You want to learn Chinese fast. How about learning mandarin Chinese in just 3 months? Here’s how I did it. Note I use Chinese to mean Mandarin Chinese not Cantonese here, since it is the official language of China and will be the only one to survive the transition in Hong Kong by 2050.
Learning Chinese – The Plan
We will learn Chinese in the following order. Each previous step must be mastered to at least intermediate level before continuing to the next.
- Chinese Alphabet, Pinyin and Tones.
- Mandarin Vocabulary Lists.
- Repeating Audio sentences and phrases, Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, Podcasts.
- Reading Chinese.
- Mandarin Grammar.
Reading Chinese is actually the part I found easiest. Grammar is the most difficult and is what takes a lifetime to learn, together with advance Chinese vocabulary.
Basics of Learning Chinese 1 – Preparation
The first thing to do is get your work materials. You want to gather materials in your target language (Chinese in this case) predominantly from the Internet. Materials like:
- Chinese Vocabulary lists.
- Chinese comprehensive dictionaries.
- Example phrases of all kinds in Chinese and with English translation.
- Audio and video Chinese learning materials, for example Chinese Youtube podcasts or tutorials from YouTube.
- Download the free Chinese learning flash card software Anki from Sourceforge and add the Chinese word-lists.
- Use websites like Memrise and Quizlet for Chinese flash cards.
- Apps to learn Chinese, if you have an Android of iPhone/iPad device
Now, print out the written materials, including the vocabulary lists. and make Bookmarks in your Internet browser to everything else. Buy a single bright marker pen in your favorite color. You will use this to mark the Chinese phrases and words you have completed.
Prepare yourself mentally for learning Chinese. It is not an easy task and Chinese is considered one of, if not the, most difficult common language in the world today. This will not be easy. You will need to be committed to the cause.
Answer for yourself why you want to learn Chinese quickly. For me, I have business in China and travel frequently to view the plants. For you it might be the ladies, learning Chinese for travel, pleasure or learning Mandarin for business. Whatever your reason for learning Chinese, it’s a good idea to write it down to remind yourself when times get tough. And they will.
Many native, fluent, Chinese speakers will try to scare you away from learning Mandarin. They will tell you Chinese takes a lifetime to learn and English just one year. Don’t believe them. Chinese can be picked up quickly, but you will be battling through some incredible brain traps. Be prepared. Work hard. Know that each day is a new challenge and if you take a step each day you can reach the moon. (In total distance travelled, not actually reach the moon by walking, because it’s in space and that would be physically impossible).
Starting to learn Chinese – Strategy and Pinyin
Have a plan for learning Mandarin. First, you need to learn the alphabet, then the tones.
To learn the Chinese alphabet, you will need audio. Find a good YouTube tutorial that covers Chinese alphabet and tones. You will need to understand the use of the four tones as in Mandarin they are different words completely, unlike English where tones are used for inflexion and emphasis and are the equivalent of ALL CAPS and bold. Before moving on, make sure you completely understand and are able to pronounce the four Chinese tones using the phrase “ma” and have repeated the Mandarin Chinese alphabet with the speaker a few times to iron out your tongue. Print out the Chinese alphabet chart for later reference.
That’s it, you’re done with the very basics. Now on to what will take the bulk of your time, Chinese vocabulary.
Chinese vocabulary and phrases
Get Chinese vocabulary lists. As many as possible. Learn at least 20 words a day. No less is allowed. Test yourself regularly. Use flash cards to help learn the Chinese words.
As your Chinese vocabulary expands, begin picking up phrases and grouped words. You will start to flow into basic sentences naturally.
You will be a beginner Chinese user when you can modify sentences to suit your needs. For example, change “open the door” to “open the window”. These small changes will begin to help your understanding of Chinese grammar and sentence structure, which is useful for the next part.
You’re on your own for this one. Practice Practice Practice! Learn and devour as much material as you can. Chinese polygots (those who can speak more than 2 languages fluently) repeat Chinese sentences and phrases from books with English translations. This works for them, effectively teaching them Chinese and Mandarin without any effort. But it takes time and hard work and you need the vocabulary backing to progress. But that’s not for you…and that’s why you’re here…
So really, seriously, why do you want to learn Chinese? Do you have the motivation to make it to the basic conversaional level or are you going for full Mandarin fluency?
Be honest with yourself. In the time it took you to read this you could have done some more vocabulry…but you didn’t. So what’s up?