So Just Exactly What Made Me Write This
I have long been studying Mandarin Chinese ever since I was a little boy. But being raised in the language ecosystem that I was in, I still don’t truly consider myself as “native” a speaker compared to those in China. I do have the bad habit of inserting English phrases or words into my sentences when I couldn’t express myself in Chinese without pausing to give it a moment’s thought. However, my exposure to Chinese can still be considered good as I majored in Chinese language in college and I’ve been giving training to plenty of people for quite a few years.
Over these years, I’ve come to realize that to master Chinese, you really need three things. You need motivation, the right techniques and good learning resources. I have my specific theory when it comes to Chinese language learning. It always frustrates me when I see how schools in my homeland are educating the students the wrong way, either by continuously lowering the bar, or giving up important areas of focus that are vital in language acquisition.
Thus, I decided to write down what I know that works, so that other beginners can use these proper techniques and concepts when they do their Chinese language learning.
Sounds, Form, Meaning and Usage
Those who ever learned Chinese, or even some through hearsay, would assure everyone that Chinese is the most difficult language to learn. As though they had learned plenty of other languages to do a comparison. Most of these learners focus on spoken Chinese.
However, they don’t realize that due to the language’s linguistic features, there exist a very close relationship between Chinese sounds, Chinese characters and their relevant meanings. When we chose to ignore learning the form and the meaning so that we can tackle the speaking part more efficiently, we actually are increasing the difficulty for ourselves. Let me explain, Chinese sound variants are very limited, and so the language turns to its symbols to encode the various different meanings, or semantics in the language. The result is that one sound, including its tone, can actually mean many, many things. For example: ji1 (first tone of the pronunciation “ji” in Chinese pinyin) can mean “small table”, “hit”, “chicken”, “accumulate” to name a few. How do we know what someone is referring to when we hear the sound? We do this by learning the Chinese characters when we learn the corresponding pronunciation. When put into context, we would be able to call to our minds just what “ji” refers to. Do note that if we mispronounced the first tone into a 2nd tone, we would actually be meaning another set of very different things.
So I haven’t stopped reminding my students to build a solid foundation through memorizing Chinese basics. I do not think that one can just learn creatively and magically be able to use the acquired knowledge with ease. There are bound to be rules in grammar, pronunciation and even character writing when people learn Chinese.
Beginners learning the Chinese language often could not understand why the characters that they have mastered could turn out to mean very different things when stringed together with other just as familiar characters, especially when these characters happen to show up so frequently.
Well actually for me, I would advice that you don’t need to memorize every single word that you come across, because that would be impossible. (I forgot to mention that in Chinese, words and characters are two separate concepts, because usually a word would consist of two or more characters, also not necessarily so.) However, what you do need to do is to memorize those characters that have the highest frequencies of occurrence and understand their individual root meanings. This will immensely speed up your absorption of new words as these new words are formed by the characters you already know, and you would be able to fairly accurately guess their meanings when combined.
There will definitely be words that we cannot guess from the characters that form the word, but the number of those words are not large. There are actually many fundamental meanings to every Chinese character, and the more we understand, the easier it will become. It is actually doable, so long as you persevere in your learning and practice of the language.
How do one reinforce all those knowledge that has been learned? Just expose your knowledge to as many senses as you possibly can. Create associations between your Chinese vocabulary and your surroundings. Make sure you can visually see what you learn. Listen to it, use it, and better still experience it in different contexts. Our minds recalls better when information is interlinked and carries more weight.
How to Maintain Perseverance
Some people never really finished learning the language they set out to learn. The blame it on the language, they find excuses that it is just too time consuming, or that there wasn’t anyone to practise with.
Motivation is crucial to maintain our passion in learning and it also adds fun to learning. Steve Kaufman, who have till date mastered ten languages, would tell you that the only way to keep yourself interested in language learning, is to continue to find reading materials that are interesting to you.
Steve Kaufman maintains that interesting articles would push us to continue learning just so we can finish reading whatever we have set out to finish. Two other similar examples are people who learned korean and Japanese because they fell in love with Korean TV variety shows and Japanese anime cartoons.
Other ways to keep ourselves motivated is by tracking our own progress and uncovering what other aspect of the language and culture makes us tick. If it’s movies, TV shows and music videos, then we can always use them as learning resources and pushing factors to find out more about Chinese.
Resources and Tools
Learning Chinese language is similar to everything else. And that includes getting hold of the right tools to help us learn better.
Equip yourself with dictionaries, audio tracks and books about Chinese language and culture. You will also need to get exercises and tests in Chinese for more practice, get a partner to learn together and buy a comprehensive Chinese learning textbook to make sure all necessary topics are covered. At the end of the day, make sure you know a little about the Chinese culture as well, or you will still find yourself in awkward situations!
Find out proven techniques on how to learn Chinese with detailed information on our blog. Also, do not miss out on your free copy on our guide to learn Chinese fast here.. Free reprint available from: The Guide To Learn Chinese Before you Actually Start Out.
Author: Pauline RobertsonThis author has published 1 articles so far.