Whether you enroll in a Chinese language class, or you teach yourself Chinese, you might want to know these 9 secrets to successfully learning Chinese. Because these powerful tips will give you an edge in speed, efficiency and your ability to recall. I pushed myself to learn Chinese in only a few months, and while working a taxing, full-time job (which had nothing to do with Chinese).
Each one of them will increase your chances of learning (and even mastering) the Chinese language.
How do I know?
Because I went from zero to being able to carry a conversation - in less than four months...and only a single hour at most per day.
Yes, it's possible to learn Chinese while you are working a full-time job. I did it, and I wasn't even in China at the time.
Here are the secrets:
Get clear about why you want to learn Chinese. Before you take a Chinese language class - ask yourself why? Take time to get clear about what you want and you'll find the perfect Chinese language course tailored to your needs.
Do you want to be able to speak with your girlfriend and her friends? Do you want to be able to read and write letters to her in Chinese? Will you be doing business in China? And do you need to read contracts or agreements? Or do you just want to socialize with clients and suppliers? Or do you want to open a whole new world of Chinese literature?
For me, I want to speak and understand what people were saying. I want to understand my girlfriend on a much deeper level. I also want to be able to talk to her friends and family - and to understand what they say!
“A thousand teachers;
a thousand methods.”
-Ancient Chinese Proverb
So make sure you select a Chinese language class that matches your needs.
Practice every day. This is KEY. When you are looking at the cost of Chinese language classes - remember the biggest cost is the time you will commit to studying Chinese. Carve out a block of time in your schedule each day and stick to it.
Well, okay...I admit it! I took the occasional weekend off.
But when I skipped a day or two, the next day was always a review of old lessons. I spent my Mondays re-learning Friday's forgotten lessons. And I still somehow learned Chinese quickly - so you can too!
When I made an effort each & every day, I built up an unstoppable momentum that made it easier to learn - and to RETAIN the lessons.
Practicing is easy if you have a Chinese girlfriend, or if you live in China. If you are outside of China, and you don't have any Chinese friends, make some!
There are plenty of places online where you can chat. One popular place is LiveMocha.
Many people in China want to improve their English. It's easy to find friendly students who are willing to help you practice Chinese if you help them practice English in return.
The main thing is that you practice each day. Preferably with someone else (until someone invents a mirror that critiques you).
“If you leave your
work for one day, you'll be out of practice for three.”
-Ancient Chinese Proverb
You will look a bit foolish and sound silly only to those people who don't understand Chinese, or your desire to learn.
I sure got some weird looks as I would speak Chinese while commuting to work each day. Hey, that was way back before Bluetooth was popular. Now EVERYONE walks down the street talking to themselves - so get out there and talk!
(And if the embarrassment is really too much, wear a Bluetooth headset. Or pretend to be talking on your mobile.)
Learn the local accent. Sure, everyone in China speaks Mandarin. That's the common language.
What they don't tell you when you sign up for a Chinese course is that there are more than 40 separate languages spoken in China.
What they don't tell you when you sign up for a Chinese language class is that there are more than 40 separate languages spoken in China. And they all sound different. China is HUGE!
Not to mention that Mandarin spoken in Beijing has a different accent than Mandarin in Shanghai. It's like comparing a deep Texan drawl with the Queen's British English.
Even though it's the SAME language, someone from Dripping Springs, Texas might not understand a single word from the mouth of someone in Giggleswick, North Yorkshire. Yet they both speak English!
It's hard to understand a thick accent. Although the Queen's English is proper - as is the Mandarin of Beijing - if you adopt the local accent into your speech you will be more quickly understood and accepted.
If your Chinese girlfriend is from the south, it's way better if you practice with other people from the south. Better yet - find a teacher from that same region.
If you aren't sure that you can really commit at least 30 minutes a day...(one hour is better) than you'll be on the slow boat to China. To put yourself in the fast lane, make sure you give yourself time. Every Chinese language class requires a time commitment. Especially the do-it-yourself Chinese language classes.
For me, I am a visual person. I need to learn visually.
But, let's face it, I care way more about learning to speak and listen in Chinese instead of reading and writing.
I settled on an audio program that I could listen to during my commute. It was perfect. Unlike most audio programs out there, this one had enough repetition that I remembered the Chinese lessons easily!
Are the hours fixed or flexible? Is it online? In person? Or a learn at your own pace self study program?
What about the style? Are you better learning visually or by listening? Make sure you select the format that works best with your schedule, your style and your mode of learning.
Motivate yourself. Why are you taking a Chinese language class in the first place? Are you really motivated to bring all your persistence, diligence and stick-to-itiveness to the table? You will need plenty of self-discipline to stay the course, especially if you decide to teach yourself Chinese.
I worked in China for six months and had a company-supplied translator who took care of everything. So I never felt any motivation to learn Chinese.
Then I met my Chinese girlfriend - WOW - huge, instant, compelling motivation!
Being head over heels in love can motivate you to move mountains. And I was ready to do anything to be able to understand her more clearly. Make sure that you are properly motivated before you fork over the tuition for any Chinese language class.
It's a big commitment.
If you're just occasionally doing business in China, maybe you only need a quick brush up course on basic Mandarin.
Be very cautious about any Chinese course that starts out by teaching you pinyin (pin yin is a system for expressing Chinese characters using English alphabet letters).
If your main objective is to learn how to input Chinese characters on a computer, then YES, it's crucial to learn Pinyin immediately.
Otherwise, especially if your focus is spoken conversational Mandarin - stay away from the pinyin at first!
Until I dropped the pinyin and focused on mimicking the sounds of the words, I got nowhere fast. The learning curve was too steep and the Pinyin words were not pronounced the way I expected them to be...CONFUSING!
My dear friend Jack, was engaged to a Chinese woman. He was frantically trying to learn Chinese because he was preparing for a trip to China to meet his future in-laws.
No one understands a word I say. I'm not cut out for this!
Jack came to me for advice. He was really struggling and thought that he wasn't meant to learn Chinese. “The words just aren't coming naturally! No one understands a word I say. I'm not cut out for this.” Jack was exasperated.
Jack was using the same Chinese language course that I used successfully. So why wasn't it working for him? I asked Jack how he was using the course.
It turns out Jack was diligently studying each day. He was committed and disciplined.
But I was shocked to hear that in addition to listening to the Chinese audio program, Jack was looking up each new word in a Chinese dictionary and writing out the Pinyin over and over to help him memorize it.
This only confused him, as it was very difficult for him to pronounce the Pinyin as a Chinese speaker would. He couldn't help but see the Pinyin as regular English words! His pronunciation was way off point!
Worse yet, Jack wouldn't listen to the next lesson until he had memorized all the Pinyin. That means he listens even less frequently to the lessons. Making it even harder for him to get the pronunciation down.
I begged Jack to drop the Pinyin entirely. Besides how would that help him speak to his in-laws!?
As soon as Jack focused on listening and speaking practice, his pronunciation improved naturally.
The great thing is that once you understand the spoken words enough to hold simple conversations, and THEN you see the pinyin representation of what you learned...it just clicks. Then the Pinyin comes naturally - with no extra effort.
So leverage your time, energy and cash - check out the curriculum before you buy or sign up for a Chinese language class. Make sure it's in sync with your objectives.
Pitfall #2 - Being “tone deaf”. Each Mandarin Chinese word has a musical lilt to it - and there are four different ways to “sing” each word.
The second main reason why people give up learning Chinese is because of these tones.Be wary of how the Chinese language class teaches the four Mandarin Chinese tones. Any program that spends an undue amount of time on the use of symbols to represent the tones could end up frustrating you.
In my experience, the best way to learn the tones is by listening carefully, mimicking and even impersonating what you hear.
Many Chinese language students get stuck when learning the tones, because they aren't used to listening for the subtle differences in intonation.
Just keep practicing. You will make mistakes, but keep moving through them.
What they don't tell you in your Chinese language class, is that even if you flub a tone and say the wrong word...most Chinese people will understand your meaning by the context of the conversation.
So go boldly forth and make mistakes - even if you are tone deaf!
is a treasure
which accompanies its owner everywhere.”
-Ancient Chinese proverb
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