What’s the best way to learn Chinese?

Chinese is a difficult language to learn. For one thing, the Chinese characters bear no resemblance to written English. Secondly, whereas you might be able to correctly guess a few Spanish or German words even if you don’t speak the language, it is nearly impossible to do that with Chinese. (Benny Lewis disagrees with this point.) And yet, many Westerners have climbed the steep slope and successfully mastered Chinese as a second language.

To the beginner, this is often the first question that comes to mind: What’s the best way to learn Chinese? Of course. the answer is different for different people in different situations. Ideally, you are in an environment in which you interact with Chinese-speaking folks during all of your waking hours. In addition, you have a couple dedicated teachers to guide you in speaking, reading and writing Chinese. That would be unrealistic for most people. So, let’s look for the next best solution. In financial terms, what’s the least expensive way to learn the language in a short time?

Following are a few suggestions. Please feel free to add a comment based on your own experience in learning Chinese.

1. Learn the “pinyin” phonetic aid. This is equivalent to learning your “ABC” for English. Please see the article on the page titled “Pinyin Guide”.

2. Add a few words at a time to your Chinese vocabulary. There are now apps for mobile devices that help you learn a few Chinese words any time wherever you are.

3. Use a step-by-step Chinese language instruction book or electronic learning program as your main “textbook”. Also get a couple helpful supplemental books and DVDs. With “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”, I made it a point to include the Chinese characters, the pinyin as well as the English translation.

4. Get free instructions on the Internet. However, watch out for malicious sites.

5. If possible, attend a Chinese instruction class, such as those offered at community colleges.

6. Take every opportunity you have to talk or communicate with a Chinese-speaking person. Also, you will likely pick up new words and expressions by watching Chinese videos and movies.

7. Read about other people’s journey on the road to mastering Chinese as a foreign language. Here is an example.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Michael
    Dec 14, 2012 @ 01:19:34

    I have tried for years to study chinese, with books and audio-lessons on cd, as well
    lessons on chinesepod.com, which was helpful, but i didn´t make much progress, when it came to recognizing characters and talking. the last 4 months i have made huge progress with busuu.com, a language learning site, that provides great free lessons and the possibility to connect with chinese speaking people all over the world. i have found some chinese speaking friends this way, who are absolutely helpful and who i can help improving their german or english. you should try!


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