Preface: This article is for beginners with no Chinese-speaking skills whatsoever. For those of you who already speak intermediate Chinese, go read one of our other articles. Like this one.
So, you want to learn Chinese. We’re not going to lie; Chinese is an immensely complex and difficult language, but it may not be the world's hardest language. We’ve shortened it into a 5-step program for you.
1. UNDERSTAND AND LEARN CHINESE TONES
Many Chinese learners have difficulties with enunciating the different five tones. However, this is one of the most important parts of the Chinese language, as different tones produce different meanings. “汉语” (hàn yǔ) means “Chinese language,” whereas “韩语 (hán yǔ)" means “Korean Language.” In order to master these, you need a native, Chinese speaker to teach you.
2. PRACTICE YOUR PRONUNCIATION
If you thought this was the same as learning the tones, you are wrong. Just like English has many exceptions to their rules (“I before E except after C,”) so does Chinese. For example, if you have two 3rd-tone characters in a phrase, the first character takes on the second tone. “你好 nǐ hǎo” is actually pronounced “ní hǎo.”
Even native Chinese speakers find it difficult to explain how to pronounce things. It’s intuitive for us. A professional teacher can help you.
3. LEARN PINYIN
Pinyin is one of the most effective tools in learning Chinese. It helps learners understand and visually comprehend how to spell and pronounce things. It is a vital tool when typing Chinese characters on a keyboard. Read more on pinyin here.
4. FIND A CHINESE ENVIRONMENT TO PRACTICE YOUR SPEAKING SKILLS
You should find a proper environment with positive guidance and feedback to master your speaking skills. Learning in an all-Chinese environment will boost your progress. A bilingual class tends to progress more slowly. That is why we support Chinese immersion techniques. If you lack the resources to relocate to China completely, find a class that will teach you purely in Mandarin.
5. PRACTICE YOUR WRITING
Writing Chinese characters is a good way to learn more about Chinese culture, and it’s a good tool in understanding the language itself. Although characters may appear daunting at first, you can tackle them section by section with the right teacher. Writing is key to learning how to read in Chinese as well.