A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Chinese
Chinese is one of the world’s oldest languages, and one of the most spoken overall – well over 1 billion people speak Chinese as their first language. But for many English speakers, learning Chinese is one of the toughest challenges to tackle, largely due to its differences from English and other Latin-based languages like Spanish and French.
But with the right preparation, anyone can learn how to speak Chinese fluently. Let’s break down what you should do to begin learning Chinese and get started on the right path.
Pinyin and the 5 Tones
Your first step when you want to learn Chinese is to download a “pinyin” chart, which phoneticizes Chinese words using the Latin alphabet. This can be confusing for native English speakers because some letters are pronounced differently in Chinese than in English. For example, the “a” in “wang” is pronounced more like “o” in English than how “a” is typically pronounced. Afterwards, you’ll need to learn the five major tones of Chinese pronunciation.
These basic steps will get you on the path to learn Chinese fluently in a matter of months, especially if you practice every day. Once you have a pinyin chart, and once you have a breakdown of the five tones, you can start practicing your basic Chinese pronunciation and spelling each and every day.
Get a Dictionary and Practice
Speaking of practice, you should also purchase a Chinese dictionary and get in the habit of practicing every day for at least 30 minutes. For the best results, try to make it a habit by engaging with your Chinese practice at the same time each day.
Once you do this, your brain will expect to learn some more Chinese at the same time, so it will be harder for you to slack off or quit your practice on any given day.
By getting a dictionary, you’ll also be equipped to ask Chinese-speaking individuals basic questions: a major source of feedback you can use to improve your pronunciation over time!
Hire a Tutor
Of course, many individuals will have better results learning Chinese if they hire a dedicated tutor. Hiring a tutor is a great way to learn Chinese quickly and efficiently since they:
- Can tailor their teaching strategies to your learning preferences (i.e., some people are visual learners, others are vocal, etc.)
- Can provide direct feedback on your pronunciation or writing mistakes immediately. This is the best way to stop bad habits or mistakes from cementing
- Can stick with you and help you overcome major hurdles or challenges unique to your learning style
That said, hiring a tutor can be expensive, especially if you need a lot of help or you are trying to learn Chinese from the basics.
Take a Chinese Language Program
For children ages 3-15, you can alternatively try a Chinese language program like LingoAce. Online Chinese language programs offer distinct benefits like:
- Chinese speaking lessons based on your age and experience level
- One-on-one teaching opportunities with certified instructors
- Flexible and personalized learning paths
The right Chinese language programs, in fact, can help you learn Chinese more quickly and capably than ever. They allow you to learn Chinese at your own pace and by using materials that work best for your brain. Consider giving one of these a try!
Listen to Chinese
You can also improve your brain’s responsiveness to learning Chinese if you listen to a lot of Chinese media. For instance, purchase an audiobook that you’ve already read or listened to, but in Chinese. Then play it in the car on your way to and from work.
Listening to Chinese gets your brain used to the syllables and sounds of the language, which will make it easier for you to practice Chinese consciously later.
Consume Chinese Media
By the same token, you might improve your chances of learning Chinese as a beginner if you watch or listen to Chinese language music and TV shows. This can help you improve your listening comprehension skills and even your pronunciation.
As you consume Chinese media, your brain will associate certain words and sounds with different contexts. You may not know it, but your brain will unconsciously grasp more of the language each time you do this!
Visit a Chinese-Speaking Country or Region
Lastly, consider visiting a country where Chinese is a primary language. By far the best way to learn any language is to immerse yourself in it. Combine that with your basic Chinese lessons, and you may find that the final connections are made and that you leap into relative fluency over several months. For example, if your work has an opening in Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong or Taipei, take it and enjoy the adventure of living abroad in this beautiful country!
As you can see, getting started learning Chinese is more than possible, even if you are no longer in school or are a bit pressed for time. Who knows? With the right Chinese language program, you could be speaking fluent Mandarin in a matter of months!