The sounds, the tones, and the different accents can often be the stuff of nightmares for anyone considering learning the Chinese language.
Given that it’s a so-called "difficult" language to learn in comparison to other European languages that are more similar to our own, learning Mandarin Chinese, in particular, is often seen as a challenge for even the most ambitious linguists.
Since the People’s Republic of China standardised the language and created the Pinyin romanisation system and tonnes of advances have been made in e-learning, any European can now learn Mandarin Chinese and become fluent.
So lets have a look at how you can learn to speak, pronounce, and understand Mandarin Chinese thanks to immersion, teaching methods, and different resources.
Consider these ways to learn Chinese on your own...
Can You Learn Chinese from Scratch through Immersion?
While English is one of the world’s most important languages, Chinese is by far the most spoken language in the world.
With over 900 million native speakers and 300 million people who speak it as a second language, Mandarin Chinese is almost everywhere.
This means that Chinese language skills are essential for almost anyone who wants to work abroad, especially when speaking about Mandarin Chinese since the People's Republic of China is expected to become even more powerful in the future.
Apart from Mandarin Chinese classes offered in partnership Confucius Institute, there are also linguistic stays and exchange programmes for those who’d like to learn Chinese more quickly through immersion.
Whether with a host family or at work, anyone spending time in China will come into contact with Chinese people. Even with an English-Chinese dictionary in hand, they’ll be forced to speak the language whether they feel like it or not.
One of the easiest ways to master the Chinese language is through immersion. For example, you could head to Beijing (while avoiding all the areas inhabited by other expats where English is spoken a lot) and surround yourself in Chinese culture and learn the most neutral form of Mandarin Chinese.
Spend Time in China with the Help of an Organisation
If you don't feel like organising everything yourself, another option is to get in touch with organisations that offer trips to China for learning the language. While you won’t get as much choice as you would if you’d organised your trip yourself, these are handy options for people who know nothing at all about China or just don't have the time to organise their own trip.
These organisations can ensure that you stay in decent accommodation and get involved with Chinese life and using your new language as quickly as possible. However, it should be noted that these organisations can add a large number of fees (for food, transport, excursions, Chinese classes etc.).
It does guarantee that you end up in the best possible position for learning Chinese in China, though.
Find out more easy ways to learn Chinese...
Using Private Tutorials to Learn Chinese
If you want to improve your comprehension, pronunciation, understanding of tones, and your general level in Chinese, a private tutor or Chinese teacher is a great option.
They’re really useful for absolute beginners and for those that need academic support for their GCSE, A Level, or university studies. The main advantage of private tutorials is that you can take a different approach than you would do if you were taking traditional language courses at school or university.
How do you choose the right private Chinese tutor to help you become bilingual?
No matter what language they’re teaching, it’s often a huge advantage to opt for a private tutor who’s teaching their mother tongue. There are plenty of Chinese tutors on Superprof for students of all different levels. It’s a great way to learn Chinese quickly!
Generally speaking, private tutors will adapt their courses to the student and their level. This means they can help you study for GCSEs, A Levels, or just for fun!
They can also help you with:
Decyphering Chinese characters using the Pinyin system
Improving your Chinese grammar and vocabulary
Putting together Chinese sentences and phrases
They’ll focus on using the language. After all, if you’re working with a native Chinese speaker, they’ll want to speak to you in Chinese and will be able to help you improve your pronunciation and comprehension.
In terms of your career, there are also private tutors who can offer tutorials for adults wanting to improve their language skills through conversation or learn more about Chinese-speaking culture.
Personalised Mandarin Chinese tutorials are also useful for anyone studying for the HSK test or looking to get conversational so that they can travel to China as part of a university exchange programme.
Whether they’re perfectly bilingual, of Chinese heritage, or very experienced, private tutors have the benefits of:
Putting students in genuine speaking situations
Being able to talk about current events
Using specialised vocabulary
Their rates may vary depending on how far they have to travel or the type of tutorials you’re asking for. However, some private Mandarin Chinese tutors even offer discounts if you’re willing to book several tutorials at the same time.
Discover the quickest ways to learn Chinese...
Which Are the Best Apps for Learning to Speak the Language?
While there are plenty of e-learning resources and apps for learning Chinese, far too many of them focus on reading and writing instead of speaking and listening.
As you’ll see, there are some that don’t. Here are some apps you can use to learn Chinese while having fun!
Learning Chinese Mandarin Phrasebook
While the simple version is free, you’ll have to pay for the full version. However, this only costs a few quid and is really useful for anyone who’s getting ready to travel to China or another Chinese-speaking country. The advantage of paying for the app is that the full version focuses on everyday situations. These situations include things like: organising a meeting, going to the hospital, planning trips, etc.
The free version includes lessons on how to speak Chinese covering things such as:
Key expressions (organised by theme)
Mandarin Chinese expressions for speaking with locals
This app is available on all platforms.
Baobei Ting Ting (宝贝听听)
There’s nothing better for starting to learn a language than getting an app designed for children (whose level in Chinese is similar to your own). This app is great for beginners since it can teach you how to speak by listening to 100 different stories. It’s free and available on Android and iPhone.
Feed Me (Mandarin)! By Pencilbot
This app (which is also for kids) lets you feed a dragon. Since all the different types of food are pronounced in Chinese, it’s a fun way to perfect your culinary vocabulary. There’s also the vocabulary for numbers and colours which is great for anyone who’s just started learning Chinese. The app only costs a few pounds but it’s only available on Apple devices. It’s perfect for learning Chinese on your own!
This app is aimed at absolute beginners and as you play with the main character, you’ll improve your pronunciation, vocabulary, and comprehension. This fun little Chinese app is available on both Android and iOS.
Discover other fun ways to learn Mandarin!
Using Spaced Repetition to Learn How to Speak Chinese
Based on a system designed in the 19th century by Hermann Ebbinghaus, research on a Spaced Repetition System has proven it to be an invaluable language learning method.
This system is based on Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve and is one of the best methods for learning vocabulary. You’ll find this method being used in university textbooks, on-line courses, and even in e-learning apps.
This learning technique focuses mainly on timing when it comes to remembering words in a foreign language. The ideal time to study new words and vocabulary is at the very moment you’re about to forget them. This is when you need to refresh your memory.
While technology has changed how we learn foreign languages, this simple method is still used as the foundation of an algorithm designed to work out the ideal time for further study.
It’s recommended that you use an app like Anki to fully exploit this learning method. While it’s free for tablet and PC, you have to pay to use it on Apple devices. It’s useful for absolute beginners and will work out exactly when you should be going back over words and vocabulary you’ve already studied.
Finally, it should be noted that spaced repetition isn’t the only method you should be using when it comes to learning a foreign language such as Mandarin Chinese. In fact, there are more students with bad techniques than there are with bad memories. This is the main reason why there are so many of us who studied a language for a number of years at school but somehow don’t remember any of it once we leave.
Learning Chinese At Secondary School
With French, German and Spanish dominating the education scene when it comes to foreign languages, will it ever be the norm to take Chinese at secondary school? After all, we have already discovered how useful it is for business to us Brits?
Today, more and more schools are actually realising the benefits of teaching Mandarin and are adding this subject to the Modern Foreign Languages curriculum.
According to the Telegraph, "Tens of thousands of pupils will be given lessons in Mandarin under a Government-backed drive to introduce “the language of the future” into state schools [with m]ore than 1,200 specialist Mandarin teachers [to] be trained in the subject to give state pupils the same access to classes as their counterparts in private schools".
A spokesperson for the paper confirmed that: “China's growing economy brings huge business opportunities for Britain and it is vital that more of our young people can speak Mandarin to be able to trade in a global market and to develop successful companies.”
Mandarin is mainly only an option in private schools or specialist language colleges, taught as a curriculum subject or, in some cases, as an extra-curricular class. The vision is to get Mandarin on the state system and give students more opportunities to learn a wider range of cultures and languages.
What Does The GCSE Mandarin Curriculum Look Like?
Of course, grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing and pronunciation are taught as standard on this secondary school level course, but if you've wondered what types of themes will be covered on a Chinese GCSE, then see below:
The specification covers three distinct themes. These themes apply to all four question papers.
Students are expected to understand and provide information and opinions about these themes relating to their own experiences and those of other people, including people in countries/communities where Chinese is spoken.
3.1.1 Theme 1: Identity and culture
Theme 1: Identity and culture covers the following four topics with related sub-topics shown as bullet points:
18.104.22.168 Topic 1: Me, my family and friends
Relationships with family and friends
22.214.171.124 Topic 2: Technology in everyday life
126.96.36.199 Topic 3: Free-time activities
Cinema and TV
Food and eating out
188.8.131.52 Topic 4: Customs and festivals in Chinese-speaking countries/communities
3.1.2 Theme 2: Local, national, international and global areas of interest
Theme 2: Local, national, international and global areas of interest covers the following four topics with related sub-topics shown as bullet points:
184.108.40.206 Topic 1: Home, town, neighbourhood and region
220.127.116.11 Topic 2: Social issues
18.104.22.168 Topic 3: Global issues
22.214.171.124 Topic 4: Travel and tourism
3.1.3 Theme 3: Current and future study and employment
Theme 3: Current and future study and employment covers the following four topics:
126.96.36.199 Topic 1: My studies
188.8.131.52 Topic 2: Life at school/college
184.108.40.206 Topic 3: Education post-16
220.127.116.11 Topic 4: Jobs, career choices and ambitions"
Mandarin Courses In The UK
SOAS University of London
SOAS University of London is the world's leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Studying Chinese at the SOAS Language Centre
"The lingua franca of China is known to English speakers as Mandarin, which corresponds to the old term Guanhua, “language of officials”. In the Republican period (1912-49) it was called Guoyu, “national language”, a term still in use in Taiwan and some Chinese communities outside the mainland. In the People’s Republic of China it is called Putonghua, “common language”, and it is spoken by over a billion people, either as a first or second language. It is based on the speech of Beijing and incorporates elements from Northern Chinese dialects that have been accepted into the national modern language. Mandarin is a tonal language with a complex writing system. Besides studying the spoken language, students also do close reading of a variety of texts in the original, selected from the rich literature of over two thousand years."
You can study Chinese at degree level to benefit from mastering Chinese script.
"In addition to its short courses, SOAS Language Centre also offers two full-time accredited programmes: the Certificate/Diploma in Communicative Chinese and the Certificate/Diploma in Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.
Chinese is a vibrant section within SOAS Language Centre and the study of Chinese is a popular choice with language learners from all walks of life. Currently, there are around a dozen teachers of Chinese, all of whom have considerable expertise in the teaching of Chinese as a foreign language."
UCL is one of London's prestigious universities, particularly known for its research excellence. The establishment offers a range of foreign language courses, including full and part-time courses. Below is a course that would suit older pupils due to it being run as evening classes.
"Mandarin Evening Language Classes (All Levels)
20 hours (2 hours per week) 10 weeks Next start date: 7 Oct 2019
Overview - Mandarin (all levels)
These ten-week evening courses are open to everyone and will help you to communicate effectively in Mandarin Chinese.
You'll learn Mandarin as it's spoken in everyday situations and develop your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.
Two-hour classes are held once a week on weekday evenings from 5pm or 7pm, depending on the class/level.
Courses are taught at various levels, from complete beginner to proficiency. You can start at any level (if you meet the entry requirements) and you'll be able to progress to the next level after ten weeks.
These courses are run by the UCL Centre for Languages & International Education (CLIE).
What you'll learn (by level)
- Levels 1 & 1+ - Beginners Mandarin
- Levels 2 & 2+ - Lower Intermediate Mandarin
- Levels 3 & 3+ - Upper Intermediate Mandarin
- Levels 4 & 4+ - Advanced Mandarin
- Levels 5 & 5+ - Post Advanced Mandarin
- Proficiency - Mandarin
Full details of the courses syllabi are available on the CLIE website.
Who these courses are for
CLIE language courses are open to everyone aged 18 years and above. Classes are usually made up of a wide range of ages and professions, with various motivations for learning.
Unless you're a complete beginner, or re-enrolling, you may need to take an assessment so you can join a class at the most appropriate level.
Assessments involve an informal conversation with a tutor and should take no longer than 15 minutes. See the CLIE website for more information.
- Levels 1 & 1+ (beginners) - suitable if you have no previous knowledge of Mandarin
- Levels 2 & 2+ (lower intermediate) - suitable if you've studied Mandarin before, for instance up to GCSE level, and have some knowledge of the main present and past tenses
- Levels 3 & 3+ (upper intermediate) - suitable if you have a good basic knowledge of Mandarin or have studied it at A level some years ago. You should be able to give instructions and describe events, talk about the future and have a basic knowledge of the conditional and subjunctive
- Levels 4 & 4+ (advanced) - suitable if you have a good command of Mandarin and its main grammatical structures or have recently achieved a good grade at A level
- Levels 5 & 5+ (post-advanced) - suitable if you're able to use Mandarin with a high degree of fluency and accuracy
Proficiency - suitable if you're able to use Mandarin fluently and accurately
Dates and enrolment periods
Classes are held once a week on a weekday evening from 5pm to 7pm or 7pm to 9pm, depending on the class/level. You can see the available days and times for different classes when you enrol.
These courses will next run from:
- 7 October to 13 December 2019 (autumn term)
- 13 January to 20 March 2020 (winter term)
- 27 April to 3 July 2020 (summer term)
Enrolment for the autumn term is now open.
Cost and concessions
The standard fees for external students are:
- one term (10 lessons) - £380
- two terms (20 lessons) - £685 (10% discount)
- three terms (30 lessons) - £915 (20% discount)
- Discounts are available for UCL and University of London (UoL) staff, students and alumni when booking two or three terms in advance."
Adult college City Lit offers
"Learn Chinese (Mandarin) at City Lit in London
Chinese (Mandarin) is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Did you know that one in five people all over the world speak Chinese (Mandarin)? That is over 900 million speakers. There's no ignoring the fact that being able to speak Chinese (Mandarin) is going to be a key skill in the future, especialy in business.
At City Lit, we offer a range of Chinese (Mandarin) courses at various levels to take you from a complete beginner to a confident speaker of the language.
Designed to meet the needs of the busy Londoner, we offer courses during the week, weekend, daytime or evening. We also offer intensive courses for those looking to take on an exciting challenge."
Courses range from £40 for the average student to a couple of hundred pounds for a term or more.
Online Mandarin Tuition
You don't just have to rely on attending classes to learn Chinese. There are so many online resources to help you - language apps, online tuition and educational websites...
With the BBC website, for example, you can learn how to speak Mandarin with Chinese classes, courses and audio and video in Chinese, including phrases, Chinese characters and more. Take a look for yourselves here!
We hope that our top tips on finding tuition and our mini language lessons have been useful and have motivated you to dive into leaning Mandarin!
Discover also our best tips for learning Mandarin...
Find a Mandarin Chinese tutor:
- Learn Mandarin London
- Learn Mandarin Leeds
- Learn Mandarin Glasgow