This week we decided to focus on writing a post specifically about learning Mandarin Chinese. The topic of this blog post, ‘Five secrets to fluent Mandarin’, actually comes from our e-book. So, if you want to hear us go into more detail on the matter, then pick up a copy here.
Throughout my time in China, I encountered many foreigners who were on a journey to reach fluency in Mandarin. Some of them excelled and some of them gave up early on. I always wondered why this was. Many people would put it down to ‘talent’ and simply say that some people are better language learners than others, but I don’t subscribe to this line of thought… at all!
You see, I believe that anything can be learned. The level to which we can learn a new skill depends on how well we understand it. Passion and desire are the driving forces behind our learning but our level of understanding determines our level of success.
Have you ever heard someone say, ‘the more languages you know, the easier it is to learn another’? Well, the reason for this is that the more languages you have learned previously, the better you understand the whole language learning process. It’s quite logical really, the more you do something, the better at it you get.
However, what if Mandarin Chinese is the first language you’ve attempted to learn and you’re worried that because of your lack of experience learning languages that you’re going to fail?
Well, our aim is to give you all the knowledge and tools you need to succeed in your journey without necessarily having experience learning other languages.
Anyway, that’s enough rambling for now!
Let’s go straight to the five pillars of learning Mandarin, starting with number one…
1. Keep your Initial focus on listening and speaking
A lot of people want to dive straight into learning how to read and write characters when they begin learning Mandarin but we think this is a bad idea.
Because Chinese characters can be pretty intimidating, especially if you have zero knowledge of the language.
It would be really easy to sit and write out Chinese characters for hours each day only to forget them days later. The reason for this is that you need a base level, a foundation, in Chinese before you can comfortably start learning to read and write characters.
The other reason we think everyone should initially focus on listening and speaking is that those skills will improve really fast! Seeing such a quick improvement in your ability to speak and understand Mandarin will give you the confidence boost you need to continue your studies and learn to speak fluent Mandarin.
2. Maintain realistic expectations
We tend to get really excited when embarking on the journey of learning something new and this excitement often fades very quickly when we realise all of the hard work that lies ahead. That’s why if your goal is to be able to speak fluent Mandarin, it’s important to have realistic expectations.
As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is fluency in Mandarin.
People often start to lose motivation when they aren’t making as much progress as they hoped they would.
But here’s the secret. There are often many ‘clicking points’ in language learning. A clicking point is when everything you’ve been studying suddenly all comes together and you feel like you finally understand everything that was previously lost on you.
It may take a little while to reach your first clicking point but if you follow these five secrets, you definitely will.
3. Study consistently
What ‘study consistently’ really means here is do a little bit every single day. In order to make progress in a new language, you have to be exposed to the language on a daily basis. Consistently spending time with the language will allow your brain to slowly get used to it and you’ll subconsciously begin to decipher all its rules and patterns.
Studying for hours one day and doing nothing the next is not a winning strategy!
Even if there’s one day in the week where you literally only have 10 minutes free, use that time to do something in Mandarin – Review yesterday’s material, listen to a podcast, have a go at writing a self-introduction or send your Chinese pen pal a message. It doesn’t matter, just make sure you’re putting the time in every day to improving your Mandarin and you will achieve fluency.
4. Pay attention to tones
Tones are extremely important in Chinese. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. A somewhat decent command of the four tones is the very minimum you’ll need to be understood by native speakers. It’s really important that you focus on getting the tones correct from day one! Neglecting tones, in the beginning, will come back to bite you later on.
You don’t want to have to go back and retrain your pronunciation after months of studying.
It may be frustrating and difficult but making a conscious effort to learn the four tones, in the beginning, will pay off greatly when native speakers start showering you in compliments – saying things like ‘你的发音非常好!’
5. Study efficiently
Lastly, we have efficiency. Studying efficiently means learning the most that you can in the time that you have available to you. In other words, if you only have 20 minutes a day to dedicate to your Mandarin studies, it’s probably not wise to use that time watching Chinese dramas. It would be a better use of your time to listen to more dialogues and learn new vocabulary.
Also, it’s important that you start to integrate the Mandarin language into your day, every day.
Do you take the subway to work? Well, why not use that time to review the previous day’s dialogues?
These are our five secrets to fluent Mandarin! Remember, our e-book ‘Talking Mandarin’ goes into much more detail on each of these five points, so grab a copy if you’re interested.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s post!
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