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Learn Mandarin with our Chinese Lesson Blogs

By Joy, published on 26/10/2017 Blog > Languages > Chinese > How to Learn Chinese: A Complete Guide

More than 30,000 people in the UK are learning Chinese.

Mandarin Chinese was the first native language spoken in the world, no wonder it arouses so much interest!

Are you the next one to start Chinese lessons?

Superprof gives advice to all beginners in Chinese to succeed in their learning!

How to Learn Chinese Characters?

To Learn Chinese, it is first of all necessary to learn the Chinese alphabet, which makes learning mandarin more complicated for a student whose native language is of Latin or Germanic origin.

Don’t worry! To be fluent in Chinese, you “only” need to know 2 000 characters on the 47 000 identified by the Chinese Kangxi Dictionary.

Of course, there is an alternative for people who aren’t brave: Pinyin!

It is the transcription of Chinese characters into Latin characters. But when we boast about wanting to write Chinese, the least we can do is to learn the real characters, right?

Photo via Visualhunt.com Learn to write in Mandarin. Photo via Visualhunt.com

Unlock the Keys

You only need to find the right keys to unlock all this knowledge!

The best way to learn Mandarin and make progress quickly is to know what Chinese characters are made up of and learn the basics:

8 strokes (with 29 possible variants) constitute 214 keys that are used to form the 47 000 characters. 

The knowledge and mastery of the keys is the basis to learn how to recognize and form Chinese characters.

Otherwise, the student may find it difficult to memorize the different characters and to understand them.

The Rules of Writing

After having understood the key system, we must move to the main point now!

Chinese meets some standards of writing that are simple but that must be respected at all cost, at risk of not being understood:

  • Writing a character goes from the left to the right and from the top to the bottom,
  • Horizontal lines must be represented before vertical strokes,
  • To write several characters, you have to begin with the character furthest right,
  • A character must be part of an imaginary square.

To learn the characters, remember to break them down. Thanks to your mastery of the keys and strokes, it will be easier to understand a complex character.

For example, a student who has never seen the Chinese pictogram 药 that stands for “medicine” will recognize:

  • The radical of the grass at the top, symbol of Chinese medicine (艹),
  • The radical of the silk on the left (纟) to wrap everything,
  • As well as the symbol of the small spoon for medicinal powders.

So, the student will in all likelihood deduce that the character is linked to the medical world and medicinal plants.

Find out more about taking Mandarin lessons with a private tutor.

Memorization Techniques and the Best Tools

As with many things, mnemonics (the study and development of systems for improving and assisting the memory) could help you to memorize the characters more effectively.

The manual Stick programme can be useful with no less than 1,600 identified characters and the mnemonics to learn them. It costs 20 to 25£ to get it.

But we all know that our logic differs according to our personality and our experiences, the best way to memorize the characters more effectively therefore is to create your own mnemonics.

For example, this character 保 (defend, protect) makes me think of a snowman holding a sword. It’s up to you to create your own shortcuts for you to remember the characters.

And if really, no character makes you think about anything, Chineasy represents them in cartoon form to make your job easier. The character of fire really becomes a fire, the character of the person is represented with shoes and a head.

Thus, your visual memory is put to use and allows you to better remember the different characters.

When is a Character Mastered?

Everything depends on you! It is difficult to say how long you need to master Chinese characters  (not all of them of course!).

In any case, we can consider you a master of a character especially when you’re able:

  • To recognize it by its shape,
  • To pronounce it correctly only by seeing it,
  • To write it of course!

A language fluency in writing but also orally. You need to know aspects of the phonetics, of Chinese writing and the different intonations of a given Chinese sign in order to speak Chinese!

How to Write in Chinese?

Before starting to write of course, we learn the different characters!

A student in Chinese worthy of the name should not just be learning Pinyin but learning the complexity of Chinese, its characters, its conjugation and grammar.

The mastery of characters is essential to Chinese writing!

As we saw in the previous section, without in-depth knowledge of the characters, it is difficult to say that we’ve mastered Chinese!

It’s as if someone said they know how to ride a horse without a horse… That’s impossible! It lacks the basis of riding! The same goes for Chinese! Without the characters, this language wouldn’t be much.

Keep in mind the advice we gave you to move faster in learning characters and do not hesitate to use all the tools at your disposal!

Learn the basic vocabulary

To motivate yourself and avoid making yourself frustrated with the language, it is advised to learn basic vocabulary such as:

  • Hello: 你好
  • Goodbye: 再见
  • Thank you: 谢谢
  • Please: 

There are many others and if you have any specific desires in terms of vocabulary, consult this FluentU blog!

Photo credit: timtak via VisualHunt.com Learn Chinese characters online. Photo credit: timtak via VisualHunt.com

To continue, we can then learn sentences and common questions:

  • How are you? 你怎么去?
  • I’m good: 很好
  • What’s your name? 你叫什么名字 ?
  • My name is: 我叫
  • How old are you? 你几岁了?
  • I’m … years old: 我+ nombre + 岁了
  • Where are you from? 你是哪国人 ?
  • I’m French: 我是法国人

The website Loecsen offers hundreds of words and phrases used in everyday life. So let’s get to work!

Chinese Grammar

Ah the grammar! If in French, it probably gave you a hard time, this will not be the case in Chinese. It is much less complicated:

  • Like in English, there is no female or male.
  • There is also no singular or plural (Yes, a bit difficult to imagine for us English, but imagine the opposite for a Chinese person learning our language! So, you’re lucky!)
  • There is no conjugation either: the character 了 is sufficient to express the past for example,
  • The structure of a sentence follows the English logic (for now): subject / verb / complement.

Still a few exceptions to complicate everything:

  • The circumstantial complements and the indirect object complements are before the verb, while the direct object complements are found after the verb,
  • The existence of classifier: “zhi” 支 designates a branch but is used to form the word “cigarette” (支香烟) and “pen” (这支笔). It refers to the fine appearance of the objects in question,
  • The most important word is located at the end of the sentence.

A Few Tips to Learn Chinese

To learn Chinese writing more effectively, here are several tips:

  • Subscribe to blogs in Chinese, according to your interests (cooking, sports, history…). This allows you to read contemporary Chinese and make progress without seeming to tiresome.
  • Write on large-squared graph paper: a character must be written in an imaginary square, to start, it’s better to write inside real squares,
  • Immerse yourself in Chinese culture: calligraphy, movies, series, music… Any excuse is good to move forward in that language,
  • Don’t limit yourself to writing: even if the focus is on writing in this part, when you learn a language, you learn all of its facets! The oral is as important as the writing and the two are complementary,
  • Practice on a daily basis: 20 minutes a day, it is much more efficient than an hour of Chinese classes per week. Your brain can assimilate new things little by little and during the revisions, it reactivates more quickly,
  • Do not be afraid of mistakes: if you use them to move forward of course! We learn best by making mistakes than by not making any!
  • Do not hesitate to take Chinese courses: our platform is full of superprofs in Chinese ready to help you with Mandarin classes London or anywhere else in the UK!

Chinese is a language that can boost the capabilities of your brain and it’s capacity for analysis. Learning a language can also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease through memorization techniques!

Similarly, a dyslexic learner will have more capability with a language like Chinese or Japanese. They rely on a sign for an idea contrary to the Romance languages that use separate letters to form a word.

If at this stage you are not convinced that Chinese is the language to learn, I don’t know what to do!

How to Read in Chinese?

When you learn to write Chinese, we learn by extension to read!

Pinyin

Of course, if you do not read or write Chinese, but simply communicate in Chinese language, then settle for Pinyin, which literally means “spell the sounds”. It is the Latin transcription of the pronunciation of characters. If you’re just planning a trip to China, this is enough.

On the other hand, if you want to go work in China, do an internship or your studies, the chances are that you will need to know how to read Chinese and write characters.

In all cases, learning Pinyin and characters in Chinese at the same time can be useful for pronunciation and a better memorization.

Photo credit: matsuyuki via Visualhunt Master the Chinese language with Superprof. Photo credit: matsuyuki via Visualhunt

Books to Read Chinese

We recommend two books for beginner learners in Chinese:

  • Reading & Writing Chinese: available on Amazon for less than £10, this book offers lessons in simplified characters now universally used in mainland China and Singapore, and which are the primary goal of almost all learners.
  • Easy Peasy Chinese Workbook: Mandarin Chinese Practice for Beginners: also available on Amazon for around £9, this manual offers a complete visual workbook for beginners learning Mandarin Chinese.

And why not introduce your children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces or cousins to the reading of Chinese at the same time as you? There are chances that they will however learn much faster ?

Useful applications to learn Chinese

Several applications for smartphones are also very useful for learning characters:

  • Pleco: available free on iOS and Android, the app offers to draw yourself a met character that is not known. This allows to move quickly!
  • Skritter: this application helps learning reading through flashcards, which makes it fun,
  • Hello HSK: the app allows to prepare HSK degree, but is very useful to learn vocabulary and learn to read quickly.

A few additional tips

Why not watch again all Chinese Kung Fu movies in Chinese with Chinese subtitles?

As with any language, to improve, you have to study regularly and multiply different medias:

  • Use known Content first: Watch a movie or a series that you know almost by heart in Chinese with Chinese subtitles,
  • Read a Chinese newspaper: when the student’s level is high enough, the best to progress is still written Chinese, starting with newspapers and why not books soon?
  • Create a routine of learning: to learn effectively, nothing better than to put in place a ritual. It only depends on you, your habits and your schedule. Some people prefer to work in the morning, others at lunch, others still at sunset where the ability of memorization is often fixed by sleep.

Of course, to progress in a language, it is absolutely necessary to learn Chinese vocabulary. Reading it will be even easier!

Learning Chinese Vocabulary

What would a language be without its vocabulary? Very little. But how then to learn Chinese words?

To learn a foreign language would combat the onset of Alzheimer’s disease!

Often, we wrongly think that some are more gifted than others to memorize. It’s not true! It is simply a matter of training and knowledge of strengths and weaknesses.

You need to know before everything what is the best method for yourself:

  • Visual memory
  • Auditory memory
  • Or kinesthetic memory (linked to movements)?

Let’s connect our neurons so that they work more and faster! In addition, learn a language and train your brain is very good against aging and problems… of….. memory of course!

What are the most effective methods to learn a language quickly?

Now that the student was able to target their strong and weak points, there are still several methods that have proven their worth:

  • The association of ideas: for example, hair in Chinese is said: “tóu fà”. The association of ideas is all found with the word “Breakfast” in English. It’s up to the learner to demonstrate imagination and humor to more effectively retain some vocabulary words!
  • Repetition: hey yes! No secrets, to remember something, you have to repeat it! But not foolishly! Note that the most effective repetition must be spaced in time. For example, learn a word in the morning, try to remember it 1 hour later, then 3 hours later, then in the evening, then two days after… to anchor the word in your long-term memory,
  • Mental images: together with the association of ideas, mental images are up to you. Four rules to make it work: the image must be overstated, moving, related to an emotion and should be unusual.

To learn effectively, we need to leave room for “reading”, “writing” and “vocabulary” in Chinese!

The Best Media to Learn Vocabulary

Several programs offer Chinese vocabulary on the internet. Two have caught our attention:

  • Han Pro Trainer: available for free download on the website, this software offers many features like grids of specific vocabulary, a revision assistant, assistance to the pronunciation or an introduction to Pinyin. It caters to a wide audience, which makes it a tool particularly interesting,
  • Mosa Lingua: we were talking about the importance of repetition in the previous part, Mosa Lingua is based on the curve of forgetting to develop schedules of revision. The tool is ultra-customizable and very convenient for the learning of an expression, a notion or an idea,

Finally, note that the best way to learn a language and its vocabulary is of course immersion!

And if you don’t have the means to go to China at the drop of a hat, that we can understand, know that there are websites linking Chinese learners and native Chinese speakers. The two parties learn the language of the other, in a win-win relationship.

Follow a Chinese course one-to-one with a teacher or in a group is an excellent solution for those who wish to acquire vocabulary, on condition of course to emphasis it when choosing the professor.

Photo via Visualhunt.com Find a Chinese tutor for fluency in the language. Photo via Visualhunt.com

To sum up:   

  • Learning the strokes and the radicals is the basis for knowing how to write Chinese characters: you must start there.
  • Once this aspect is mastered, the learner needs to remember that a character or a set of characters should be written in an imaginary square.
  • Concerning grammar, little things to know (compared to English grammar): no male-female, no singular-plural, no conjugation, and the most important word in a Chinese sentence is at the end.
  • Learning to read goes together with learning to write characters: use all possible medias: newspapers, books, films, series…
  • The vocabulary is finally the last important aspect in learning a language: know yourself well before starting the best method for you!
  • The Pleco application is certainly the most effective and the most useful on a daily basis when we meet a new character, when you wish to practice writing or even when you need precise vocabulary through the English-Chinese dictionary.

Need to find a mandarin tutor in the UK? Look no further! Whether your searching for a Chinese tutor London, or outside the capital, you’ll find them with Superprof.

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