Are you afraid that you’ll never be able to learn Chinese because you can’t go to China?
Whether it’s family commitments or money troubles holding you back, you’re not alone.
Many people think the only way to become competent in Mandarin Chinese is to pack up everything, say goodbye to their friends and go live in China.
Well, that’s a myth.
Being in China does not mean you’ll magically absorb the language without needing to study and wake up fluent one day.
The truth is that you can learn Chinese from anywhere in the world!
In my experience, the two factors that predict language learning success are your level of motivation and your method of learning.
So, keep reading to find out how you can learn Chinese when you’re not in China.
Are you sure I can learn Chinese without going to china?
The short answer is ‘yes’.
Many people have this misconception that you need to go to the country where a language is spoken to learn it.
This is a really outdated idea and if that’s what you think, you couldn’t be more wrong!
Although I learned Chinese in China, I think I may have benefited by learning Chinese abroad instead of rushing off to the Middle Kingdom.
Let me explain.
There are plenty of people who have learned to speak fluently in foreign languages without ever travelling overseas.
These days there is an abundance of Chinese learning resources available. Not to mention the internet and other technologies that give us the ability to learn virtually any skill anywhere in the world.
So, if you’re feeling despondent because you can’t travel to China for whatever reason, don’t.
When I was in China, I met plenty – and I mean plenty – of foreigners who had been living there for years and yet they could hardly string a sentence together in Mandarin.
The worst part is that many of them actually thought they spoke quite well.
I guess if people constantly praise your Chinese skills (as the natives in China do) you never realise the truth… that you actually suck.
Anyway, part of learning a new skill is believing that you can learn it.
So, get this idea out of your head that you need to go to China to learn Chinese. It’s simply untrue.
Benefits of learning Chinese in your home country
I mentioned earlier that I may have benefited if I had learned more Chinese abroad before flitting off to China.
In fact, I firmly believe that.
You see, when you learn a language in the country where it’s spoken, you’re forced to speak straight away.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Uh, I thought that was a good thing?”
Well, you’re wrong! And here’s why…
When you’re learning basic Mandarin as a beginner and you’re forced to speak the language, you’re going to end up making a lot of mistakes. And I mean a lot.
Your vocabulary is also going to be severely lacking so you’re going to have to freestyle your way through most conversations. After speaking like this for a while, you’re going to form bad habits.
And once you’ve formed bad habits, it’s really hard to correct them!
For example, beginners often try to use the equivalent words and sentence construction in Chinese as they would in their native language.
Native speakers may still understand you, but it’s going to sound weird to them.
That’s why speaking too early isn’t beneficial in the long run.
Now, if you were learning Chinese back in your home country, you wouldn’t be forced to speak and therefore wouldn’t form bad habits.
You could wait until your vocabulary was large enough and your understanding of the language was at a high enough level before starting to output.
That’s why I advocate for an input-focused, immersion approach to learning Chinese.
Here are four main ways you can learn Chinese at home.
1. Virtual immersion
Like I said, I think immersion is the best way to learn a language and I doubt many would disagree.
But how do you immerse yourself in Chinese when you’re not in China?
You do it virtually.
In other words, you take advantage of the internet and modern technology to create your own little Mandarin immersion bubble.
You can learn more about the mass immersion approach but here’s a helpful tip: listen a lot.
Make use of platforms like YouTube and Netflix. They’re both jam-packed with great Chinese listening material.
Personally, I have two YouTube accounts – my regular one for watching cute cat videos and my secondary account, purely for Chinese content.
Kevin in Shanghai, Joeman, and 二分之一强, are just some of the Chinese channels that I watch on a regular basis. Check out a super-popular video from Kevin in Shanghai below (it’s obviously not for beginners, but it’s funny and you can read the subtitles).
There are also a number of fun Chinese shows available on Netflix including Meteor Garden and Rest Your Head on My Shoulder.
Here’s another tip, and this is important.
Don’t just watch a YouTube video and then be done with it. Instead, download it as an MP3 afterward and use it for further listening practice.
If you don’t already have one, buy an iPod or MP3 player and fill it with listening content. Keep it in your pocket all day long and pop your headphones in whenever you get a minute.
See also: The best China YouTube channels
If you’ve got the cash, then virtual immersion also means doing online lessons.
You can learn Chinese online from anywhere in the world, and there are lots of providers so you can shop around if you want. Some even offer a free or discounted trial lesson.
I suggest finding someone you click with who is available at the times most convenient for you.
2. Engage with the culture
As your passion for China and Chinese culture grows, so will your desire to learn the language.
That’s why you should try to engage with the culture as much as you can. Do you live near a Chinatown? Why not go have a look around and chat to the locals?
Sign up for Tai Chi lessons or take a class in Chinese calligraphy.
If you’re more of the academic type, then why not take it upon yourself to learn about Chinese history?
China has a rich and fascinating history, and there are plenty of great Chinese history books to stick your nose in. Once you delve into it, you won’t regret it!
Couch potatoes can also learn a lot about China by watching classic movies like Raise the Red Lantern and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
(Check out this blog on the best movies about Chinese culture to learn more.)
You can also chat with Chinese people over the internet. Online pen pal websites allow you to contact people from all over the world.
Having a Chinese ‘pen friend’ is a great way to learn more about Chinese culture. There are loads of Chinese people online who will be happy to teach you about their country.
3. Join a language exchange
Joining a language exchange is a great way to meet like-minded people and practice your Chinese skills.
A few years after leaving China, I moved to London. There I attended numerous language exchanges and met some really great people.
I made friends with a friendly guy from Taiwan, and I began meeting up with him regularly to hang out and practice my Chinese.
In fact, when I was in London, I learned more from attending language exchanges than I did in my formal Chinese classes! That’s why I am no longer a fan of learning languages in the classroom.
Making friends with Chinese people and practicing your speaking in a real-life setting will give you the confidence and the drive to keep improving.
4. Plan a trip to China
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Isn’t this post about learning Chinese outside of China?!”
You’re right. It is. But that doesn’t mean you can’t travel there one day.
In fact, planning a trip to China for some time in the future is a great way to motivate yourself to keep studying.
You see, if you’re living in a Chinese-speaking country, there’s an external pressure on you to learn the language. But this is not the case in your home country.
So, what can you do to keep yourself accountable and motivated? Plan a trip to China and aim to be at a certain level when you go.
Goal setting is super-important in language learning. Without a goal you don’t really know what you’re aiming for. Goals are also a great way to measure your progress.
Even if you plan your trip to China for two years’ time, at least you’ve given yourself a deadline.
You can say to yourself, “Okay, in two years’ time I’m going to be able to converse fluently with native speakers.”
You’ve got this!
Learning Chinese is a challenge, there’s no doubt about that. But going to live in China isn’t necessarily going to benefit you, especially in the early stages of learning.
In fact, learning Chinese abroad removes the pressure of speaking and allows you to build a stronger foundation in the language.
By using these tricks and tips, you can achieve a high level of competency in Chinese without going to China.
And it means you don’t have to risk your health, break the bank, uproot your family, or whatever it is that’s preventing you from leaving home.
Enjoyed this post? Then be sure to check out this one on the best movies about China. Once again, it shows that you that you don’t have to leave your home to learn a lot!