We all like the idea of learning another language, particularly one as useful, visually and audibly distinct as Chinese. In one and a half years I’ve gone from 0 to near fluent and learned a lot of things since that could have made me learn even faster. So here is my guide to get competent in mandarin in no time at all.
Live in China
Learning a language works best by studying a little every day. This slow, continuous study progressively builds your vocabulary and knowledge and grows over a steady period of time. Living in China allows you to over here and practice small chunks of study over and over again by simply using required Chinese for everyday situations in your average day. This constantly causes your brain to review your Chinese memory banks and enables it to take note of what situation they are to be correctly used in. Thus, greatly increasing the amount of Chinese study you can retain.
Use your smart phone
Building on the regular study concept; downloading relevant apps and studying on the go mean that you can study wherever and whenever is convenient. If you are living in China or studying Chinese material, then downloading a decent dictionary is essential, Smartphone screens enable you to look up the character by writing it. Unlike the English alphabet word system Chinese words comprising of one or two characters give no hint to how to correctly pronounce them. By using your smartphone you can manually write the character on screen and look up both its definition and how to speak it correctly using the correct tone.
So, upon looking at a new character, of which there are thousands! If you don’t even know how to even say the word by looking at the character, then how can you possibly learn it!? Flashcards of course! Used by the Chinese themselves, repetitively studying from flashcards is a great way to learn fast. Nowadays, using flashcards is made so much easier by smartphone flashcard applications, so that you can practice on the go.
I use the ‘train Chinese‘ app ( www.trainchinese.com) that merges a dictionary with flashcards. Every time I studied a new collection of words from one of my textbooks I added them one by one to my virtual set of flashcards grouped by chapter in my smartphone dictionary. Likewise, everytime I encountered a character at school or on the street that I didn’t recognise (which happened frequently!) I added them to my flashcard pile and then regularly studied it through reading, guessing and through the multiple choice game mode. As time went on, I progressively memorised and discarded more and more of these flashcards that I have now completely memorised. Last time I check I found I had mastered over 5000 new words! This is a great way to learn as you only learn the words that you use and thus your chances of memorising what you look at is greatly increased.
Go out drinking
No I am not saying that beer has any beneficial stimulus on the human brains ability to learn and if you don’t enjoy an occasional beer then im sure that going out for a tea or coffee is just as good. The point im making here is that a language requires practice and a common factor stopping us from practicing our new language is the shyness and inhibition caused from the feeling that our skills are too poor embarrassing to showcase to others. Practice only makes us better and by being in a relaxing environment such as in a bar with friends then you are more likely to have a go at saying and trying newly learned words and phrases. When I first came to china and frequented the local nightclubs I soon realised that most people asked the same basic 5 or 6 questions:
“What’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“How old are you?”
“Can you speak Chinese?”
“What is your job?”
“Do you like China?”
In no time at all I had these set questions and their respective answers nailed and could then easily build upon these important phrases whilst at the same time making new friends and having a great time.
Watch movies & listen to the radio
Building upon the concept of immersion. Watching movies and listening to the radio are a great way to revise and practice your reading and listening abilities. Not only this, but Chinese Kungfu movies are entertaining to watch and in recognising the occasional word said you will find that your experience is much more enjoyable than reading poorly translated English subtitles.
In short, the best way to quickly learn Chinese is to embrace it. If you listen to Chinese radio, view your Chinese phone apps and socialise using all the Chinese that you know then you have created an environment optimally conducive to learning Chinese and thus enabled you to learn Chinese as quickly as you possibly can. Which surprisingly to become semi fluent can be no time at all!
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