Tips for learning Chinese
(For this article, Chinese refers to Mandarin unless otherwise stated.)
Previously, I have discussed the importance of the Chinese language (see link: https://www.ampla-edu.com/single-post/2018/02/15/Chinese-is-the-Language-Forward). Here, I hope to offer you some tips on how to make the process of learning Chinese as engaging and effective as possible.
For those of you not familiar with the Chinese language, I would like to first clarify that the 2 most common forms spoken Chinese are Mandarin and Cantonese (plus hundreds of regional and local dialects). I would strongly recommend learning Mandarin as it is not only the official language of both Mainland China and Taiwan and one of the official languages of Singapore, but also the easier form compared to Cantonese (Hooray!).
Learning Chinese is not a simple task…but in some aspects it is
There are a number of reasons why Chinese is considered to be one of the most difficult languages to mas in the world: unlike English, Chinese characters are non-alphabetic and tones matter (the same word can have different meaning depending on the tone). The most well-known example is ‘ma’ – it can mean mother, bother, horse or scold based on the tone (mā má mǎ mà). This aspect of Chinese is extremely different from Western languages and can be the biggest hurdle. Based on my personal experience, it really helps when you practice the 4 Mandarin tones with the hand gesture doing the symbol. For instance, practice the first tone with your hand drawing a flat line as you speak it – it might sound silly trust me it really helps!
Though most would agree that Chinese is one of the most difficult languages to learn, in some areas it is actually rather simple. For instance, there is no gender of words (i.e. feminine, masculine, neutral words) and verbs are only in one form (i.e. no past tense), making Chinese grammar rather basic and relatively easier compared to other languages.
Learn to speak it first before attempting writing and reading
Given that Chinese characters are very different from for instance English, it might be extremely overwhelming trying to learn to write the characters. Therefore I would suggest trying to learn to speak Chinese first, then you can decide whether learning reading and writing would be necessary for you – if you just want to be able to travel around the country and meet new people, then reading and writing are arguably less crucial for you so you can first start off with learning to speak first.
For those of you wanting to also learn to write and read Chinese, there are 2 types: Simplified and Traditional Chinese, with the former being the simpler, easier version and the official form for both Mainland China and Singapore. Therefore, I will highly suggest learning Mandarin and Simplified Chinese.
Get yourself a learning buddy so you can encourage and practice together! Peer support is always helpful and can act as a good motivation. I completely understand that it is not always be possible to get your friends to learn Chines with you so you will be happy to know there are also other platforms available, with a great example being Language exchange (https://www.mylanguageexchange.com/Default.aspLanguage).
Learn it using multiple sources or media
Take advantage of the fact that we are now living in a world where there are a lot of resources available to us, it is just a matter of finding them. Apart from attending classes and reading textbooks, look for videos on Youtube / listen to podcasts / watch Chinese drama or TV shows / practice with native Chinese speakers can make the learning process more fun.
Stay positive and motivated
Finally, learning a new language is a long process and it is not easy. At times it might feel so endless – take a break from studying Chinese whenever you need to. Keep in mind the reason that you are learning Chinese, be it to improve your employability, or you simply have a passion for Chinese culture – use them to motivate yourself to go through the toughest times of learning! Most importantly, enjoy !
Educated at Badminton School, Kitty obtained a First Class Honours degree in Biomedical Engineering, followed by a MSc degree specialising in Medical Physics, both from Imperial College. Kitty has experience teaching students subjects such as Maths, Sciences, as well as educating young children Programming. As the former Departmental Representative of her degree, she also understands university admissions and is well placed to assist with school and university applications.
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