A Step-By-Step Guide for Learning Mandarin
I am not yet fluent in Mandarin Chinese, but I’m getting closer every day. This fact may discredit me from compiling a list of things to do in order to successfully learn this language. However, experience counts, and from my personal experience so far, I am confident enough that my recommendations will make sense to even those fluent in the language. I invite readers to forward their suggestions in order to improve this learning blueprint. My goal here is to lay out a concise (if not eye-catching) list for anyone with the impulse to take on Mandarin Chinese.
Please note that this list will not contain any references to learning materials, although I may be tempted to compile a list of books and websites in the near future. In addition, the timeframe of each step outlined here is likely to vary depending on a person’s progress and the quality of the learning material used. The sequence of the steps should be respected in order to optimize the amount of study time invested.
- Learn proper pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese.
- Learn the four tones, along with the neutral tone.
- Familiarize yourself with the Pinyin writing system. Do not bother with Chinese characters for now.
- Begin building a vocabulary of high-frequency words.
- Learn high-frequency phrases, and then work on the basic construction of simple sentences.
- Begin studying Chinese grammar, starting off from simple sentence structure, and eventually moving on to more complex patterns.
- As you achieve a strong grasp of Pinyin, begin familiarizing yourself with Chinese characters, namely the ones most frequently used.
- Expand your vocabulary to include words that will serve your improving grammar.
- Learn to read (and write) Chinese characters. It’s best to start by learning characters you know will be used on a fairly regular basis as part of your growing vocabulary.
- Further expand your knowledge of grammatical patterns.
- At this stage, it’s a matter of persisting with the progress acquired in the previous steps.
- As you familiarize yourself with more and more Chinese characters, you will come to notice some important links stemming from the characters’ radicals. These links will in turn help you remember previously learned characters, as well as help you to deduce the meaning of new ones. This process occurs over extended periods of time.
In every step, it’s important to practice listening and speaking as much as possible. Reading simply isn’t enough. I also believe that if a textbook only presents one or two short dialogues per lesson/chapter, that textbook isn’t worth too much of your time. Books providing pages upon pages of dialogues and passages in a cumulative learning approach are a much more worthy investment. Likewise, websites providing a large collection of audio lessons can constitute a good supplement. Eventually, you can move on to Chinese radio.
Regardless of where you stand in your progress, the ultimate factor is to immerse yourself in the language. This can be incorporated at any time, but it must absolutely be included at one point or another.