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5 practical tips to learn Chinese

Language is a window into the culture

I like traveling, and one of the biggest frustrations I have is not being able to understand the local language. Language is obviously a window into the local culture, and while doing things like reading about current events can help, it’s no substitute for the real thing. I decided to learn Chinese, and I thought after two or three years of study I would ‘get there’ … little did I know I would find myself still studying five years later!
Here are some of my observations as an adult learner.

How long does it take to learn Chinese?

A commonly asked question is how long does it take to learn Chinese. The answer is that there is no answer (sorry). There are too many variables to give a definitive answer - some people learn more quickly than others, have more time to spare, have different goals and reasons for learning (for example, wanting to know how to ask for directions is different from wanting to learn to read poetry).
What one can do however, is estimate the amount of effort needed for a native English speaker to learn Chinese, as compared to other languages … and Chinese can require as much as three times the amount of time to learn compared to other languages (source: the US State Department https://www.state.gov/m/fsi/sls/c78549.htm). That’s the bad news.

Learn a new language is not that hard

Now the good news. Anyone can learn a language, including Chinese - provided one is willing to put the time and effort to do so.
And on top of that, language learning has evolved in recent years with the advent of the Internet and mobile computing. Gone are the days where signing up for a class in a traditional classroom setting was the only choice for prospective students. Phones and tablets are ubiquitous, and people can take advantage of (or Google) the readily accessible learning resources available online to get started, at one’s convenience, for little or no cost.

💡5 tips for learning Chinese💡

Still interested in learning? Chinese is a rich language, and two or three years of regular study will only scratch the surface. It’s helpful to keep the following in mind.

1. Be consistent.

Having more time to study is obviously better, but the point is that you’ll progress more readily if you set aside say 30 minutes daily for study, as opposed to studying say twice a week in longer stints.
2. Practice.
Get out there and practice. Reading books, watching programs, language exchanges, language learning software and apps, etc. are important complements to classroom instruction or self study.

3. Get a qualified teacher.

Self study is great, but it will only get you so far - a teacher can help guide you through the nuances of the language that you will encounter as you progress.

4. Establish goals.

What is it you want to accomplish? Do you want to be able to ask for directions, converse with friends, converse with friends and be able to read, or work for the UN as a translator? Each of these goals will entail a different path of study (and require a different amount of time and effort to accomplish).

5. Be patient.

Chinese requires time to master. It is quite different from learning a European language and yet it can be very rewarding when something clicks and you just get it.
Enjoy the journey and have fun - you’ll find that there’s always more to learn, something else to master ... that’s just part of the charm of learning Chinese. Good luck.

Author:Albert So

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