When’s the last time you had a day with absolutely nothing to do?
It’s hard to remember that far back, right?
We’re so busy these days: off to work, off to class, cooking dinner (or picking up fast food…), family obligations, social gatherings—we often do multiple things at once.
So when are you supposed to squeeze in your Chinese learning?
You’ve gotta keep using it to progress, so that’s why you’ve got to take advantage of every opportune moment.
And what’s a daily event that’s easily overlooked—but crazy useful for language learning? Commuting!
Teaching yourself Mandarin on the go is a fantastic way to fit in daily study without sacrificing any of your other commitments—and there are several opportunities to do so!
Daily Opportunities to Teach Yourself Chinese on the Go
As we’ve mentioned, probably the largest problem for many people trying to teach themselves Chinese is time—a lack of it. Most people live very busy lives filled with work, family, school and other commitments. However, in between these daily commitments, large amounts of time is wasted simply traveling around.
But, with a little creativity, these commutes can become a prime time for teaching yourself Chinese on the go, with different modes of transport leaning themselves towards different modes of learning.
Driving to work
Probably the most common of a learner’s daily commutes, driving to work is a rather boring and monotonous time. Even if you must keep your eyes on the road, the audio system of a car is perfect for teaching yourself Chinese listening, and perfecting your tones and pronunciation.
While public transportation is less popular than driving a car, it’s actually great for teaching yourself Chinese. So long as your have a smartphone or tablet, there are a whole range of teaching apps and games that you can occupy yourself with in a fun and productive way.
“On the go” doesn’t just have to mean in a vehicle. If you are a fan of jogging or even working out at the gym, why not teach yourself some Chinese along the way? Plug in some headphones, and listen to some Chinese music, educational tapes or just tune in to a Chinese radio station—it really is that easy.
6 Easy Ways to Teach Yourself Chinese on the Go
There are of course a great multitude of ways you can teach yourself Chinese while on the go, but why not try something a little out of the box? Here are six ideas to get you started:
1. Sing along to the Chinese version of Disney’s “Mulan”
One the best ways to teach yourself Chinese while on the move is through the use of audio. This being said, learning CDs can get boring very quickly, and once you stop paying attention, you generally stop learning.
When this happens (or before!), it’s time to get creative. One recommendation is to download the Mandarin soundtrack to the classic Disney film “Mulan.” (You can also listen to the songs on YouTube.) Despite not being commercially successful in China, Disney put large amounts of effort into producing a Mandarin version of this animated musical, and thus it has very catchy and fun pieces to sing along with while you’re on the move.
One of the great things about this soundtrack compared to many other examples of Chinese-language music, is that it is very clearly sung. Disney enlisted a great group of voices, including film star Jackie Chan (yes, he has a singing career) to sing songs both similar in tune and in theme to the original English material.
Another aspect that makes Mulan great for teaching yourself Chinese is that it is targeted at children. For this reason, much of the vocab is quite simple, so even a beginner or intermediate learner can understand the majority of what is being sung—while learning useful vocab along the way.
2. Switch the language of your car navigation system to Chinese
When you’re driving to work every day, or to the grocery store, you’re probably not using a GPS. But you should start. A simple and easy to way interact with spoken Chinese while you are on the go is to switch the language of your GPS device to Mandarin, and then use your GPS on every familiar route you take.
So long as you aren’t a complete first-week beginner with your Mandarin, having your navigation system speak to you in Chinese will teach you a lot of driving-based vocab. While you might make a few mistakes at the start, this will provide you with an incentive to be a better listener. Along the way, you’ll learn to quickly recognize words related to directions in Chinese, as well as numbers and distances.
3. Have fun with the new FluentU Chinese immersion app
FluentU is an online immersion platform that takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons. You can browse videos by difficulty (beginner to native), topic (arts and entertainment, health and lifestyle, etc.) and format (video blog, news, shows, etc.).
FluentU is designed to get you comfortable with everyday Chinese, by combining all the benefits of complete immersion and native-level conversations with easy-to-read subtitles.
And FluentU isn’t just watching videos—it’s a complete language learning program where you learn and actively practice the language you hear in videos. Spending time in FluentU’s unique “learn mode” before or after watching a video will ensure that you to learn all the clip has to offer. “Learn mode” takes your learning history into account, asking questions based on what you already know, which sets you up for success.
Available on iOS and Android, here’s a sneak peak at what the app can do:
4. Listen to 30 minutes of China Radio International a day
Another more informative way to teach yourself Chinese on the go is by listening to Chinese news radio. Rather than catch up on the news in English, listen to half an hour of news a day in Chinese instead. One of the best stations for this, is China Radio International (CRI), a state-run consortium, with a very good news channel, that is easily streamed online.
Listening to 30 minutes of Chinese news radio a day is great for rapidly boosting your vocab. News radio is full of words that you’re unlikely to encounter in an ordinary textbook or learning problem. This includes nouns like the names of countries, political groups and organizations, as well as many formal action verbs.
Another benefit of teaching yourself Chinese with CRI’s news radio is that their speech is very clear Standard Mandarin. This means that not only is it very easy to understand when spoken, but it also serves as a great model pronunciation for how your spoken Chinese should sound.
5. Use Google Chrome’s Language Immersion extension
Chinese learning apps are a dime a dozen these days, and rarely is there something unique that comes out. This being said, one of the more innovative and subtle apps seems to have flown under the radar. It comes in the form of a Google Chrome extension called “Language Immersion,” and it will have your online world slowly turning Chinese.
Effectively, “Language Immersion” allows a learner to pick a language (Chinese) and a learning level. Based on these selections, the extension then slowly changes selected text in websites and other online locations into Chinese. This starts with just a small number of individual words at lower levels, before gradually increasing. The great thing about this app is that you can look up the meaning of an in-text Chinese word simply hovering your mouse over the word.
One of the best ways to use this extension while on the go is combining it with your daily news reading. So if you’re not yet ready to get your news via Chinese radio, read the news in English while you’re on public transportation—but turn “Language Immersion” on. This way, you will be able to steadily teach yourself a stream of new, news-focused words and over time, their vocabulary will see a massive improvement.
6. Record ten words a day to keep the dictionary away
One final way in which you can teach yourself Chinese on the go takes a little more effort, but can really pay off if you keep it up. A major problem that many learners face when they are teaching themselves Chinese is speeding up their word recognition, and this method is a great way to improve this.
Every day, record ten Chinese words that you have recently learned.
The first step for this method is to record yourself saying (with the best pronunciation and tone as possible) ten Chinese words that you have recently learned. After each word, wait 5 seconds and then record the English meaning of the word. Once this is complete then record the opposites, with the English first and then the Chinese 5 seconds later.
Play them back while on the move, until you can get them 100% right.
With this audio recorded, upload it to your phone or mp3 player and then play it back while on the move. The aim is to be able to remember the English meaning, or the Chinese pronunciation before the answer is called out 5 seconds later. Keep repeating this process until you can remember the 10 words with 100% accuracy. Through this process you can easily teach yourself new words, or revise those tricky words that have been eluding you in your studies.
While all of these methods are great for teaching yourself Chinese, the most important factor of all is willpower. Stop procrastinating, and commit to making the most of your time in order to learn Chinese. This should be much easier now that you know every moment is a potential lesson. Good luck!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.