Since you’ve landed your feet on this page, you are either learning Chinese language, or considering to start on that. As long as you keep investing your time and effort into it and do not drop off half way, you will eventually reach your destination, sooner or later. But we hope it would be “sooner” for you! That’s why we provided the following 8 tips about how to learn Chinese with a higher efficiency. Enjoy reading!
Tip 1: Understand your needs, Set up your goal, and figure out the shortest way to get there.
Ask yourself these questions and seek for clear answers: why do I want to learn Chinese? what is my motivation?
As China had surpassed Japan and rapidly grown into the world’s 2nd largest economy, are you considering to obtain the language skills to tap into the business or job opportunities in the far east market? Are you interested in exploring deeper in this unique ancient oriental culture and deciphering the charm behind the mysterious characters? Do you want to gear up with a different mindset and view the world from a different perspective? or just for another simpler reason: you are planning to take a trip to the greater China region all by your own, without an English-speaking tour guide beside you?
Once you figure out what your objectives really are, you are able to make out your plan / roadmap about how to get yourself there. This is the first step for anyone to learn Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese) in a fast and efficient way. OH please note that, by saying “figure out the shortest way”, we are not indicating there is any “short cut”. The journey is always long, but there are always detours that we can be aware of and stay away from the beginning.
Tip 2: Acquire basic and fundamental facts about the Chinese language
You don’t want to be one of those poor blind guys who confidently claims the elephant is like a wall or a pillar, right? Get a general full picture (meta knowledge) about the Chinese language itself will help you tackle it in a more efficient and fast way.
You need to understand what is the biggest difference between Chinese and English (or other alphabetic languages). When we say Chinese, are we talking about Mandarin or Cantonese? What are their differences? Where are these two languages (or we may say – dialects) spoken respectively? Which version should I choose to learn? Without an alphabet, how do the Chinese handle their writings? Why are there two different sets of Characters (Chinese Simplified and Chinese Traditional)? How does the ideographic text compare to the phonetic letters? What is the Pinyin system? How many characters do I learn to become proficient in Chinese language? Are there any trustable training schools or online APPs that could make my learning process fast, efficient, and with less struggling.
After you have learnt the basics and gathered all these information you need, you are well equipped to set the right angle to “start the attack” in a smarter way.
To make things easier, we suggest new learners to learn Chinese Mandarin (instead of Cantonese), and choose Simplified Chinese character set for writing.
Tip 3: Learn Pinyin first, not the complex characters
Many people find that the Chinese characters look beautiful with special charm of oriental mysticism, and are keen on starting their learning process by studying on how to read or write these hieroglyphic symbols. We admit this might be the original drive or triggering for many to become a Chinese learner, but please be warned that, notwithstanding the seemingly strong motivation, this isn’t the best and fastest way to master a new language, especially a complex one like the Chinese.
Pinyin is a unique Romanized alphabetic system developed by the Chinese government in 1950’s in order to “standardize” the Mandarin pronunciation of all the Chinese characters and eliminate accent barriers between hundreds of dialects. The 4 tones are part of the Pinyin system. A side-benefit is that it makes the learning of Chinese words much easier and faster for the new students.
An even better effect of the Pinyin for non-Chinese speakers like you is that it instantly helps you identify the difference between Chinese Mandarin and how to learn Chinese efficiently your mother tongue, and then you can correct your pronunciation and progress quickly in the right direction, instead of still sticking to the wrong voices after years of studying the language.
Tip 4: Learn a few spoken Chinese phrases for daily communication before reading the text
The “Second Language Acquisition” theory tells us that voice (audio) signals precedes the text (visual) signals in activating the language areas in our brains. In learning / acquiring a foreign language (Chinese Mandarin in our case), text reading may help you build up the knowledge about the language, but only verbal sounds can really help you get the feel about how this new language is used. So, speaking/listening are always prioritized over the reading/writing.
On the other hand, being able to make a short/easy conversation (even a designed/structured one) with another Mandarin-speaking person would undoubtedly provide you great confidence and sense of achievement at the early stage of your language learning journey.
Tip 5: Begin to read and write a few easy / simple Chinese characters
Yes, after you have learnt how to twist your tongue for the Pinyin and the tones, and are able to say a few dozens of verbal phrases in Mandarin, you will need to begin to take on the difficult job by studying the famous ideographic symbols.
The average vocabulary of an ordinary Chinese person is about 4,000 characters, enough for him/her to read most of the newspapers, financial reports or mobile phone user manuals without the need to referring to a dictionary. Rest assured that you don’t need to daunt yourself with that huge task – for beginners, you just need to learn to recognize a few hundreds of the most frequently-used ones, most of those Chinese books in the library will no longer look so alien to you. Some fast learners can manage a few dozens of new characters in a month with efficient method.
Theoretically, one can still learn how to speak Mandarin quite well without even learning one single character, but that’s not for most of the serious learners with an ambition. The written characters are part of the language itself or even at the core of the culture.
Tip 6: Immerse yourself into the real-life language environment
As all we know, “immersion” could be the best-possible method for any 2nd-language acquisition, so is it for efficient Mandarin learning.
One extra dimension of immersion for learning Chinese Mandarin is that this tonal language gets 4 tones (Cantonese get 6) – which is extremely difficult to master by just following the books. You have to go out and talk with a Chinese speaking person, observe and feel the way he/she pronounce the words with tones, and then try to mimic the exact sound. This is a smart approach that most of the effective learners use to level up their tonal performance.
Tip 7: Join the Chinese learning communities and stay active
Both online and offline, you should be able to find places where liked-minded people with various motivations gather and share their ideas, happiness, achievements and frustrations. Google “Learn Chinese” + “Forum”, sign up and get onboard, you will find yourself not alone on every step of your language learning journey.
Make a few acquaintances, see how they execute their learning plans, get inspired by their smart and clever methods for faster progress, ask for help if you encounter difficulties or get confused. Most importantly, you can get emotional support from friends and other peer learners when you feel tired or frustrated by setbacks (as everyone of us would experience in our language learning circle), which will brace you up and encourage you to carry on for the final success.
Tip 8: Don’t try to study the Ancient Classical Chinese text too early.
This suggestion is just like: don’t try to run before you can walk comfortably, or don’t jump into the sea before you can swim confidently in the pool.
Yes I understand you are clever learner and you have mastered hundreds of complex Chinese characters in just a short period of time. You want to move up and are trying to study some Classical Chinese text written by ancient Chinese writers. Good for you, but I would still suggest you to think twice.
Your purpose is to be proficient in the Mandarin language and use it to benefit your life and work, right? So can you talk fluently with a native Chinese person? Can you read a Chinese magazine without referring to the dictionary too often? Can you appreciate a Chinese movie / TV series if its English subtitles are removed? Before you can confidently give positive answers to these 3 questions, I would advise you to stay with Modern Mandarin for the time being and leave the Classical Chinese to a later stage.
Let’s make a comparison: For a university student trying to learn English as a second language, putting his effort into Shakespeare’s classical works too early would not boost his English ability but only leave him in confusions about the antiquated grammars.