Do you ever feel like you're slowly wasting away as you spend hours on end staring at your phone?
I get it.
When we're bored, we seek entertainment to stimulate the brain. But if you ask me, the best way to get those juices flowing is by learning a new language, like Mandarin!
Despite any preconceived notions you might have about the language, Mandarin isn't as difficult as it seems. And with the wide variety of websites, apps and digital tools in existence today, learning Mandarin online has never been so accessible.
If you're ready to take the plunge but aren't sure how, keep reading.
In this blog post, I share with you the top reasons why Mandarin is easy to learn, four timeless tips for a successful learning journey and 10 unforgettable resources to easily learn Mandarin online.
And guess what?
None of them involve getting off your phone and going to class!
Why Mandarin Chinese Is Easier Than You Think
You've likely heard the rumor that Chinese is the hardest language in the world. The good news? It's a total myth!
Here are a few reasons why Mandarin Chinese is easier to learn than most people realize.
- The difficulty of Mandarin is often exaggerated. Despite the somewhat intimidating characters and unfamiliar sounds, mastering Mandarin is possible for many reasons.
Firstly, there's logic to the writing system. And though you might've heard of people struggling with tones, they're not entirely crucial to the meaning of characters. In fact, a lot of the time in speech, Chinese speakers will simply use context to figure out what the other is saying.
- You already know all of the sounds. Believe it or not, all the sounds in the Chinese phonetic system—known as "pinyin"—already exist in English. For example, zh is pronounced like the -ge in "strange."
Because it's a new language, you'll have to break the habit of comparing Chinese sounds with the English alphabet. This can be tricky since pinyin uses the Latin script like English. It'll take some time to disassociate from English sounds when reading pinyin, but knowing that sound equivalents exist in both languages prove that you have the capability to pronounce any word in Chinese.
- There are fewer grammar rules in Mandarin. English grammar rules seem easy because, if English is your native language, the rules were drilled into you growing up. But if you think about it, English is quite complicated, with a ton of rules and just way too many exceptions to them.
Chinese, on the other hand, doesn't use tense, case or gender. The way the language uses plurals is also arguably more sensible than English plural usage.
- Everything you need to learn is available online. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, there's basically an app for everything! Whether you need HSK-centric apps, custom vocabulary flashcards, tools for writing practice or dictionaries with Optical Character Recognition (OCR), learning Mandarin online has never been easier.
4 Practical Tips to Learn Mandarin Online
Choose the Right Apps for Your Needs and Lifestyle
We all have different schedules.
Some of us have the time to take on an intensive Chinese course, while others barely have half an hour to spare for language studies. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, just remember to tailor your apps to your lifestyle. Even if you have just five minutes a day for Mandarin lessons, there are loads of apps out there that adjust well to the busiest of learners.
Set Realistic Learning Goals
There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to learning. We all retain information at different paces. Be patient with yourself. Set small goals so you can steadily track your progress.
You know yourself better than anyone else, meaning you have a better grasp of what you can accomplish in a week more than a tutor. You might start off easy, learning only a few characters a week. As you advance, you'll likely want to build up to 10 or maybe 20 characters a week!
These daily, weekly or monthly goals are there to keep you accountable. But don't bite off more than you can chew!
Don't Forget About Writing
While there's a wide selection of apps for reading Chinese, physically writing characters with a pen or pencil truly does aid in memorization, especially for kinesthetic or tactile learners. A tablet and pen are perfect for Chinese handwriting apps, but you can also go old school with a pencil and paper. Daily writing practice is one of the quickest ways to learn Mandarin, so set a bit of time every day to get used to stroke order and learn new characters.
Practice with Other People
Just because you're learning Mandarin independently doesn't mean you have to go at it on your own. Besides, the only real way to know if you're making progress is if you communicate with others. Find a language partner, go to a language exchange event, travel to a Chinese speaking country or download a Chinese social networking app—whatever gets you speaking with other people!
10 Unique Resources to Easily Learn Mandarin Online
Ready to take the plunge? Let's get into the list to find out what works best for you!
Chinese Grammar Wiki
Forget the traditional textbook and check out Chinese Grammar Wiki by the Shanghai-based learning consultancy "AllSet Learning." It's a comprehensive resource suitable for complete beginners all the way up to upper immediate students (HSK levels one to three).
For those who aren't huge fans of textbooks, you can always use this wiki as a point of reference, such as when other apps lack details or you need another explanation for certain grammar points. There's a wealth of information on this wiki that can supplement your non-traditional study strategies.
Price: Free trial | $$ Monthly & Yearly Subscriptions
For an immersive experience that'll show you how Mandarin is used in the real world, FluentU is where it's at.
With music videos, movie trailers, news segments, inspiring talks and audio clips, this app takes away scripted phrases of traditional lessons and immerses subscribers into Chinese culture, all the while still teaching you relevant vocabulary and grammar through interactive subtitles.
In every video, you can click on vocabulary words to see the definitions and example sentences, as well as add them to your own list to create flashcards. If there's something specific you want to learn, you can also search for videos that use certain vocabulary and grammar!
Price: Free | $ Monthly & Yearly Subscriptions
Learning doesn't have to be just about the flashcards and worksheets. Turn your language journey into a game with Clozemaster!
With thousands of sentences in the library, this language gaming app teaches you vocabulary through context so you can see how words actually fit into natural speech. Spaced repetition and word frequency allow you to track your progress, and if you earn enough points, you might see your name up on the leaderboard!
While the app is free, you may want to upgrade for extra features, such as the ability to favorite sentences, customize gameplay and view more stats.
Have questions about an idiomatic expression, or need clarification on a translation? Rather than hiring a tutor or posting a question on socials, get an answer right away from native Mandarin speakers on HiNative.
It's an awesome online community built around a Q&A format, where people offer each other personalized feedback on writing, pronunciation and language topics. This gives you the freedom to ask language questions right when you have them instead of saving them for a tutor session or language meetup.
And in return, you can answer questions from English language students, too!
An oldie but a goodie, this website created back in 2004 is great for beginners. As the name suggests, it's dedicated to practicing everything in the Chinese phonetic system.
The website is divided into three sections: tones, initials and finals. Each section has activities where you listen to the audio and then either manually input the tone or pinyin letter or answer by multiple choice. You can also choose between seeing the character or pinyin of the spoken word. Once you've had enough listening practice, you can move on to the Self Quiz.
The creator of the website also included some other related Flash projects he's worked on, in case you're interested.
Something to note is that Pinyin Practice requires Flash, which you may need to allow access to if your browser automatically blocks it.
Purple Culture Chinese Tools
Although they're primarily a Hong Kong-based online retailer selling products related to Chinese culture and education, Purple Culture also makes a great Chinese learning resource. It has a bunch of generators, dictionaries and tools that cover absolutely everything you need to practice reading, writing, listening and speaking. You can even design your own worksheets with personalized vocabulary.
There are even tools for teachers who wish to generate student worksheets such as Chinese word searches, crossword puzzles and character coloring. Plus, all of these tools are free!
If you want to save your word lists, you can sign up for a new account or register with Facebook or Google.
The first-ever blog about learning Mandarin Chinese launched back in 2002, and guess what? It's still alive and running!
Created by the same person who started AllSet Learning, Sinosplice addresses key linguistic and cultural issues when it comes to English speakers learning Mandarin. All topics covered in this blog provide a holistic perspective on the language learning journey. Having studied applied linguistics in a program designed for native speakers, the creator even shares linguistic perspectives so readers can establish a deeper level of understanding for Mandarin.
Price: Free | $$ Monthly Subscription for Unlimited Tutoring
Knowing whether you're pronouncing a word correctly or not without a tutor can be challenging. You can mimic sounds on an audio clip, but it lacks feedback. Thankfully, you get that for free with Speechling!
Here, you can listen to a native speaker and then repeat after them in a recording. Within 24 hours, you'll receive feedback from your coach to help you improve. For more advanced students, coaches may ask a question or provide an image that they want you to describe.
The free app includes 35 coaching sessions per month. For the premium service, you get unlimited personal one-on-one tutoring, an audio journal and full access to offline premium resources.
Price: Free | $ "Learning Chinese in the Modern Era" e-Book
Teacup Chinese is another free blog that contains information on learning Mandarin, Chinese culture and traveling around China. The articles are interesting reads, though if you'd like something more thorough in terms of learning Mandarin, the e-Book "Learning Chinese in the Modern Era" includes practical tips, methods and resources for quick and efficient study. You can also check them out on YouTube!
Xue Yan on YouTube
If YouTube is your main way of learning these days, divert your attention to this channel. With over 200 Chinese lessons that cover important grammar points as well as topics like Chinese money and social media, there's a lot to be learned from these short lessons. It's almost like having an online tutor, and these are especially useful for auditory learners.
And there you have it—10 timeless resources to learn Mandarin online with ease. So what are you waiting for? Download that app, watch that YouTube video or sign up for that free trial! I guarantee you won't regret it.
Whether you prefer old-fashioned textbooks or modern websites that teach through immersion, there's something for everyone on this list. So stop dreaming about learning Mandarin and start dreaming in it
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.