Best Way to Learn Chinese – 10 Expert Tips

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Written By Francesca Stephens

Founder of Linguatics. Passionate multilinguist.

Have you decided to learn Chinese on your own and you’re worried it might be too challenging?

Well, reaching proficiency in Chinese is definitely challenging. But it’s also rewarding and quite possible.

However, there is no single best way to learn Chinese – it all depends on your goals and learning style.

But there are some tips and tricks that work for almost everyone.

So, why not check them out and make your learning process easier from the very start?

10 Best Ways to Learn Chinese

Yes, Mandarin Chinese is not one of the easiest foreign languages to learn.

If you’re accustomed to the Latin alphabet, you’ll probably find Chinese characters a bit complicated.

The tonal nature of the language also makes speaking a bit tricky. Chinese is considered a tonal language because the word’s meaning is affected by the tone. So, words in Mandarin Chinese can be pronounced in four different ways.

But don’t let that discourage you – everything will make more sense once you start with your lessons.

1. Make a plan

You’re wondering what is the best way to learn Mandarin?

Well, first thing first.

Before you start your Chinese course, you need to set specific goals and make a study plan.

It’s always better to set simple, short-term goals. That way, you’ll be able to keep track of your progress more easily. And you’ll also feel more organized and satisfied when you achieve a certain goal.

If you’re going to study Chinese by yourself, self-discipline is crucial. In fact, you need to establish a study routine.

And if you stick to your plan and study Chinese effectively and consistently, you’ll undoubtedly achieve your goal. Well, as long as your goal isn’t to reach fluency in a month.

Nevertheless, realistic goals and regular practice are essential.

Best way to learn Chinese

Furthermore, you need to find a learning source that fits your learning style.

If you’re a visual learner, you can opt for video lessons or immersive Chinese apps.

If you study better by listening, you can find an online tutor or podcast-style lessons.

And you should also find a program that will help you work on your goals. For example, if you’re planning to visit China and you want to learn the basics, you should focus on practical vocabulary and essential phrases.

And if you want to learn Mandarin because you want to increase your job opportunities, you should find a more thorough, well-rounded Chinese course.

By the way, if you’re still confused about the difference between Chinese and Mandarin, let us remind you that Mandarin is actually a form of the Chinese language; a dialect.

However, Mandarin is also the official language in China. It’s the most widely spoken dialect, and that’s why there are so many Mandarin courses online.

Generally, the Chinese language has a variety of regional dialects. They are typically classified into seven large groups: Putonghua (Mandarin), Gan, Kejia (Hakka), Min, Wu, Xiang, and Yue (Cantonese.)

But Chinese and Mandarin are often used interchangeably, and that’s why some learners get confused.

2.  Use a Chinese language app

Once you know what you’re looking for, you can start searching for a suitable learning app or a Chinese online course.

Both options are very helpful, especially if you don’t have an opportunity to take traditional language classes.

With a language-learning app, you can learn anytime, anywhere.

And that’s usually a less expensive option than hiring a private tutor or going to a language school.

Plus, Mandarin learning apps can be quite effective. They use modern online study tools and research-proven methods.

In other words, they are designed to help you learn in an easy and efficient way.

They won’t overwhelm you with too much information.

And they will help you retain what you learn with spaced repetition technique, digital flashcards, and other useful features.

The best Chinese learning apps also use a speech recognition engine. And that’s really important if you want to work on your pronunciation.

Rocket Chinese from Rocket Languages is one of the platforms that have good speech recognition software. And it combines audio tracks, interactive exercises, and video clips.

Rocket Chinese app

The Rocket Chinese app is well-structured and easy to use.

It’s focused on all main language skills: speaking, reading, listening, and writing.

And the Rocket Chinese culture lessons will help you familiarize yourself with everyday Chinese life, culture, and values.

The app is great for beginners because it offers linear lessons that can take your skills to the next level.

3. Listen to Chinese

If you’re not sure how to start learning Mandarin, why not familiarize yourself with the sounds first?

That way, you will start your lessons with more confidence.

After all, immersion is a crucial part of learning any new language.

Although it would be ideal to spend some time in China and be literally surrounded by the language, you can also do your own little immersion at home.

You can listen to Chinese music – there are so many great artists to explore.

How to learn Mandarin by yourself

You can also listen to Chinese podcasts or radio shows. In the beginning, you won’t understand a thing, but you’ll hear how the language sounds.

And once you start working on your speaking and listening skills, you’ll already have it in the back of your mind.

You should start with simple podcasts focused on casual topics and progress towards more complex (but familiar) topics.

As you progress, you’ll get used to the rhythm of Mandarin, correct accent, and intonation.

And you will start noticing commonly-used words. These are probably popular expressions and phrases you’ll use in a daily conversation.

You can write them down in your notebook. But even passive listening will help you increase your comprehension.

4. Learn Chinese characters – if you want to

Learning how to write in Chinese is considered the hardest part of learning Chinese.

Well, it’s normal that memorizing completely unfamiliar characters seems a bit intimidating.

But with the right learning source, you won’t have any problems with it.

For example, Rocket Chinese writing lessons will introduce you to Chinese characters (Hanzi) in a cool way. They contain simple video clips that will show you how to write Chinese characters and useful notes with tricks to memorize a certain character.

Many other apps also use effective ways to help you understand the Chinese writing system.

Visual representation is very important for memorizing new characters, especially if you’re a visual learner.

Hanzi characters

The thing is, the Chinese writing system is logosyllabic – a character represents one syllable of spoken Chinese.

There are several types of characters. Pictograms, ideograms, phonetic compounds, and so on.

For non-native speakers, all of them look like abstract drawings. Well, they actually are a form of an ideographic symbol – in the beginning, Chinese people used figures to express meaning and ideas.

Once you start to break them apart, you’ll notice all the similarities and connections.

You should pay attention to radicals.

Radicals are the base component of each character and they often indicate its meaning.

As you progress, you’ll perhaps start to enjoy the process. If you think about the bigger picture, learning these characters can be a quite relaxing and interesting experience. 

Hanzi characters are one of the earliest forms of written language in the world. They date back at least 4,000 years, and there are many legends about how they were first created.

Learning Chinese language

And now the plot twist – you don’t have to learn Hanzi characters. Thanks to pinyin, you can learn how to speak Chinese without mastering their writing system.

Pinyin is the romanization of the Chinese characters based on their pronunciation. It’s the most widely-used (and official) system of writing Mandarin Chinese that uses the Latin alphabet.

So, if you want to learn Chinese in an easier way, that’s perfectly okay.

But if you’re interested in Chinese culture and you want to connect with Chinese tradition and history, you should give Hanzi characters a try.

5. Focus on patterns

One of the important tips for learning Chinese is to focus on patterns.

Some language-learning apps actually point out lexical chunks rather than individual words, which is a more effective way of learning a new language and acquiring vocabulary.

When it comes to Chinese, focusing on patterns will allow you to understand how the language works.

You don’t have to delve deeper into grammar if you don’t want to – another benefit of improving language skills by yourself.

On the other hand, Chinese grammar really isn’t that hard. There are no present tenses and past tenses or masculine and feminine nouns.

Chinese grammar is indeed much simpler than Korean or Japanese grammar.

6. Talk to native speakers

One of the best ways to learn Chinese is by practicing speaking as much as you can.

And is there a better way to practice than talking with native speakers?

Best ways to learn Mandarin

If you’re traveling to China, try to meet local people.

Moreover, spending some time in China would force you to speak Chinese. You would probably find yourself in situations where that’s the only thing left to do.

But meeting locals while you’re traveling will also allow you to talk to them in casual situations. Let the conversation flow and don’t be afraid to make a mistake…

They might also teach you about their way of life. You will get a unique and authentic view of Chinese culture you won’t find in textbooks and online lessons.

And you’ll have a chance to actively work on your speaking and listening skills.

You’ll pick up new words and learn conversational Chinese and slang.

Plus, you’ll build your confidence to speak with Chinese people in other situations as well.

If you can’t plan a trip at the moment, you can get in touch with native speakers in other ways.

Learning Chinese online

Language exchange websites will allow you to learn Chinese and teach someone else your native language.

Some apps and online courses have active communities you can become a part of.

You can find online forums, join a conversation, and meet fellow learners. If you don’t come across someone from China, you can practice communication skills with other learners.

The important thing is to use the language in real conversations.

7. Read

Once you’ve covered the basics, you can start improving your reading skills.

Although many courses and apps include reading activities, it’s not the same as picking up something you like and try to go through it.

Studying Chinese

Even if you don’t understand everything, you’ll get an idea of how it feels to read Hanzi characters.

Ancient Chinese texts were written in columns, right to left. Fortunately, modern Chinese texts are read left to right and top to bottom, like English.

So, you can read Chinese newspapers and magazines (you can also find them online), and when you feel confident enough, you can try reading a book in Chinese.

Start with a book you’re familiar with or a children’s book.

While you’re reading, try to pay attention to patterns, commonly-used words, and expressions.

You’ll probably come across different language styles. That will give you a broader idea of how the language works.

8. Watch Chinese movies and shows

Another way you can learn Chinese while having fun is by watching Chinese movies and TV shows.

There are many good options on Netflix and other streaming services.

In the beginning, try to find movies with casual conversations and topics. If you don’t have a chance to talk to native speakers, this will give you an idea of how the language sounds in real life.

Try to do it without subtitles afterward. You’ll realize how much you’re actually able to understand (and guess from context.)

You’ll be exposed to new vocabulary and characters. You might also hear a different dialect.

To make this activity even more efficient, write down new words and expressions. You can also pick one word per minute. So, if you watch a 25-minute sitcom, you should have 25 words on your list.

You can also write down the whole sentence. It’s always easier to understand and remember the word when you see it in context.

9. Immerse yourself in Chinese

All of the suggestions we mentioned above are a way to immerse yourself in the language and culture.

That’s arguably the easiest way to learn the Chinese language.

You need to hear the sounds and get used to the flow and intonation of the language. You also need to keep seeing the Chinese characters so you can learn how to read them more naturally.

You can also find a recipe in Chinese and try to make something authentic. Try to eat it with chopsticks.

Explore the Chinese calendar.

And learn about Chinese tea ceremonies and traditions.

Chinese tea ceremony

If you get to know Chinese culture and customs, you’ll get to know the language. It’s all intertwined.

All of that will also help you boost your motivation for learning Chinese.

10. Keep your motivation high

And if you want to become a fluent speaker, keeping your motivation high is crucial.

Besides finding a reliable learning source and surrounding yourself with the language, try to add more fun to your learning process.

Play online games (that can teach you Chinese), participate in online challenges, take lessons with a friend, find an online language partner, join a conversation club…

There are many ways to mix it up a little.

However, it’s normal to feel discouraged sometimes, even if you enjoy your learning process. That can happen in the beginning, when you simply can’t get a grasp of Hanzi characters or you can’t pronounce that word just right.

It will get easier with time. At the intermediate level, you will come across some more complex structures or rules, but you’ll at least be familiar with the writing system and basic vocabulary.

Nevertheless, learning Chinese is a slow process. And it shouldn’t be rushed.

If you want to travel to China and learn some practical vocabulary, that’s fine. But if you want to be able to have a conversation in Chinese, you need to be patient.

Learning Mandarin

Try to keep reminding yourself of all the reasons why you started to learn Chinese.

If you’re drawn to Chinese culture, surround yourself with it even more.

If you want to improve your language skills because you find them useful, explore all the opportunities you might get in the future.

After all, speaking Chinese is incredibly rewarding.

You’ll be able to travel to Asia with confidence. Even if you’re planning to visit a country where Mandarin isn’t the official language, you’ll probably come across Chinese speakers.

Apart from broadening your horizons and improving your communication skills, you’ll get new job opportunities. China is an economic superpower, and speaking Chinese will certainly make your CV look very attractive.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article encouraged you to start learning Chinese right away.

With so many great learning sources online, you can take Chinese lessons anytime and anywhere.

And if you’re persistent and motivated, you’ll master the basics sooner than you think.

Many people find Chinese characters difficult.

But if you combine writing, reading, and listening exercises with immersive and engaging activities, you’ll bring your skills to the next level and have fun along the way.