How to learn Mandarin quickly: 10 tips
Mandarin Chinese has a bit of a reputation as a hard language to learn. But, if you’re keen to master the world’s second most widely spoken language, there are definitely ways that you can help to fast-track your Mandarin learning.
Here's our list of ten things all Mandarin learners should try.
1. Start with Pinyin
Unlike many Western languages, Mandarin doesn’t use an alphabet. Instead, thousands of elegant characters are used, and learning them all can take a lot of practice. Enter: the pinyin system! Pinyin (拼音 - pīn yīn) is a handy kind of transcription from Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet (used by English), which shows you how to pronounce each character. Focussing on pinyin is the place to start so that you can begin to understand and speak basic words and sentences. Once you’re happy with reading pinyin, you can tackle the Mandarin characters.
2. Head to a bookstore
Children’s books are a fantastic place for new language learners to start, because they are literally designed to teach children how to understand, read and speak basic Mandarin. The vocab and grammar used are very simple, and often accompanied by pictures that add context and can help you follow the story. Look for books that contain characters, pinyin and your native language.
3. Try manga, or manhua (漫画 - màn huà)
You’ll probably have heard of manga – beautifully illustrated Japanese graphic novels. Chinese manga is known as manhua and is useful later on in your Mandarin learning journey as the dialogue is often only written in Chinese characters, rather than with pinyin.
A great way to learn new slang and practice following dialogue is to watch Mandarin-speaking YouTube channels. Follow a mix; find a channel that is designed to support language learners, and also a creator whose content is focused on your interests. That way, you’ll enjoy watching and be able to pick up vocab that’s relevant to your hobbies.
5. Study abroad
When it comes to learning any new language, there’s nothing more useful than studying it abroad. You’ll be able to practice with native speakers every day in a range of situations, and cultural immersion really speeds up your progress. Set your sights on cosmopolitan Singapore, where Mandarin is one of the country’s four official languages.
6. Practice, practice, practice
To help you understand conversations, improve your pronunciation and quickly become a more confident speaker, find every opportunity you can to practice speaking in Mandarin. Choose supermarkets or restaurants that you know use Mandarin, or challenge your classmates to spend a day together during which you’re only allowed to speak in Mandarin.
7. Ask for help
There’s no point suffering in silence if you’re feeling stuck or confused. Reach out to your classmates, friends, teachers, or host families to ask for help if you don’t understand a phrase or can’t get to grips with a bit of grammar. It likely won’t take them very long to explain what you need to know, and then you can move on to practicing and making sure you understand it.
8. Watch Chinese TV shows
Did you know there’s an easy way to study the language and learn about Chinese culture and customs, from your couch? From dramas and romance to sitcoms and anime, now’s the time to start devouring the wealth of TV shows in Mandarin online. Using subtitles in your native language can also help you follow fast-paced dialogue.
9. Make notes
When learning a new language, you never know which mistakes you’re going to make regularly, or even when you’re going to encounter a new phrase. Keeping a note on your phone of things that you think will be useful to refer back to (such as handy sentences or phrases that you often forget) can help keep you on track.
10. Label things
Grab some stickers and label items in your home that you see every day. Write out the object’s name in characters, pinyin, and your first language. This will help you memorize these Mandarin words, but this simple tip can also have a much bigger impact. By surrounding yourself with the language this way, you’ll get used to mentally switching between Mandarin and your first language faster.