When we talk about studying Chinese, what we actually mean is studying Mandarin. Compared to Cantonese, which is the second most spoken out of around 50 languages in contemporary China, Mandarin is far larger. Cantonese confined to Taiwan and Hong Kong. Mandarin, on the other hand, is also spoken in both these areas and the entirety of the rest of the country. This did not come about as an accident. 100 years ago there were more languages, and Standard Mandarin was not known as standard. The Mandarin of today is an amalgamation of different dialects but is mostly made up of the old Beijing one. The reason that it is so common today is that it has been artificially promoted by the central government for obvious reasons: one modern nation needs one standard mode of communication.
The Path to Learning Mandarin Chinese
When we talk about Mandarin language studies people often say that they are rather tricky. They are not a walk in the park, but it is my sincere belief that people make it out to be a much more difficult task than it is in reality. The thing we need to remember is that Mandarin is very different from languages that have been derived from Latin or the Germanic branch of European languages. But once those differences have been dealt with, learning the rest of the language is much less tricky than it would seem when you are just setting out on that particular journey. These initial bumps in the road can be categorized into two distinct groups; the difficulties of writing Chinese Mandarin and the challenges of speaking Chinese Mandarin. I write difficulties but in reality it is less about difficultness and more about differences.
How do I learn Chinese characters?!
The first of these two categories, written Chinese, is mostly hard because there is no alphabet. Instead, you need to memorize a lot of pictures, aka characters. The key to success in this matter lies in not thinking of them as pictures when you try to commit them to memory but rather thinking of them regarding their underlying structure. The two golden nuggets of information that you need to become familiar with are the building blocks that make up the vast majority of characters, called radicals, and the way that these radicals are written, the stroke order. Once you have these two concepts firmly logged in your head you will begin to see the characters as a process of writing and not as a finished product. The picture is complicated, but the way that it is formed is as easy as pie. It is a bit like riding a bike really – once you get up and going you will cover a lot of ground very quickly, and you will never loose that initial effort you put in while learning the first couple of hundred or so the correct way.
How do I learn how to speak Chinese?!
The second of the categories, spoken Chinese Mandarin, is mostly different regarding pronunciation. The grammar is not that hard. Chinese Mandarin pronunciation, however, is. It is hard because as we know, Mandarin lacks an alphabet. Instead of being made up of letters that make a sound when put together we have pictures which give little or no indication regarding how the words sound when spoken. To muddle things up, even more, the Mandarin language is not only dependent on syllables, but it also involves modulation of the pitch. This is what is more commonly known as tones, and it makes Mandarin a tonal language.
However, both the difficulties with getting to grips with Characters and their radicals and stroke order, and the trick to wrapping your tongue around tonal modulation while speaking, can easily be dealt with in a small class size. Learning Mandarin without the individual attention of a teacher is very hard. Although, once you have help with pronunciation and writing it becomes easier. By learning the language, you will hold the key to the greatest paradigm shift of our century – the rise of China as the economic and political superpower.
If you want to learn to speak Mandarin, you must know that it is not an easy process. In fact, learning to speak the language should not be done in a hasty manner otherwise, you will end up learning the language erroneously.
Here are some of the steps that you may follow to learn to speak Mandarin properly:
First, you have to break the language learning goals into smaller, more achievable and realistic goals. The learning process is processual; wherein there are no cutting corners towards achieving your learning goals. The same philosophy should be applied to learning to speak Mandarin. You must create short term wins. For instance, you should start learning the characters before learning the words and afterward, learning the phrases. These short-term wins will lead you to achieve the bigger goals of learning to speak the language.
For one, there are thousands of characters involved in the Mandarin language. It would be best to break down the number into smaller modules that you have to learn on a daily basis. The goal is studying one or a few characters at a time. Master each character if you must, with which comes mastering the entire Mandarin language.
Chinese Lessons with a Chinese Friend is a Good Place to Start!
Second, you have to consider having a language buddy who is also learning the Mandarin language. This person may be English or an other non-English speaker. Nevertheless, figures show that the latter is more efficient in learning to speak Mandarin than English-speaking individuals. Perhaps, the reason behind this is the wide difference in the English and Chinese languages.
If English is your mother tongue, and you language buddies is not, you will not be tempted to fall back in communicating in English. Your partner will not understand what you are saying as well, and you will be left with no choice but to converse in The Mandarin language. So, choose a non-English speaking language buddy, that is if you are serious to learn to speak Mandarin. With this, you will become more fluent in speaking the language eventually.
Considerably, you will not be ashamed of the mistake that you are going to make since your language buddy may make the same mistake as yours.
Many Methods to Learn Mandarin Chinese
Third, you have to learn to speak Mandarin using the most appropriate method for you. Again, learners have different characteristics and thus, different learning styles. The same with learning Mandarin, there is no right method for each learner wherein one method may be effective for a learner, but not for another learner. Put simply, the learning method that works for other language learners may not necessarily work for you. Thereby, learning to speak the language is not universal.
If you must develop your learning strategy, integrating different language learning methods in your strategy. Some of these methods are reading Mandarin comics or books, watching Mandarin shows or listening to Mandarin dramas on the radio. You have a lot of choices that you may try, and then choose which of them will work for later.
These are the three basic steps that you must follow. In no time, you may determine the difference between a broken and a fluent Mandarin speaker.