How to become FLUENT in Chinese in under a year

How to become FLUENT in Chinese in under a year

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year, drank lots, ate lots and overall had a much-needed rest!

However, it’s time now to get back to the grind. For some of you that means going back to work and for others, it means going back to school. For all of us, though, it means getting back to pursuing our language goals!

And so, on the off chance that your New Year’s resolution for 2018 is to become fluent in Chinese, I’ve decided to write a blog post about how you can achieve just that!

Before we delve into that, however, let’s first define the word ‘fluent’. Many people disagree on the meaning of the word ‘fluent’ and as a result, there is much controversy surrounding people who claim to be ‘fluent’ in many languages.

Benny Lewis, the Irish polyglot comes to mind with his ‘Fluent in 3 months’ language missions where he attempts to learn a new language to ‘fluency’ in just 3 months.

Many people hail Benny as a language learning genius for what he’s been able to accomplish, while others say the level he’s able to attain is actually nowhere near true ‘fluency’.

So why do people have such different views?

It’s because they have different definitions of ‘fluency’.

While some people believe fluency to merely be the ability to fluidly engage in conversation, others believe it means total and utter mastery of the language.

What’s my view, you ask?

I share the popular opinion that one should have the right to call themselves fluent when, and only when they have achieved a level that corresponds to ‘B2’ on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). If you’ve never heard of that before, then check out this helpful Wikipedia page.

Also, I believe ‘fluency’ to only refer to one’s speaking skills. So, yes, you can technically be ‘fluent’ in Chinese without knowing how to read or write it.

I have met a few people like this before. “Great!” You’re thinking, “I’ll just neglect characters all together and speak, speak, speak!” Okay, slow down. That’s not a good idea.


Because the act of reading in a language is a very good and arguably very necessary thing to do if one wishes to become ‘fluent’, according to the definition I provided, that is.

Yes, I know I just contradicted myself by saying I have met people who could speak Chinese fluently but couldn’t read or write it.


What I said wasn’t entirely true. These people I referred to were either ‘special cases’ – people who’d spent lots of time (I’m talking multiple years here) in the country, immersed in the language OR they did have SOME knowledge of characters, just not enough to read, say, an entire novel.

Anyway, I’ll stop my rambling now. Let’s get into how to become fluent in Chinese by the end of 2018!

Recognize that it’s not going to be easy

Achieving fluency in a year is not going to be easy, especially if your target language is Chinese.

Even though a year sounds like a long time, it really isn’t. Achieving fluency in Chinese by the end of 2018 is going to take dedication, commitment, the right resources and most importantly, planning. Which bring me to my next point.

Plan, plan, and plan some more

All the resources, teachers and textbooks in the world aren’t going to help you if you don’t have a solid plan in place for exactly how you’re going to achieve fluency.

In order to come up with a watertight plan for exactly how you’re going to achieve fluency, you need to first define your goals.

In our e-book, Talking Mandarin, we’ve written a section on goal setting. I’d really recommend picking up a copy, which you can so here.

The gist of it though is to define a very specific goal, which you will then break up into smaller milestones. Remember to attach a time frame to each milestone.

For example, you could have 12 monthly milestones or perhaps 6 2nd monthly milestones.

Each milestone should then be broken up down into weekly action steps. I know it sounds like a lot of effort, but if you’re serious about achieving fluency then you need to have a seriously well thought out, step-by-step plan.

Again, this method of goal setting is very powerful. To learn more, grab a copy of our e-book.

Once you have a rock solid plan in place, it’s time to…

Gather your resources and create your ‘curriculum’

This may actually be one of the easiest steps in the whole process of learning Chinese to fluency. Don’t get me wrong, choosing the best resources for you, that match your style of learning, is very important but the sheer abundance of resources available today (both free and paid) makes finding resources extremely easy.

If you’re truly serious about achieving fluency by the end of the year then you need to take some time to do research on which resources will benefit you, personally, the most.

Once you’ve done this you need to take some more time and build yourself a custom curriculum that will take you from beginner to fluent over the course of your chosen time-frame (one year)!

How do you do that?

Well, this is where the importance of graded learning comes in. In other words, graded learning refers to a step-by-step approach to language learning, whereby with each ‘step’ you increase the difficulty of what you’re studying by a small amount so as to make sure you’re constantly challenging yourself.

This approach ensures that you aren’t wasting time by re-learning things you already know or spending copious amounts of time and energy doing exercises that are too easy for you.

However, there is a drawback to this approach. If you make things too difficult for yourself, you won’t learn anything and will instead feel demotivated.

So, you need to find a balance.

Make sure that the resources you’re working from at any given time are just a little bit above your level – enough to keep engaged and but not too much that you have no idea what’s going on.

I’d encourage you to pick up our e-book to get more in-depth information on this approach to learning Chinese.

Make sure to include time with native speakers in your plan

This one is very important. I’m sorry to say this but you’re not going to achieve fluency by studying solely on your own. You’re going to need to spend time with native speakers one way or another.

And by ‘spend time with native speakers’ what I really mean is come up with a plan that allows you to speak with native speakers as much as possible.

This could be as easy as going onto italki and scheduling a weekly Class with a tutor or you could look for Chinese teachers in your area whom you can have one-on-one classes with (highly recommended, by the way).

OR ,

You could even plan a trip to China or Taiwan for the end of the year!

Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to get practice with native speakers. At the very least you’re going to need a native speaker to correct your tones.


Because nobody pronounces tones correctly right from the get-go. Your Chinese will benefit greatly from a bit of pronunciation training early on.

This brings me to my next point.

Take tones seriously right from the beginning

Tones need not be so scary as people make them out to be. They are actually quite straightforward!


If, in the beginning, you get into the habit of, say, pronouncing a second tone like a third tone then it’s going to be really hard to correct that later on.

That’s why you should take tones seriously from the beginning and invest a little extra time and perhaps money into finding a native speaker to correct your pronunciation.

Again, a Chinese friend, italki tutor or local Chinese teacher will do the trick.

Pinyin is your friend

Many learners of Chinese are so frantic to get to grips with Chinese characters that they almost neglect Pinyin entirely.

Don’t underestimate the power of Pinyin! Especially if your goal is to speak Chinese fluently.

In case you have no idea what Pinyin is, essentially it’s the Romanized form of written Chinese. If you want more information then check out this link.

A solid understanding of how to read and write in Pinyin will unlock so many resources that were previously inaccessible. That’s why Learning Pinyin to a high proficiency is an absolute must.

And the good news is that it won’t take long at all!

That’s right. Pinyin is pretty straightforward and dare I say easy to learn.

Many, many textbooks and other Chinese learning resources are written in Pinyin (or at least, the pinyin accompanies the characters) so you don’t even need to know a single Chinese character before you dive into your studies.

If you want to practice your Chinese by texting with friends or other Chinese natives but you don’t know enough characters – just write in Pinyin. They will have no problem understanding as long as your tone marks are correct.

When you receive a response just copy and paste it into a Characters to Pinyin translator like this one and away you go. You can have a whole written conversation in Chinese without knowing a single character.

Cool, huh?!

Now, I’m not saying that you should just neglect characters all together and just focus on Pinyin. All I’m saying is that knowing Pinyin allows you to ‘hack’ your learning – by letting you read anything in Chinese without actually knowing how to read in Chinese… If that makes sense.

Reading is a really important exercise for improving your vocabulary and grammar knowledge but if you had to sit down and learn 3000 characters first, you’d never achieve fluency in under a year.

That’s why I’m highlighting the importance of knowing how to read Pinyin.

Study at least a little every day

This really is the key to progressing in any skill. DO IT EVERY DAY.

Studying for hours one day and doing nothing the next is not as effective as doing a little bit every single day.

I agree that is it hard to imagine yourself studying Chinese every single day for a year. Realistically, you’re probably going to miss a couple of days here and there, and if that’s due to being sick or planning your wedding (for example) then that’s OKAY!

Otherwise, though, it’s pure laziness and that’s just not going to fly, homeboy/girl!

Immerse yourself in Chinese

It’s really important to understand that purely ‘studying’ Chinese is not enough to achieve fluency.

You need to experience the language. You need to absorb the language.

And how do you do that you ask?

Simple. By immersing yourself in it.

Don’t worry, though. You do not have to go to the country to truly immerse yourself in a language!

You can read more about how to immerse yourself in a language without going to the country, here.

Have fun!

Lastly, remember that learning a new language is supposed to be FUN!

If you’re tearing your hair out every day while you pour over grammar rules and try to make sense of everything, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO LAST A WHOLE YEAR.

And this is why so many people give up on learning a new language.

In the beginning focus on speaking and listening. Just accept that fact that you’re not going to understand all the intricacies of a language overnight.

Open your mind to the language and allow it to flow through you. Surrender yourself to the language learning process.

If something is really bothering you, then find a tutor or native Chinese speaker to help explain it to you.

Just remember that feeling confused is totally normal!

Further reading

Here are some other articles that I really recommend you read.

Benny’s Top Resources for Learning Chinese

Have fun learning Chinese or else…






Chinese Christmas Vocabulary (free download)

Chinese Christmas Vocabulary (free download)

While China may not be the best place on Earth to celebrate Christmas, you can certainly feel the Christmas vibe in the big cities (don’t expect to get the day off work, though).

If you look below you’ll see that we’ve created a Chinese Christmas-themed vocabulary list so that you can continue your studies during the festive period. (download a high-quality version for printing out below).

Click here to download a high-quality version.

That’s it from us! We hope you enjoy your holidays. make sure to SUBSCRIBE for some awesome new content in 2018.

From all of us here… MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Please help us by sharing this post on Twitter and Facebook.


5 Reasons why Chinese is the BEST language to learn in 2018

5 Reasons why Chinese is the BEST language to learn in 2018

It’s already December, which means that 2018 is just around the corner! As the New Year approaches I’m sure you’re already thinking about your New Year’s resolutions and goals for 2018. I know I am. In this blog post, I want to tell you why Chinese is the best language to learn in 2018 and hopefully after you’re finished reading this, you’ll have added another New Year’s resolution to your list.

Okay, let’s get down to business. These are the top 5 reasons why Chinese is the BEST language to learn in 2018.

1. There are more job opportunities than ever for foreigners in China

China is becoming increasingly open towards the West and Western culture and acknowledges the need for skilled foreign professionals in order to achieve its goal of world domination.

Just kidding about the world domination thing but seriously, the amount of expats in China has increased a lot over the years! There are over 550000 foreigners living in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong alone.

In the past, the only job known to foreigners in China was ‘English teacher’ but that’s not the case anymore.

The English language domain is, however, a huge and ever-expanding market in China. With the overwhelming majority of young learners and students studying English as their choice of second language, the need for native English speakers is always increasing. The value of the English training market in China is reported to be over $4.5 billion USD, with growth expected to be around 12% for at least the next few years.

While teaching English may be the most popular job to do in China (among foreigners, anyway), there are lots of opportunities available in other fields too.

China’s tech industry is growing rapidly and due to this, China faces a shortage of IT workers. Many companies are looking to employ IT professionals for jobs in software engineering, computing, development and more. Shenzhen, in the South of China, Beijing’s Zhongguancun area and Shanghai are China’s biggest tech hubs.

If you have an excellent command of the English language and enjoy writing/reporting you can look for jobs within the field of news and journalism. With lots of English language, state-run news companies the demand for professional writers is also on the rise.

There are a plethora of other fascinating jobs available for foreigners in China that include: Sales and marketing, hospitality and hotel management, engineering, translation, and trade. Find out more here.

2. China’s economy is booming and will soon overtake that of the USA

It’s long been said that China’s economy will overtake the USA’s and it looks like it’s going to happen relatively soon. A new study by PriceWaterhouse Coopers indicates that China’s economy will be bigger than the USA’s by 2030 (perhaps well before).

China’s economy has been slowing down is past years but recent forecasts indicate that it may be on the rise once again. China’s economy is expected to grow by 6.4% on average from now until 2021.

In addition to this, IMF attributed the global economic growth and particularly Asia’s growth, to China’s booming economy. “Growth prospects for emerging and developing economies are marked up by 0.1 percentage point for both 2017 and 2018 relative to April, primarily owing to a stronger growth projection for China, ” said the IMF.

China economic trends. Why learn Chinese in 2018


3. Speaking Chinese will make you a more attractive applicant

Adding “fluent in Chinese” to your resume is certainly likely to make you stand out from the crowd and possibly help you land a job over other, similarly qualified candidates.

Learning Chinese will expose you to a whole new way of looking at the world. Expanding your mind in this way will help to improve your communication skills on all fronts (even in your native language).

Knowing a language like Chinese is especially helpful if you’re applying to a marketing/sales job at a global company. Understanding the Chinese language will mean a greater understanding of the Chinese people and the Chinese market. Employees with this kind of knowledge are highly sought after by many organizations.

Take a look at the graph below comparing job trends for various major languages.

Graph comparing job trends for various languages. Why learn Chinese in 2018


4. The expat life in China is of a high quality

The big cities in China – Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou are the most popular destinations for expats. Big cities in China are often quite westernized and offer the comfort of safety, efficient transport and easy access to Western-style supermarkets, restaurants, and pubs.

The only downside to living in a big city is the poor air quality, which is especially prominent in Beijing and Shanghai. However, China has been making considerable efforts to reduce air pollution and will continue to do so.

In order to reduce air pollution, China has put a plan in place to reduce the number of coal-burning power plants and instead invest in solar and wind energy. Earlier this year, China announced the closure or cancellation of 103 coal-fired power plants.

Anyway, what do the expats themselves think of life in China? Well, according to these statistics, over 76% of all expats in China indicated they were satisfied by life in China, 14% reported feelings of neutrality and the other 11% said they were less than satisfied.

Map showing spread of expats living in China. Why learn Chinese in 2018


5. Learning Chinese is now easier than ever

Thanks to the growing power of the internet, and increase in resources/materials over the last few years learning Chinese is now easier than ever. The Chinese language has been demystified and there now exists a plethora of amazing resources for learning the language.

There are just so many courses, textbooks, and free resources (like our free phrase book, for example) available that the average Chinese learner is spoilt for choice. If you’re interested to know about all the wonderful online resources (both free and paid) available for learning Chinese, then grab a copy of our e-book where we outline the best of them!

Thanks for reading everyone!

we wish you much success in your future Chinese learning endeavors.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Sheldon speaks Chinese – The Big Bang Theory (analysis)

Sheldon speaks Chinese – The Big Bang Theory (analysis)

Learning Mandarin by watching… The Big Bang Theory? We’ll get to this in a minute but first…

A quick tangent about tones in Chinese

One of the reasons Mandarin Chinese is so intimidating to people is the notion that if you mess up the tones even just a little bit, then the meaning of what you’re trying to say can change drastically. This is the reason why It’s really important to focus on tones right from the start when learning Chinese!

I don’t want to scare you too much. It’s just important to emphasize that tones are not simply a small part of the Chinese language, they ARE the language.

It’s important to remember that in order to be understood when speaking Chinese, the very minimum you’ll need is a decent command of the four tones. Notice how I said tones and not pronunciation!

Pronunciation refers to the way the word is said and tone refers to the pitch of a word. Often times, if you pronounce something wrong, you can still be understood provided your tones are correct!

This is actually pretty cool because it means that having correct tones can save you when you mess up a word’s pronunciation. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t work the other way round.

For the rest of this blog post, we’re going to analyze Sheldon’s use of Mandarin in ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

Sheldon speaks Chinese

If you’re a fan of the hit show ‘The Big Bang Theory’ then you may have noticed that various characters throughout the show’s 10 seasons have had a go at speaking Mandarin.

The first instance of this is at the end of season one when Howard tries to teach Sheldon Mandarin (Chinese must just about be the only subject that Sheldon DOESN’T have a Ph.D. in!).

The reason that Sheldon wants to learn Mandarin is that he believes the local Chinese restaurant, Szechuan Palace, is passing orange chicken off as tangerine chicken (Oh heavens, how could they?).

Sheldon speaks Chinese in the Big Bang Theory

Sheldon wants to confront them about this awful conspiracy and elicits Howard’s help to learn the phrase ‘给我看你用的陈皮’. ‘Show me your tangerine peels’.

Let’s break the sentence down:

给我看 – Show me (literally give (给) me (我) look (看))

你用的 (nǐ yòng de) – your used

陈皮 (chén pí)  – Tangerine peels – NOTE: The word for peel/rind, 皮 (pí), can be used in general to mean the outer skin of something. For example 饺子皮 – means the outside part of a dumpling).

Languages clearly aren’t his strong suit but Sheldon’s pronunciation of this sentence wasn’t bad! I’ll give him 7/10!

When Sheldon is practicing this sentence, he gets tapped on the back by Penny and gets an awful fright. He yells out 吓死我了 ‘you frightened me’. Sheldon nailed this one. 9/10!

Let’s break it down:

吓 (xià) – to frighten, to scare

死 (sǐ) – death

我 (wǒ) – me

了 (le) – Here this particle ‘le’ is used for emphasis

So a more accurate translation might be ‘you scared me to death!’

You’ll see this construction being used quite a bit in Mandarin Chinese. The word ‘死了’ is often used to emphasize a negative adjective.

Let’s have a look at some examples using the construction adjective + 死了

我累死了 – ‘I’m so tired I could die’

我饿死了 – ‘I’m so hungry I could die’

死了 – ‘I’m so hot I could die’

死了 – ‘It’s so painful I could die’

So after all Sheldon’s practice, how were the results of his studies? Well, not very good, unfortunately.


He messed up his pronunciation!

At the end of the episode, Sheldon goes to Szechuan Palace with the intent of asking them to show him their tangerine peels. However, he messes up his pronunciation and instead says ‘鼻涕在哪儿’. Meaning, ‘Where is the snot?’

Clearly what he meant to say was ‘陈皮在哪儿?’ – ‘Where are the tangerine peels?’

NOTE: His mistake here was saying 鼻涕 (bí tì) instead of 陈皮 (chén pí)

Let’s break it down:

鼻涕 (bí tì) – ‘snot’ or ‘mucous’

在哪儿 (zài nǎ ér) – ‘where’

Sheldon’s sentence construction is good, he just messes up the first part of the sentence by saying 鼻涕 instead of 桔皮. Unfortunately, I’ll have to give him a 4/10 for this one.

The construction ‘Object + 在哪儿?’ Means ‘Where is (Object)?’

Let’s look at some examples of this construction:

在哪儿? – Where is the book?

椅子在哪儿 ? – Where is the chair?

手机在哪儿? – Where is the cell phone?

‘在哪儿’ can also be used to ask where a place is. For example:

公园在哪儿? – Where is the park?

地铁站在哪儿? – Where is the subway station?

Just remember next time you want to confront your local Chinese restaurant about the authenticity of their food, have you pronunciation checked by a native speaker first!

Sheldon speaks Chinese in the Big Bang Theory

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow Talking Mandarin on Twitter and Facebook

Share this post below!