How Do I Learn Chinese?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The most common way to learn Chinese, aside from being born to parents who speak a Chinese language, is to take classes, which are offered in a variety of formats. Alternately, people might opt for self-teaching methods that involve books, tapes, or computer programs. Other ideas include participating in clubs where Chinese is used, traveling to China, or getting instruction from friends or relatives who are native speakers or who have fluency. Any learning method requires diligence and study to attain basic competency, and more effort is required to achieve fluency.

Mandarin Chinese.
Mandarin Chinese.

Before a person decides how to learn Chinese, he must determine what language he wants to speak. There are several different dialects or languages that are considered “Chinese.” Many people lean toward learning one of two languages: Standard Chinese, which is based on Mandarin, or Cantonese. The choice of the most appropriate language is based on a person’s individual circumstances and learning needs.

A map of China.
A map of China.

The most direct method to learn Chinese is to take classes. These are often offered at community colleges and four-year universities. Alternately, an intensive language seminar may offer all-day classes for several weeks or months. An attractive option for students with the wherewithal is a combination of intense language learning and travel, so that lessons can be immediately applied in the environment.

A sample of Cantonese writing.
A sample of Cantonese writing.

Others use books, recordings, or computer programs to learn Chinese. These lack the sophistication of the classroom because they generally can’t correct mispronunciations or errors. Computer programs are improving in this respect, though.

The character xiao, which is translated as filial piety.
The character xiao, which is translated as filial piety.

Self-instruction doesn’t have the incentive of grades to keep people studying vocabulary. This method could still be a good choice in the absence of other classes. Students who want to make the most of self-taught programs might consider hiring a Chinese tutor to help with pronunciation and conversation.

Travelling throughout China can help someone learn Chinese.
Travelling throughout China can help someone learn Chinese.

Sometimes opportunities to learn Chinese arise in certain clubs. Enthusiast groups with an interest in Chinese sports, architecture, games, or art might offer Chinese language classes. Other people feel that travel is the best way to learn a language. Travel packages can be designed for language learners, or people could choose their own travel itinerary and simply enjoy the opportunity to practice in China.

One approach to learn Chinese is to ask friends or family members who know it to teach you. People sometimes establish informal reciprocal language lessons, where one person teaches Chinese and the other person teaches English or another language. Even though these classes aren’t formal, the enjoyment of learning with friends and the frequent opportunities to converse can help establish basic knowledge.

Computer-based programs are a useful way to learn Chinese.
Computer-based programs are a useful way to learn Chinese.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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