The One Minute Challenge

Are you currently learning a foreign language? Regardless of your level, it’s imperative that you learn to think in that language. Don’t spend too much time translating back and forth, as it’s not always conducive to making progress.


I’ve found that if I cut out the translation aspect of learning Chinese, the words come to me quicker. This sounds obvious, but it’s something often overlooked by language learners.


All very well in theory, but how can you practice the art of thinking in your additional language? Try this activity.


It’s called the One Minute Challenge (as of right now, as I couldn’t think of a better name) and it really encourages you to use your surroundings to force you to think in your additional language of choice.


Stop what you’re doing and look around you. You have one minute to assess your surroundings, and think about expressing this to someone else, using only the language you’re learning.


This activity is great for all levels, as you can see here:


  • What can you see? Describe them. (You’ll find out very quickly that you don’t know how to say things such as ‘blinds’ or ‘candles’ for example.
  • 你看到什么了?描述他。(你很快就会发现你不知道一些词语应该怎么表达)
  • Where did the things in your room come from?
  • 你房间里面的东西是来自于哪里的?
  • Did you buy them? How much were they?
  • 你买的吗?多少钱?
  • Where are they placed in your room? Is there a reason they are where they are? (Prepositions of place, explaining why develops this further as you start using comparatives and the conditional)
  • 他放在你房间的什么地方?为什么放在那里?
  • What do you like about these things? Do you have a favorite? Why?
  • 你喜欢他的什么?有最喜欢的吗?为什么?
  • If you’re on the bus or out on the street - What’s going on around you? Is it noisy? Why are you here, where are you going next?
  • 如果你在巴士或者街上-你周围发生了什么事情?吵吗?你为什么会在这里?你接下来要去哪里?
  • How’s the weather? How do you feel about this weather? Is it usual for this time of year? How does this kind of weather affect your daily commute?
  • 天气怎么样?你感觉怎么样?这样的天气很平常吗?这样的天气对你来说有影响吗?
  • Focus on someone you saw on the street. Try to describe their appearance, beyond just what they are wearing. Imagine what their life is like. Where are they going? Why are they going there? Do they look happy?
  • 关注在街上你看到的某人,试着去形容他们的外表,他们穿什么衣服?想象一下他们的生活会是怎样的?他们要去哪里?为什么要去那里?他们看起来开心吗?
  • Etc
  • 等等

You could take this further by trying the same activity in the past tense, as if you’re describing what you saw to someone else later on.


Now - speak for one minute straight, without repeating the same sentence structure. It’s harder than it sounds, trust me! So if you said:


“我最喜欢这个因为....” you can only use this pattern once.


What I quickly discovered was that by doing this activity, I found many gaps in my Chinese skills. After I speak for a minute (recorded on my phone) listen to it again. Where did I make mistakes? What did I want to express that I was unable to?





Record your minutes - invaluable when self-assessing as you go forward

  • Write these down.记录下来
  • Make a note of what you thought you’d be able to express but couldn’t.标记好哪些你认为你会的但其实不会的
  • Focus on improving these next time.专注下一次提高


If you’re anything like me, you’ve been making the mistake of falling into complacency and only using the language that you are familiar with. Force yourself out of this comfort zone and find out how to truly express yourself.


After a week of doing this - listen to your earlier recordings. You’ll be surprised at the progress you’ve made - a great incentive for continuing to use this activity.


Good luck! If you tried the One Minute Challenge, feel free to leave a comment below. How did it go? What did you find out about your language level?


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