How to Learn Chinese
Mandarin Chinese, or “Zhongwen” (中文) is known as one of the harder languages for an English speaker to learn. Actually it’s not really much harder than any other language, except for the fact that there is less vocabulary crossover with English. Learning the writing system is a bit time-consuming, but if you just learn to read and type, instead of handwriting, you can learn just as fast as any other language!
Actually the hardest part is in the very beginning, and that’s the pronunciation. Chinese only has 37 or so basic sounds, and about 200 different syllables, but many are quite different from any sounds you’ve ever used in English. Make sure you have a good grasp of pronunciation, before you move on to the rest.
Here is the system I developed over the course of about three years while living in Taiwan. It’s designed to get you comfortable speaking in simple conversations in two to three months. And within 6-9 months, you should be at the level to test into a Chinese-language university, get a job in China or Taiwan, or otherwise live the life of a local.
Phase I: Basics
1. Learn about Digital Flashcards, and how to use them.
2. Master pronunciation with the Chinese version of ABC’s, “Bopomofo”.
3. Start speaking right away, with a shortlist of some useful Basic Phrases.
4. Develop an eye for Chinese Characters, or Hanzi, by acquainting yourself with the pieces (called Radicals) that all Characters are made from.
5. Set up your computer and smartphone to type Chinese, and learn how to type and text. (Leave the handwriting for later!)
Phase II: School Books
1. Learn Language and Culture together, by reading the same children’s textbooks that native speakers use.
2. Learn to go from knowledge to fluency, with effective practice drills and Language Exchange.
3. Set a goal to pass the TOFCL Level 4, which is required for entrance into a Taiwanese university.
Phase III: Daily Life
Learn the most important Vocabulary there is for visiting or living in a foreign country; the FOOD! This section contains over one thousand picture flashcards, so you actually know what you’re ordering.
Learn Pinyin! It’s not great for mastering pronunciation, but it’ll be useful later on when you’re reading street signs in China!
Develop real Handwriting skills, and practice reading the garbled scribbling of native speakers!
Time to Be a Hero!
Phase I has 7 objectives. There are 7 days in a week. Coincidence? I think not!
Let’s think of each day as a Quest, with you as the Brave Hero! Over the next Seven days you will overcome impossible trials, battle hordes of monsters, and gain countless experience points. In the end you will be able to say something few people ever can:
我學中文！ – “I study Chinese!”
The Seven Quests
Quest 1: “Flashcards” – Install Flashcards Deluxe, and read the instructions.
Quest 2: “Bopomofo” – Download Phase I: Bopomofo flashcards; learn all 37 Characters.
Quest 3: “The Rules of Bopomofo” – Memorize the 5 Special Rules of Bopomofo.
Quest 4: “Speaking Chinese” – Download Phase I: Basic Phrases flashcards; memorize all.
Quest 5: “Hanzi” – Download Phase I: Kangxi Radicals; memorize all.
Quest 6: “Reading Chinese” – Download Phase I: Basic Phrases (Hanzi); memorize all.
Quest 7: “Typing Chinese” – Set up your computer and smartphone with essential programs; type all 50 Basic Phrases.
Now to be honest, some of these quests will only take 1 or 2 hours, while others may require 4 or 5. So don’t get discouraged if it takes you longer than seven days to complete.
Right then! Ready to do something heroic? 😀 In Lesson 1, we will learn how to properly use digital flashcards, so we can retain everything we learn; whether it’s from a book, or from real life!