Old Hand holding a brush while writing Chinese caligraphy

Learn Chinese in 5 minutes: Don’t Fall For That Bait

Learn Chinese in 5 minutes: Don’t Fall For That Bait

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If you want to learn chinese in 5 minutes you are better off just doing something else. Even if you are the busy type who just want to know few phrases. Just the sheer complexity of the tones could take you ages to master. That said, there are good news if you are willing to dedicate serious time to learn the language.

1. Why don’t any natives learn chinese in 5 minutes?

In all walk of life there are people who promise heaven for little more than a few drops of sweat. It is no exception when it comes to learning a new language like Chinese; with promises such as “How to learn chinese in 5 minutes”. If it was that easy, why no native learns chinese in 5 minutes; but instead spend years, days and night, grasping with the language? Mandarin chinese was deemed so complicated by certain chinese scholars at the beginning of the 20’th century, that some thoughts were given to ditch it and adopt a more western style. In my view that would have been a shame, just for the mystery of the language and how, it in turn reflects perfectly the mystery of the country and its people. Would you really be interested in a country if it was that easy to learn their language? 

One of the reasons why many people do not want to learn chinese; even those many foreigners who live in China; is because they see it as an unsurmountable chore as opposed to a big jigsaw puzzle where you can define the scope and size of that jigsaw puzzle. 

2. Think Jigsaw puzzle

Pieces of a Big jigsaw puzzle

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Think Jigsaw puzzle when you learn chinese

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This might seem to contradict what I wrote earlier since someone might say “my scope is only to learn chinese in 5 minutes; every day” for example. My reply to that would be “It’s like saying I want to play a jigsaw puzzle with just half a piece”. Where would the fun be? However if you tell yourself “my learning jigsaw puzzle will consist of 2000 characters” then I would reply “Welcome to the game”, for with 2000 characters you can have a level of proficiency that is such that you can read almost all articles or books related to these 2000 characters. So, for example, if you are into cooking, business, art etc…with 2000 characters you will be proficient.

3. The trap of “learn chinese in 5 minutes”

The light went down

Few years ago, I worked for an American company and we often travelled to china to meet with suppliers. One of my colleagues was so intrigued by the language that he decided to learn chinese. I was sceptical at the beginnings because I always thought this language requested time which he did not have, but I played along and encouraged him. The next day he told me he had found a program that proclaimed he could learn chinese in 5 minutes. In retrospect’s, and after I went to the process of learning chinese, I am not surprised with how the experience ended for him. In just a matter of weeks, the intense sparkle which he had displayed at the beginning wavered like the flame of a candle resting on its last bits of wax. Feeble, weak…gone.
Weeks later I enquired him about his learning progress. His facial expression; that of someone who was reminded of a long-gone aspiration; told me the whole story. 

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A more dramatic story; the drama resided in the clash of teaching; happened while I lived in Shanghai. By then I already knew what learn chinese in 5 minutes meant, but it seemed not everyone was privy to my insight. A French lady had fallen prey for this quick learning trap; and when I met her on the bench of the university where I learned chinese, I was in no doubt about what was going to happen to her certainties. She had mentioned that she just wanted to perfect the technique which she had developed with her ayi (helper in chinese). I smiled because I knew what the outcome would inevitably be. She mentioned she learn chinese everyday with the helper and was confident she could handle herself. When I mentioned to her that most of the ayi’s lack proper education; she discarded my comments with the same enthusiasm I had seen from my previous colleague. 
I saw her three times only at the university lessons, and that was already too much, since she would not stop asking me what this or that character meant, what did the teacher say etc…

Once more, the flame had vanished and the devastating defeat meant she would never try and approach the language ever again.

Beware of the learn quick dream

That’s why I am strongly against these “learn chinese in 5 minutes” bait. Because that’s all they are. You might think “ I don’t want to be a fluent speaker. I just want to know some basic”. This is fine, but the basic will take you at least one hour every day. So, where do the five minutes fits into the picture is a mystery to me. Just have a look at the free basic learning videos provided by eezzeechinese (link teaching videos) and you will see it takes at least half a hour to cover just few characters. This does not even include the practice time.

(i) You will end-up demoralised with “learn chinese in 5 minutes” mindset

That’s why I am strongly against these “learn chinese in 5 minutes” bait. Because that’s all they are. You might think “ I don’t want to be a fluent speaker. I just want to know some basic”. This is fine, but the basic will take you at least one hour every day. So, where do the five minutes fits into the picture is a mystery to me. Just have a look at the free basic learning videos provided by eezzeechinese (link teaching videos) and you will see it takes at least half a hour to cover just few characters. This does not even include the practice time.

Just take my experience. Despite the time I spent at a top Shanghai University for two years I still curse those teachers who skipped the parts about the origins of chinese characters.

(ii) They overlooked fundamentals

Why? Because as I learn more complicated text, I always stumble upon two problems. First, there are many characters I learned, but I always forget their meanings. Secondly, I cannot easily guess the meaning of new characters when in fact there is a logic behind each of them. That’s why from my point of view I highly recommend learning “your 250 characters” from eazzychinese. The videos are each less than 30 minutes long, and you can come back to them over and over. These lessons are great because they go after what the creators had in mind when they originated these characters. Therefore, it will all start to make sense to you. More importantly; as you progress so will your foundation. And believe it or not, you will have an upper hand even over local chinese.

Chinese woman teaching chinese

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She will not teach you Chinese in 5 minutes

4. Chinese as a jigsaw puzzle

II mentioned earlier the key issue with learn chinese in 5 minutes bait is the short-term gain against long term discouragement. Chinese language is a complicated language, no doubt about it. Really? I am not so sure (keep reading). But let’s assume it is really complicated because it is foreign and everything alien carries with it a weight of mystery and intricacy. 
What if you took it as a jigsaw puzzle ?

What if you completely turn the table upside down and decided that instead of being a chore, a bad castor oil syrup that you should ingurgitate, it was a game where every single piece took you closer to your goal.

5. How would you approach that game?

(i) Decide how big of a jigsaw puzzle you want

That first steps seems logical. A 500-jigsaw piece puzzle might look a bit too small and 16,000 pieces too much. Why not chose between 1000, 1500, 2000, 3000 and 5000.

The good news about the numbers I provided is they are within the realm of your reach. More importantly they provide you with a milestone to achieve whatever level of proficiency you desire. For example, with 1000 characters you can read and comprehend regular chinese newspapers. With 2000 words you can read more complex articles. With 5000 you are considered fluent. Bear in mind that, unlike what you might think, even if every chinese person can speak the language not everyone can read advanced materials. So, with a bit of dedication you can surpass even locals.

(ii) The second step is to get all the edges sorted out

Since they are the easiest ones to deal with, the edges need to be taken care of first. In this case the edges are the fundamental characters that you will need to form the basis of your learning journey. These are characters related to such things as animals, fire, sickness etc…Once you know these fundamentals you can move further.

(iii) Third step: gather together the parts that have similar colour frame.

This jigsaw puzzle analogy also has an echo in the way you could approach learning chinese. I mentioned in step 2 to get the fundamentals right. In step three you put the members of the families together. For example the characters related to sickness (病,疗,疫…). As you can see there are similarities between the different characters. The fundamental radicals are what form the edge of your jigsaw puzzle. The characters that are associated with these radicals will form the members of the family.

(iv) Step four – connect the pieces

Just as with any languages, liaison words such as verbs, complements, adjectives, measure words; help linked the characters together. This part is a little bit stiff but thanks to the programs eazzychinese developed and the books available in our online store you can get used to the intricacy of the language.

(v) Step five: come back to it assiduously

No first timer can complete a jigsaw puzzle in one go, and even experienced players have to come back over and over. It is no different with learning chinese. Only you can control the output of this part. Generally speaking, once you get the right technique and right mindset, it’s all about perseverance. I have written an article about the right approach for you to learn as fast as possible. You will see it is not just about learning but also about having a vision, clarity of purpose, going after the right techniques and lastly perseverance.

6. The alternative – Learn Chinese in 5 characters

Small achievable task will get you further than “learn chinese in 5 minutes”
Now this is a tagline I can relate to and that is more honest. Even if I would advocate for 10 characters a day rather than 5, at least with such a guideline you can breakdown your goal in achievable “pieces”. And all of a sudden, learning chinese will look less dauting.
So; if we use our jigsaw puzzle analogy; what would it look like if you were to learn just 5 characters a day.

6.1. How to break down your goal?

So basically, if you dedicated 3 months of your life to learn just 5 characters a day, you could be in a position to read chinese newspapers. Realistically speaking and from my experience learning with quick baits, university and by myself, I will vouch for that. The trick is, you must know all these 5 characters/day chunks by the end of these 3 months. And again; from experience you will need at least two hours of practice to grasp these characters. It is not just that you memorise them (after all this can become easier if you follow the method we teach with YOUR FIRST 250 CHARACTERS), but you must write, read and pronounce them correctly. You wouldn’t like to call your mother in law (妈: mā) a horse (马: mǎ).

If you follow this structure, not only will you get result faster, but you will also know you can handle more complicated materials over the long run.

TOTAL CHARACTER TARGET5 Characters a day10 Characters a day
1,000200 days100 days
1,500300 days150 days
2,000400 days200 days
3,000600 days300 days
5,0001,000 days500 days

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Within 3 month a good level of proficiency possible

7. Bonus – Little quiz for you

Guess what is the correct way to write the characters from the video below, and see if you can see a method behind what looks like madness.
The purpose of this little game is not about learning chinese. It is about identifying structure and patterns. Structure follow strategy and since you have a strategy, now you want to have the right structure that will support your strategy. “Learn chinese in 5 minutes” will not support that strategy. Nor will any software. Learn with eezzeechinese, go to a proper school on the other hand will.

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