Learning languages can be a struggle if you don’t employ the right methods. Today I’m going to share with you 5 hacks for learning Mandarin as a beginner.
1. For the first couple of months focus on Pinyin and listening
Pinyin is the romanized form of Chinese (click here to find out more). Pinyin is relatively simple and can be learned quite quickly! As well as learning to read pinyin, you should also be listening to a lot of Chinese.
There is absolutely no point in starting to learn characters when you don’t even have a vocabulary yet! Characters are way easier to learn if you have something meaningful (i.e. words) to connect them to.
You should focus on listening to dialogues and other content while reading along in Pinyin. Just make sure you find resources that have Pinyin (most beginner materials do!) and good quality audio.
After spending some time doing this, you’ll likely become more and more excited to tackle characters. The best part is that during this process you will have built up a decent vocabulary and can now start learning the characters for the words you have already learned.
2. When you do start learning the characters, study them every day
The second hack is to study the characters every single day. You should ideally be putting 45 minutes into studying the characters every single day. This may be difficult for some busy people so try for 30 minutes at least.
Chinese characters have to be memorized, there’s no other way. The good news is that there are some great memorization techniques you can use to quickly and efficiently learn lots of characters.
For example, have you ever heard of spaced repetition? If not, check out this link. In my opinion, using spaced repetition is the best method for memorizing Chinese characters.
I’m not going to go into the details of how spaced repetition works (there is a lot more information about this in our e-book) but I would suggest you to download an app called ‘Anki’. Anki is a flashcard app that you can use on your computer or phone and it makes use of the spaced repetition algorithm to help you memorise information (in your case, Chinese characters).
There are various ways to use Anki in conjunction with other apps for a potent system of accelerated character memorization. Once again, I have outlined how this works in our e-book.
Once you have learned your first 1000 characters, you will have a great base on which to build further. After this point, things will get a lot easier as well as you start to recognise similar patterns in the new characters that you learn.
3. Pay attention to language patterns
Often times bad textbooks will try to bombard you with complex grammar and explanations of why things are the way they are. Don’t pay too much attention to this. Just try to focus on the patterns that are present in the Chinese language.
Once your brain has grown accustomed to these, stringing sentences together and understanding complex speech becomes easy.
Once you have learned a number of patterns, you will be able to use them as your foundation on top of which to build sentences.
So, how do you focus on patterns? Well, you should expose yourself to a lot of Chinese – be it spoken or written, it doesn’t matter. If you read enough and listen enough, you will begin to pick up on these patterns.
4. Find interesting things to read
Hack number four is to find interesting things to read in Chinese. The key word here is interesting. If what you’re reading isn’t interesting to you, chances are you’re not going to learn anything from it!
Also, read a lot. Like, a lot!
Reading is such a good exercise in language learning. In fact, famous Polyglot Kato Lomb claims to have learned most languages she speaks predominantly through reading.
There are two techniques you can use when reading in Chinese. One is called ‘extensive reading’. Extensive reading is the act of reading a lot of material without worrying too much about looking up words. Basically, you want to be reading material that is accessible to you (in other words, doesn’t contain too many unknown characters/words) and a lot of it.
The second technique is called ‘intensive reading’. Intensive reading, in contrast to extensive reading, is where you read things are above your level (i.e. contain a fair amount of unknown words/characters) and spend time looking up words you don’t understand in order to improve your vocabulary and challenge yourself with higher level material.
You should, ideally, be incorporating both of these techniques when reading in Chinese.
5. Focus on listening to engaging material
Whether you’re reading in Chinese or listening to Chinese, the same rule applies – the content should be interesting to you!
There are plenty or fantastic listening resources out there. It’s just about choosing the one that suits you and your own interests. Lots of books will have an audiobook version that you can listen to so if you find a novel that looks intriguing maybe try out the audiobook for listening practice.
Podcasts are another fantastic listening resource. ChinesePod are the leaders in producing high-quality Chinese language podcasts. Among Chinesepod’s thousands of podcasts, you’re bound to find many that interest you.
Listening is a really important language learning activity as it allows your brain to get used to all the strange new sounds of a language.
Listening to a lot of Chinese is the only way you’re going to be able to understand native speakers when they talk to you.
I am very passionate about language learning ‘hacks’, tips and tricks and I really do believe that by employing the correct techniques one can learn any language to fluency in a reasonable amount of time. These ‘hacks’ I’ve shared with you above are a great starting point for any new student of Mandarin Chinese.
I would also like to invite you to check out a guest post I wrote, entitled How to Overcome the 8 Painful Mistakes in Learning Mandarin for Unfamiliar China – an awesome new website about unraveling the mysteries of China.
I hope you found this post useful! If so, please share it with your friends on Twitter and Facebook below and also, leave a comment.