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Learn Chinese Fast: Yeah Right!!!

Learn Chinese Fast: Yeah Right!!!

You’ve seen the ads “Learn chinese fast”. In all walks of life salesmen, scammers or gurus promise heaven in seconds. It’s no different in area of Chinese language learning. Yet, you can go faster if you mix vision, foundation and perseverance together.

Chinese characters  - learn chinese is not easy

Board with Chinese calligraphy and Brush

You really think you can you learn chinese fast?

In 2014; having been in Shanghai for 5 years, my dancing partner with whom I trained everyday sat me in and said “Jimmy you need to learn Chinese”. She was a lady from the Middle East and, although she also enrolled in a university to learn the language, I suspected she wanted out of this dancing relationship. Needless to say, I was not too happy about it. For one; it had taken me ages to find that great partner; then I had resisted many attempts from other people who had tried to have me learn Chinese. Sure enough, prior to this meeting, I had had some learning experience. But these were expensive and not enjoyable. Still I listened to her advices and I enrolled in a university near my home.

Learn chinese takes time and books

When we are parents, we tend to be demanding toward our progeny especially with regard to all things school. We easily frown upon them if they manifest any rejection of the scholar system. We forget we were once in their shoes and that we were not much more enthusiastic than them at going to a square building, in a square room, with square tables, square chairs and at times square teachers. The day I went at the university of Traditional Chinese Medicine of Shanghai to enrol; a feeling I thought had been suppressed out of my system resurfaced. It appeared it had never left. I was apprehensive. Then I realised I was not the only adult there. Once we know someone well, we tend to forget how foreign they once were. As far as I remember; on that day; all the faces were foreign.

People from every reason one could imagine were summarised within these students.

The weeks that went by afterwards proved to be far more relaxing, even enjoyable. I was amongst the older person in the classroom of 15 students. People from every reason one could imagine were summarised within these students. We had the Thai hopeful who wanted to learn the language on their way to become traditional Chinese medicine doctors. There was the busy mum whose husband was the main bread winner and thought she’d make the most out of her stay in Shanghai. One cannot forget the Korean ladies; each; probably bored and lonely at home wanted to mingle while learning. Latin America was also represented by a young globe trotter who magically found his way, from a boat travelling to Japan, into a Chinese family and tried to learn more phrases so he could communicate with his hosts. Quietness sneaked into the classroom too, through a lady from Turkey and one from Mongolia. Australia showed-up to this cultural boat by way of Japan. Finally; and the picture could not have been complete, without one or two French; who seemed to drag a reputation of snobbery about them wherever they went. The French reputation, I fortunately proved it wrong by my assiduity and perseverance. 
Two years later, after some great personal relationships, great friendship and beautiful trips around the country it was time for me to draw a close into this learning experience. 
The journey through this university yielded mix results, which ultimately led me to create my own learning path. Below are some of these paths and what I deem the most effective way I found to study Chinese.

2. “I can learn Chinese within weeks” – “Yeah Right!!!”

In 2017 a friend of mine told me he could master the Chinese language within weeks if he dedicated some times during the week-end to practice. I stopped him straight on his track and replied “If you mean conversing, yes; if you imply you can learn the language, NO”. He insisted he could, but from experience I knew he would not even try. By that time, I had spent on average 3hours a day for nearly four years and I knew exactly the kind of traps that were along the way. Therefore, I was very confident in my assessment of his comments.
And that leads us to the title of this article. To the question “Can you Learn Chinese Fast?”. The answer is “yes you can, if perseverance is the key element that underlies your motivation”.

3. The magical equation

Vision + Decide + Learn + Do it + Overcome + Perseverance = Success

As a matter of fact, before diving into the techniques I developed to learn Chinese, I elaborated an equation that yielded the best results for me no matter my endeavours. It is worth mentioning that study of the language was not my first priority. I still dedicated 3-5hours a day to dance, which ultimately resulted in conflicts with my studies. 
I believe that equation is more important than the mere question “How can I learn Chinese fast?”.

3.1. You have to commit to learn chinese

Before you go into this journey you need to decide why you want to do it. If you are after a fast way to learn that will help you get by while on a trip in China, there is no need for much trouble. Your Ayi (helper in china) can help you just by speaking with you on a regular basis while you are there. However; if your ambition is “I want to be comfortable handling this language” then the following point will be valuable: 

learn chinese using chinese books

learn chinese using chinese books

When I first went out and try to find a job in the field of marketing, I was told, even by people who did not speak the language, that unfortunately the openings for which they were looking for required someone who spoke Chinese. 

3.2. Vision

Yes, you read right. The first thing you need is a vision that answer the question “Why do I want to learn this language?” The vision will quickly tell you if you really want to do it or if it is just a fantasy. Even if my venture into the journey was almost accidental, I managed to build a vision around it which helped me going forward. This vision was that one day I would make a present a piece of work in Chinese, to big applause, in front of important Chinese people. I had that vision after I got vexed by a Chinese man who played down my skills during a job interview in Shanghai (later on I really understood what went on, but that’s for another story).

3.3. Decide

Once you are clear about your vision, you need to firmly decide that you will do it. That means you are comfortable with the fact that you will spend a considerable amount of time on this objective. 

3.4. Learn the Technique

The third point is to learn the technique associated with learning the language. There are many ways but without exploring at least one technique, no matter how truly effective, you will be lost, get discouraged and give up. I experienced this when I tried my hand at Japanese in 2005 with the help of a software. The technique was bad and led to disappointments. Going to university and studying Chinese from local teachers, on the other hand, yielded better results because there was a technique, even if in my view it could have been much better. 

3.5. Do it

After you go on with learning the technique you need to DO IT. By doing it I mean go and apply the technique you have learned. If you are taught how to write for example then you practice it. If you learned the meaning of few characters then you go and try to use them or recognise them. The idea is to be active. 

3.6. Overcome

The fifth point, and it is an important one is to OVERCOME. Overcome what? At some point you will meet many challengeswhich you need to quickly recognise for what they are: stepping stones for the next level. So, when you feel stuck, you push forward until you break the barrier and move to the next step (for example it was a big challenge for me to fully read a paragraph as I could not recognise many characters that slipped their way in between the phrases. It would take hours and hours to make sense of the whole thing. However, once I overcame reading one paragraph, I put my sight on completing a whole page. Now I am after a full book. 

3.7. Perseverance

The final piece of this magical equation is Perseverance. By perseverance you must understand you are doing this for the long run and that some days you will not feel like you want to do it. These days; as I found out with dance, Chinese etc; are crucial days. If you are able to keep at it even when you don’t feel like, then you build a character that will last you all your life. 

4. The Fast way?

As you must guess by now recipe such as “learn Chinese in one hour” or “learn Chinese while you sleep” are great marketing ads. And that’s almost about all they are.

Learn mandarin chinese properly not fast

Once you start to use one technique you will have to stick to it for a while. By technique I mean the basic of writing, pronunciation, speaking etc. If you check the series (Your Key 250 Characters) you will learn valuable techniques especially with regard to character recognition, writing and pronunciation.

4.1. Learn the origins of key characters

If I could have done one thing differently it would have been to learn these techniques explained in the videos; because they go to the root of the characters. And once you get what the creators had in mind when they came up with the characters, it becomes much easier to remember and understand the sense of phrases. The University I was at in Shanghai did not teach us about the origin of characters. Although at first glance it would have looked like a waste of time, one quickly realises the value in mastering these roots. I spent many hours practicing and trying to remember characters which I would forget because my brain did not know the logical link behind the characters. Once you have the logic attached behind the formation of character it is way faster to remember and therefore learn. 

4.2. Go Local

As far as speaking and listening are concerned, the ideal is to immerse yourself with the locals and discuss spontaneously with them. Chinese are spontaneous in general (they will ask you personal questions right off the bat. “Where are you from?” “Where do you work?” “How much you earn?” Etc). It is therefore easy to strike a conversation with them. One thing to be conscious about is the level of proficiency you want. If you just want basic conversation you can address anyone. Once you elevate your game you must gather around people whose skill fit the level you are after. Also, bear in mind that many people have a basic level of school training. If you stick long enough with your learning you will have a higher level than most.  

4.3. Watch chinese series to learn chinese

In case you do not plan to travel to the country any time soon, or even if you are, another effective way to practice your oratory skills is by watching and mimicking Chinese series. A lot of them have subtitles and with slow motion you can catch everything someone says and repeat it. This will be frustrating at first because of the many tongue twisters but, in no time, you will realise that you can catch many words. That’s because you have trained your hearings, reading and comprehension since you took time to read the characters.  

4.4. Start creating your own path

One of the many frustrations I had when I learned Chinese at university was the lack of applicability of what I was taught. Although the material increased in complexity and grammatical variations the texts were sorely focus on study matters. Hence, one might be able to understand a text in school but then when it comes time to apply what was taught, it would be a completely different experience. That’s why after two years, I decided to create my own system which includes readinghigh quality materials. For example, I selected articles from the magazine 生活/Lifeweek then studied these articles 

Learn chinese with chinese magazine 12

A great tool to earn chinese while reading their favourite topics

4.4.1. First with a chinese magazine 

A great tool for those who want to learn while reading their favourite topics
What I loved about this magazine is that it talked about issues I could understand as a foreigner. That in turn meant I could decipher the text more easily. For example, one article treated about the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris which occurred when the French football team was playing against Germany. At some point in the article it referred to the public singing“we want 3-0”. It was a reference to 1998 World Cup score of France against Brazil (3-0); which became a rallying cry every time France would take the lead against another football team. Because I could relate to the content in the article it made it more enjoyable to study. This path was really hard because many of the characters were not taught in school.

4.4.2. Then your favourite book in chinese

I pushed the logic further and decided I wanted to read my favourite book in Chinese. The advantage being I know the book in details and therefore can relate to every part translated in Chinese. On top of that, I also listen to the audio version of that book in Chinese which I repeat after the orator while subjecting myself to auto-dictations. So basically, I train myself while avoiding the obvious trap of boredom, because I read what I love in a different language.

4.5. Learn chinese grammar

Grammar is relatively difficult if you come from the point of view of someone who just learn character. However, if you practice your skills with locals (or watch series) your grammatical level will increase drastically. There the support of university books can prove useful. (Get in touch to get great advices on which book is good for you).  

5. Conclusion

People or programs who preach “Learning Chinese fast” are either:

5.1.1. Honest

They find the best technique that prevent you wasting too much time. Basic here is key, for example by learning the origin of characters. You add-up your perseverance so that no matter the day or the weather you keep at it. The best recipe being (Year1,2,3 2 to 3 hours/day and Year 4 onward 1 to 2 hours)..

5.1.2. Marketing salespeople 

They will help you make quick phrases but won’t help you at all if you have a little bit of ambition. In fact, this quick way will backfire on you because you will get used to doing the easy stuff and disappointment might follow suit when you realise you need to learn the real basic. I did not mention her, but the boat was originally made of few people more than the 15 I mentioned, and one of them was a French lady who could speak Chinese with taxi drivers, common people etc. The reality check was so brutal for her that she decided she was going to stick to the very few she knew and she never came back. Most of those who did not come back fit the same profile..

5.2. So; the Fastest Way:

Get the vision right and clarify your intentions from the start
Get the basic right. Spend time learning the origin of the character (link), use the right pronunciation
Choose a good technique (at Eazzychinese we can help you with that, otherwise few month in a university can give you a good jolt)
Make all your senses work (listening, writing, speaking)
Choose your area of interest. It’s easier to get excited about a language if you are going to learn about things you are already enthusiastic about. Later on, you can learn about new topics.
You will want to give-up. When it happens say to yourself “BOOM, OVERCOME” and smile. You will not realise it but you would have increased your level (it hurts not because you cannot but because your body feels the change and wants to resist it). 

Kid learning chinese

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