Hello, everyone, today I’m going to talk about some methods of learning Chinese well from a native speaker’s perspective. I hope you guys find my article helpful.
First of all, buy a dictionary, I sometimes find those who are learning a language by themselves without a dictionary. It’s really surprising to me, because you can’t master a language without the help of dictionary. Some argue that a dictionary is too expensive, but you should know if you’re cheap on knowledge, knowledge will be cheap on you too. As I see it, knowledge is a priceless treasure.
If you really can’t afford one, then at least install an e-dictionary in your mobile phone or get an online translation site in your browser’s ‘favourites’. Even though Chinese is my mother tongue, I still have several dictionaries. So, how can you, as a non-native, learn Chinese well without a dictionary?
In a future article, I’ll tell you how to look up a new Chinese character in the dictionary, which probably isn’t taught by western Mandarin teachers.
Now you get the basic tool ready, then you can formally begin your study. As you may know, pinyin is always the beginning part of learning Chinese. I suggest you buy a textbook with audio recordings. I believe every Chinese study book for beginners overseas must start from with a course in pinyin.
If it’s hard or inconvenient for you to buy a Chinese textbook in your local place or online, you can ask me for help. I have a lot of materials for Chinese learning, and I can share all of them with you. I’m a new Chinese teacher on viplovechs, I excel in my own language, and I speak very good and fluent English. I can write poems and novels as well as deliver awesome speeches in Chinese. Even for a native speaker, my level is quite advanced. What’s more, I’m also good at classical Chinese. In my primary school I was praised by my Chinese teacher for my classical Chinese and understanding of Tang poetry.
Let’s back to the point. The 4 tones in pinyin are the tricky part, I recommend you to record your voice every time you’re doing reading and then compare them with the official recording to see where your pronunciation is incorrect. Practice more wherever you make mistakes, and the more you practice, the better your pronunciation will be. Actually, this method can be applied to learning any language.
Remember, read aloud, don’t murmur or keep silent, read aloud, open your mouth, don’t be shy! Just try! Read after the tape or podcast at least five times for a passage. I used to recite French articles ten times for each one. Five times really isn’t a big amount.
Be diligent, don’t be lazy, you shouldn’t have any excuse for your laziness. No excuses! Time is precious, so make the most of it. I listen to VOA even when I’m on the bus or taking a walk. Extract enough time from your schedule for your language learning, the more, the better.
You should return to your studies often if you want to improve quickly. For example, if someone else learns Chinese once a week, then you learn it twice a week, 3 times a week, or even everyday! Also, spending a large amount of time learning is very essential.
If you want to accelerate your success, then you should multiply your efforts. My Pakistani friend majoring in Chinese studies Mandarin for 10 hours a day. As a result, he improves much faster than other learners. Now, he can text chat with me in Chinese whenever he wants.
After you master the pinyin, you get to start learning the characters. Some people might say, “Jeez, they’re too hard to learn, I can’t make it!” Yes, you’re right, Chinese characters are very difficult to learn, that’s why you need a teacher. People sometimes tell me, “I’ll just skip learning characters and only learn the conversational Chinese.”
Okay, so they decide to be illiterate. But, I might say, the charm of Chinese all lies in the characters. Some foreigners have told me they find Chinese characters are just like artwork; they’re so beautiful. Yes, they are! How can you ignore such beauty without learning it? That would be such a shame!
If you only learn the spoken Chinese, you won’t be able to talk in-depth with natives, nor read Chinese books. Then you can’t taste the great history and culture of China. Think carefully about whether you should learn characters or not.
Some people will argue that they only need some basic Chinese in their daily life or business; they don’t want to be Chinese experts. Okay, different people have different goals and demands. I won’t force any of you to achieve a high level. My article is dedicated for those who want to have an advanced or native level in Chinese.
Some people say, “I want to be fluent in Chinese.” Okay, then I’ll answer, “Be industrious with your hands.” You may find my reply to be very strange – let me break it down. Many people think one can improve their speaking skill in any foreign language just by chatting with native speakers. The more they speak this language, or chat with the natives, the better their speaking skill will be.
Actually that’s not necessarily enough; this is a misconception. Let’s make an extreme assumption: Suppose you’re in an office with a group of Arabs. You’re a beginner in this language, and you start to chat with them in Arabic, but soon you’ll encounter many new words and find the conversation can’t go on.
If you do it again, the same thing would happen once more. You won’t understand the main idea of the natives you’re talking with. Why? I’m speaking the language with the natives and listening to them all the time, why aren’t my listening and speaking skills improving? Well, that’s because you don’t have enough input, folks!
When I mention an ‘input’, people might simply think ‘vocabulary’, but actually I mean far more than just vocabulary. I have encountered people who know hundreds of Chinese characters, but still can’t understand the main idea of a short, easy passage or write correctly in basic Chinese.
One word is easy to understand, one phrase is harder, one sentence is even harder. As long as you simply learn the characters, you won’t able to understand articles in Chinese well. You should recite articles, but only with the foundation of understanding them! Not knowing the idea of an article and still reciting it is useless!
That’s why I say you should buy a dictionary, whenever you’re reading an article in a foreign language, chances are you’ll come across some new words, and at that moment, the dictionary should help you. I know some foreign mates may already have a Chinese dictionary, but still don’t know how to look up a new Chinese character in the dictionary. You’ll be lucky if you find new characters on the internet; you can copy them and paste what you want into the translation sites.
But, what if you encounter one in the book and there’s no notes about it in the book? You even can’t type its pinyin because you don’t know its pronunciation. Chinese characters are pictographs, you can’t necessarily tell the pronunciation by looking at it. Unlike English, sometimes you may even guess a new word’s pronunciation right without looking it up in the dictionary. Regarding this problem, I’ll talk about how to deal with it in my future article. Now let’s back to the point again.
As I said, you can’t simply improve your speaking skill by speaking, you should also intake the language from different sources to have a large ‘input amount’, and then you will be capable of a great ‘output amount’.
In order to achieve this, you should recite many articles. I have a habit of reciting articles, which has benefited me a lot in learning English. English speakers are always amazed at how fluent and beautiful my English is whenever I make use of theme use of them; reciting articles definitely helped me significantly in improving my oral English.
It is the same for Chinese, if you recite every Chinese article in your textbook, soon your verbal abilities will rapidly improve. But, the premise is that you know Chinese characters, and how will you know characters? Surely you should learn characters. That’s why I said, “If you want to be fluent in Chinese, be diligent with your hands.” Now, I think you can understand what I mean.
Some people might hold the opinion: “I don’t need to learn to write the characters, I just need to be able to recognize them. I’m not a native, I don’t need to be so professional…”
Well, for those kinds of people, I could only say they don’t have a high goal for their Chinese learning. If a Chinese teacher heard this in ancient China, he’d probably hit this student’s palm with his ferule and say, “You aren’t worth educating!” Of course, I’m just making a joke here. Don’t take that too seriously. What I want to stress is: aim high, achieve high. What you want to earn decides what you will achieve.
Any serious learner should set the native level as their target in learning a foreign language. Sounds crazy, right? Yes, it might be, but craziness stands for the human spirit of transcending oneself, it stands for the single-minded pursuit of dreams, it stands for the total devotion to your work, it stands for the passion of commitment to reach the goal, once you have this craziness, you can achieve anything you want, let alone learning Chinese!
Sorry for my passionate speech, I’ll go on talking about my topic today. If you know how to write Chinese characters, then you’re on the right path for polishing up your Chinese. Just remember that people who maintain the view that Chinese characters are hard to learn don’t practice writing enough.
When I was in primary school, my Chinese teacher required us to write each character we learned in the passage at least 10 times as the homework. Some Chinese learners overseas might only write each character for 2 or 3 times, then how can you expect to remember them clearly? You lack too much of practice. Practice makes perfect! No matter how hard a language it is, the more you practice, the better your language skills will be. Surely, it should be based on the right learning method. And, that’s what I’m talking about in this article.
I’ve talked about how to improve your speaking in Chinese above, now I’ll talk about how to enhance your listening ability. As a matter of fact, the best way to improve listening is taking dictation.
For example, you’re listening to a podcast in Chinese, pause it at the third or fourth second, then start writing what you just heard. Once again, press the start button and then stop at the sixth or the seventh second, afterwards write what you heard during this time.
The appropriate span is only 3 or 4 seconds, don’t make it too long or too short. Once again, many foreign mates might get stuck at this point, because they don’t know how to write Chinese characters, that’s why you need a native teacher to teach you.
After you finished the dictation, compare it to the original written materials, see where you get wrong, and then note down these mistakes in a notebook. Practice writing the right words corresponding to the mistakes in your spare time, gradually they can be corrected. In this practice, you should make sure the audio you’re listening to has a written record, otherwise you can’t use this method at all.
Here I want to tell you another way to build a good base, that’s writing from memory. When you encounter many new words in an article, there’s always the vocabulary behind the article (I mean articles in textbooks here), get out an exercise book. After you read, cover up the Chinese and then try to write down each character with each English explanation.
When finished, check how many mistakes you’ve made and note down the words you wrote incorrectly in your notebook. Practice writing them in your spare time. Later, cover the English and again write down the English explanation for each character, again check how many mistakes you’ve made after it’s done. Continue with this same process. Your notebook is a tool to collect your weaknesses in this language, as you practice these weaknesses more, they gradually can become your strengths.
Finally I want to talk about how to improve your writing and reading.
As I said before, you can’t simply improve your speaking by speaking, it is the same with writing. You can’t simply improve your writing just by writing. You should read a lot, this gives you a large ‘input amount’, then you will have enough ‘output amount’. Once again, many foreign mates would go crazy, “What？ Read Chinese books? Are you serious?” They might ask like this. Yes, I’m serious, not joking.
That’s why I say you should learn to write Chinese characters at first, if you don’t learn the characters, you won’t be able to read or write, then finally you’ll only be illiterate. Without characters, you can hardly learn the essence of Chinese culture. To build a good base is very crucial for your future learning, first pinyin and then characters. If you’ve read a lot of Chinese books, then both of your reading and writing skills will sharply improve, approaching an advanced level.
I know you’ll discover new words in your reading, that’s why I say you should have a good dictionary. Exercise book, notebook, textbook, podcast, dictionary, these are the 5 basic things for you to learn any language.
In the last paragraph I want to talk about some tips to increase your vocabulary. The first common way is surely the vocabulary in your textbook, the second way is those you meet in various materials, podcasts, online Chinese newspapers, a Chinese novel, etc. Note down all the new words in your notebook.
I suggest you to read original Chinese novels regularly when you are at an intermediate level, the context will help you a lot to remember the meaning of the characters. It’s far more efficient than simply reciting the words in your vocabulary book.
You may also pick up some new words in your text chat with natives like me. But, don’t merely rely on chatting with natives to improve your Chinese. It won’t be very effective if the topic of conversation is very limited. Discussing a variety of topics like history, culture, sports, philosophy, etc. would all be very helpful.
This is my statement today, folks, hope you like it. I’ll write more articles regarding Chinese learning and culture in the future, coming soon……