If you want to learn Chinese, you need to know what to expect from the language. This language is said to be one of the most challenging ones to learn. The writing system compromises thousands of characters that need to be memorized, while the tone and pronunciation of syllables can change the form and meaning of words.
On the other hand, Chinese grammar is surprisingly easy. Nouns have no gender or number, verbs have a single form, and the structure of sentences is similar to that of English. After all, it seems this language is not as hard as you think.
8 Steps to Learn Chinese
By following these steps, you’ll be sure that you’re headed in the right direction when learning the most widely spoken form of Chinese – Mandarin.
Step 1 – Focus on Listening
Before you start learning Chinese words and grammar, focus on listening. Only in that way you will get used to the tone and speed and get a better sense of the language. Listen to Chinese audiobooks and podcasts, watch Chinese TV Shows and movies, and any other content spoken by native Chinese speakers.
If you start learning Chinese characters or words before understanding what the language sounds like, the learning process will be more difficult for you. That’s because you won’t be able to differentiate Chinese words from each other in the beginning, so everything will sound like one undifferentiated noise to you.
Focusing on listening to the language will introduce you to the individual sounds of Mandarin Chinese and help you detect the word boundaries.
Step 2 – Learn Basic Chinese Words and Phrases
Before you learn how to speak Chinese, make sure to learn some common vocabulary and phrases. These could be greetings such as 你好 nĭ hăo – hello, 早安 zǎo ān – good morning, 你好吗？Nĭ hăo ma? – how are you? etc.
You can also learn some basic vocabulary for shopping, transportation, and other every day topics that you can use in practice.
Step 3 – Learn and Practice Tones and Pronunciation
Being a tonal language means that the tone and pronunciation of your Chinese can alter the meaning of what you’re trying to say. In fact, a single syllable can generate different words and different meanings based on how you pronounce it.
For example, the syllable “ma” can mean horse, hemp, mother, or to scold (verb). Whether you use it as a noun or verb with any of these meanings will depend on the shape of your voice over that syllable.
This is why focusing on how to learn Chinese pronunciation is important before memorizing Chinese vocabulary.
Step 4 – Memorize the Basic Characters
Don’t try to learn all characters in the Chinese writing system, at least not in the beginning. Instead, try to memorize the basic ones which are about 200. Later on, you’ll see that the other characters are derived from these 200. That’s because the components of characters, radicals, often repeat in characters.
Memorizing these characters will help you to write and read common things in Mandarin Chinese like menus and road signs. A few examples include 天 – day, 人 – person, man, people, 我 – I, myself, me, etc.
Once you decide to learn the basic characters, make sure you devote at least 30 minutes a day to memorizing them. Otherwise, you’ll quickly forget them.
Step 5 – Speak a Lot without Second-Guessing Yourself
Speak Chinese to yourself and to others even if they don’t understand what you’re saying. In this way, you can practice your speaking every day even if you don’t live in a Chinese-speaking country.
Listen to Chinese and try to imitate the intonation. You can use audio that has text for it so you listen to a sentence and then repeat it as precisely as possible. Try to record yourself so you can hear your Chinese pronunciation and compare it with the original.
And, don’t second guess yourself on anything. Let the words and phrases you’ve learned or heard flow out without worrying about making a mistake. The more you speak, the better and faster you’ll learn to speak the language.
Step 6 – Read Chinese a Lot
Read Chinese as often as you can. This means reading a variety of material on subjects of interest to you, not just special texts for Chinese learners. Read while commuting, waiting in line, or during your lunch break at work or school.
You can also use some helpful apps like Chineasy or Pleco. This way you can enrich your Chinese vocabulary.
Step 7 – Learn the Basic Chinese Sentence Structure
The structure of simple Chinese sentences is the same as that of simple English sentences – subject + verb + object. This is one of the reasons why the grammar of this language is one of the easiest in the world.
For example, the sentence 她吃面包 Tā chī miànbāo consists of the subject Tā which means “she”, the verb chī which means “eat/eats”, and the object miànbāo which means bread – She eats bread.
As you can see, the verb chī keeps the same form for all genders, which means no Chinese irregular verbs to memorize.
Step 8 – Speed Up Your Chinese Learning with Online Chinese Tutors
Find the right online Chinese tutor for your needs and budget on a learning language platform such as LiveXP, Italki, Preply, or Verbling.
This way, you can practice speaking with a native Mandarin speaker who will help you with the tone and pronunciation, point out the aspects you need to focus on, and suggest tools and materials that will help you learn the language faster and easier.
The online tutor will tailor the course and lessons for your needs while taking your goals, abilities, and interests into consideration. For example, your tutor can focus on helping you to prepare for residing or traveling to a Chinese-speaking country, or on business vocabulary.
Hiring an online tutor can help you learn Chinese from scratch or improve your proficiency. Either way, it will speed up your Chinese learning.