The Dos and Don’ts of Learning Mandarin
Language learning is a lifelong journey. Finding your learning style takes time in addition to trial and error. While a particular learning style is not “one size fit all,” there are some general dos and don’ts when learning Mandarin. These are especially helpful to people who are planning to pick up the language or are at the Beginner level. Read on to find out!
1. Focus on improving skills in every aspect
As mentioned in our last blog post, the four skills when learning Mandarin include – listening, speaking, reading and writing. It is very easy to only focus on one skill that you are good at, just because it’s easier to master and thus one will achieve a greater sense of satisfaction. However, this defeats the purpose of studying Mandarin. All skills are interconnected to each other, improving one of them benefit the rest and thus your fluency in the Mandarin language.
Some people often put their emphasis on conversing in Mandarin well, as they may feel that it’s a useful skill in daily life and also when travelling. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, except that when conversing, you need a certain amount of vocabulary to understand the other person. So focusing on just pronunciation is not enough; vocabulary and grammar is a must. Also, travelling requires you to read signs and addresses more often than you would expect, so just being good in one skill is not enough. Do not be a Jack of all trades, master of none!
2. Travel if possible
Travel and study is a great way to immerse into the culture, language and improve your fluency. In other words, you are killing three birds with one stone. When travelling in Chinese-speaking countries such as China, you are totally immersed in just Mandarin. In a way, you are also forced to speak only that language. Immersion helps to speed up your learning process, and talking to natives is always a good idea. You get familiarized with their tones and speed of speaking. However, do be warned that the native speakers may have an accent depending on which part of China they are from, which is challenging for foreigners to understand them.
Taiwan is another Chinese-speaking region which is recommendable to travel to. Once again, the Taiwanese native speakers will have a different accent from that of native speakers in PRC China. In addition, Taiwan uses Bopomofo or Zhuyin as their phonetic symbols, rather than Hanyu Pinyin, so while they understand Chinese in speaking, they will be at a loss if you show them the same words using Hanyu Pinyin. Interesting, isn’t it? It is also advisable to learn a few basic Mandarin sentences when travelling.
Here are some to use when you’re ordering food or making purchases:
请给我菜单 (qǐng gěi wǒ cài dān) - Please hand me the menu
买单 (mǎi dān) - Can I have the bill, please?
多少钱? (duō shǎo qián?) – How much is this?
便宜一点吧 (pián yí yī diǎn ba)– Cheaper, please.
3. Have a Chinese tutor
This is probably the best way to learn Chinese. With a tutor, you can be sure that you will master all skills equally. Take for example the lesson planned out by Han Hai, tutors will divide time during each lesson to cover listening, speaking, reading, and writing. You can also get feedback immediately and professional answers to your questions. Having a Chinese tutor is especially recommended for Beginners and Intermediate learners because they are most likely to be at a loss of where to start or experiencing burnout. This is when tutors can provide guidance and kickstart the learning journey. Besides teaching Chinese Language basics, tutors also impart their knowledge of Chinese culture and history, hence giving context to the language.
4. Be consistent
Always make time to study or revise your learning materials. It is challenging to attain fluency in Mandarin if you only go for lessons twice a week or only for a few months. Instead, you should try to immerse yourself in the language every day. While it is not easy to do so when juggling with hectic work life, even spending half an hour daily listening to Chinese podcast or shows helps. If you have any native speaker friends, contributing a few minutes each day to converse with them helps a great deal. The key is to find the joy of learning through something that interests you. It is also through this way that one finds the motivation to never give up on their learning.
Rush the learning process
There are no quick tips and tricks to master a new language in a month. It is very normal for one to have a hard time still understanding Chinese even after learning for a few months. Imagine this, the native speakers have been speaking Chinese for their whole life and there are thousands of vocabularies in the dictionary, how could you expect yourself to be fluent in just a few weeks? Instead, keep your spirits up and enjoy the learning process. Feel the satisfaction when you reach each milestone and know that you are slowing building up your fluency level. You may consider taking the HSK Test (Chinese Proficiency Test) to keep track of the goals you have achieved. In addition, this official recognition of your proficiency level is also essential, should your company require a certain degree of Chinese fluency.
While we shouldn’t rush the learning process, procrastinating is a big no as well. If you have decided to study Mandarin in Singapore, then start to look up for suitable classes, such as the ones from Han Hai Language Studio. Signing up for classes is one of the best ways to learn Chinese and motivate yourself at the same time. Next, prepare yourself mentally and set aside time to revise your studying materials. You can make a study plan if that helps you to focus.
You should also get rid of any distractions. In the present technology-driven society, we tend to check our social media first, whenever we are on our phones or laptops. Before we know it, hours have passed. If you are someone like this, put aside all the devices and do your revision the traditional way – by using pen and paper. You will definitely get you work accomplished faster and more effectively!
3. Just memorize
Memorization does help in improving one’s vocabulary pool but it will not work unless you know the context to use them and how to use them correctly during conversations and writing. While some basic Chinese phrases are fixed and thus works for memorization (such as asking “你好吗?”), it is more than often that there can be a range of possible answers to the same question. It is tiring for the brain to memorize all these answers, isn’t it? Instead, knowing the structure of sentences and how we can insert vocabulary into it is a much easier and flexible way. Pure memorization puts vocabulary into your short-term memory, you would find it difficult to hold conversations while your brain searches your memory for answers. However, learning the words in context is true understanding and helps your long-term memory.
4. Be afraid of making mistakes.
This is probably one of the most important points of learning a new language! It is almost natural how we are afraid of being scrutinized and ridiculed at if we made mistakes. We are scared of being embarrassed. However, history has shown that success comes with many past mistakes. If you were not accomplishing anything, you would not make any mistakes but there will be no improvement as well.
If you are afraid of speaking in or even learning Chinese, how will you know your mistakes? It may be embarrassing in the beginning, but mistakes help you grow mentally and in the learning journey as well. Mistakes may even help to discover the changes to be made, such as a learning style which is more suitable for you. Native speakers and tutors are always very encouraging and helpful to people learning Chinese. So just go for it!
So there you have it! By pairing the dos and don’ts mentioned above with your own learning tactics, you should be off to a good start! If you are in the lookout to study Mandarin in Singapore, head over to our website to check out the available classes. Remember, don’t procrastinate!