I’ve been learning Mandarin Chinese for a little over a year now (not counting the handful of mangled phrases I’d picked up from various martial arts over the years or watching too much Firefly). So I thought I’d share a little of the experience.
First of all, why?
Because it’s fun, it’s a challenge and getting started isn’t nearly as impossible as a lot of people think.
Yes, I find the tones difficult – measure words as well — but I’d counter this by saying that the lack of verb tense modification and a simple numbering system makes for a balanced learning experience. Here are three quick tips for getting started . . .
1. Book and CD
Easy Peasy Chinese was recommended to me several times by both non-Chinese speakers and Chinese teachers alike. There’s a CD that works well in the car and a book that looked a little childish to me at first . . . but I soon realised that it was pitched at exactly the right level.
Once you get going you’ll also need a good dictionary. I have a copy of Oxford Beginner’s Chinese dictionary which has some great examples of language use, not just an A-Z. I’ve just ordered another new book and CD which I haven’t had the chance to try out yet.
Listening to a CD in the car is a great way to get started. You can learn the basics of saying ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’, the names of various family members, counting to ten, maybe even a few words for different types of food. I spent weeks listening to the CD and it was time well spent, but nothing beats a class environment where you get to test your pronunciation on a native speaker and get your ears familiarised with the sound of the language.
I’m not sure if I’m lucky or not, but we have a weekly evening class run at the local high school by a fantastic teacher, Ivy Tang. Class photo up at the top of the page (I’m on the far left).
Get Googling. I’m sure there will be a class somewhere local to you. If not, email your local colleges and high schools to ask if they’re planning to run one. They might be thinking about it but they could be unsure about demand.
I use a couple of apps on my droid phone and Nexus (looks like these are also available on iPhone).
First of all there’s Hanping and I was so impressed with this that I went ahead and bought the Pro version for the audio. This app is very fast and great for looking up quick phrases.
I also use Pleco which I upgraded on my Nexus to include character writing. This add-on is simply amazing for getting some practice at writing Chinese characters as it will attempt to recognise the character you write. You can also click a play button to see a demonstration of the correct stroke order.
Learning Chinese is great fun. If you’re thinking of giving it a whirl, I’d advise you grab a copy of Easy Peasy Chinese to get started before you commit to classes or buying any apps.
Goodbye! Zàijiàn! 再见