There are not many hobbies in life harder than learning a new language. This difficulty is multiplied when trying to learn a language completely as abstract as Chinese.
For most westerners, just looking at a paragraph of Chinese characters is terrifying. The sheer thought of trying to memorise enough characters to read and write in basic Chinese is discouraging, if not outright terrifying!
Yet many people still manage to conquer this language. Walk around in any major Chinese speaking city such as Taipei or Shanghai and you will find foreigners speaking fluent Mandarin to the Chinese locals.
So how did they overcome the challenges of Mandarin Chinese’s complex characters, Pinyin and tone structure?
#Learning Mandarin Chinese doesn’t have to be difficult
Learning Chinese isn’t simply about clocking up the hours as quickly as possible. Ask anyone who’s successfully learnt Chinese and they will most likely tell you they tried many different methods before finally finding the right one.
Once they finally found the method that worked for them, they will preach its effectiveness to anyone who asks them. Spending time to find the right methods for you will save you time, effort and a lot of frustration in long run.
#How to learn Chinese the right way
There is no single best way to learn Chinese. Everyone has personal strengths, weaknesses and goals that makes their language learning journey unique. Some may learn mandarin from watching Chinese movies, or reading Chinese news articles or by pure immersion from living in Taiwan or China.
However there are specific techniques for learning Mandarin Chinese that are used in almost every successful case. As a new language learner, you should study these technique and replicate them to improve your chances of success.
Focus on important areas
If you try to learn everything all at once you won’t know where to start. Find out and specify your Mandarin Chinese language goals. Is it to speak to your Chinese girlfriend, boost your career perspectives, or just a casual hobby? Whatever your particular goals are will dictate what you should focus your attention on.
If you want to be able to text that Chinese girl you met while travelling in Asia, then you’ll need to focus your attention on learning and memorising Chinese characters before perfecting your tonal pronunciation. If you want to be able to order a “large hot latte with no sugar” (wǒ yào dà bēi rè ná tiě wú táng) at a Starbucks cafe in Taipei, then you’ll need to focus on speaking with correct pronunciation.
Although a well-known topic in memorisation, spaced repetition doesn’t get the attention it deserves. To commit new information to our long-term memory we need a certain amount of brain strain on that topic at varying times. Optimising the space in-between your sessions will result in the most effective memorisation.
This doesn’t just include looking at traditional or simplified Chinese character flashcards, but also trying to remember Chinese words, remember correct tones and remember complete phrases. But for those who are placing importance on learning Chinese characters, then spaced flash card repetition will be your best friend.
Anki is a great free resource for this kind of stuff. Setup custom flash cards and plan your Mandarin Chinese study sessions the right way. Check it out here.
Mandarin Blueprint has Chinese courses specifically designed for you to learn, understand, and remember new vocabulary.
One of languages most important memory techniques is mnemonics. It’s a lot easier for English speakers learning French or Spanish than Chinese because we can associate new vocabulary with existing knowledge – such as letters of the alphabet or even complete words. For example repetition in French is répétition.
Because we cannot easily associate Chinese sounds or characters to English we need to create special techniques. This is done by coming up with clever ways to associate Chinese characters or sounds to English words.
Luckily this area of Chinese learning has been explored in depth and there are a great many resources on the web. A good starting resource are the freely available Chinese mnemonics images on Pinterest.
The struggle the brain goes through when trying to remember something is exactly what builds our brain schemas and reinforces them into our long-term memory. Similarly related to spaced repetition, recalling your newly learned Chinese language skills in the same setting you’ll use them is especially effective.
Practicing speaking Chinese in a conversation, reading a Chinese news article and writing (texting) in real-life settings is what forces our brain to scour the tonnes of available information for the important bits. Do this enough times and you’ll strengthen the neural connections to become fluent in Chinese.
It’s cliche to say but having fun while learning Mandarin Chinese is the only way keep at it. Learning a language is like running a marathon rather than a sprint. If exhaust your effort at the beginning of your journey you’ll quit before you ever get there.
One great way to enjoy learning Chinese is by talking to other language learners. The TaiwanMe Chinese Learning Forum is a great free resource to ask questions and get answers from other Chinese language learners and native speakers.
Are you interested in studying Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan? Have a look at the TaiwanMe Forum for a list of available long and short courses here.
#Are you learning Chinese?
Learn more about the Mandarin Blueprint method.
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