12 Small Secrets of Learning Chinese Language

Do you have any close friends who want or need to learn Chinese for university study or for business? You know, learning Chinese is a rather complicated thing, especially for Indo-European language speakers. However, with determination and practice every day, it is possible to successfully master Chinese. If your friend asks you for advice on learning Chinese, you can ask him to practice Chinese through textbooks, or you can continue to practice with Chinese-speaking friends or Chinese schools that exist in abundance on the Internet. To get a basic idea of ​​the most important things in learning Chinese, keep reading this guide!

1 Practice using the four tones of Chinese. 

Chinese is a tonal language, which means that words have different meanings with different tones, even though their pronunciation and spelling are the same. Learning these different tones is undoubtedly a basic requirement if you want to speak Chinese correctly. Chinese has the following four tones:

  • “The first tone” is a flat tone. On this note, your voice is flat and sounds, neither rising nor falling. Taking ma as an example, we can indicate a sound by using the symbol above the letter: mā
  • “Second tone” is a rising tone. In this key, your voice rises from low to mid-range, like “Huh?” or “What?” when you’re asking someone to repeat his words. Two tones are represented by the symbol  .
  • “The second tone” is a turning tone. When making this key, the pitch drops and then rises rapidly, just like you pronounce when you give a thoughtful explanatory statement. Three tones are represented by the symbol  .
  • “The fourth tone” is the falling tone. When this key is pronounced, the pitch drops rapidly from high to low. It’s like when you’re issuing a command, like “Dismiss!” Or, like the sound you make when reading a book and discovering something new and interesting: “Ha!” The four sounds are represented by the symbol  .
  • Are these simple? If you don’t feel that way, don’t worry. We strongly recommend that you listen to the tones of native Chinese speakers, because it is hard to imagine what the tones sound like just by reading a textbook.

2 Memorize simple vocabulary. 

No matter what language you learn, the more vocabulary you master, the more fluent you will be. So the next thing to do is to memorize some useful words.

  • Some good vocabulary lists to start with include the following: time of day (morning: zǎoshàng , afternoon: xiàwǔ , evening: wǎnshàng ) limb parts (head: tóu , feet: jiǎo , hands: shǒu ) food (beef niúròu , chicken :  , eggs: jīdàn , noodles: miàntiáo ) and color, week, month, transportation, weather, etc.
  • When you hear an English word, think about how to say it in Chinese. If you don’t know how to say it, write it down and look it up in a dictionary later. For this, you can carry a small notebook with you, which is convenient. Put Chinese labels (Chinese characters, pinyin, and pronunciation) on objects in your room, such as mirrors, coffee tables, and sugar bowls. You’ll see these words so often that you’ll grasp them before you know it.
  • While a large vocabulary is good, keep in mind that accuracy is more important when it comes to Chinese. Learning a word is useless if you can’t pronounce it correctly, because different pronunciations can mean completely different things. For example, a mispronunciation (pronounce “má” as “mā”) can make the same difference as saying “I want a cake” and “I want a cola” — two very different meanings.

3 Learn how to count. 

Chinese has no alphabet, which makes it more difficult for Westerners to learn it. Fortunately, the number system in Chinese is fairly straightforward and fairly logical, and once you learn the first ten numbers, you can count to 99.

  • Below, you’ll see the numbers one to ten in simplified Chinese characters, followed by Hanyu Pinyin and the correct pronunciation. When practicing pronunciation, you want to make sure you are using the correct intonation.
    • One: written (a) or  , pronounced [eee]
    • Two: written (two) or èr , read [arr]
    • Three: to write (three) or sān , pronounced [sahn]
    • Four: written (four) or  , pronounced [ssuh]
    • Five: written (five) or  , pronounced [woo]
    • Six: writing (six) or liù , pronounced [liou]
    • Seven: written (seven) or  , pronounced [chi]
    • Eight: written (eight) or  , pronounced [bah]
    • Nine: written (nine) or jiǔ , pronounced [jeou]
    • Ten: written (ten) or shí , pronounced [sher]
  • Once you’ve mastered the numbers one to ten, you can continue counting two-digit numbers by reading the tens digit, then shi , and then the ones digit. for example:
  • The number 48 is written sì shí bā , which literally means “four times ten plus eight”. The number 30 is written as thirty , which literally means “three times ten”. The number 19 is written as nineteen , which literally means “one multiplied by ten plus nine” (however, for most Chinese, in numbers 10-20, the initial  is omitted because it is redundant .)
  • The word 100 is written (bai) or baǐ in Chinese , so 100 is written as yī baǐ , 200 is written as èr baǐ , 300 is written as sān baǐ , and so on.

4 Learn some basic conversational phrases. 

Once you have a basic grasp of vocabulary and pronunciation, you can move on to learning basic conversational phrases that can be used in everyday Chinese conversations.

  • Hello = Nǐ hǎo , [nee how]
  • What’s your name? = nín guì xìng, [neen gway shing]
  • Yes = shì, pronounced [sher]
  • No = bú shì, pronounced [boo sher]
  • Thank you = xiè xiè, [sheh sheh]
  • You’re welcome = bú yòng xiè, [boo yong sheh]
  • Excuse me = duì bu qǐ, [dway boo chee]
  • I don’t understand = wǒ tīng bù dǒng,  [wore ting boo dong]
  • Goodbye = zài jiàn, dú [dzai dzi’en]

5 Learn basic grammar. 

People often think that Chinese has no grammar, which is wrong. Chinese grammars do exist, but they are very different from grammars in European or other language systems. Unlike these languages, Chinese is a very analytical language, which is both good news and bad news for language learners.

  • In Chinese, for example, there are no complicated rules for collocations, consistency, gender, plurals, or tenses. Most words contain only one syllable, which is then combined to form compound words. This makes sentence structure fairly straightforward.
  • However, Chinese also has its own grammatical rules, which are not found in English or other European languages. For example, Chinese uses grammatical rules such as grading, topic prominence, preference, etc. These features are not found in English, so it is quite difficult for beginners to master these rules.
  • However, these differences aside, Chinese does use the same word order as English, such as subject-verb-object, so word-for-word translation is much easier. For example, “he likes cats” in English is directly translated as “tā (he) xǐhuān (likes) māo (cats).

6 Learn how to use Pinyin. 

Pinyin is a system of writing Chinese using the Latin alphabet. Hanyu Pinyin is one of the most common forms of Latinization and is used in many textbooks and teaching materials.

  • Pinyin allows Chinese learners to focus on their pronunciation, while at the same time enabling them to read and write without having to learn complex Chinese characters. Although Pinyin uses the Latin alphabet, the pronunciation of Pinyin letters is often not so intuitive to English speakers, which is why it is necessary to study Pinyin carefully.
  • For example, the phonetic letter “c” is pronounced like the “ts” sound in the word “bits”, the phonetic letter “e” is pronounced like the “er” sound in the word “hers”, and the phonetic letter “q” is pronounced like the “ch” sound in the word “cheap”. Because of these differences, you need to learn the correct pronunciation of Pinyin before using it, which is a basic requirement.
  • Although the process of learning Pinyin pronunciation may seem painful, it is extremely useful for you to learn Chinese, and it is much easier to learn Pinyin pronunciation than to memorize traditional Chinese.

7 Practice reading and writing Chinese characters. 

The last hurdle in learning Chinese is learning to read and write Chinese characters. This process can take quite a long time, even years, because the only way to learn Chinese characters is to keep memorizing and practicing them.

  • According to the BBC, there are more than 50,000 Chinese characters in the world (Chinese count up to 100 000), and most of them are rarely used. An educated Chinese can memorize about 8,000 Chinese characters, but to be able to read a newspaper, it is enough to master about 2,000 of them. 
  • When writing Chinese characters, you first need to learn the radicals, which are like the most basic bricks of every Chinese character. Some radicals can stand alone as a character, while others are used to combine to form more complex Chinese characters.
  • It is also important to write Chinese characters in the correct stroke order. You need to follow a certain set of writing rules, such as left-to-right, top-to-bottom, center first, then sides.
  • You can buy books for writing Chinese characters. These books can help you master the correct structure of Chinese characters. They are often designed for elementary school students, but are useful for every kanji beginner.
  • One of the main benefits of learning Chinese characters is that it can help you understand Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, and other literatures that use a lot of traditional or simplified Chinese, even though their pronunciations are not the same as Chinese.

8 Find someone whose native language is Chinese. 

One of the best ways to improve the new language skills you are learning is to have a conversation with someone who is a native speaker of the language. They can easily correct grammar or pronunciation mistakes for you, and they can teach you a lot of colloquialisms or slang that you won’t learn in textbooks.

  • If you have a Chinese speaker who is willing to help you, that’s really great! Alternatively, you can advertise in local newspapers, the Internet, or surveys to see if there are existing Chinese language groups around you.
  • There may be Chinese restaurants on the roadside. If there are Chinese people there, walk in and say hello to them in Chinese! You don’t need to buy their food, the very fact that you show interest in their culture will make them happy.
  • If you can’t find native Chinese speakers nearby, you can try to find them on Skype or Wechat, Facebook etc. They might be willing to trade 15 minutes of conversation in Chinese for 15 minutes of conversation in your native language.

9 You might consider taking a language course. 

If you need some extra motivation, or if you think you’ll learn better in a more formal setting, try taking a Chinese course.

  • As more Asian live on the West, many courses taught by volunteers have sprung up. Including other fees, these courses cost about $300-500 a year. You can also try online Chinese schools.
  • Look out for advertisements for Chinese language courses at local universities, schools or community centers.
  • If you feel nervous about taking a Chinese course alone, you can bring a friend with you. In this way, you can have more fun between classes and have an additional partner to practice speaking.

10 Watch Chinese movies and cartoons. 

Prepare some Chinese movie DVDs with subtitles or watch Chinese cartoons online. It’s an easy and fun way to help develop your sense of language.

  • If you feel motivated to learn Chinese, you can try pausing the movie often and repeating what was said in the movie. This will help you learn a pure and authentic Chinese accent.
  • If you can’t buy Chinese movies, you can try renting some from movie rental stores, where there are often sections in foreign languages. Alternatively, you can look at your local library for Chinese movies, or you can ask if they can retrieve some resources for you.

11 Listen to Chinese movies and radio. 

Listening to Chinese movies or radio is another very good way to learn Chinese, you can feel yourself surrounded by Chinese. Even though you can’t fully understand what they’re saying, you can try grabbing keywords to help you understand what they’re saying.

  • Install a Chinese radio software in your mobile phone, so you can listen anytime, anywhere.
  • You can download some Chinese audio podcasts and listen to them while doing exercises or doing homework.

12 Consider traveling to China. 

After mastering basic Chinese conversation, you can consider traveling to mainland China or Taiwan. What a great way to learn Chinese by traveling locally!

Don’t be too hard on yourself. 

Learning a language is a gradual process that requires persistence. Chinese is one of the hardest languages ​​to learn, so take your time and don’t rush.

Important hints

  • Don’t hold back a day or a few weeks because you don’t have time to study, or you’ll forget everything and start over.
  • Persistence is worth it! If you think you have mastered enough, you also don’t stop reviewing and studying, otherwise, you will forget what you have learned. Just because you didn’t learn Chinese at least 4 times a week, how frustrating it is that you need to relearn it!
  • In Chinese, pronunciation and intonation are very important. Before you start learning a new vocabulary, you need to take some extra time to work on your tone. For example, to a native English speaker, “moo”, “moo?” and “moo!” do not sound essentially different, but in Chinese, they are actually three different and completely unrelated vocabulary.
  • In general, Chinese are quite proud of their culture and are happy to help others learn Chinese. So don’t be afraid to ask native Chinese speakers for help or practice conversations with them.
  • Although opinions differ on the Latinization of Chinese and its use, learning Hanyu Pinyin proves to be very useful if you want to type Chinese on a Western keyboard.
  • Although Taiwanese is very similar to Mandarin, there are some subtle differences in speech, spelling, and grammatical structure.
  • If possible, at least take an introductory Chinese course offered by your online school (considering COVID19 pandemic situation) or local university, which will help you become more confident and precise in pronunciation and intonation. Laying these foundations will help you build a springboard for future self-study. It is best to ensure that these courses are taught in Chinese rather than English. This is the same as English teachers who go to China to teach English are expected to speak English instead of Chinese.
  • If you need to learn quickly, you can try some software or use small cards before bed to quickly memorize.

What Can We Do

As a Ukrainian orientalist and educator of Sinology, I have been developing methods of targeted training of students in Oriental languages ​​for more than 15 years, living in Chinese surrounding for 7 years and learning the language for over 30 years of my life. Now after Iran, Balkan countries and Africa I continue my education program raise in India.

Undoubtedly, the training aspects, as described above, has its cultural-adaptive, psychological and self-organizational component. After all, even among the hundreds of graduates of specialized universities training philologists and translators, only dozens reach the level of fluency in the language and only a few are able to prepare students for the author’s methods for various practical dimensions of Chinese in everyday life, business and international relations. mass media. For mastering the language just like Wushu are of the same essence nature, both require persistence, seriousness of the learner and hard shaping work on the personal qualities.

There are two worldviews of systemic training that we can go through: the standard mainland (simplified hieroglyphics of China) and Hong Kong-Taiwan (traditional hieroglyphics). I invite you to talk about these and other features of each area, trying your hand at a free weekly trial training in modern Chinese with a total amount of introductory training (6 hours). For all listeners, regardless of citizenship and your native language, please fill out the application form below, indicating the date of the desired start of classes.

Both adults from 18 and children from 10 are very welcome.

活到老,学到老!有志者是竟成!

Live till old, learn till old! It is the power of will that surely makes the progress!

Best regards,

Petro Rybalchenko

Ukrainian Educator. Linguist & Conference Interpreter