Chinese is a group of language varieties that form the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages, spoken by the ethnic Han Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in Greater China. About 1.3 billion people (or approximately 16% of the world’s population) speak a variety of Chinese as their first language.
Mandarin Chinese is a fairly complex language to learn, especially for English speakers. However, with commitment and daily practice, it is certainly possible to successfully master. Practice alone with your textbooks, with Mandarin-speaking friends, or online with the many online Mandarin schools that exist. Keep reading for a basic overview of the most important things you need to know about learning Mandarin Chinese.
There are ways to make your learning more efficient and faster through a more logical method. Here are 13 nice tips that will help you learn Chinese on your own.
Important things to know
Do basic research
There is a Chinese saying, “磨刀不误砍柴工”, which means “the more the preparation, the faster work gets done.” To begin with, you need to do some basic research about your target language, Mandarin Chinese. There are thousands of articles and videos that introduce the Chinese language. You should read and view these to know the language’s general history and how it works.
Lay a solid foundation
I`m often asked if learners can just skip the boring beginning part and learn the “useful” and “practical” conversation part. Well, if you are in a hurry and just want to grab several basic greetings to warm up the meeting with Chinese people, then yes, you can just imitate some greetings directly. However, these greetings won`t take you far. If you are a serious learner who wants to have a longer and more meaningful conversation with Chinese people, take some language tests, or live in China, a solid foundation of the Chinese language will make your learning easier and give you fewer obstacles. In other words, you can learn Chinese faster and better. All in all, a good beginning is half the battle.
Learn the sentence order
Whenever we speak of knowledge points, grammar comes to our minds immediately. It seems there are many grammar points to learn during the whole language learning process. However, as I always claim, Chinese grammar is really not as difficult as you think. We don`t even need to change the tense and gender in Chinese, unlike in other languages. Using English speakers as an example, you should know the difference between English and Chinese first, then this can give you a better overview of the target language.
Memorize simple vocabulary.
No matter what language you’re learning, the more words you have at your disposal, the sooner you will become fluent. Therefore, the next thing to do is to memorize some useful Chinese vocabulary
Learn some basic conversational phrases.
Once you have a basic grasp of vocabulary and pronunciation, you can move on to learning basic conversational phrases which are used in everyday Chinese speech.
- Hello- 你好- nǐhǎo, pronounced [nee how]
- What is your last name(surname)? (formal )- 您贵姓? – nín guì xìng, pronounced [neen gway shing]
- or 你姓什么？- nǐ xìng shén me (inf.), pronounced [nee shing shurn muh]
- What’s your name?- 你叫什么名字? – nǐ jiào shén me míng zì, pronounced [nee jee-ou shurn muh ming zi]
Find the right materials
As a self-learner, the ability to collect high-quality learning materials and resources is necessary. The development of internet technologies has been constantly changing the process of learning a foreign language, and we should use the maximum available online tools to do so. A complete resource website can help a lot, such as Multibhashi. You can find all Chinese learning skills, materials, resources, and even courses there. It is quite convenient to have it all in one digital place. There are also lots of online libraries where you can browse textbooks for free. If it fits your need, you can buy them on Amazon or other online bookstores. When you drive or are stuck in traffic, you can listen to some podcasts to strengthen your Chinese listening, such as Chinese Class 101. At home or at the office, you can also attach some individualized flashcards somewhere conspicuous to remind you of some related vocabulary every now and then. During your own study time, you can focus on a selected textbook or on an online Chinese video course.
Use it or lose it
As a second language learner, I know Chinese students have a common problem, which is we often avoid speaking the target language out. Many Chinese are too shy to dare to make mistakes, thus we just keep silent. Of course, we can`t acquire the language very well since we rarely use it in real life. Therefore, I keep telling my students and audiences, use Chinese as much as I can! Don’t be shy or afraid. Regardless of output, it`s not only about speaking, but also writing. Speaking and writing in Chinese can help you organize your knowledge and acquire it very well. Regarding input, listening and reading are the common methods to learn more of the target language.
Set a goal: sign up for a Chinese test
Setting an achievable goal is an effective method of study. For example, you can try to take a Chinese language test. There is a whole alphabet soup of Chinese tests you can take: YCT, HSK, BCT, and OPI. These are all exams that will evaluate your mandarin. By taking these exams, you can get a direct and clear understanding of your Chinese level. For example, tests like the HSK will evaluate your reading, writing, and listening. The results of each part are quite clear and objective. They will indicate which parts you need to improve on. Think about the Cannikin law: only by strengthening our weak points can we improve and move to a higher level. Passing the test is not the main goal, however. Having a test as a goal will keep you motivated and practicing, and using study materials for these tests will help you balance your Chinese skills. Even if you don’t take the test, you will become a better listener, reader, and writer just by preparing. It’s important to consider your specific language goals as well.
Immersion learning: make your own language environment
Language is a kind of communication tool. If you don`t use it, you will obviously lose it. Sometimes, no letting-down in your learning is also a sign of progress. Therefore, we need to keep activating our senses for reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Find your own way to make an environment for the Chinese language and immerse yourself in it.
Study basic grammar.
There is a common misconception that grammar does not exist in the Chinese language, but this is not true. Chinese grammar rules do exist, they are just very different to those in Indo-European or other language systems. Unlike these languages, Chinese is a very analytic language which is both good news and bad news for language learners.
- For instance, in Chinese, there are no complicated rules about conjugations, agreement, gender, plural nouns or tense. Most words consist of single syllables which are then combined to make compound words. This makes sentence construction fairly straightforward.
Learn how to use Pinyin.
Pinyin is a system used for writing Mandarin Chinese using the Roman alphabet. Hanyu Pinyin is the most common form of such Romanization and is used in many textbooks and teaching materials.
Pinyin allows students of Mandarin to focus on their pronunciation, while also enabling them to read and write, without needing to learn complex Chinese characters. Although Pinyin uses the Roman alphabet, the pronunciation of its letters is often not intuitive to English speakers, which is why it must be studied carefully before it can be used.
Consider signing up for a language course.
If you need some extra motivation or feel you would learn better in a more formal setting, try signing up for a Chinese language course.
Look out for language courses advertised at local colleges, schools or community centers.
If you’re nervous about signing up for a class by yourself, drag a friend along. You’ll have more fun and someone to practice with between classes!
Watch Chinese films and cartoons.
Get your hands on some Chinese DVDs (preferably with subtitles) or watch Chinese cartoons online. This is an easy, entertaining way to get a feel for the sound and structure of the Mandarin Chinese language.
- If you’re feeling particularly proactive, try pausing the video after a simple sentence and repeat what has just been saying. This will lend your Chinese accent an air of authenticity!
- If you can’t find any Chinese films to buy, try renting them from a movie rental store, which often has foreign language sections. Alternatively, see if your local library has any Chinese films or ask if they would be able to source some for you.
So, here are some basic ways through which you can start learning Chinese all by yourself. Chinese is an amazing language to learn and believe us you’ll only enjoy learning it!