If you have ever blamed yourself for not speaking fluent Mandarin because you just can’t seem to memorise all the new words taught in your Chinese textbooks or by your Mandarin teachers, you can relax now.
Because, even if you can, and did, memorise all the news words, you still can’t speak fluent Mandarin.
What hinders you is not the size of your Chinese vocabulary, it is the fact that you are not speaking enough. You are not going beyond the narrow realm of daily greetings and simple self introduction. You are not practicing narrating an experience in Mandarin, presenting an idea in Mandarin, or requesting information in Mandarin.
I can use my own experience of learning English to testify. For anyone who is like me when I had the wrong belief, I guarantee that he or she will fail.
Many years ago, I firmly believed that the reason that I couldn't speak English well was because I didn't have enough vocabulary. So I bought a book, English Vocabulary 10,000. I believed wholeheartedly that, once I finished memorising all the words presented in this book, I would speak fluent English. Vocabulary would never be my obstacle any more.
As a diligent student, I studied that book day and night, and had all the words in flash cards which I read silently to myself constantly. It took me four to five months to get through the book from cover to cover. And I was glad that I had achieved substantial amount of English vocabulary.
But guess what, I still couldn't speak English well. After saying “hello, how are you? I am fine. Thank you. And you? My name is ..., and I am from ...” I still got tongue tight and my brain still could not find the next word to say.
That taught me a lesson that memorising tons of words does not help me become a better speaker. I had to try something else. Perhaps, a daring idea, to actually go to a speaking oriented class.
That is what I did, and it worked out very well.
For those 10,000 words I tried to hard to memorise in such a short time, I forgot most of them just as quickly.