How to really learn Chinese. Seriously
I’ve read on linkedin and other sites various idea and methodologies on how best to learn the Chinese language. I’ve seen a lot of good advice.
Unfortunately, almost all of the things I’ve read are out of context, and do not take a serious effort to address one’s ability to learn the language. That is, the advice is for casual learners only. Below is my view on how to best learn Chinese, for the serious student. If you are only wanting to learn Chinese in a casual sense, than the below can be cherry picked.
· If you are serious abt learning Mandarin, you need to be young. The assumption I have is that older folks with careers will not have the time, plain and simple.
· A serious student needs to be no later than in their early 20’s to begin. I had just turned 23 when I first came here, and could only count to 10.
A student needs to dedicate himself to the language. That means one cannot work a fulltime job.
· China is also full of Western students that think they can learn Chinese on the cheap. “I’ll just teach English on the side and learn it as I go along”. Whatever.
· Don’t believe the flattery. I’ve found that when Chinese stop praising your mandarin, than you’ve actually gotten somewhere. Flattery only builds your ego, and lessens your desire to learn. Problem with us laowai, is that we believe them, when they say our Mandarin is good. No matter you’ve only been in country 3 hours.
· Go to a place in China where there are few foreigners. This means isolation. In order to learn Chinese, and culture, one needs to learn in an isolated place. This dictate right away will separate 90% of the students from the 10% who are serious. This means not a major city full of Westerners. This is the main reason most Westerners in my view fail. They all go to Beijing, or Shanghai. Isolation is a mentally tough choice, but why go somewhere where there is no need to speak Chinese after class?
· Stay in class 4 hours a day.
· Try if possible to get a Chinese roommate.
· Prepare to spend 2 years in country. Why? Because your listening will not really come along until the 2nd year.
· Tones are overrated. Don’t waste time learning tones. Sure, you will learn the damn things, and make an effort to go through the motions. But don’t stress it. Why?
· Because Chinese is more abt context than tones. The more vocab you have, the easier it will be to communicate. The tones will come eventually. It will be a 6th sense. The more vocab you put into a sentence, the less important tones are.
· Chinese grammar is easy. Easier than English grammar. And in my view, easier than French or Spanish, and certainly Japanese. If you can learn how to master Chinese grammar, and can fill the sentences with vocab, than people will understand you.
· Holiday in China alone. This will force you to actually speak to Chinese people.
· Take the train! See above. If you are not interested in speaking to Chinese people than don’t make the effort to learn the language. Stay home. I still feel one of the best ways to learn Mandarin is by taking the train during holiday, rather than flying to your destination. Or rather, take the train to say, Kunming, than fly back.
· Get a Chinese girlfriend(or BF). It is my exp that only a GF will have the patience and tenderness to listen to you stutter through your sentences while lying in bed the following morning. Much better than a teacher! Pls make sure she doesn’t speak much English. You can practice with her everyday. I actually think this is the best way to learn Chinese. I admit, if you have the ability to do this, than a lot of the above can be ignored.
· Don’t stress the characters. This is very imp. If you are one of those purists who feels characters are part of the Chinese exp, blah blah, fine, but get ready to get laughed at if you find yourself having to write down everything you want to say. Speaking comes first! The characters will come. You will need them. But give yourself a year, at least, before they sink in. I think some characters you will need right away, of course, but not many.