The Perfect Way to Learn Chinese For Beginners
You might wonder what is the best program to learn chinese for beginners? The reality is that the immersion will be difficult, but you can make it an enjoyable experience over the long run.
Table of Contents
1. How difficult will it be to learn Chinese for beginners like me?
It depends on your level of commitment and the way with which you approach your learning journey. As I mentioned in LEARN CHINESE IN 5 MINUTES DON’T FALL FOR THAT BAIT, it is best to think in terms of a jigsaw puzzle game. There are many similarities between the later and chinese language. However, if you take the practice as a chore is best to avoid it altogether. As a game, you will seek the difficulty and it will be a testament of your progress.
2. How do I start to learn chinese for beginners like me?
This is one of the key questions people who want to learn chinese face at the beginning. It can be dauting to try and find your way out of this quagmire of software, easy tips, fast learning potions circulating everywhere. But in my view, your first step should be to define what your vision is, as far as learning the language is concerned. Otherwise you will waste your time.
3. Have a vision
Do you want to seduce that chinese girl with a few chinese words? Or do you see yourself in an office, with chinese colleagues with whom you communicate constantly in their native language? Do you want to make the most of your time in China when you travel there, or do you want to read advanced books written in Chinese?
Once you draw your vision, the second step is to decide the level of commitment you will dedicate to the endeavour.
4. Define your level of commitment
Do you only want to spend few minutes a day? 2/3hours during your week-end? Or will you spend few hours every day? Will you keep that pace for few weeks, or can you keep it for 6month/1 year?
To give you an idea of the time required, I have drawn a table that truly reflects the level you can expect to reach if you follow these targets. The numbers steam from my own experience along with other people who succeeded. Those who failed tried to find too many short-cuts.
A road map for beginners to Learn Chinese
The next step is to actually commit to the task
5. Decide firmly on that commitment
If you can master up to 1,000 chinese characters, you will be able to read 90% of chinese newspapers. At 2,000, your level of fluency will allow you to handle difficult magazines. With 5,000, you are considered bilingual. I reason in terms of numbers of characters mastered because Chinese language is very visual. Therefore, it makes sense that characters play a major role in the study of this language.
As you can see from the table above; it depends on how many words you can commit to on a daily basis. If you only want to learn 5 characters, it will take you on average 200days (or 7month) to handle 1,000 characters.
You might wonder how long should you spend on these characters every day?
5.1. Breakdown of time needed to learn the characters?
The typical amount of time should be between 2 to 3 hours for 5 characters/day; and 3 to 4 hours for 10 characters/day. At the beginning, learning 5 characters (or ten) will look simple. As words accumulate however, the tendency for your brain will be to forget what you have learned previously. That’s the reason why the time you spend writing should go up from half an hour/day for 5 characters to at least 1hour. As you write each character multiple times, you will realise the time has lapsed quickly. Your first challenge will be to put the strokes in the right order. (SEE VIDEO CAN YOU GUESS THE PATTERNS). The second hurdle, will be to place them into their allocated square space. See an example of 田 Tián below Square area to write chinese
Once you are happy with your level of commitment, only then can you start looking for the right techniques to learn chinese.
Practice writing characters
0.5 = Half hour
1 = 1Hour
1.5 = 1Hour30min
Learn chinese for beginners: Efforts needed
6. What are the right and wrong techniques to learn chinese?
In my recent post (LEARN CHINESE IN 5MINUTES), I go over why you should stay clear of learn chinese in “5 minutes” bait, and think more in terms of “5 characters”. As you can see from the above two tables, the level of commitment necessary does not allow for such short amount of time.
7. Below is my list of techniques to avoid:
7.1.1. Learn in 5 minutes
7.1.2. Use a chinese software
7.1.3. Go at it by yourself (depends on your level)
7.1.4. Immersion courses (that depends on your target and also budget)
Everything which promises you a minimum amount of time and efforts committed should be avoided. Simply because it is impossible to master that difficult of a language in minutes. As for the usage of software, I made the sour experience few years ago when I tried to study Japanese. I used a very popular software and was very dedicated. However, after few month I realised my level was going nowhere, especially when I tried to converse with Japanese people.
Techniques used to Learn chinese for beginners: The Good and the Bad
8. List of good Chinese teaching techniques for beginners:
8.1.1. A university (preferably chinese and with a good reputation)
I have mixed feelings about schools as a good way to learn chinese. On the one hand, you are forced to commit on a daily basis, which is good. In china, if you don’t show-up for some time, the school will report you and your visa will be cancelled. Teachers check who is in and who is not; and it does not matter whether you are eighteen or fifty years old.
However, on the other hand, the school system will teach you subjects related to school matters; and at times there will be discrepancies between what you learn and what happens in daily situations. That said, this is a reliable way to start your journey. Later on; as confidence sinks in, you can switch to self learning. So, unless you have a certain degree of autonomy it will be difficult to start all on your own.
8.1.2. A dedicated and passionate teacher
With Eazzychinese, we provide just that. And if you are in doubt about the fact that we just advertise ourselves; check out the free classes provided with YOUR FIRST 250 CHARACTERS. There are more than 8hours of teaching materials. We start with the origins of the most commonly used characters; which give you an edge over the long term. This framework is not taught in most schools and universities in China (I know because I spent two years in a university in Shanghai).
Curious about why 好 Hǎo means good? Click on the image to find out.
Learn Chinese with the origins of key characters
Although I already mentioned it, one question you might still ask yourself is “How do I learn Chinese by myself?”. But before asking that question, you should first ask “Can I learn by myself?”
9. Can I learn by myself?
Based on the recommendation above, the best way to learn by yourself is to seek a good supporting framework from the beginning. Either a university/school for few months, or Eazzychinese programs and support. Only then, will you be able to learn by yourself. Otherwise it is very easy to fall into the many traps this language has. For example, you might miss the fact that many characters in china do not have real meanings. Indeed, these words are mainly used to name foreign places or people. Lets’ look at this illustration. 汤姆斯 Tāngmǔ sī (Tom). The 斯sī does not really mean anything. It is just a way to pronounce “s” or “se” of western names or places. You could spend days or weeks trying to figure this out.
10. How can I learn Chinese by myself?
Once you have a base grammatically, orally, phonetically, and you are able to read and write, you can try:
Select tv series that are not too dense in terms of contents. The bests are romantic ones. They provide a good insight into the way chinese think and interact with their friends, family, lovers. Moreover, it’s easy to get sucked-in into the stories, which means you can follow many episodes and really progress. Make sure theys have subtitles (in chinese preferably). You can use the speed control of most devices to slow down the dialogues and get familiar with the language rhythm.
I used this technique for dictation, which test my hearing and writing skills. Such series are available for free on websites and app such as YOUKU. You can also repeat sections of the tv series and record your voice. Then check how your tonality matches what you hear on tv.
10.1.2. Books and Audio books
The combination of the book and its audio equivalent is really heaven on earth in terms of ideal technique. These are great to test your reading hearing and tonality skills. You can choose a familiar book. For me its “100 years of solitude”. Because I love this book, I know I will not be bored when I read it in chinese. However, to get to that level it’s imperative that you have spent few years already learning. As a beginner, it’s better to select simpler text. Maybe a book for children that you love, or some piece of news. On websites such as taobao you can order the chinese version of the books you like.
As for the audio part, apps such as Ximalaya are great.
There are some great magazines, which help greatly with your reading ability. Magazines like 三联生活周刊 are great because they talk about both local and international topics. In fact I learned more about Brexit, the attack in Paris; or MoMA from that magazine than the newspapers; since international information was limited at the time in china. Here again, if you are a beginner, such magazines will be too complicated. However simple newspaper articles will help.
11. How can I learn Chinese fast for free?
If you do what I recommend above your level will go up in no time. After all, six month or two years go by very quickly. Someone who wants fast and free is not really committed. If that’s what you are after, just head over YouTube and learn from the videos. We have beginners programs on YouTube that are free, but you must commit. And that my friend takes time.
However, if what you want is a toolkit for a future trip to China; check out this article. There are many common phrases you might need once you get there.