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How to Learn Chinese Today

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As you might have noticed, in recent years more and more people are starting to learn Chinese. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since there are many wonderful advantages to learning this language, like expanding your social life and getting access to unique job opportunities all around the world. On top of that, speaking Chinese is ideal for those interested in getting to know the fascinating Chinese culture more deeply, and visiting some of the beautiful locations where Chinese is spoken.

Additionally, being able to communicate fluently in Chinese is a smart way to improve your life in the United States, as you’ll be able to connect with some of the more than 3 million Americans who speak Cantonese or Mandarin at home and build long-lasting interpersonal and business relationships that can impact your life in many positive ways.

If you’re determined to become a fluent Chinese speaker but don’t know where to start, take a look at this helpful guide that will give you all the tips you need to start your journey to fluency today.

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1. Why Learn Chinese Today

Learning about the ways the Chinese language can improve your life is a great way to find the motivation you need to get started. So without further ado, let’s take a look at all reasons why you should learn this amazing language:

Take Your Career to the Next Level

Becoming a proficient Chinese speaker is one of the smartest ways of advancing your career, no matter what it is you do. If you’re interested in getting a corporate job, having Chinese language skills is the perfect way to make a great first impression in any job interview or even land a job position in one of the top Chinese companies in the US, such as Huawei Technologies, CNOOC and Alibaba Group. Additionally, is a great language to learn if you want to work abroad, as there are companies all around the globe that are constantly looking for bilinguals that can help them improve their business relationships with the Chinese. On the other hand, if you own a business, becoming bilingual is the way to go, as it will allow you to take advantage of the fact that China is the third biggest trade partner of the United States, and make great deals with Chinese businesspeople that can take your business to the next level.

Want to know more about the impact learning Chinese could have on your career? Take a look at some of our articles on the matter:

Get To Know Chinese Culture

Are you interested in Chinese culture? If so, the best way to truly get to know this ancient culture is by learning Chinese. This will allow you to enjoy their music, traditions, and wonderful art to the fullest. On top of that, if you’re a big reader, you’ll be able to delight in the rich heritage of novels, poetry, short stories, and fascinating mythology that will change the way you see the world forever.

Connect With Billions of People World-Wide

As you will know, Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken first language in the world and has approximately 898 million speakers. In addition to being able to build meaningful relationships with Chinese people, if you become bilingual you’ll be able to connect with people from Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and many other parts of the world. What’s more, you’ll be able to get closer to the many Chinese Americans who prefer speaking Chinese to English and make valuable friends who are part of your local foreign-born community.

Make Your Move to China and Other Countries Much Easier

If the reason why you want to speak Chinese is to move to China in the future, don’t wait until you’re there to start learning the language. Unlike many other languages, which are easier to learn by just exposing yourself to their culture and people, Chinese is a really challenging language, so if you want to avoid feeling lost and frustrated in China, the smartest thing you can do is learn this language before moving. The same applies if you are interested in moving to other countries where Chinese is spoken, like Taiwan or Singapore, so no matter when or where you want to move, check out our Chinese courses that will help you learn all you need to know before you relocate.

Do you need more reasons to learn Chinese? Take a look at the Top 5 Reasons You Should Be Studying Chinese NOW.

2. A Brief History of the Chinese Language

Did you know that Chinese inscriptions have been found in turtle shells that date back to the Shang dynasty? This proves that this language has been around for thousands of years and can be considered one of the oldest still in use. The Chinese written system uses different symbols or characters to represent each word, and although the language has suffered some alterations throughout the years due to revolutions and other political changes, most of the principles, symbols, and characters have remained basically the same.

Origins

Most linguists classify the many varieties of the Chinese language as part of the SinoTibetan family and believe that it descended from a language called Proto-SinoTibetan, which is the root of all Sinitic and Tibeto-Burman languages.
Throughout the years, the Chinese language evolved into many different variants. Some of the most widespread are:

  • Mandarin, also known as Putonghua, is the most popular Chinese dialect. As the official language of China, it can be heard all over the country, but especially in the north of the country and the south-east.
  • The Gan dialect is the most common variant you’ll hear if you visit western parts of China, especially if you go to the Jiangxi province.
  • Kejia, or Hakka, which is the language of the Hakka people, is spread out across Taiwan, Guangdong, Guizhou, and beyond.
  • Min, which is spoken in China's southern coastal province, Fujian.
  • The Wu dialect, which is used mainly in areas around Yangtze Delta and Shanghai.
  • Xiang, a southern dialect that’s concentrated in the Hunan province.
  • Cantonese or Yue, a very popular southern dialect spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, and Macau.

3. How to Learn Chinese as a Beginner

Learning Chinese as a beginner can be intimidating, as you not only need to learn at least 2,000-3,000 Chinese characters to read simple texts, but also other challenging aspects of the language like its tonal pronunciation and its grammar. To make things easier for you, here are some tips and recommendations to get started learning this fascinating language.

Start With Pinyin

Before you attempt to learn Chinese characters, the smartest thing you can do is learn another writing system called pinyin. Pinyin is an incredibly useful phonetic system for writing Mandarin using the Latin alphabet, which was invented in the 20th century to make it easier for Westerners to learn Chinese. In the pinyin system, there are 23 initial consonants, or Shengmu, which represent consonant sounds you can find only at the beginning of Chinese words, and 24 vowels, or Yunmu, which include 6 simple vowels and 18 compound vowels. As you can imagine, if you take the time to learn pinyin at the beginning of your journey to fluency, you’ll be able to make progress make much faster and really accelerate the speed at which you acquire the language and master Chinese pronunciation.

Get a Good Coursebook

Although nowadays there are many different resources you can use to learn Chinese, it’s still wise to use a good coursebook to learn all the grammar and vocabulary basics you need to learn to get a good foundation. If you have no idea which one you should use, here are some of the most popular coursebooks you can use as a beginner:

  • The HSK Standard Course 1, Published by Beijing Language & Culture University Press, is a great place to start, especially if looking for a linear course that helps you build up your vocabulary gradually.
  • Integrated Chinese by Cheng & Tsui is an acclaimed Mandarin Chinese language course used in many high schools and universities outside of China, especially in the United States.
  • New Practical Chinese Reader is also a great course book that comes with the choice of traditional or simplified Chinese character versions

“Arabic is full of exotic sounds that are hard to pronounce”

In fact, there are only three new sounds you’ll have to learn which are not found in English, and these you can learn just by imitating native speakers, so most learners don’t have a problem with pronunciation.

More Resources for Beginner Mandarin Learners

In addition to a great course book, there are many other resources that can help you develop your language skills.

  • If you already know some Chinese but are not sure how fluent you are, you should take a Chinese level test. On our website, we offer two completely FREE Chinese Level Tests you can take in less than fifteen minutes, one that uses pinyin and another that uses Chinese characters.
  • Use apps like Lingbe, Anki, Memrise, or Duolingo, which will help you make progress in your free time no matter where you are.
  • Listen to podcasts in Chinese, which are great to get used to Chinese sounds and develop your listening skills. Great options for beginners are Slow Chinese, ChineseClass101, and ChinesePod.
  • Listening to music in Chinese is a great way to improve retention and recall of new words. If you don’t know any Chinese musicians, these are some amazing artists you can follow if you want to learn Mandarin.
  • If you want to meet native Mandarin speakers that can help you make your first sentences in Chinese, you can attend local Chinese Language Meetup Groups, or use websites like PolyGlot Club or Interpals to make new friends from all around the world.

4. Master the Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation System

As you probably heard, Chinese is a tonal language, which means Chinese speakers convey meaning by using four different tones. Learning the difference between them is crucial because depending on which tone you use, the meaning of a word can change radically. The four tones are:

  • The first tone, marked as in pinyin, is also called the level tone. It sounds flat and consistent.
  • The second tone, marked as , is also called the rising tone. It starts with a low pitch and then goes up.
  • The third tone, marked as , is also called the fall-rise tone. It starts at a high pitch, drops, and then it goes up again.
  • The fourth tone, marked as , is also called the falling tone. It starts high and then it drops.

If you don’t learn to make these four different tones, it will be pretty hard for natives to understand you. Because of that, the smartest thing you can do is get the help of a teacher to sound like a native and master Chinese pronunciation.

5. How to Learn the Chinese Characters

As we previously stated, you need to learn between 2,000 and 3,000 Chinese characters to be considered literate in the language. Although some people just memorize symbols one by one, there are some useful methods you can use to learn them more quickly.

  • Learn the simplest characters first, which will help you form more complex words later. Some of them are numbers 1 to 10:
    ⼀ (yī) – “one”
    ⼆ (èr) – “two”
    三 (sān) – “three”
    四 (sì) – “four”
    五 (wǔ) – “five”
    六 (liù) – “six”
    七 (qī) – “seven”
    ⼋ (bā) – “eight”
    九 (jiǔ) – “nine”
    ⼗ (shí) – “ten”
  • When you learn these simple characters or more complex ones, remember to study the order of strokes, which will accelerate the memorization of these characters and unlock a deeper understanding of their structure.
  • Learn the pronunciation of each new character you learn. This is really important, as there’s no point in learning lots of new characters and their meanings if you can’t pronounce them.

6. Learn Chinese Culture

Learning the different tones and characters is a big part of studying Chinese, but so is expanding your knowledge of Chinese culture. This will ensure you understand cultural references when you watch Chinese movies and TV shows, and that you truly appreciate this fascinating culture. If you don’t know much about Chinese culture, take a look at some of the most important elements you need to know.

China is highly influenced by Confucianism

Confucianism is a system of social and ethical philosophy that helped establish the social values, institutions, and transcendent ideals of traditional Chinese society. It places a heavy emphasis on the importance of respect for rulers, family, and social harmony, and the more you know about it, the more you’ll understand the way the Chinese behave and see the world.

The Chinese Calendar

Although nowadays the Gregorian calendar is also used, the Chinese have a traditional calendar that identifies years, months, and days according to astronomical phenomena. It governs many important holidays, like the Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival, so if you’re interested in these celebrations, you should check it out.

Chinese Festivals

If you live in a big city, you probably attended some of the impressive celebrations that take place every year in the United States that commemorate dates that are important to the Chinese. The most common examples are the Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival, but there are other holidays that you should know about, like the Qingming Festival, where the Chinese visit burial sites to pay respect to their ancestors, or the Dragon Boat Festival, where people gather to watch boat races and eat rice dumplings.

Hand Gestures and Facial Expressions

To truly communicate efficiently in China, it’s really important you learn the hand gestures and facial expressions that are used there, as well as the ones that you should avoid. For example, you should never point your finger at somebody in China, as it’s considered extremely rude. Additionally, if you want to beckon someone, instead of using your index finger like in Western countries, you should pull your fingers in a down-turned or sideways palm towards your body. This is considered a very informal hand gesture, so if you want to catch your Chinese boss’s attention, simply establish eye contact with the person and bow slightly.

7. Chinese Lessons: Yes or No?

Once you make the decision to start learning Chinese, you have to make another decision, and that’s whether you want to study Chinese on your own or get the help of a qualified teacher. As you can imagine, studying a language that’s so different from English can be extremely challenging alone, and as a result, many learners that attempt that end up giving up. If you want to avoid this, the best way to go is to find a native teacher who can help you develop your skills and achieve all your language goals. Still not convinced? Take a look at some of the benefits of learning Chinese with a tutor.

  • You’ll stay motivated through the whole learning process and have someone to guide you and support you when feeling stuck and frustrated.
  • You’ll get to ask as many questions as you like, which will help you make progress faster and learn interesting things about the language that are hard to find on your own.
  • You’ll get a lot of practice time, which will allow you to speak much more confidently.
  • You’ll have someone who can correct all your mistakes and help you find the areas you need to work on.

8. So, Is Chinese Hard to Learn?

Chinese has the reputation of being one of the most challenging languages out there, but is this really the case? Although there are many aspects of the language that most learners find difficult to master due to how different Chinese is from English, not everything is as hard as it sounds. To prove that, take a look at some of the easier aspects of learning Chinese:

  • No gender: unlike other languages like German, Russian, Spanish or French, Chinese has no grammatical gender.
  • No tenses: instead of using different tenses to talk about past, present, or future, in Chinese the time an event took place is indicated by words like “yesterday”, “today” or “last week”.
  • Logical word creation: Chinese words, that are formed by putting two or more characters together, are incredibly logical, so it’s pretty easy to remember them. The word “train”, for example, is formed by two characters, “fire” and “vehicle”.
  • Fixed word order: in Chinese sentences, the word order is always subject-verb-object.

9. Survival Phrases

Phrases (EN) Chinese Pinyin
Yes 正确 Zhèng què
No 错误 Cu wù
Please Qǐng
Thank you 谢谢您 Xiè xiè nín
You’re welcome 不客⽓ Bú kè qì
Excuse me 劳驾 Láo jià
I am sorry 对不起 Dùi bù qǐ
Good morning 早晨好 Zǎo chén hǎo
Good evening 晚上好 Wǎn shàng hǎo
Good night 晚安 Wǎn ān
Do you speak English? 您会讲英语吗? Nín hùi jiǎng yīng yǔ ma?
Does anyone here speak English? 这⾥有⼈会讲英语吗? Zhè lǐ yǒu rén hùi jiǎng yīng yǔ ma?
I also speak a little Chinese 我只会讲⼀点中⽂ Wǒ zhǐ huì jiǎng yì diǎn zhōng wén
What is your name? 您叫什么名字? Nín jia shén me míng zì?
My name is… 我叫... Wǒ jia …
How are you? 您好? Nín hǎo?
I’m fine, thank you 我很好谢谢您 Wǒ hěn hǎo, xiè xiè nín
Nice to meet you 很⾼兴认识您 Hěn gāo xìng rèn shí nín
I don’t understand 我不明⽩ Wǒ bú míng bái
What did you say? 您说什么? Nín shūo shén me?
Can you speak more slowly? 您可以讲慢点吗? Ín kě yǐ jiǎng màn diǎn ma?
Hello (on the phone) Wèi
Hello/Good day 你好 Nǐhǎo
Goodbye 再⻅ Zàijiàn

As useful as it can be to learn survival phrases, it won’t get you very far. Instead, why don’t you start a language course? Here at Language Trainers, we offer the best Chinese courses you can take online or in the comfort of your home. Simply send us a quick inquiry now and we’ll contact you as soon as possible to help you start your journey to becoming a fluent Chinese speaker!

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