Sugar, most The language, commonly spoken in the world, is challenging to master. Instead of one alphabet, Chinese has thousands of characters. On top of that, the language is tonal, so how you say a word can completely change its meaning.
So, why learn Chinese? For one, China is an important player in the global economy and world affairs. In addition, the country has a fascinating history, and its culture and food have long influenced its neighbors and the West.
“It’s a completely amazing, rich culture,” says Carrie Wiebe, CV Star Professor of Chinese at Middlebury College in Wormy. “If we don’t learn Chinese, then we are really restraining ourselves from the depth of human information and culture and beauty and thinking that Europeans are not traditionally aware of.”
Learning to speak Chinese, especially the national language Mandarin, can prepare you for a career in international economics or world affairs. Not to mention, knowing the language makes travel across China easier and more prosperous. In my case, I learned conversational Mandarin while teaching English in North China.
Like any skill, learning Mandarin requires practice and self-discipline. Here are some strategies that you can use to learn the language more quickly and easily.
There are five different vowels of Mandarin:
- A high and level tone.
- A tone that rises slightly.
- A vowel that then falls is amplified.
- A vowel that falls from high to low.
- A neutral tone.
When speaking Chinese, how you pronounce each vowel can change the meaning of a word. For example, “ma” with the first Chinese vowel means “mother”, but with the third vowel, “mă,” it means horse. It is necessary to learn Chinese tone, and there are several techniques you can use:
- Practice with native speakers. Encourage them to correct their pronunciation. Also try how to pronounce them. If you have no partner, Wiebe recommends recording the speech yourself and then playing it back to check your pronunciation. Isolation or comparison practice is also a good way to practice pronunciation. According to Wiebe, repeated listening and recognition of a specific vowel and comparing two vowels to find differences are simple yet effective techniques.
- Watch and listen to native speakers. Improve your pronunciation by listening to popular YouTube channels such as ChinesePod, Yoyo Chinese and Learn Chinese Now. Or, watch your favorite shows on learning languages with the Google Chrome extension, Netflix. It highlights phrases and words and lets you watch the program at your own pace. Another option is to turn on subtitles and audio when watching English or Chinese movies and shows. Wiebe suggests starting with Chinese-language films such as “Two Liv”, “The Blue Kite,” “Hero” and “Eat Drink Man Woman”.
- Listen to Chinese music. A fellow expatriate in China once recommended me to choose a song and study the song and tune. Music, says the director of the Chinese language program, Jun Yang, director of the Chinese language program of the University of Chicago of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and senior lecturer in Chinese language. Yang also recommends the inclusion of nursery rhyme and classical poetry in your lesson.
- Focus on grammar. Like English, Mandarin sentence structure includes a subject, verb, and object. However, Mandarin does not distinguish between gender or singular and plural nouns.
- Travel or study abroad. Immersion may be the fastest way to learn Chinese.
- Practice speaking on your own. Wiebe suggests speaking Chinese yourself for an hour every day. “Keep a notebook to tell you what you don’t know and then learn how to say it,” she says. Wiebe uses car rides to think in a different language. “So, you are really learning what you want to learn and what you need to learn in your internal conversations,” she explains.
- Study Pinyin. It is a phonetic approach to speaking Chinese. Pinyin uses the Latin alphabet to spell words, and it can serve as a foundation for understanding Mandarin concepts more quickly.
Instead of an alphabet, Mandarin consists of thousands of characters who typically fall into two camps: traditional or simplified. Traditional characters have been used for thousands of years and are commonly found in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Chinese diaspora, Weibe says. In the 20th century, the Chinese government attempted to simplify many characters to improve literacy. Yang said that the major difference between traditional and simplified characters “lies in the low number of strokes and simplified configurations.”
To memorize characters you can read Chinese, tap into an app like Playco, a Chinese dictionary that has the option of flashcards. Or, try reading a Chinese newspaper. Wieb the Chairman also suggests using Bao, an online resource with simplified newspapers, and a live dictionary.
The simplest practice is to learn to write in Chinese, whether you want to learn simplified or traditional Chinese characters. In the Chinese writing system, each letter represents a syllable and has at least one meaning. When you add Chinese characters, you form a word. For example, the words “China” are two letters, one for “middle” and the other for “country”.
Practice writing Chinese letters and words in a notebook. Wiebe suggests writing a simple diary entry every day. As you improve, make sentences with characters instead of learning the words in isolation. Think of a sentence you want to write, then search for the Chinese letter to complete that sentence.
While Mandarin may seem daunting to master, as long as you put in the time, you can reach basic or practical proficiency. “If you have a really good memory and a good ear, then Mandarin shouldn’t be harsh,” Wiebe says. “You have to decide that this is really important and you are going to discipline yourself a lot.”
How quickly you learn Chinese depends on your dedication and the time you spend building skills. Many online resources say that it can take from 2,000 hours to 3,000 hours or more to become fluent in Chinese. The average learner should be able to speak and travel fluently after six months about studying the Chinese language.
“From my personal experience in a formal learning setting, five contact hours a week for 30 weeks can get a person a basic qualification, and two years will get a person a practical qualification,” Yang says.
Compared with languages like the Spanish, It will take more time to learn Chinese. “In general, it actually takes at least two to three times longer than a European language for English speakers to be proficient enough,” says Wembe.
When researching resources to help you learn Chinese, consider your learning style, how fast you want to learn, and your budget. A go-to resource must be a tutor, whether in-person or online, Weibe says. Find Chinese tutors on websites such as TutorMandarin or eChineseLearning, or sign up for online classes. The Chinese Language Institute, for example, offers a wide variety of classes with rates starting at $ 20 per hour for the first 29 hours.
Here are some Chinese language resources:
- FluentU. Wiebe recommends this resource, which uses video and interactive captions to help you improve pronunciation and vocabulary. It costs $ 20 to $ 30 per month depending on the plan.
- Rosetta Stone. The service focuses on basic pronunciation and builds up to interactive phrases. It also uses a speech-recognition tool to compare your pronunciation with native speakers, and you can chat with other learners through its online community. The cost for the three months is $ 35.97.
- Coursera. Watch and listen to plays, interactive exercises and video lectures. Participate in hands-on projects to achieve proficiency of 1,000 words. You can audit free courses or subscribe for $ 49 per month.
- EDX. EdX offers classes on vocabulary, grammar and culture and encourages you to study four to 10 hours per week. Many of edX’s Chinese courses are available for free, although you need to pay to earn a certificate to complete the class.
- Duolingo. This app uses bite-sized lessons and games to help you learn Chinese in 5 minutes per day. The app is free, although you can use the premium version for $ 6.99 per month.
For those who prefer textbooks and guides, Wiebe recommends “Integrated Chinese”, which comes with workbooks and supplemental audio resources, and “Practical Audio-Visual Chinese,” by the Mandarin Training Center of the National Taiwan University Has been published. She also suggests “colloquial Chinese” and “new practical Chinese readers”.
The way to learn Chinese fasting is to dedicate time to practice the language. There is no magic method to learn Chinese, but there are strategies and resources to help you build important concepts and build your skills. Speak and write as many languages as you can. Take advantage of the range of free and membership applications and online courses to help you progress.
“You have to be patient, and you really have to fall in love with it,” Wiebe says. “And then when you do, you give it a lifetime of learning.”