Learn how to speak Chinese/Mandarin

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10 Tips to help you learn Mandarin faster

When you first begin to learn a language it can seem a little daunting, and Mandarin is sometimes regarded as one of the hardest. However, there are several things that you can do to make learning Mandarin or any language a lot easier.

1) Determine your goal
Knowing what you want to learn is the first step. Many students don’t know what it is they want to learn, and as a result feel dissatisfied with their results and may give up.
Decide very early on whether you just want to know a little Mandarin, whether you want to be fluent, whether you want to be able to read and write or just speak it?
By knowing what you want to learn, you can select the right class, and your teacher can better help you attain your goals.

2) Speak to native speakers
The second thing to do is to listen and talk to a native speaker. By interacting with someone who is a native speaker you increase your chances of learning the right inflections and nuances of Mandarin. This can minimise your accent and make you more intelligible. You will also be amazed at how much you pick up simply by listening to someone speaking correctly.

3) Break it down
It is better to break down your learning into smaller chunks than to take a marathon learning period. You learn better by constant reinforcement and small incremental growth than by attempting to cram in a lot of information. Apply this method to the language material as well. Start from the beginning and build on each lesson. If you are finding a current phrase hard, break it down into words, learn each word confidently first, then put them back together.

4) Don’t associate with your native language
It is a common habit to associate a word in Mandarin with the corresponding one in English or your native language. Try not to do it. The sooner you think in Mandarin, the easier it will be to learn Mandarin. Instead of associating with your native language, connect each word in Mandarin with the object ot the situation. Drawing pictures that tell the story of the phrase or about the word will help a lot more.

5) Think in whole phrases
Thinking in whole phrases, not one word at a time, also helps, as words don’t always translate exactly. This will speed up your understanding of the language.

6) Don’t move on if your pronunciation is not understandable
Don't fool yourself into thinking, “I know enough vocabulary, therefore I will be able to express myself precisely and people will understand me.” Language is a tool of conversation, and if you are unable to make people understand you while you talk, you shouldn’t consider that successful!   Please make sure your pronunciation is understandable, otherwise don't move on. This is helped hugely by talking to a native speaker. They can give you good pointers on how to make pronunciation correct immediately, and you can learn by listening to theirs.

7) Learn Pinyin
Some commercials claim a magical Mandarin learning experience during which "pinyin" is not taught seriously, if at all. These materials use English equivalent sounds to teach you the Chinese pronunciation. Be sceptical here: at best you end up speaking your unique version of "English" to Chinese people, and nobody on this earth is going to understand you! The whole "Pinyin" system is not complicated: all you need is 5 to 10 hours of serious lessons, and once you get it, you can theoretically pronounce and note down any words and/or sentences correctly.  It is really worth the effort even if you are just going to China for a brief visit.

8) Listen to radio and television programmes in Mandarin
By constantly being exposed to the language, you will absorb quite a lot, and this can rapidly speed up your understanding of the language.

9) Read in Mandarin
Reinforce what you have learnt by reading bilingual and Mandarin books. Break this down into small steps. Start with children’s picture books and work your way up. This helps with grammar and knowledge of the language. Reading out aloud helps with pronunciation and phrasing. All this reinforces what you learn in class.

10) Repeat, repeat, repeat
Repetition is the best way to imprint something into your mind. Go over phrases often, and continue going over things even after you think you have them covered. Don’t gloss over any parts of the learning process. Remember the building blocks from tip 3; you will need each part of your course to achieve your goals.

A few last words to remember: just because it seems harder now doesn’t mean it is. Break it down to manageable amounts, talk to your teacher about extra help, repeat what you have learnt until you can do it in your sleep and have as much exposure to Mandarin as you can. Good luck with learning Mandarin, and have fun!

Mandarin speaking facts
Linguists have identified seven main subdivisions of Chinese, with Mandarin being the most widely used of these.  Some of the other subdivisions are based on the dialect of Mandarin.  Mandarin is the common language of communication of government, of media, and of instruction in schools in China.