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Everything You Need To Know To Begin Learning Chinese

By Sonia, published on 29/11/2017 Blog > Languages > Chinese > The Best Way To Learn Chinese

Those wanting to learn to speak Chinese often come upon a stumbling block: the difficulty of the language often makes it often necessary to learn with a Chinese teacher who either lived in a Chinese-speaking country or is a native speaker of Mandarin.

In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about choosing the right Chinese class for you.

How To Choose Your Chinese Teacher

When you decide to take Mandarin lessons, it’s important to look at what the private language lesson market has to offer and compare the various profiles of Chinese tutors.

Consider having a look around university lecture halls – maybe a Chinese exchange student is looking to give private lessons!

More concretely, make a list of what you are looking for:

  • What are your personal expectations: are you taking Chinese lessons to become bilingual, to acquire some basics for a holiday, to learn to write Chinese characters, to speak Mandarin with Chinese native speakers
  • What type of Chinese lesson are you looking for? Evening classes, intensive courses, beginner classes, follow-up lessons to improve on what you already know, Chinese calligraphy classes, courses on Chinese culture, learning Pinyin, work on your phonetics and pronunciation, learn Cantonese or Mandarin?
  • What is your goal? Are you taking lessons to prepare a holiday in China or Taiwan, an internship in China, a language exchange trip, or to take the HSK test?
  • Do you want to be truly bilingual?
  • Or learn Mandarin Chinese to become a teacher yourself?

Learn Chinese calligraphy with a Mandarin teacher. A live Chinese teacher can correct your mistakes in Chinese calligraphy, teaching you the direction and order of strokes. Photo by Axel Rouvin on Visualhunt

There are many reasons for learning the language of Confucius.

This is why you will need to find a Chinese tutor who is competent, experienced and, most importantly, one who delivers on what he promises.

So how can you find this miracle person, this crème de la crème of teachers?

There are a number of different types of teacher ranging from primary-school level – for your children – to university to specialised institutes such as the Confucius Institutes to Chinese exchange students at university and, of course, private tutors here at Superprof.

Generally, a good foreign language teacher has at least three years’ more practical experience than his students.
Yet three years are barely enough time to even start to master the Chinese characters at a level suited for practical, everyday use.

Chinese dictionaries document up to 106 230 Chinese words! However, you only need to know about 4 000 to 6 000 Chinese characters to get through everyday life.

With the right teacher you will be able to recognise the Chinese characters for saying hello (ni hao, 你 好), good-bye (zài jiàn, 再 见) and thank-you (xièxie, 谢谢, pronounced “shay-shay”) in Chinese in no time.

You should look for a Chinese teacher who:

  • has passed the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) diploma – the Chinese language equivalent of the TOEFL
  • Shows a good understanding of Chinese culture
  • Listens to his students
  • Can adapt to all levels
  • Knows all the common Chinese vocabulary words.

Let’s have a look at the range of tutors inscribed at Superprof for private Chinese lessons at home and compare their profiles.

  • Some of them earned their teacher’s diplomas in China, others in Britain at a language institute or University.
  • Some are British citizens having lived in China while others are Chinese exchange students studying at a university in the UK (over 90,000 Chinese nationals are studying in Higher Education in the UK).
  • Others have their teacher’s certificate while still others are native Mandarin speakers.
  • Finally, they offer beginner courses, revision classes, lessons at home or the opportunity to learn Chinese online via Skype.

These variables are all going to influence the price of a one-hour Chinese lesson.

How Much Does A Mandarin Lesson Cost?

A foreign language course doesn’t come cheap!

In England, private tutors are freelancers; their fees are not fixed. This means that private Chinese teachers fix their prices themselves, depending on their experience.

Save money on Chinese courses. Chinese lessons can be expensive – but not if you choose them carefully! Photo by Canadian Pacific on Visualhunt.com

But how much does a home Chinese lesson cost?

On average, home tutoring in the UK costs about £25 to 30 an hour.

Over 400 Mandarin tutors are available on Superprof throughout the UK. Their prices vary greatly, depending on:

  • Geographical location
  • Their level of Mandarin
  • The level at which they teach (beginner, intermediate, advanced)
  • Experience
  • Age
  • The number of lessons (some offer reduced prices if you sign up for 10 lessons or more).

On Superprof, the prices for a Chinese tutor are as follows:

  • Mandarin Lessons London range from £12 (cheapest) to £50 an hour (most expensive) for a Chinese tutor London.
  • In the rest of England, prices go from £5 (teaching as a hobby) to £50 (Business Chinese).
  • Chinese lessons in Scotland can be as cheap as £10 an hour or as expensive as £40.

So, do you have to be rich to take Mandarin or Cantonese classes?

Fortunately, there are alternatives if you live in a high-price area.

You can take lessons at a language institute or learn Chinese online via webcam.

But why would you?

A language school will tie you down for eight to ten weeks per course and put you in a classroom with other students.

This at least forces you to commit to lessons, allows you to meet like-minded students of the Chinese language, and offers lessons with native speakers from a Mandarin-speaking area such as China, Taiwan, Singapur or Hong Kong.

It is also usually cheaper, as the course prices, when broken down into hourly rates, are usually quite low: paying anywhere between £130 to £678 depending on the place and the class level, you will find yourself with an hourly fee ranging from £6.50 to £16.95 – well below the average of £20-30 an hour – and the teachers are just as experienced, if not more!

Still too expensive?

You might instead try finding Chinese exchange students willing to give lessons in their native tongue.

Or try private lessons via webcam – without travel expenses, most Chinese teachers offer Skype courses at advantageous rates.

Or simply learn Chinese online with free apps for learning the Chinese language.

How Can You Prepare for Your Chinese Lessons?

“There is no easy way to learn difficult things.”
(Joseph de Maistre, 1753-1821)

As we know, learning to read and write Chinese is an arduous task. That’s why it helps to really prepare for your Chinese lessons ahead of time.

So what can you do?

  • Listen carefully during the lesson to better memorise it
  • Regularly re-read your lessons (rules of Chinese grammar, Pinyin transcription, the order and direction of the strokes in Chinese calligraphy, vocabulary words, Chinese verbs)
  • Find a quiet moment for revision – the evenings just before going to sleep are best
  • Keep your brain irrigated: eat well, drink a lot, breathe mindfully, sit correctly with your back straight and your feet parallel to the ground
  • Avoid distractions
  • Make flashcard summaries: one card per chapter or lesson
  • Use mnemonic devices to help you memorise Chinese grammar or symbols.

Learning Mandarin means assimilating sounds and rhythms that are completely different from our Romance languages. Just like a musician, you need to train your ear and activate your lexicographical radar.

So how can you immerse yourself in the Chinese language while still in Britain?

When learning a new subject, it helps to immerse yourself in the area you are studying. Listen to jazz when learning jazz guitar, read Arabic newspapers to learn the Arabic alphabet or listen to foreign movies in the original when learning a language.

It’s the same thing when learning Chinese: you need to immerse yourself in it, to hear Mandarin spoken, for example by watching Chinese movies.

Even if you don’t actually understand it at first, a beginner Chinese student will be better able to recognise Chinese characters and improve their pronunciation than if they didn’t do this simple exercise.

Reading Chinese improves your vocabulary. Practise your Mandarin reading skills by reading Chinese newspapers. Photo by Canadian Pacific on Visualhunt

Immersing yourself in the Chinese language means plunging headfirst into the language and its environment. It also means discovering Chinese culture and history, the Chinese way of thinking and functioning. It’s almost like going off to live in China without leaving the UK.

To accelerate your Chinese learning curve, prepare a trip to China or Taiwan – or why not try a language exchange programme?

What is a language exchange?

It’s a way to learn a foreign language for free by meeting with a native speaker. You learn Mandarin from a Chinese national who wants to learn English: an intercultural exchange, a transfer between first and second languages.

How To Supplement Your Chinese Classes

The tones and pronunciation of the Chinese language can sometimes be so difficult to assimilate that two hours of Chinese lessons a week are insufficient for anyone wanting to learn Chinese fast.

So here are a few tools to help improve your command of the Chinese language.

Learn Chinese faster with digital learning tools. Is your Chinese dictionary not enough to become a fluent Mandarin speaker? Try out Chinese learning apps and websites. Photo by Nick Kenrick. on VisualHunt.com

Websites and apps to train your Chinese skills

Obviously, it is impossible to list all the tools available to learn Chinese online, whether it be websites or apps, but here is a selection:

Finding a Chinese exchange partner

Most sites promising to match people wanting to learn a foreign language to those for whom it’s the mother tongue often also offer lesson plans, dictionaries and chatrooms where you can find a conversation partner.

  • My language exchange uses the Cormier method: learn the Chinese language by taking part in linguistic workshops of two to four people. The site allows beginner Chinese students to exchange e-mails and offers video chats for more advanced students. This method is mainly for students at an intermediary level.
  • Conversation exchange is another free site that will help you find Chinese people wanting to learn a European language such as French, English or Spanish as conversation partners.

These sites make it possible to learn a language in a social context.
How?

By meeting at the local pub, for example, and speaking half the time in your native language to teach it to your language partner, and half the time in your new second language to learn it for free.

It’s also a formidable opportunity to learn colloquial expressions and cultural information that you don’t necessarily learn in a language class – discover China’s political system and history, or Chinese food with a native.

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