Beginning to learn Chinese
Deciding to learn a new language feels a lot like staring at a blank paper when you know you need to write 10 pages. It can seem overwhelming and insurmountably difficult, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You may think that moving to China means that you’ll pick up the language just by hearing it on the street everyday, but you may find that it’s easy to get trapped in the expat bubble, speaking only English everyday, and never progressing beyond ‘hello’. However, if you’re serious about wanting to communicate in Chinese, here are some tips and resources you can use to progress toward proficiency.
First things first, decide to start. If you stay flippant and indecisive about whether or not you truly want to learn, you won’t see any improvement. Decide to learn and succeed. There are three main ways to learn Chinese with varying degrees of intensity: apps, books, and tutors.
If you want to casually learn a few words and phrases on your own, there are several great apps you can download on your phone to practice with when you have free time. Talk to your friends and coworkers, and you will discover apps such as HelloChinese, ChineseSkill, and many others. Then commit yourself to studying a little bit everyday. Don’t overwhelm yourself, but stay on track and you’ll start to notice progress.
If apps don’t seem quite your style, you can also buy a Chinese textbook and work through it on your own or with a friend. Textbooks give the added benefit of grammatical explanations and often come with workbooks and practice materials. You can easily find textbooks at a bookstore or online. Like using apps, books give you the freedom to practice as much or as little as you want each day.
If you still aren’t sold on these ideas, you can always work with a teacher or tutor. Many expats have found private tutors who will meet one on one with them during the week. Having a live person with whom you have regular meetings makes skipping out on study a bit harder, plus you have the added benefit of being able to ask questions and receive immediate answers. You can also find online classes through sites like Chinatown. This method will be the most intense, but will also produce more dramatic results.
No matter what method you think will help you learn best, pick one and stick with it. You’ll be amazed what you can learn with just a little effort, and your everyday interactions will become easier and easier. A little Chinese can go a long way when interacting with locals, and you’ll find most people to be encouraging and helpful.
Now you’re getting started…
Hopefully by now you’ve committed to starting your language education, so here are some tips that will help you progress even faster.
Tip one: Start speaking from day one. If you want oral fluency, there is no better way to practice than with a real person. You can recite a sentence in front of the mirror as much as you want, but the first time you speak to someone it’ll be scary. Get over that hurdle as soon as possible by just speaking.
Tip two: Make your intentions known. Tell your friends and coworkers what you’re doing so that they can keep you accountable. Ask Chinese staff members to practice with you and don’t be afraid to make mistakes in front of them. They have all learned a second language and they know how hard it is; let them help and support you.
Tip three: Start and don’t stop. If you find yourself lacking motivation, remember why you started learning in the first place. Remember your goals and understand that plateauing in language learning is normal. You will lose motivation, and you will feel like you’re not progressing. Stick it out and after a while the benefits will astound you. Decide to love learning and you will find ways to keep it interesting. 加油！