There’s no better time to learn Chinese than when you’re in China. In Beijing though, you can get away with a lot without even mumbling a single Chinese word (hand gestures, anyone?), but learning this complex language is about more than just talking to taxi drivers and market vendors. It can unlock a whole new world, that will help us foreigners understand more about the culture and history of our host country.
But for a new student or any newcomer to town, it can be a daunting task. So in this edition of Mandarin Monday, we share some tips on learning Chinese, straight from a language teacher herself. April Peng, primary Chinese coordinator at Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing), recently gave her advice to first-time Chinese learners (mostly students at their school), but we thought her tips work for adults as well!
Peng Laoshi: Chinese is a very different language to English and other Western languages. Sounds are new, the character system is new – it can all feel very strange! Being surrounded by Chinese, students pick up the language quickly and it is a pleasure to watch them grow in ability and confidence.
Find your voice
Peng Laoshi: Encourage your child to take advantage of living in China by practicing their Chinese in real life. Speaking in the classroom is different from speaking to a Chinese neighbor or shopkeeper, and it is very beneficial if students can learn to converse in real situations. Ask your child to tell the taxi driver where to go, say good morning to your neighbors, and ask how much something costs in the shops. Practicing simple vocabulary and phrases with Chinese people will help them find their confidence.
Use online materials
I’ve written a previous article about the apps that Chinese language learners can download to supplement their study, but Peng Laoshi has other recommendations:
– Chineasy is a beautifully designed character-learning app that helps memorize the characters very visually. Make sure you select the “simplified” version within the app, as it also offers traditional Chinese characters which we don’t use on the mainland.
– Little Fox Chinese provides animated stories and lessons in Chinese that your child can watch online.
– Strokeorder.info is useful for checking the stroke order of each character. Being disciplined about stroke order in Chinese will improve handwriting and help with memorization.
Make it fun
Peng Laoshi: It’s important that you enjoy learning Chinese, and in fact, there are lots of ways to make it fun. I recommend watching Chinese films, like Kung Fu Panda 功夫熊猫 (the Chinese language version), Lotus Lantern 宝莲灯, and Mulan 花木兰.
Finally – be brave
Peng Laoshi: Learning Chinese requires time and effort. Sometimes sitting down to learn new words and vocabulary is the last thing your child will feel like doing, but they must be brave! As with any language, or indeed a musical instrument, before you start to love it you must put the hours in. Bravery will pay off.
This is an edited version of an article that was first published on the YCIS Beijing website.