it takes you, whether it’s days, weeks, months or years, persevere and don’t give up.

If you’re using the Written Chinese Dictionary, you can set a study goal. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably missed your daily study session now and again (or quite often). Don’t beat yourself up about it! Just get back on the wagon, and keep going!

3. Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace

知者不惑,仁者不忧,勇者不惧

(zhī zhě bú huò, rén zhě bù yōu, yǒng zhě bù jù)

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.”

Confucius

Lit: know is to be without doubt, humane, not to worry, brave is not to fear

Education teaches us to have the confidence to make a difference in the world.

4. By three methods we may learn wisdom

生而知之者,上也;学而知之者,次也;困而学之,又其次也。困而不学,民斯为下矣

(shēng ér zhī zhī zhě, shàng yě; xué ér zhī zhī zhě, cì yě; kùn ér xué zhī, yòu qí cì yě. Kùn ér bù xué, mín sī wèi xià yǐ.)

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Confucius

We gain wisdom in three ways. The first way is reflection; consider the choices that you’ve made in order to improve yourself. The second is by copying the ways of others, however, it’s easy to just follow the crowd without having your own thoughts. The third way is by experience, which is ‘bitter’, according to Confucius. You’re more likely to have a bad experience or find something you don’t like if you experience it first hand. However, you’re more likely to learn from your experiences.

5. The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

移大山始于运小石

(yí dà shān shǐ yú yùn xiǎo shí)

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

Confucius, Confucius: The Analects

Lit: to move a big mountain begin by moving small stones.

This is a perfect goal setting analogy. Break up your bigger learning goal into smaller parts, such as daily or weekly habits in order to achieve your goal.

Instead of trying to study for 2 hours in one go, break up your study sessions into smaller for achievable chunks, like 20 minutes per day.

6. You cannot open a book without learning something

开卷有益

(kāi juàn yǒu yì)

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”

宋·王辟之《渑水燕谈录》 (sòng·wáng pì zhī “shéng shuǐ yān tán lù)

lit. opening a book is profitable (idiom); the benefits of education

This quote is fairly self-explanatory and suggests that education can only be beneficial to the learner.

7. I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand

言之,吾听;示之,吾明;行之,吾知之矣

(yán zhī, wú tīng; shì zhī, wú míng; xíng zhī, wú zhī zhī yǐ)

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

Confucius

Lit: Talk, I listen; show, I understand; do, I know.

Although I’m sure not everyone will agree that it’s easier to forget from listening, however, ‘doing’ something is probably the best way to remember and understand. You can use this quote when thinking about studying Chinese characters. Actually writing characters help remember them and understand the character more fully.

8. Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance

知之为知之,不知为不知,是知也

(zhī zhī wèi zhī zhī, bù zhī wèi bù zhī, shì zhī yě)

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”

Confucius

Lit: To know is to know, to not to know, is not to know, is to know also.

True knowledge is not just about requiring information, but also about realising your own weaknesses and gaining self-awareness.

9. Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous

学而不思则罔,思而不学则殆

(xué ér bù sīzé wǎng , sīér bù xué zé dài)

“Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

Confucius

There are two parts to this quote. The first discusses the idea that it’s a waste of time to learn about something and never use the knowledge in ‘real-life’. The second reverses the phrase and suggests that jumping into something without having learned anything about it can be dangerous.

10. A true teacher is one who, keeping the past alive, is also able to understand the present

温故而知新,可以为师矣

(wēn gù ér zhī xīn, kě yǐ wéi shī yǐ)

“A true teacher is one who, keeping the past alive, is also able to understand the present.”

(Analects 2.11)”

Confucius

My initial impression of this quote was that it reminded me of being at school and being taught by teachers who were unable to teach in a more contemporary way considering the age and background of their students. Basically, some of the methods they used with us, were the same methods they had used to teach our parents. However, I also think it can be read that whilst teachers should use their own experiences and knowledge to teach, they should also consider their students and guide them to learn in their own way.

The Analects of Confucius is free to download for Amazon Kindle.

If you know other quotes about learning, share them with us below!

If you’re interested in more Chinese quotes, you can get our Chinese idiom flashcard set in the Written Chinese Dictionary app.

                   

Facebook Comments

  • Anup Pokhrel

    I need no motivation to learn Chinese. I am already interested in this beautiful language. This post was very interesting anyway. Thank you. I’m going to find Confucius’ book now.

    • Hollie Sowden

      It’s great that you’re motivated to study Chinese, Anup!

      • Anup Pokhrel

        Thanks Hollie