Learning Chinese as a second or a third language may seem an uphill task especially for speakers whose mother tongue originates from the Dravidian or Latin scripts. The secret of learning any language lies in the ability to think in that language, and this can happen only if we include the language in various aspects of our life. The process of learning should not be confined only to the classroom. To make this easier, there are many resources and tools to make learning fun.
There are four aims of learning any language
- Listening and Understanding
The above four objectives are interlinked with each other; correct usage of words along with their pronunciation come as a result of proper listening and understanding a language, reading and writing further enhance a person’s fluency.
Flashcards are an excellent tool. They work on the principle of repeated recall and active learning. They are easy to make, fun to use, portable and make review faster, also they do not cost much.
When it comes to learning new words flashcards are one of the best options. Simply purchase a pack of empty cards, and write down the word on one side followed by the meaning on the other side along with an example sentence. Make sure the content on a flashcard is to the point, avoid making flashcards like a book a notes. The process of making flashcards in itself aids the learning process, but to save time there are a lot of online apps which provide premade flashcards
How to use flashcards effectively? The key point here is repeated recall i.e. review your cards regularly. Online apps like Anki, Skritter come with premade schedules for review. Repeated recall consolidates the memory. If you learn 10 new words today and review them tomorrow, and the the next week and then once every month, you will remember them forever. The is the spaced repetition method which is made easier by flashcards. Beware of rote memorization though by mixing up your cards.
Anki is a flashcards app which is compatible with most devices. It has many premade flashcard decks available for free. It is especially useful when you are waiting in any queue or travelling. Along similar lines we have Skritter which is more useful for learning Chinese characters, since it also lets you practice writing Chinese characters. It has audio files, textbook lists, handwriting recognition. It is free to use for the first week, then it requires a monthly subscription.
Radio. TV, classroom, small group discussions, reading papers in seminars etc. are ways we can listen and learn Chinese. Focus should be on correct pronunciation and accent. Good audio tools for beginners in Chinese should be simple, clear and should not have heavy accents and regional dialects.
You can use Tunein to stream any radio channel from across the world. You can also record and save segments from Chinese radio shows.
Apart from radio, there is a wealth of podcast bases learning available in Chinese like ChineseClass101, ChinesePod and PopupChinese. Other podcasts which you can give a try are The Pastimes of Youth which is a Taiwan talk show, Slow Chinese, Eight minutes reading, FluentU.
While listening to any audio file in Chinese, make sure to take a note of the context in which various words are used, also it may be helpful to note down words which you do not understand so that you can look them up later.
Podcasts, Tv and radio shows are useful for learning a language since we get a glimpse of how the native people speak and use their language. It helps us think in the language directly rather than translating to Chinese from our mother tongue.
Dictionaries are quite handy when we have to quickly look up an unknown word. They can also be very useful for a foreigner staying in China. Online dictionaries are easily accessible and portable. It is always a good idea to store a dictionary offline, especially an English to Chinese dictionary. Some online resources for dictionaries are Pleco, MDBG, Zdic and Nciku
Firefox Perakun for Firefox and Chrome Zhongwen for Chrome are some Chinese annotators. They translate Chinese text on any website when you move your cursor over it. It is useful for learning new Chinese sentences and can quickly give you information about new words. Another invaluable tool to have with you on your phone.
When you are new to learning a new language, reading may seem oldschool and cumbersome. To make it fun you can pick up books which have a simpler language and are illustrated. While reading you can highlight parts for review, and make notes in the margins. Active reading is often the best way to learn.
Some books for beginners to the Chinese language are Chinese and English nursery rhymes by Faye Lynn Wu, The story of Mulan by Sela Gu, The Apple tree by Jane Thai, Wild Grass by Lu Xun.
You can also take book recommendations from native Chinese speakers and bookstores in China.
In conclusion, Chinese can be made fun if we use it actively in different ways. Learning begins with us and how motivated we are to include a new language in various spheres of our life.