What’s the best way to learn Chinese?
Obviously, a lot of this depends on your personal situation. Not so much your age but the time you can allocate, the energy and focus you can bring, and also, yes, your budget. But everyone can learn Mandarin. Here are some pitfalls to avoid and good advice to help you get on your way.
Take the quiz which way is best for you
What's most important to you?
Why are you learning Chinese?
What's your budget?
Are you a disciplined learner?
The best way to learn Chinese
— By our student Jaap
Mandarin is hell, but it’s dry heat
Yes, if your mother tongue is English, French, Italian, Spanish, German or Dutch (like me), then Mandarin Chinese will be difficult. There are the tones, the characters, the grammar and the sentence structure: the whole alienness of the language.
And all these things kinda remain difficult from a beginner to an advanced level. Pronunciation is more difficult as you encounter more Chinese homonyms as well as characters that look alike. Do you know there are many characters that have multiple pronunciations? (Heteronyms 多音字.)
But stop crying and feeling sorry for yourself. Meme culture has given Mandarin a bad reputation. Everyone can learn it, it just may take a bit longer than learning French or Spanish.
- Read here how long it takes to learn Mandarin
As a beginner, you cannot select the right materials
If you’ve never independently (outside of high school) learned a foreign language before, be aware, because it’s easy to buy into a poor product and derail your language goal before you well and truly started.
Around six years ago, I wanted to learn Hindi and just googled and found out famous brand’s Hindi course; a set of MP3’s I listened to while cycling to work. They had good ratings on their own website, because after you bought it, you can get a discount if you leave a review. But much later I learned other websites blasted the product for lack of educational value. By then I had already given up.
Perhaps a more disciplined self-learner would have been able to proceed on her or his own. But it’s very difficult to find good materials, or at least easy to take the wrong path. Best to ask on forums or subreddits.
On a somewhat similar note, you can start with Duolingo, but you cannot fully learn a language from this. If you really want to progress, see out a real online course such as GoEast Mandarin’s online courses — and take Duolingo as a supplementary aid.
Mix sources for your Chinese language study
Use apps, podcasts, books, YouTube, Netflix and movies, and online Chinese courses. Don’t rely on single-source; mix and match. This isn’t just more fun, it’s also educationally sound. These layers of different skills are applied together
Get a good Chinese teacher
In this article, we have some notes on how to find a good Mandarin language teacher (and become fluent), but basically, find a teacher who lets you speak (nor her or himself) and also creates opportunities for you to speak. A teacher is arguably the most important aspect of the bunch. A good teacher brings a backbone to your studies, so you won’t have to plan everything alone. If you learn at GoEast Mandarin, you also have a language consultant.
Your approach must change throughout your studies
When you are a beginner student, you can just learn the book or self-study materials and that’s it. You can complete the Beginner Chinese course that way.
But from the Hanzi course onwards and HSK3, you’ll need to self-study. Especially HSK4, and HSK5 and HSK6, you’ll need to self-study. The same with Spoken Chinese or Business Chinese.
At an intermediate level, this means looking at writing down characters, doing flashcards, listening to audio, or reading.
When you reach an advanced level, this is also no longer enough. You need to learn radicals and the logic of grammar rules as well as characters. Learn patterns and components instead of individual words or characters.