While most people might think English is the most spoken language in the world, it’s actually Chinese. In fact, with 1.35 billion speakers, Chinese is miles ahead. Spoken by locals in mainland China or Taiwan, Chinese immigrants in other countries, tourists, and businesses, the Chinese language is spoken all over the world to some degree. It’s probably a good idea to learn the language for both your career and to generally get a better understanding of this global culture.
How can you learn Chinese as quickly as possible? Can you take a Chinese lesson online? Is Chinese grammar difficult? You probably have a lot of questions about Chinese language courses and learning Chinese in general. Let’s imagine that you only have somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour every day to dedicate to language learning. What are the best ways to make sure you’re getting the most out of every minute you spend studying?
Learning a language quickly doesn’t necessarily mean learning the new language in a sloppy or shoddy way. That’s why in this article we’re going to show you some tips and tricks that will help you reach your ambitious goals of learning Chinese in a structured and organised way.
Learn the Basics of Chinese
There are several “Chinese” languages but not many of them are used globally. When we say Chinese, we generally mean “Mandarin Chinese”. However, there are around 7 main modern Chinese languages.
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You should distinguish between Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese, for example. Cantonese is spoken by around 71 million people in places such as Hong Kong, Macau, and around South East Asia. However, we’d recommend learning Mandarin Chinese specifically before trying to tackle Cantonese.
Why? Because Mandarin Chinese is the official language of the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and Singapore. You can also speak Chinese in parts of Vietnam, Cambodia, and a number of different regions around the globe. Mastering every aspect of Chinese would take years and hundreds of hours of classes.
By focusing on Mandarin Chinese first and foremost, you’re less likely to become demotivated and, as a result, increase your chances of success. This will ensure that your studies remain condensed and structured.
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Buy an Adequate Book
Even if you’re really motivated, you shouldn’t just buy the first book on Chinese that you see. We recommend doing some research on which books will be best for you. Since Chinese is quite different to European languages like English, French, German, and Spanish, you should invest in good resources that cover all the basics.
If your goal is to master Chinese and you’re just starting out, the previous advice is hugely important. Here are a few books you should check out:
Integrated Chinese - Yuehua Liu
Chinese for Dummies - Wendy Abraham
New Practical Chinese Reader - Xun Liu
Use On-line Learning Tools
When it comes to sharing information, the Internet is an invaluable tool. You can find some really interesting resources for learning Chinese effectively. There are a plenty of websites and mobile apps that can help you learn and practice Chinese:
Audio: This site can help you to learn Mandarin Chinese by using Pinyin. Pinyin is a system for romanising Chinese words.
Chineasy: This is a fun way to learn Chinese while having fun. It will also help you better recognise Chinese characters. You’ll soon be able to read Chinese characters thanks to Chineasy.
Anki: Anki is a great system for working with flashcards and is great for anyone struggling with reading Chinese characters. You’ll soon see that there’s more to this system than meets the eye!
Learn Basic Chinese Words
If you want to make learning Chinese easier, you should always start with some useful words and expressions. When we say basic words, we mean everyday words that you can use in almost every situation.
You’ll need to learn words and expressions like “ni hao” (hello), “zai jian” (goodbye), “wo de ring ming shi” (my name is...), “duo shao qian” (how much is it?), “chi fan” (eat) and “qu” (go).
It’s worth noting that the words “yes” and “no” don’t really exist in Chinese. In fact, you have to use expressions like “hao ah” (that’s good) and “bu xing” (that’s not good).
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Build On Your Chinese Basics
To learn Chinese quickly and effectively, you should know the following rules. There are certain words in English that don’t exist in Chinese and vice-versa.
Here are a few key rules:
In Chinese, you don’t conjugate verbs.
- “Yes” and “no” don’t really exist.
To make Chinese sentences, you need a personal pronoun and a verb. Unlike other languages, you just put the pronoun with the one form of the verb.
There are four different tones. This means that each word can have four different meanings depending on how it’s pronounced. However, you can make yourself understood without perfectly mastering the tones.
When it comes to negations, the word “bu” is usually used for most verbs but some do use “mei”.
Make Word Lists
One of the best ways to effectively learn a foreign language is to put together word lists to help you better memorise vocabulary. While Chinese is often thought of as a difficult language, you shouldn't make things even more complicated by having to look a word up in a dictionary just three days after you thought you’d learnt it. Organise your vocabulary and word lists thematically to help you remember the words better. We recommend writing your words on card stock and organising certain groups of word by colour, for example.
Groups could include:
Time (months, days, seasons, etc.)
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Get Help Working on Your Chinese
In order to effectively improve your Chinese, we’ve put together a couple of ways that could really help you make significant improvements in a short amount of time:
Take Chinese lessons: you could either go to a language school or university for group lessons. Most big cities will have a number of language schools or centres or a university where Chinese is taught. Whether you’re a total beginner, intermediate, or speak Chinese at an advanced level, you should be able to find a class or a teacher for your level. To make sure you’re choosing the right class or teacher, you should make sure to do a level test so that you’re not doing classes that are too easy or too difficult.
Get a private tutor that can teach you Chinese at home: This means that you’ll be the only student in class and the tutor can dedicate all their time to teaching you. Just like they would at a university or language school, a tutor can evaluate your level and make sure their lessons are going at the right speed. They’ll also work out which methods work and which don’t so that you’ll get the most out of every hour you spend with them.
Build Your Chinese Abilities over Time
Chinese is very different to languages like English, French, German, and Spanish. In addition to its history, China and other countries where they speak Mandarin Chinese have different religions, cultures, and norms that influence the language and make it even more different to European languages.
This is why you should consider immersing yourself in Chinese culture to help you better learn the language. This can also help you to master the four tones more quickly.
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To Improve Your Chinese, You Have to Talk
While memorising new Chinese words is a good start, you have to start speaking Chinese as soon as you can.
Get in touch with Chinese associations in your region. There are Chinese institutions in almost every region in the country and they're a great way to learn more about the culture from people who can speak the language perfectly.
If you’re a student, you could even consider getting in touch with foreign student groups. There are around 90,000 Chinese students currently in higher education in the UK. This means you’ll have plenty of chances to find Chinese-speaking students.
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Get Your Brain Used to Chinese by Reading
As we said earlier in the article, books are an important resource when it comes to learning languages. While you will need to get books on Chinese when you first start learning the language, you can soon move onto books in Chinese.
The more you read in Chinese, the more your brain will become accustomed to the language and its lexicon. You’ll soon find identifying the four tones much easier and you’ll have a better understanding of how the words are used and pronounced.
While there isn’t a perfect method, there are plenty of tips and tricks to help you speed up the process for learning Chinese. It doesn’t really matter which language you’re learning since you can use a lot of these tips and tricks for any of them as you make your way towards fluency.
You should always start by building a strong foundation of basics (greetings and everyday Chinese phrases) in the language. Then, if you’d like to learn quickly and avoid picking up bad habits, you can get a Chinese teacher, attend Chinese classes, or get a private tutor offering online Chinese tutorials.
Once you're conversational, you can immerse yourself in both the language and culture as much as you can and speak to Chinese people or anyone who speaks the language.
Finally, once you've mastered Chinese pronunciation, grammar, and know how to speak well, you can start the long and arduous task of honing your language skills and becoming fluent! Good luck!
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