For many English speakers, learning Chinese is a lot harder than learning an Indo-European language such as German, French, Russian or even Punjabi. This is because Chinese forms a part of the second-largest language family, in terms of native speakers – the Sino-Tibetan language family. Different language families have descended from different ancestral languages, which affect their linguistics structures. For a native speaker of any Indo-European language, mastering Chinese requires a lot of time, dedication and practice. However, the most important feature is to have a very good tutor. When learning a language from a different family, Duo lingo won’t do the trick. (Though, it can help as a way of fun daily revising!) Here are five tips for choosing the right Chinese tutor in the sea of offered lessons.
Find a professional teacher
The best tutor, in this case, is a professional Chinese teacher. A person who not only knows the language but is also skilled in explaining grammatical rules and different syntaxes. This is very, very important. You will rarely be able to transfer a rule from English to Chinese, so the person will have to guide you carefully. Keep in mind that there is a difference in methodology when teaching Chinese language to Chinese people, and when teaching Chinese as a foreign language. Your best bet is to find a tutor that teaches the latter. There are plenty of them, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Finally, when contacting a tutor, feel free to ask them about their education and experience. Many will have it written on their profiles, but it never hurts to double-check. Reviews from students might also come in handy.
Someone with good English skills
Their English will matter a lot once they start explaining the rules of the language. Of course, with English being their second language, you can’t expect perfection – your Chinese is never going to be perfect either – but it is very important that you can fully understand them. You can check this through emails when scheduling a class and then again during your introductory lesson. If you see you can’t understand what they are saying, whether due to their English skills or even just due the accent, don’t feel bad about looking another tutor. If you like them, you can keep their contact and get in touch for speaking lessons in the future. Or even for more advanced grammar lessons, once you feel confident to communicate mostly in Chinese.
Someone with patience and time
Learning Chinese is not going to be easy: you will need to be patient and persistent. Similarly, you will need a teacher with those same qualities. Although your incorrect pronunciation will often be annoying to a native speaker, you should find someone who will make you repeat it one more time, instead of moving to something else and saying it was ok. Another thing to consider would be how often they are available. While this also largely depends on your financial situation and your own free time, you should find someone who can dedicate to you at least a couple of hours a week. Taking lessons in Chinese once a week, or even worse, once every few weeks, won’t really amount to anything. It will simply be a case of wasting your money. Be sure that when you decide to start, you have time on your hands and so does your tutor.
Someone willing to teach you about the culture
It is not only the language that is different. European and American cultures significantly differ from the Chinese one. Your tutor should dedicate some time to teaching you about daily life in China. This could be of great importance once you start spending time with the natives because you can unknowingly offend someone by something your culture considers polite. For example, it is very, very rude to ask for a split bill – the person who extended the invite pays. No exception. These things can easily be taught through well-chosen class materials, as well as through assigned homework. Keep in mind that learning about culture can also help with learning the language itself – both by motivating you and by showing you which register to use in which occasion. If you want to know more about culture, ask your tutor for recommendations on movies, music and the books that can be found translated in English.
Unless you have specifically decided on some other variety, you should probably learn Mandarin, the standard Chinese. It is the most widely spoken Chinese language, and thus the most useful for both traveling and business. So, when choosing a Chinese tutor, stress out that you wish to learn standard Mandarin. This is often understood even without having been said, but better safe than sorry. Also, they should speak at an understandable speed, so that you can recognize the sounds. It is often that native tutors of any language speak too fast for the beginner to understand. If this is the case, tell them because they can easily fix that.
Don’t let the difficulty of learning Chinese discourage you in any way. Learning a language is always a challenge, but a rewarding one at the end. And a good private tutor can help you overcome the challenge with more ease. This is why it is so important to carefully choose your language tutor. Take your time and schedule more classes with different people. The first tutor you find does not need to be the right one. Many will offer significant discounts for the first session and, so, you are not necessarily losing money if you decide to try elsewhere. Finally, learning a language should be fun. It is vital that you and your tutor get along and have topics to discuss which is not only forced upon you by the textbook. If you manage to find that, you will learn Chinese much quicker than you could ever imagine. Good luck!
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