Learning a new language is a wonderful yet scary thing to do. It will not only provide you with new skills but open the door to a whole new culture. Over the last few years, trendy languages to learn are popping up, one of these is Chinese. If you are reading this article you’ve probably decide to take the step to learn Chinese. But where can you start? The best way to learn Chinese:
Why learn Chinese?
I think we need to start with the most important question, why learn Chinese? Just be aware that for the purpose of this article when I say ‘Chinese’, I am referring to Mandarin Chinese. That you may also know as “普通话”(Pu3 tong1 hua4), which literally translates into “common tongue”. It is the worlds most spoken language! If that isn’t enough to convince you I don’t know what is!
The Benefits of learning Chinese?
There are many benefits to when we learn Chinese, well any language! I’ve already mentioned the main one but here they are broken down.
1-China is the most widely spoken language in the world
Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world with approximately 14% of the global population speaking Chinese. Chinese is not just helpful in China. Mandarin is spoken in countries such as Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, Philippines and even Mongolia. By learning to speak Chinese it doesn’t just limit you to China!
2-Introduces you to a whole new culture
Chinese history and culture is usually portrayed as one the richest in the world. With some of the oldest forms of culture, for example writing, who can argue that learning Chinese is not important! China is renowned for it’s own characteristic art forms, from calligraphy to novels. It created some of the worlds greatest inventions, such as paper. By learning Chinese, you will be introduced to all of this. Although learning any language will open the doors to a new culture, this is especially true in China. You see, when you learn writing, Chinese history is intertwined with the meanings. Most learners will find it easier to learn the characters by also focusing on the history. But that’s just the past. China has rich cultural legacies that can still be experienced today. Every province in China has its own local customs, you could spend your whole life travelling China and still not experience it all.
3- Connects you with others, improves your career, and helps when travelling
In a globalized world everything comes down to connections. Before we would only connect with those in close proximity but now we are able to connect and make friends worldwide. That is, if we can communicate. By learning Chinese, you will be able to create more links worldwide and make friends you wouldn’t otherwise make. It can also vastly improve your career prospect as many businesses trade with China. On top of this if you love travelling especially in Asia, learning Chinese is the way to go. Chinese is considered the Lingua Franca in Asia. The best way to travel is by connecting to the locals. If this isn’t enough to convince you, think with your stomach. Most Chinese take-away places abroad are just a bad imitation of Chinese food, aka NOT Chinese food at all! By learning Chinese, you will be able to understand the instructions of a real Chinese recipe and cook authentic Chinese food!
4-It improves your brain and gives you new skills
A continuation from our previous points. Surrounding yourself with good people brings a positive impact in your life. There have been plenty of social and neurological studies that prove learning a new language alters your brain (in a good way). It makes you a more open minded person that is able to make better decisions. Learning a new language has a positive ripple effect, it provides you with important 21st century skills.
Since Chinese is a character based language, studies have shown that Mandarin speakers use both sides of their brains! Since the Chinese writing system is based on pictograms it can also help you to improve your artistic skills. This is because to write characters it involves different strokes; I guess similar to painting. You can take this further with calligraphy, which is its own art form. You will also find it improves your breathing and helps you relax!
Common misconception: Chinese is too difficult!
After reading all the reasons to learn Chinese you might still be apprehensive. Let me guess you’ve been told Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn? Googling ‘learn Chinese’ probably hasn’t helped either as most articles mention this.
But let me let you in on a little secret…
Chinese is actually not that difficult to learn! Here’s why:
Chinese grammar is actually not that hard. In comparison to Latin based languages it’s super easy! To top it all off on how easy it is, Chinese language does not have different forms based on gender, or singular/plural. If we compare Chinese to English, you will find it’s actually quite similar. For example, a simple Chinese sentence structure consists of a subject, a predicate and an object.
e.g. I eat meat.
我 Wo3 (I) 吃chi1 (eat) 肉rou4 (meat).
The only difference I can think of that may cause confusion is the measure words. In Chinese there are many different kinds of measure words for different kinds of things, I guess it’s similar to how we would say ‘a piece of paper’. But even with this you don’t have to worry as:
1-the measure word 个 ge4 can be used for most things. Although really you should be trying to use the correct words!
2-The way measure words are arranged makes total sense! Objects of the same kind or with similar characteristics use the same measure words. For instance, the measure word张 zhang3 (piece). It’s used for 纸 zhi3 (paper), 照片 zhao4pian4 (photo), 画儿 hua4r (painting), etc. You will find these are all thin, flat paper items.
The ‘scary’ Characters
I guess the biggest difference between the two languages that scares a lot of new learners away is the Characters. But even this is not as hard as it seems. Most characters are designed in a way that they look like the thing they are mentioning. Therefore, you can often guess what it means. By learning about Chinese history and culture you will be able to even further understand them more. But without dwelling too much on the history I have an example that shows how ration characters are. Hence why they are easy to learn. The character mu4 木 means a tree or wood. If you combine two of these characters lin4林, means woods. Combine three and can you guess what it means? It makes sen1森, meaning a large forest.
Pronunciation aka the tones!
Pronunciation is not as big a problem as people might have you believe. The 4 tones may seem difficult at the start but after just a few weeks of practice you won’t even second guess it! To find out how to improve the tone and quality of your speaking voice. click here!
Best way to learn Chinese
Now that you’ve realized Chinese is not that hard you might be wondering where to start. Although I took classes at a school it involved a lot of time and now as I continue to improve my Chinese I’ve come to rely on online tools. So I thought I could introduce some effective ways to learn Chinese online.
Learn Chinese online free
When trying to find resources to learn Chinese you might get information overload! There’s so much available that you don’t really know where to start, so here are my top favourites.
Videos, Films, and TV
The reason why I ended up in China was actually because of TV dramas! I liked Korean dramas so much that I decided I would learn an Asian language. I wanted to learn Korean but this was not available at my university. I took a Chinese class and loved it! Watching Chinese films helped me to improve my Chinese and also get to know Chinese customs without coming to China. By watching TV shows you’ll be exposed to new characters and vocabulary you might not have heard before. For example, slang words helping you to sound like a native speaker. If I have one suggestion though, stay away from comedies as a new learner as it will have lots of cultural puns you might not get. My favorite place to watch films and dramas is Dramafever as they have subtitles to top Chinese shows.
When it comes to audiobooks you can find a range of topics. From helpful tips on how to learn Chinese, to audios of Chinese books, to Chinese talk shows! I suggest focusing on the podcasts that teach basic skills if you are a new learner and then go from there and find ones that match your interest. You can find podcasts online at Chinese podcats. Here are some tips about Chinese listening practice. Enjoy them.
Once you have some basic Chinese you will be surprised by how much you can actually understand. My number one suggestion is to pick the genre that you love the most. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting to learn something new while enjoying what you’re doing. You might want to check out the website Sing Chinese songs.
Make a trip to China
Okay, not everyone can do this but immersion is the way to go. If you can dedicate some holidays to travel to China, then I highly encourage it. What better way to immerse yourself in the Mandarin language than a journey to its native land!
Since we mentioned how easy Chinese grammar can be you might think you don’t need to focus on this. Sorry to disappoint but you do. The good thing is there are plenty of resources online that focus on just this area. I like using the website ‘learn with Oliver’ as it will show you the structure of the word and give grammatical examples. You can also create an account and save these. You can also find lots of videos based on grammar or games that are often multiple choice based to help you practice.
This can be done in several ways, by downloading ebooks, reading articles from Chinese sources, or downloading Chinese textbooks. My other suggestion is the app from Chairman’s Bao. I’ve mentioned it a few times in other articles. But it’s my favorite reading resource as they have HSK level based short articles and cool in app features.
Learning to write is very important. You can practice easily just on your phone. By buying character books or even by practicing calligraphy. I also suggest the website HanziCraft. When learning to write in Chinese it’s very important to get the stroke order correct, this software will help you with that!
If you have children aged 5 to 12 years old and would like a real class with a native speaker look no further. Lingo Bus provides 25 minute classes and has all the other resources I mentioned above (minus the trip to China, sorry)! All their users get access to videos cherry picked for them. Articles are published weekly with new tips to improve language skills. Recently a library and flashcard function has been added. The flashcard function lets students keep track of characters they need to learn, improving their writing. The library is filled with top books and contains personalized features for the best user experience. Users can decide to turn the book into an audiobook or remove pinyin from the text. If that’s not enough to convince you, your first class is free! Yes free!
So as you can see learning Chinese couldn’t be easier! Especially now when there are so many dedicated tools and resources to help you. I hope these resources will help you with your language journey.
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