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HOW TO LEARN MANDARIN; A BEGINNER’S GUIDE
14 Jan 2019

How to Learn Mandarin; A Beginner’s Guide

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The Chinese language comprises a wide variety of diverse dialects which are spoken all over China. They belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese language is also one of the official languages of the United Nation. Among all the Chinese language dialects – Mandarin, Shanghainese, Southern Min and Cantonese are the most common varieties spoken by Chinese natives.

When a small child utters a word without understanding eg. Pa, ma, da etc. When he says pa, the father thinks that the child is addressing him and he becomes happy, the child recognizes this happiness and continues uttering the word, hence conditioning takes place. After several repetitions meaningless sounds gain meaning, they gain meaning both to the producer and listener. Language is a matter of habit formation. Habit is formed through conditioning. Similarly learning the Chinese language should come as a habit, the student to aim to think in the Chinese language itself.

Mandarin also known as Standard Chinese is an easier version of traditional Chinese. You can begin learning Mandarin Chinese by following the guide and tips below.

1. Learn Chinese online, Gather all resources.

One of the best way to learn Mandarin is to subscribe to an online learning course. There are also many apps available which provide these services for free. A few such sites are Coursera.org and Duolingo.

Collect enough material to learn all the various aspects of the Chinese language such as vocabulary, writing Chinese characters and spoken Chinese. You can buy books which give an introduction to basics of Mandarin.

Set goals and make a timetable. Ideally a study plan should devote equal amount of time to all the components of the Chinese language.

Quick tip: a new language may seem overwhelming to learn initially, to make it easier catch a buddy to study with.

2. Mandarin tones and Pinyin pronunciation System

Mandarin is a tonal language which means that the meaning of a word changes based on the way it is pronounced. Hence the first step to learn Mandarin is to start with the four mandarin tones which are:

  1. Tone 1: Level tone (ping)
  2. Tone 2: Rising tone (shang)
  3. Tone 3: Departing tone (qu)
  4. Tone 4: Stop-Final Tone (ru)

These tones form a fundamental part of learning mandarin hence focus on their correct pronunciation and usage. You can check out Youtube tutorials, podcasts and audio files and above all practice, practice, practice. Once you get the basics right, further learning will be much easier.

Learn how to speak Chinese accurately by using the Pinyin chart. The Pinyin chart is Romanized version of writing Chinese language. This is a very handy tool for beginners to the mandarin language since they can read Chinese without the Chinese script. By using the Pinyin chart you can easily say the mandarin Chinese words in all the four tones. Pinyin chart is an invaluable asset for mandarin language pronunciation.

Quick tip: Listen to recordings of yourself speaking in Chinese language for easy identification and review of errors.

3. Vocabulary

Once you have mastered the basics you can start learning words and sentences. This is often the most fun part of learning any language. You can make this more interesting by putting up lists of commonly used words, numbers, colours etc. in your study space. Learn how to say the name of your favourite food items so that the next time you are at a Chinese restaurant you can easily place an order for yourself.

Quick tip: Label household objects with cards written in Chinese words.

You can make flashcards or study using online flashcard apps such as Anki, Pleco, Skritter etc. Ensure that you review regularly and include new words in your list every day. Make example sentences for each word and actively use newly learnt words in daily conversation.

There are many ways you can gather new words even if you are not a Chinese local. You can read books, listen to podcasts and watch Chinese music videos with lyrical translations.

4. Chinese Characters

Language is basically a spoken phenomenon. Letters are a symbolic representation of sound. Written Chinese is different from the alphabetical representation of words we are used to. Mandarin language originates from pictorial representation of words. Hence the Chinese language has thousands of characters. But worry not, easy everyday conversation in Chinese needs only a few commonly used Chinese characters.

To write the Chinese language, you need to follow the rules of stroke order. Gather your supplies and repeatedly practice your Chinese calligraphy until you are perfect with it. You can watch video tutorials which demonstrate how to learn Chinese.

Quick tip: Watch tutorial videos at 0.75x speed to easily follow the instructions.

Skritter is a very useful app which lets you practice written Chinese from your touchscreen itself.

5. Never stop learning and keep practicing.

Studying a language is a dynamic process and it never gets over, which is the most beautiful part of learning. The more you become fluent in the Chinese language the more you will discover new books to read and new art forms to explore. You can develop a better understanding of the Chinese heritage and see the world through a Chinese person’s perspective. The Chinese language is not just a subject but a true treasure.

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