You’ve decided that taking Chinese classes and following a rigid course schedule is not your kind of thing.
But you’d still love to improve your Chinese language skills.
So what can you do? Simple: Learn Chinese on your own!
You’ll be amazed at the variety of resources you can gain access to on the web. From pinyin to chengyu, there is so much out there available for you!
But what’s the most effective way to learn by yourself? Which resources are the best?
Those questions are exactly the reason why we’ve put this guide together for you. So it’s time to channel your inner superhero and get pumped up to start your journey. We’ll find some great motivation in the answers to the question: Why should you learn Chinese anyway?
Why You Should Start Learning Mandarin Chinese
Learning Chinese on your own may sometimes be a feat. So if you’re one of those people who still has a few doubts regarding this, then these three features of the Chinese language will definitely help you cement that decision. You’ll be happy to know that however intimidating it may first seem to be, the Chinese language is, in fact, something that can be learned and enjoyed by everyone. Here’s why:
More and more people are jumping onto the Chinese bandwagon. It’s the very reason why there are a lot of online Chinese courses cropping up. Or the fact that there is a huge spike in the number of foreign students enrolling in Chinese language courses in Beijing and Shanghai. It’s become a global phenomenon! People wanted to learn all about it and you should too.
The very reason why there is a sudden interest in the Chinese language is mainly due to its applicability. When China opened its doors to foreign trade, investors and entrepreneurs started flowing in. But English is not widely used in the country, so the most practical solution is to adapt to the locals. How? By learning their language.
Today, one out of every five companies has a satellite office or at least an external working relation in China. Most likely, the corporation you’re a part of has a Chinese shareholder—be it a supplier, client or a director. So it’s quite obvious that learning Chinese will give you a huge advantage in the business world.
Rich Culture and History
China is one of the oldest nations in the world. With over 8,000 years of history, there’s no doubt why people across the globe are taking a special interest in its rich culture and history. The Chinese language is a piece of art in and of itself. You’ll be amazed at how the characters were formed or how each character relates to a specific object. Learning the language will help you untangle the many mysteries of Chinese culture. You’ll get a glimpse of it, and then you’ll surely want to keep on unraveling them.
Challenges You’ll Encounter While Learning Chinese
There will be a few stumbling blocks along the way—that’s a given. When you first encounter any dialogue or text written in Mandarin, you’ll realize that they are just so alien to you. Mandarin is not like other foreign languages that use the Roman alphabet; Mandarin Chinese has its own alphabet. The language has other various elements that are new to English speakers, from intonation to the number of strokes.
Even the simplified and traditional characters may seem daunting to you. But you know what? There’s always a way around it. Little by little, the more you familiarize yourself to the language, the less alien it will feel. Read more. Listen more. Practice more. The more you expose yourself to the language, the more familiar it becomes. And once you’re able to overcome that fear, your thirst for knowledge and curiosity for the new language will emerge.
Tips on How to Get Started Learning Chinese by Yourself
Now that we’ve set those fears aside, it’s time to grab your cape and inner strength, as we prepare for your wonderful journey in learning the Chinese language. Here are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your learning:
- Familiarize yourself with the sounds. Familiarization is the key to learning any language. You have to know how to distinguish someone who is speaking in Mandarin from those who are not. Listen to anyone or anything that uses Mandarin, be it an audio book, a video or a mere commentary. It’ll help you learn the basics of the Chinese language: the sounds and the intonation. You’ll notice what sounds are most commonly used, and which are not present in Mandarin.
- Look for the practical side of the language. Think about it. What’s your main motivation for learning Chinese? Is it for business, for travel or just for the heck if it? Whatever your reasons are, use it as motivation for you to continue learning. There will always be a time when you feel discouraged or out of sorts. When that time comes, think of your reason for learning the language. That will get you back on track. You can also gear your lessons toward these goals. If you’re learning for travel purposes, acquaint yourself with the basic Chinese travel and shopping phrases. Once you see the practical applications of the language, you’ll want to keep on learning.
- Listen to the words and conversations over and over. Repetition is the best way to remember whatever you’ve learned. You’ll be confused by everything you read or listen to at first, but over time, it’ll slowly start to make sense. Repetition helps you understand. You don’t need to look for the meaning of each character. Over time, you’ll understand what characters mean through context clues.
- Combine your various interests with your learning. This will make it more fun! Don’t keep your learning so serious to the point that it becomes a burden to you. Learning should be enjoyable, so try to match it with your interests. If you’re into music, for example, use music to learn Chinese. If you love reading, check out these interesting Chinese novels. If you’re a fan of movies and TV shows, then use the Chinese counterpart. There are so many avenues of learning available for you to discover!
- Practice every day. Never stop practicing. No matter how busy life gets, set aside time to practice the things you’ve learned. It’ll help you remember them and encourage you to further your learning.
The World Is Yours: 5 Effective Ways to Learn Chinese by Yourself
Learning Chinese isn’t difficult at all if you know where to look and what to look for. You’ll be happy to find out that there are, in fact, so many wonderful resources on the web. Here are some of the best resources available today for learning Chinese by yourself.
1. Use music videos
Using music is one of the best ways to learn a new language because it’s fun and interesting! But why use music videos instead of just listening to Chinese songs? Well, sometimes what’s going on in the music video can give you context to better understand the song, and other times it’s a great peek into the culture. But the biggest benefit is that you can have a preview of the Chinese characters and follow along with the lyrics.
The best way to learn Chinese from music videos is with FluentU.
You'll find a wide range of contemporary videos that cover all different interests and levels, as you can see here:
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.
From the description page, you can access interactive transcripts under the Dialogue tab, or review words and phrases under Vocab.
The best part is that FluentU always keeps track of your learning. It customizes quizzes to focus on areas that need attention and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. In other words, you get a 100% personalized experience.
Try FluentU in your browser or, better yet, download the FluentU iOS or Android app today!
Watching these music videos will really help you become familiar with the pronunciation, as intonations are learned over time with more exposure. So choose the genre that best suits your taste. Not sure where to start? We’ve gathered the best Mandopop songs and karaoke classics for you. If these work out well and you want more, check out youku.com or tudou.com, which have a really comprehensive list of videos.
2. Regularly meet with a conversation partner
When I was taking up Chinese in Beijing, I was fortunate enough to have a language partner. I got to learn more Mandarin from her while she learned English from me: a win-win situation! We get to cover more areas than the ones taught in class, like slang and various expressions. I became familiar with their actual way of talking.
So if you have a friend who’s good in Mandarin, you can do that too. Chances are you’ll have to look for a conversation partner, but it’s completely doable! Is there a university near where you live, or a Chinese restaurant? Check there first. You can also look for a Chinese conversation partner online—that’s becoming quite the trend nowadays.
You can check out mylanguageexchange.com or conversationexchange.com for skilled online conversation partners. Interacting with someone in Chinese will greatly help you appreciate the language because you’ll see the practical side of learning. It will motivate you to expand your knowledge and walk on unfamiliar ground. Trust me, it’ll do you wonders.
3. Watch Chinese shows with subtitles
Once you’ve covered the basics, watching Chinese shows is the next step. Whether it’s dramas or variety shows, you’ll be exposed to new characters and vocabulary. Like with music, pick the genre that you love most. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting to learn something new while enjoying what you’re doing.
If you ask me, I suggest that you choose Chinese dramas that border on romantic comedies. Why? They’re the easiest to understand! Talk shows or variety shows are equally entertaining, but there’s a tendency for you to feel lost in their conversations. If you’re not that familiar with Chinese current events and culture, you might not fully understand what their humorous statements are all about.
Also, choose shows with subtitles. There are so many video streaming sites available in the web; start with dramafever.com or maplestage.com. These are only some of the more famous sites out there that feature shows with Chinese subtitles. Watching with subtitles will greatly help your character recognition skills.
But if you prefer to really get to know each character, again you can check out the FluentU videos. They explain every dialogue for you, character by character, and you’ll learn the pronunciation in pinyin along with an accompanying English explanation.
4. Listen to audiobooks
If you’ve noticed, all the references I’ve listed here so far target both your listening and reading skills. That’s because it works best that way. You won’t get the most out of your learning if you merely target one of them. It’s for this exact reason that audio books will really help you out. Merely reading a book won’t do, you have to listen to the words at the same time.
For starters, you can download Chinese course textbooks. Most of these have an accompanying audiobook, so it’ll help you grasp the basics of the language. But if you wish to stick to novels and comics, there is a wide range of topics and titles available in 书声bar (Audiobook Bar), 天方听书网 (Tianfang Book Listening Web) and verycd.com.
You can also check out these Chinese novels, but they’re only recommended if you’re already in the intermediate level. These novels are purely Chinese characters; there’s no pinyin or zhuyin to help you out.
5. Listen to podcasts
Finally, if you know where to look, podcasts can become your new on-the-go best friend. There is a great variety of topics, as well as numerous podcasts focused on teaching the Chinese basics to beginners. You can download these to start. But if you can already manage, I suggest you pick podcasts that are geared towards specific interests and Chinese culture. This will exposed you to a wider range of vocabulary—words that aren’t normally covered in the former.
For a start, try 好简单 (How Easy) or 黑米公主 (Princess Remy). These are the common favorites of both Chinese speakers and Chinese learners. They cover a variety of topics from culture to arts to daily news. You can also try BBC news for more detailed updates on politics, but be forewarned, you have to possess some intermediate level of Chinese to listen to them. News has a totally different lingo.
If you’re looking for podcasts that are aimed at specific interests, you can check out the iTunes store. Some of these include NBA 前线 (Front Line) for updates and reviews about NBA, 电影不无聊 (Movies Are Not Boring) for all info about movies and 科学脱口秀 (Science Talk Show) for science related talk shows, among others.
And that completes the list! These five tools are sure-fire ways to learn Mandarin Chinese by yourself.
Remember that you already have the superpowers within to make your mark in the world, so use that power to learn Chinese on your own—and enjoy the journey!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.