If just want to learn basic Mandarin, here are the ways to do it.
Learning the basics for any language is fundamental, but where do you even begin?
Sometimes it can be a little daunting to get going. There are so many resources out there, right?
Well, hopefully this list gives you all the tools you need to get the ball rolling.
Here’s my guide to help you learn basic Mandarin.
1. Learn the tones
You can’t avoid it I’m afraid.
If you want to learn simple Mandarin, you must learn the tones. They’re a hurdle we must all jump.
But don’t worry, it really isn’t as hard as people make out.
First and foremost, Chinese is made up of four tones plus a neutral fifth tone.
I recommend watching videos to understand how they work, and moving your mouth. It is essential you speak these out aloud.
Ideally, you’ll have a teacher or a native speaker who can correct you as you learn. But if not, listen, speak and repeat.
The tones should be the first thing you learn about Chinese because every single word has a tone, from first to fifth. So you really need to understand them.
The great thing is, along with learning anything these days, is that there’s a plethora of online resources to help you overcome this.
YouTube is a good, free place to start to learn the tones.
If you don’t learn the tones, it’ll come back and get you!
2. Download a portfolio of apps
Apps give you so many opportunities to learn a language.
It’s not all about textbooks, reading and writing anymore. We can use our phones to learn.
It has to be said there is no one app that’ll help get you fluent in Chinese.
Truth be told, even with 10 amazing apps side by side, there’s no substitute for actual communication with a native speaker.
However, having a portfolio of apps is a great way to get you going, generally from beginner to intermediate level.
With Chinese this is even more relevant because it comprises four very defined areas:
Now sure, any language requires these. However, with Chinese they differ greatly.
Reading Mandarin is a whole new ball game for a native English speaker.
This isn’t like learning French or Italian where you, in theory, can already read it and guess a lot of meanings.
With Chinese, you’re staring at a page of squiggles and lines that mean nothing to you!
My point here is download an app for each of the above elements. For example:
- Speaking – iTalki isn’t technically an app but an online portal to get you speaking with a native Mandarin speaker. Take it a step further with online Chinese classes. You can find free ones online or sign up for group or tailored 1-on-1 classes like this one.
- Reading – Du Chinese and Hack Chinese are brilliant apps to expand your vocabulary.
- Writing – Skritter allows you to discover the importance of stroke order and how to construct a Chinese character.
- Listening – Listen to the dialogues on the HSK Online app and see what you can understand.
So there’s five apps that all serve different purposes but help build the platforms for success.
It’s important to focus on each element and not neglect any. Although it has to be said, many foreigners never find the need to hand-write Chinese.
Despite this, it’s still important to understand how characters are built and structured.
With hundreds of language learning apps out there these days, it’s important you don’t waste time juggling through them all. You’ve got better things to do – like starting to nail basic Mandarin!
From my experience, the apps above will push you in the right direction.
3. Change your phone’s language to Mandarin
This often scares students of all levels let alone beginners.
But if you really want to learn basic Mandarin, this is a great way to do it. Trust me, it’s not as hard as it sounds (here’s how).
Changing your phone’s language allows you to learn constantly throughout the day.
Think about it – how often do you check your phone each day? It’s in the hundreds most likely.
That’s a lot of opportunities to learn something new.
You pick up words like alarm clock, message, calendar, times and days of the week. These are all things that actually pop up in daily life more than you’d imagine.
Also with social media, you’ll get to pick up words such as like, retweet, comment, etc – all super relevant for life as it be today!
You probably already have a good knowledge of your phone’s layout. So even if you start to feel a bit lost, you can always pick your way out of a hole with educated guesses.
The fact is, this method puts you under pressure at certain times (perhaps booking a taxi or using a takeaway service). It’s these moments that help define your success as a Mandarin language learner.
It’s exactly the same in person. By reverting to English you miss the chance to learn something new. Pushing through in Chinese and finding a way is how you win. And it’s the same on your phone.
This method works even more so for complete beginners because you’ve got more to learn, and you learn it faster, because you have to.
Don’t be scared, try it out!
4. Try speaking Mandarin
It gets no more important than speaking.
You could be a master with characters on paper and pass all the exams. But what about when you want to change your train ticket or tell the waiter you’re a vegetarian?
Those good exam grades will help for nothing here. Real-life situations are the bread and butter of learning a language, and Mandarin is no different.
The problem? Many of us are too shy.
This is why it’s important to start moving your mouth early. And by early I mean immediately (see Section 1 above).
By speaking early on you get a feel for the tones, the language and can iron out those difficult pronunciations.
Once you build up the confidence with speaking, everything becomes infinitely easier.
Practice introducing yourself to people, speak to yourself in the shower in Chinese, listen to podcasts and repeat what they say, and so on.
The more you do this, the quicker you’ll learn basic Mandarin.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t need to actually go to China if you want to practice speaking with a Chinese person. You don’t even need Chinese friends.
All you need is an internet connection!
5. Utilize YouTube
YouTube is one of the best resources for just about anything these days.
Learning languages is no different. There’s a world of China YouTube channels at your fingertips for learning basic Mandarin.
Scan through some, pick your favorites, subscribe to them and absorb the content.
YouTube is a truly brilliant resource because it delivers such niche topics.
You can also watch Chinese dramas, TV shows and movies, plus there’s music. Chinese songs are another great way to learn a language (that’s a blog for another day).
Like I said with apps, check out a few YouTube channels and build up your portfolio of what you like.
YouTubers tend to pump out new content often because competition is stiff these days, so there’s always new stuff to keep you topped up.
But in truth, there’s already so much there for you, and it’s all free and at your fingertips.
Learning basic Mandarin is exciting
I think learning the basics of any language is the most exciting part.
It’s the part where you can start communicating with locals and celebrate the little wins like ordering a coffee or beer, or telling someone where you’re from.
Using the methods I’ve mentioned, and tailoring the experience to your preferences, will help you get over the first few hurdles with learning basic Mandarin.
Who knows, maybe one day you’ll want to practice what you’ve learned in China?
I hope my tips will encourage you to learn basic Mandarin. Leave a comment if you have any questions. If you’re about to travel to China and worried you can’t speak Mandarin, you might find this blog useful. Good luck!