Does the process of learning the complex Chinese language feel like total chaos?
Then it is time for you to get organized and start learning more methodically.
Learning Chinese is a science.
Are you having trouble pronouncing certain Chinese words?
Can’t remember characters off the top of your head?
Or maybe you cannot tell the difference between the second and third tones when you listen to Chinese?
This is all interconnected, and you will have to target all four essential elements in order to advance.
It is common when first learning a language to become extremely frustrated by the slow improvement. However, perseverance is key and after a few months of daily work, you will find yourself beginning to improve.
Immersion is critical to learning any language, but is even more so important with a language like Chinese that is already difficult to learn. Of course, the best advice for someone serious in learning Chinese is to move somewhere with total language and culture immersion. However, for many Chinese learners, this may not be possible at the moment. Instead, there are countless resources that you can use to ensure that you are immersing yourself in Chinese every day.
The online world makes it incredibly easy to find resources you will need to practice Chinese daily. However, when it comes to speaking and writing, it is also useful to take your work offline. It is just as crucial to have face-to-face interaction with Chinese speakers. As for writing, the only way to master the strokes is to repeat and practice daily.
As we start discussing the four essential elements for Chinese language learning, keep these three major points in mind:
1. Your Current Level
It is important to gauge where your level is currently at in the Chinese language. If you are just starting out, do not try and go beyond your level as it will only discourage your learning process. What you should do is slowly build upon where you are now.
2. Your Interests
In all of the daily practicing you will do, choose topics you are interested in learning about. The worst thing in language learning is becoming bored with the topic and have this deter you from your goal of mastering the language.
3. Your Realistic Goals
Before you even start, realistically look at how much time you have during your day to give to Chinese learning. In an ideal language-learning world, it would be great to have intense four hour sessions daily. However, this is not always realistic. Take the time that you do have and divide it into four segments. You can break up this time to improve Chinese speaking, listening, reading and writing skills.
During your practice, keep an ongoing list of new words you encounter. At the end of each session, make flashcards with these words until they are in your memory. Flashcards are great to pull out during any downtime you may have on the way to work, a lunch break, during exercise, etc. You can always start with a category list, however, using words you already have heard will help engrave them in your brain.
But perhaps you’ve already tried flashcards and they didn’t work. Maybe it took too long for you to create them, or you felt like you were doing rote memorization without enough context. In that case, you might be interested in the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. The FluentU app has interactive flashcards that let you learn with examples and captions from real-world videos. You’ll never have to make a flashcard again, and it’ll be easier to remember and learn words better. You can see what I mean here.
Below, you will now discover the four essential elements. We have transformed these elements into actions that you can start doing today to improve your Chinese faster than ever. Take a look!
How to Improve Your Chinese Daily: The 4 Essential Elements
You should speak for half an hour to an hour every day. A good practice is to just force yourself to translate everything you are currently thinking into Chinese. Speaking will build up your vocabulary skills and make sure to keep adding words to your vocabulary list.
Find a language exchange partner as soon as you can. Ideally this is someone you can meet in person twice or three times a week. However, there are many alternative sites that offer Chinese speaking meetings. Start with italki!
The italki platform is great because you are allowed to choose from a range of options. There are language partners, informal tutoring, to professional lessons by one-on-one private teachers. You can decide which lesson option best fits your levels and needs. For the daily purposes of practicing your tones and vocabulary, the most basic casual language partners work just fine. The casual language partner option does mean you will have to exchange some of your time to practice your fluent language.
Mylanguageexchange.com is also an excellent place to find a language speaking partner. The language exchange website is free to sign up for and easy to get started on finding someone. The downside to this site is you must pay to become a gold member to initiate messages to other people. However, you can send a free “Hi!” which alerts the other user that you would like to get in touch, and you can respond to gold member messages.
Listening to Chinese every day should be a fun and easy task to accomplish. Look for movie and TV shows in genres you already enjoy watching. Read about some recommendations for Chinese based films or go on the Chinese version of Youtube at Youku. Here you can search for anything you may generally search for and learn colloquial Chinese words as well.
When you are busy doing other things, you can play Chinese music or have something Chinese going on in the background. The more you hear phrases and words, it will seem more natural when you speak yourself. Pick a TV show in a genre you would normally watch and you will be surprised at how many words you will pick up on even if you do not understand everything.
For a more formal listening lesson with vocabulary words already explained and little pop-up quizzes, sign up for FluentU. FluentU lets you learn real Chinese from music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks. It naturally eases you into learning Chinese language. Native Chinese content comes within reach. You’ll learn Chinese as it’s spoken in real life.
FluentU has a wide range of contemporary videos—like dramas, TV shows, commercials and music videos. In fact, below, check out the song “Let It Go” from the hit movie “Frozen”:
FluentU brings these native Chinese videos within reach via interactive captions. You can tap on any word to instantly look it up. All words have carefully written definitions and examples that will help you understand how a word is used. Tap to add words you’d like to review to a vocab list.
FluentU’s Learn Mode turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your vocabulary. It suggests content and examples based on the words you’re learning. You have a 100% personalized experience.
Make sure to read a little Chinese every day. Read more than just textbooks as though they are great they can become boring or very focused on the academic rules.
An easy resource to practice reading Chinese is to choose one topic on Weibo, and read the short twitter-like posts. If you have an iPhone, download the Weibo app and scroll through whenever you have a few spare moments.
If you have mastered conversational vocabulary and are ready to move onto a higher level, read a Chinese newspaper article daily. This article breaks down the varying options of what you have and where you can find Chinese newspapers available to you.
Writing practice is necessary because the Chinese strokes can only be engraved into memory through repetition. The easiest way for beginners to learn written Chinese is to have a daily writing session. Write out ten to twenty words ten times each, every day. Check out these resources to get you started.
When you arrive at a more advanced level, you can begin to start forming sentences in writing. Try writing a short journal entry daily about your day, new words you learned, or make up a short story.
Of course, trying to fit in all four of these daily activities along with formal language study can be challenging. However, by setting some time each day to informal activities will allow you to learn the language through immersion. Young children first learn how to speak through this way.
When children do not recognize a word, they can describe it with other words they do know. Once you get to that point with Chinese, you will be opening a set of doors to your language learning skills and will begin to see significant advancements in your Chinese.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.