Many audiences often ask me: Hey Jing, how to learn Chinese fast?
Questions like this tells me that there are some misconceptions about learning a language. Since there are too many “fast-food” language-learning advertisements around us, we are easily misguided into believing that learning a new language can`t be easier and faster. I can confidently say that learning Chinese as a second language is not a three or five-day thing. Of course, it is not considered mastery if you just know “你好(nǐ hǎo)”, “谢谢(xiè xie)” and “我很好(wǒ hěn hǎo)”. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t be afraid of learning Mandarin Chinese. There are ways to make your learning more efficient and faster through a more logical method.Here are nice tips that will help you how to learn Chinese fast.
1. Do basic research
There is a Chinese saying, “磨刀不误砍柴工”, which means “the more the preparation, the faster work gets done.” To begin with, you need to do some basic research about your target language, Mandarin Chinese. There are thousands of articles and videos that introduce the Chinese language. You should read and view these to know the language’s general history and how it works. Several questions that could arise are:
Why are there traditional and simplified Chinese characters?
Which one should I learn?
Why are Chinese characters made of strokes and not letters? What is the history behind this?
What is the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese?
Are 汉语(hànyǔ), 中文(zhōngwén) and 普通话(pǔtōnghuà) the same?
What is your learning goal?
How long would you like to spend on learning this language?
During your research, you may find the answers to these questions and decide the right and suitable way to go to learn the language.
2. Lay a solid foundation
I`m often asked if learners can just skip the boring beginning part and learn the “useful” and “practical” conversation part. Well, if you are in a hurry and just want to grab several basic greetings to warm up the meeting with Chinese people, then yes, you can just imitate some greetings directly. However, these greetings won`t take you far. If you are a serious learner who wants to have a longer and more meaningful conversation with Chinese people, take some language tests, or live in China, a solid foundation of the Chinese language will make your learning easier and give you fewer obstacles. In other words, you can learn Chinese faster and better. All in all, a good beginning is half the battle.
So, what the is the foundation of Chinese? The first foundation should be the Pinyin system. It is definitely necessary and never too late to make sure your pronunciation is correct, but how? The answer is to start from the basics, such as the tone, the final, the initial, the spelling rules, etc. I wrote a complete pronunciation guide which should give you a general idea about how to best learn Chinese pronunciation. After this stage, you can spell all pronunciation of Chinese characters out automatically with no hesitation. Good pronunciation will make your communication with Chinese people more smooth without any misunderstandings when speaking.
Besides pronunciation, another foundation is learning Chinese characters. You may wonder why Chinese characters are necessary. Are they worth learning? Yes, you can learn some basic sentences even if you don`t know any Chinese characters. But with that method, you need to make sure you have a very good memory and be immersed in an everyday Chinese speaking environment, so that you will not forget the content you learned through listening and repeating. But without a doubt, you will definitely lose the ability to read and distinguish many Chinese homonyms. Without knowing Chinese characters, you have no way to be an advanced or even an intermediate learner. If you learn simple characters from the beginning, you may find it`s not that difficult to learn especially when you get past the first stage. There are four main Chinese Characters types, and learning the basic characters stroke by stroke will lay a good foundation and benefit your future learning.
3. Learn the sentence order
Whenever we speak of knowledge points, grammar comes to our minds immediately. It seems there are many grammar points to learn during the whole language learning process. However, as I always claim, Chinese grammar is really not as difficult as you think. We don`t even need to change the tense and gender in Chinese, unlike in other languages. Using English speakers as an example, you should know the difference between English and Chinese first, then this can give you a better overview of the target language. And if you have learned some rules on the periods of time, you can summarize most of the grammar points into one sentence structure:
Subject + time preposition + Time + location preposition + Location (from the biggest to the smallest) + how (can be adverb or a phrase containing a preposition.) + Verb + time duration + indirect object + Object
With this structure, you can solve many Chinese grammar problems. The process you learn to summarize those grammar points is the key to link them together and make a whole knowledge net. What you need to do is put the new point in the right position of the grammar net.
4. Find a study buddy or buddies
“A professional Chinese tutor can save you quite a lot of time if your goal is to learn Chinese fast, primarily because a Chinese tutor can offer you one-on-one instruction that is tailored to meet your specific needs and abilities.” At your own convenience, you can choose an online or an offline Chinese school. Online learning is quite convenient for learners who have requirements about time and place. No matter where you are, you can start to learn anytime. Without the limitation of time and place, offline local language school is your best choice. Face to face communication can boost your passion for this language and make you more Chinese speaking friends. All in all, a professional tutor can save you lots of time to achieve your goal.
5. Immersion learning: make your own language environment
Language is a kind of communication tool. If you don`t use it, you will obviously lose it. Sometimes, no letting-down in your learning is also a sign of progress. Therefore, we need to keep activating our senses for reading, listening, speaking, and writing. Find your own way to make an environment for the Chinese language and immerse yourself in it.
“Living in” the target language is the ideal way to acquire it amazingly fast. It pushes you to keep involving yourself fully with the language. Thus, the best way is to try to live in China for a period of time, if you can. Of course, don`t just be with non-Chinese speakers everyday. Make more Chinese-speaking friends! Those everyday first-hand local Chinese language terms and sayings are not found in the textbook.
But how about if you can`t be in China? Then you`re lucky if you happen to have Chinese speaking family-members, classmates, colleagues, or neighbors around you. It`s very easy to develop a Chinese-speaking environment. I know some of you are embarrassed to trouble others, but what you can do is call all the Chinese learners of your community together and make a Chinese corner. You can then all learn together! Or you can also find someone to learn with as your language partner.
As the saying goes, “interest is the best teacher”. Even light-hearted activities can also help you immerse in the language. You can watch Chinese TV series, Chinese movies, or listen to Chinese songs. You can enjoy the content and learn the language at the same time. This method works all the time.