Opinion / Blog

5 easy tricks to learning Chinese

By eddieturkson ( Updated: 2015-05-06 16:13

So you’re ready to learn if not the most difficult international language on planet Earth, surely one of the most difficult languages known to man. The Chinese language, affectionately called Putonghua, with simplified and traditional forms, and termed Cantonese in some provinces, is fast catching on with the international community due to China’s light-speed, astronomical rise in the last three decades.

More often beginners are advised not to perceive the language as difficult, but that is just like soothing a painful sore. I believe admitting that the language is difficult and facing its challenges makes one more prepared when frustration sets in. Accepting that the Chinese language isn’t easy to comprehend is a step in the right direction for beginners who can then build the confidence to overcome any unforeseable challenge on the journey ahead.

My methods may not be approved but they worked for me and so many others I have helped, and I believe they can help the ordinary language student who isn’t eager to undertake an intensive course. Then again, some of my methods might be disputed by trained teachers, but trust me, they’re surefire steps to learning the language easily, or better still, a short-cut or back-door to the world of spoken Chinese.


1 Start with Pinyin

Pinyin is the form of Chinese words written using the Roman alphabet. For beginners, Chinese characters are nothing more than hieroglyphics. Pinyin however came to the rescue when the language had to be standardized for people to learn the standardized simplified Chinese that is taught in Chinese schools to all students, including the majority and minority ethnic groups. It is highly recommended that one start learning from scratch using pinyin. From here you will get to know where the tones are emphasised and the differences between words with the same spelling. Take your time; it isn’t as easy as spelled out here but you will make it.


2. Forget the tones

The Chinese language has four basic tones relevant to acquiring proficiency in the language.

From my own experience, I suggest you forget the four tones, which I must admit are very important to speaking impeccable Chinese. Leave the tones for later emphasis when you are good with the grammar and construction. I think for beginners, grasping the four tones remains one of the challenges that seems insurmountable.

First learn how to construct basic sentences, then after you are good with your phrases and sentences, you can start getting your tones right. For beginners, getting the tones right in the beginning makes language acquisition quite difficult, so skirting around the tones in the meantime does help a lot.


3 Talk to fellow foreigners who were once in your position

It’s highly likely you’ll have a native Chinese national as a teacher. But for beginners looking to get a better understanding on how to grasp the language, it is recommended to talk to a fellow foreigner who has been able to learn and master the language. From their experience you will learn that in the end, you too will be able to speak just like they do. The point is if they have been able to learn it, you also will get there with time and perseverance. Additionally a foreigner is in the best position to better explain to you some different usages of the langauge sometimes better than your language teacher would. The reason is that your teacher has other students to attend to but one-on-one with a foreign freind who was once in your position is an advantage.


4 Watching cartoons

Learners are often advised to watch Chinese movies to improve their listening skill, but for beginners, it is recommended to watch cartoons, which have very simple language constructions for Chinese children, who are also picking up the basics of the language. This is how it is done. Don’t just sit there watching and listening; you must speak after the characters in the cartoon. Simply say what they are saying and in the end you might catch some basic relevant phrases, some of which you might have already come across.


5 Mingle frequently with the locals

Learning Chinese on the mainland could be seen as an advantage but it sure doesn’t come easy. Just being taught in the classroom isn’t adequate to let you grab the basics real quick. Every city has its dialect so remember, the way the locals speak might not sound like the standard Mandarin you will be taught in class. Mingling and speaking with residents in the local community raises your confidence level. One thing for sure is, Chinese people are sort of addicted to complimenting foreigners for being proficient even when you haven’t spoken a sentence. That obviously is a confidence booster and also they tend to engage you more in conversation, asking all sorts of questions that reveal how inquisitive most mainlanders are.

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