师傅领进门修行在个人 – shi1fu ling3 jin4men2 xiu1xing2 zai4 ge4ren2
Word for word translation :
teacher/master – lead/guide – enter door – practice/put into motion – at/in – individual
Basic meaning : A teacher or master can lead you to the door but it is you yourself that must take the action to go through the door.
I think our English idiom “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is a pretty good equivalent. Being an English teacher for Chinese students, this must be my favorite ancient Chinese proverb. I used to try to translate our “horse” idiom and then explain what it meant in an effort to make sure the students are aware that simply sitting in the chair during their once/twice a week class ISN’T going to improve their English. Effort is required on their part if they really want to improve.
How happy I was to discover that they have a Proverb that describes this exact phenomenon ! This way they have absolutely no excuse when they fail their exams.
We provide the tools, but it’s up to them individually to use those tools and practice and review etc. They can’t blame the teacher when they are just down right lazy!