What are some tips for mastering Chinese?
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. The spoken varieties of Chinese are usually considered by native speakers to be variants of a single language. Due to their lack of mutual intelligibility, however, they are classified as separate languages in a family by some linguists, who note that the varieties are as divergent as the Romance languages. The earliest Chinese written records are Shang dynasty-era oracle bone inscriptions, which can be dated to 1250 BCE. Standard Chinese (Standard Mandarin), based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, was adopted in the 1930s and is now an official language of both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan), one of the four official languages of Singapore, and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Since the 1950s, simplified Chinese characters have been promoted for use by the government of the People’s Republic of China, while Singapore officially adopted simplified characters in 1976. Traditional characters remain in use in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and other countries with significant overseas Chinese speaking communities such as Malaysia (which although adopted simplified characters as the de facto standard in the 1980s, traditional characters still remain in widespread use).
Let's see what it will take to master this language!
Set realistic, achievable, measurable, firm goals!
In order to be successful at learning Chinese, you would need to define a few critical parameters for yourself. Identify the reasons that can compel you to stay dedicated and recognize how much that means to you! Is it just for the sake of knowledge or do you have a dire need for it?
Do you want it to speak business Chinese for a job or communicate with your in-laws? Select exercises you want to practise, screen chapters in a book you plan to go over, decide on the number of words you want to master each day (rather than an unmeasurable goal like improving my handwriting!). The more detailed you are, the better. It will help you sail through the busy days, or on days you don’t feel like studying!
Define Short-term and Long-term Goals for your learning.
Sit down and in a calm frame of mind and think. Focus on your aims, aspirations and expectations you have from your Chinese learning. Device a comprehensive learning plan, where you map language learning topics with time required to learn them, in a realistic, not idealistic manner under short term and long term plans. Evaluate the best approach you can take, to ensure you follow the learning plan, as devised. Assess the amount of time you can invest in. You could choose if you want to target your understanding of Chinese speech in news, radio, documentaries under a short term plan. Say you want to be proficient in listening within 3-5month; plan around that!
Also, formulate your long-term goals. Think of what you would want to achieve in the long term, say fluency or expertise in the writing of Chinese script! Subsequently, plan on how you would like to go about putting your plans into action.
Review your goals at regular intervals to measure achievement vis-a-vis your plans. Tweak your goals based on this measure as required so you know it’s all working for you as planned.
Select the dialect you want to learn Mandarin or Cantonese
Mandarin is the dominant dialect in Mainland China, Taiwan, areas of Singapore and increasingly in Hong Kong. Cantonese is, however, the main language spoken in Chinese communities in the United States, followed closely by Mandarin Chinese which is far easier than Cantonese due to fewer tones to master.
Listen to as many audio resources of the dialect you choose.
Focus on listening to Chinese to get a hang of the Chinese speech, pitch, tone, accent, speed, rhythm and to effectively train your ear to get used to sounds and identify Chinese when exposed to the language anywhere. Listening helps you connect with the language. After hearing it adequately read the audio transcript to assess your understanding of what’s actually spoken and what you understood. Every new language would sound nothing more than some noise at the beginning. Unfamiliar, confusing, and baffling! The first step is to become familiar with the individual sounds of the language, to learn to differentiate words from each other and to have a few words and phrases resonating in your brain.
Read along and read aloud.
After multiple listening sessions, it’s time to follow the shadowing technique. Develop a sense of how words are spoken, where the speaker stops to breathe, and what words are conjoined and spoken together. Read the transcript loud, along the audio, speaking the words correctly, aping the accent as you speak! Learning characters would not be sensible if you don’t have any sense of the words to begin with. You will get to learn the characters eventually so, you could skip the characters in the beginning; instead, try to get a little momentum in the language.
Familiarize yourself with the Chinese characters and memorise them diligently, learning a few, at a time, consistently every day.
Study consistently using Pomodoro technique, a few minutes multiple times a day rather, cramming it for 6-7 hours on the weekend. Your daily schedule should be catered to your goals and learning style.
Use Spaced Repetition System apps such as Memrise or Anki to enhance the quality of your learning.
You could either use the existing flashcards or create your own. Shorter repetitive content is better than crammed monotonous learning!
Get introduced to Chinese radicals.
All Chinese characters have radicals, components that give a hint of the meaning of a character. There are also components of the characters which suggest the sound. These radicals are helpful to acquire knowledge of the characters. After enough exposure, these components will speed up your learning of the characters.
Release yourself from getting compulsively consumed in complicated grammar explanations.
Focus on patterns. Patterns will not only enable you to see how the language works but also give you frames around which you can build your first conversations.
Read whatever you can get your hands on. Articles, news, blogs of interest on subjects of your choice such as food, fashion, travel etcetera.
Introduce yourself to learning Chinese culture, history, beliefs, religion, value system, way of life, socially and legally acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
Keep a Chinese dictionary handy.
You could also use Alec Tronic or other online dictionaries.
Maintain a journal or a diary.
Record phrases, fillers, conversation connectors in the journal and diary, to be able to hold your first conversation.
Don’t be deterred by mistakes!
Don’t beat yourself up for incorrect pronunciation. You can neither pronounce what you don’t register or hear, nor imitate sounds and intonations that don’t reverberate in your mind. In order to build up the ability you need to listen to hundreds or even thousands of hours to allow the brain to absorb the new language. You can’t rush this process. Trust that, it will gradually improve and get better!
Identify your unique learning style
Some people learn better through visualizations, while others may find that writing things down is what helps them. Knowing how you learn can help you learn more effectively.
Master Pinyin Basics
Chinese characters can be difficult to read, but you can make the language simpler with pinyin. Pinyin is a phonetic system, created for people to learn Mandarin pronunciation. Pinyin transcribes the Chinese characters so people can pronounce it. It may be used as an input method to enter Chinese characters into computers or electronics as well. The writing of Pinyin is similar to the English alphabet.
Look for activities that combine listening, reading, speaking and writing
One of the best ways to learn Chinese is to work on activities that combine different areas of learning Chinese. While you would still need to focus on the separate categories of listening, reading, speaking and writing, a combination will help you assess your learning.
Seek a conversation partner to improve your Chinese speaking
To speak good Chinese you will need to practice speaking with a native speaker who you could help you learn and improve. Look for someone around you, in your neighbourhood, nearby community or online with apps like Tandem, Hello Talk, Italki, Languagepartners or Conversationpartners etcetera.
Make learning lively and interesting
Watch Chinese movies with English subtitles and English movies with Chinese-speaking subtitles.
Hear and sing along Chinese songs. Watch Chinese TV, Talkshows, Documentaries etcetera to enjoy learning.
Apart from the above-mentioned tips, learners of the Chinese language can use Clozemaster and take dictations to improve Chinese writing. They will help you identify the word/ character with its pronunciation and you will soon be able to connect it to pinyin. Learning Chinese is not rocket science. Agreed, it will not happen overnight; yes, it will take time and effort, but with a well-thought plan and diligent consistent practice, you are sure to accomplish your goals!
Chinese grammar is uncomplicated. There are no declensions, conjugations, genders, verb aspects, complicated tenses or other sources of confusion that are found in many European languages.
If you would like a free grammar resource to help supplement your learning, then I recommend LingQ’s Chinese grammar resource.
There’s an amazing new way to learn Chinese! Want to see what everyone’s talking about!