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When hearing about second language learning these years, you probably hear people saying that you should learn Chinese. And they are right! Studying Mandarin Chinese will not only benefit your personal life but also your professional career. You’ll get to know more about one of the richest cultures in the world while expanding your social circle to billions of people who speak Mandarin.

Plus, you’ll be able to visit spectacular landmarks such as The Great Wall of China or amazing cities like Beijing and make the most out of these trips if you speak the local language. Learning Chinese today is one of the best investments you can make.

Whether you need to sit for an internationally-accredited exam, make a career change, gain a new life perspective, or even meet your Chinese in-laws, learning Mandarin is the right way. We hope this guide on how to learn Mandarin Chinese is useful for you. Let’s go!

Language Trainers organizes Chinese courses in almost any destination!

All classes are taught by qualified, native speaker Chinese trainers and can be arranged at your office or home for any day of the week (including weekends) in the morning, afternoon, or evening.

1. Why Learn Chinese Today

Everybody says today that you should learn Chinese as it’s “the language of the future”, but why? How can knowing Mandarin help you in your personal and professional life? Well, it can be beneficial in a lot more ways than you think. Explore some of the reasons why you should learn Chinese today below!

1. Connect With Billions of Speakers Worldwide

Mandarin is one of the most spoken languages in the world (the speakers amount to almost 15% of the population on the planet!), which means that being bilingual offers countless opportunities for you. If you ever go to China, you’ll be able to enjoy your travels to the fullest by speaking at least a little Mandarin.

But learning Chinese is also useful if you live in the USA, UK, Australia, or virtually anywhere. The Chinese diaspora is huge, which means there are thousands or even millions of Mandarin speakers living everywhere. For example, in the USA alone there are 3.8 million people of Chinese descent (according to the 2010 census). Meanwhile, 430,000 Chinese speakers live in the UK and more than 650,000 of them live in Australia.

2. Give your CV a Competitive Edge

Today, China is an economic powerhouse, with a staggering GDP of over £10 trillion in 2020 (and it is expected to grow even more in the years to come). As a result, learning Mandarin Chinese can open countless professional doors for you, whether you are an entrepreneur who would like to do business with China or a professional looking for a better job in a Mandarin-speaking company.

Here are some areas where Mandarin Chinese is an invaluable asset:

  • International trade
  • Marketing
  • Tourism (to guide Mandarin speakers who visit your country and don’t speak English)
  • Education (for example, by helping/advising Chinese people who want to study in English-speaking universities)

If you need help learning Chinese for business, we are here for you! Our professional tutors have years of experience teaching Mandarin to people of all ages and backgrounds. Or, if you prefer to learn the language on your own, you can check out our article about Chinese essentials for travelling professionals.

3. Access the Unique Chinese Culture

The Chinese culture has existed for over 5,000 years and is rich in art, music, poetry, festivals, religion… Enjoy them on a whole new level by learning the Chinese language! Not only will you be able to participate in festivals like the Chinese New Year but you’ll also be able to appreciate and understand traditions like ancestral veneration.

Plus, if you are proficient in Mandarin, you’ll be able to read novels or listen to songs in their original language. In this way, you can appreciate the exact choice of words of the author and understand even the smallest details that can be lost in translation.

4. Make your Move to China a Lot Easier

Moving to a new country can be a jarring experience, and even more so if you go to such a different country like China. Contrary to some people’s belief, you won’t just “absorb” the language for being there. Instead, you’ll feel lost and frustrated because you don’t understand a thing of what is happening around you.

This is why studying Mandarin is crucial if you plan to move to China (permanently or temporarily), especially if you consider that very few people speak English fluently: a study carried out by the Telegraph shows that less than 1% of China’s population is conversational in English.

If you need more reasons to learn Chinese, you can read our article with the top 5 reasons why you should study Chinese now or these 4 reasons why Chinese is the best language to know!

Start Learning Chinese Today

A Brief History of the Chinese Language

The Chinese language is one of the oldest in the world, with over 6,000 years of history. Its written system uses characters (also called symbols) which represent different words. Experts claim that you need to know at least 2,000-3,000 of them to read a simple text.

Origins

The Chinese language is part of the Sino-Tibetan family, also called Trans-Himalayan, which comprises more than 400 languages. The evolution of the language is quite complex and we explain it in detail in this article. The most revolutionary change included the birth of pinyin in the 20th century. This is a system that uses the Western alphabet in an attempt to make the language more understandable and represents the phonetic structure of the Chinese characters.

Right now, the main Chinese dialects that exist today include the following:

  • Mandarin. By far the dialect with the most speakers, this is the language spoken in the north and south-east of China.
  • Wu. This Chinese variety is spoken mostly in Shanghai and comprises hundreds of distinct spoken forms.
  • Gan. People who speak Gan are located west and south of the Wu area. This is the least studied Chinese dialect.
  • Xiang. This Chinese dialect is mostly spoken in Hubei and is quite similar to Mandarin (though it varies in terms of pronunciation).
  • Min. The Fujian Province speaks Min, with the best-known dialects being Fuzhou, Amoy, and Swatow.
  • Hakka. This variety is spoken by the Han Chinese scattered all over the country and is not mutually intelligible with the others on the list.

2. How to Learn Chinese as a Beginner

Do you want to start learning Chinese as a beginner but you are spooked by the characters, the tones, and a new way of writing? Don’t be! Here we present you with tips and strategies so you understand how to learn Chinese as a beginner, even if you don’t know a word in Mandarin. Or if you need further help, our professional tutors can outline a personalised learning program just for you!

Start With Pinyin

Chinese characters may seem inaccessible, not only because they are complicated to produce, but also because, as a beginner, you probably have no idea how to read and pronounce them. The key to learn Chinese characters, then, is to learn pinyin.

Pinyin is a common system used to romanise the writing system. As an example, these Chinese characters:

我是中国人
Are written like this is in pinyin:

wŏ shì zhōngguó rén

When and why was pinyin born? Well, back in the 1950s, Chinese scholars realised there were too many Chinese dialects and varieties, and that the language needed to be unified. That’s why they standardised the pronunciation of Chinese symbols by inventing pinyin.

The pinyin system is made up of initials, finals, and a diacritic that marks the tone. Just be aware that words in Chinese are not pronounced in the same way as English. For example, shi is not the same as our “she” but is similar to “sure”. Find more information on how to learn the Chinese tones and their importance in the section about pronunciation below.

Get a Good Coursebook

While today there are loads of innovative and creative resources to help you learn Mandarin for free, a good old coursebook always comes in handy. These books have been designed by language professionals and will provide you with an effective framework to start your language journey.

By using a coursebook, you’ll develop your skills integrally. They usually include reading and writing activities with real-life texts as input and listening and speaking activities your teacher will implement, too, while working on your pronunciation and teaching you grammar rules and new vocabulary items. Here are some of our top picks when it comes to Chinese textbooks for beginners:

Integrated Chinese to learn more about pinyin

New Practical Chinese Reader to enhance your reading and writing skills

Chinese Made Easier to get some hands-on experience

More Resources for Beginner Mandarin Learners
Find the best Chinese teacher here

3. Master the Mandarin Chinese Pronunciation System

By now, you must know that Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language. But what does this mean? Basically, that Chinese speakers convey meaning through tones. The language has fewer sounds than English, and many words are almost the same, but change their meaning depending on the tone you use.

Mandarin Chinese has 4 different tones you need to learn, namely

  • First tone (also called level), in pinyin it’s marked as
  • Second tone (or rising, which starts with a low pitch and goes up),
  • Third tone (or fall-rise, starts at a high pitch, drops, and then goes up again),
  • Fourth tone (falling, starts high and drops),

For example, the word “ma” has 4 different meanings, depending on the tone you use. Take a look at the following infographic for more information on how to learn and use Chinese tones!

Pinyin Chinese Character Meaning
媽 (trad) / 妈 (simp) mother
hemp
馬 / 马 horse
罵 / 骂 scold

As you can see, if you don’t use the Mandarin tones properly, people are not likely to understand what you are saying. It takes a lot of practice, time, and input to master the tones, but it’s not impossible! For example, you can take a look at our short guide with 5 innovative ways to perfect the Chinese accent.

And it’s even easier if you practice in a safe environment with a professional tutor who can point out your strengths and weaknesses. Contact us today and we will pair you up with the perfect teacher for your needs so you can learn Mandarin Chinese right away! Or sign up for a free Skype lesson to have a taste of our online Mandarin classes.

4. How to Learn the Chinese Symbols

Learning Chinese symbols can be hard, especially if you are not very proficient with calligraphy, but it’s not impossible. While sheer memorization can work for some, there are other strategies you can adopt to efficiently acquire the Chinese alphabet (which has more than 80,000 characters!).

Luckily, you’ll need only 2,500-3,000 for basic literacy. Take a look at the following strategies and tips on how to learn the Chinese writing system:

  • Identify pictograms. Some characters resemble the object they name in real life. For example, the character for mù (wood) looks like a tree: 木. Then, these will be the easiest to learn and remember.
  • Study the order of strokes. In addition to learning how the symbol looks like, you need to learn where to start to produce it correctly. If you are learning Chinese online, without a teacher, you can check out Arch Chinese for help.
  • Learn how to pronounce the symbol, too. It’s no use knowing what a symbol means or how it is written if you cannot say it aloud. You can use sites like Learn Chinese Characters or even Coursera to study Chinese for free.

In case you need more help, you should read our 4 tips for memorizing Chinese characters or get in touch with us to be connected with a professional tutor!

5. Learn Chinese Culture

Learning a language does not only entail knowing a set of grammar rules or hundreds of words and expressions, but it also involves learning to respect the culture, customs, and traditions of the people who speak it.

Chinese has a unique, ancient culture with over 5,000 years of history that differs widely from the Western one. For example, they don’t even have the same calendar, which is based on the moon and the Chinese zodiac animals.

While this is not an exhaustive list, here we present you with some elements of the Chinese culture you need to understand to be able to speak the language fluently and understand what others are truly saying.

The Chinese Calendar

In the USA, the UK, Australia, and almost the whole of the Western world, we use the Gregorian Calendar, which starts on January 1st and ends on December 31st. Instead, the Chinese New Year can fall on any date between January 22 and February 19.

Chinese Festivals

In the USA, the UK, Australia, and almost the whole of the Western world, we use the Gregorian Calendar, which starts on January 1st and ends on December 31st. Instead, the Chinese New Year can fall on any date between January 22 and February 19.

The Chinese culture loves festivities and has dozens of important dates to commemorate. For example, the Chinese New Year is celebrated over two weeks with spectacular parades, fireworks, and food stalls that fill the streets.

Another popular holiday is Tomb-Sweeping Day, at the beginning of April. During this date, the Chinese families reunite and travel to their ancestors’ gravesites to honour them by bringing food and sweeping their tombs. Other important dates to consider include:

  • Cold Food Festival,
  • Freespace Fest,
  • Duanwu Festival,
  • Lantern Day,
  • Hong Kong Arts Festival, and more!

Hierarchy and Respect

In China, age and hierarchy should be treated with respect and deference. Elders and ancestors are honoured, and many generations usually live under the same roof, different from the British culture which fosters independence.

Plus, the Chinese are known for being a lot more direct than people living in the Western hemisphere. While talking about your age, income, or marital status can be intrusive and too personal for us, it’s very common to discuss these topics in China.

Access to Information and Freedom of Speech

While the Western world may take freedom of speech and access to information for granted, the situation is quite different in China. The government controls the media and the internet and decides what citizens can access or not. For example, Facebook is not available in China and many famous newspapers are completely blocked.

Hand Gestures and Facial Expressions

Hand gestures and facial expressions are important everywhere, but knowing how the Chinese make use of these paralinguistic elements is crucial if you plan to communicate with them successfully. Soon, you’ll discover that certain gestures that are natural for you may be unknown or even disrespectful in China.

For example, you may offend someone by pointing at them with your index finger. Instead, the correct way of doing so is by using your whole palm upwards. If you’d like to know more, you can read our article with the top 10 Chinese gestures you should know for effective communication so you learn Chinese in the most effective way possible.

”My Chinese lessons are going very well with Tim! This has been such a positive experience; I never dreamed that I would be so happy to continue with my language study. I was impressed with how well-organized and professional your organization seemed to be, and I knew I needed one-on-one lessons. That’s why I selected Language Trainers.”

Ava Dorrance - Mandarin Chinese course in Tucson

6. Chinese Lessons: Yes or No?

Now that you have decided to start learning Chinese, there comes another choice: whether to sign up for Mandarin lessons with a teacher or not. You can also choose between learning with friends and family, people from different parts of the world, or alone with your teacher, online or face to face.

While it can be tempting to learn Chinese on your own, it can be tough to do so if you are only a beginner. Should you start with the writing system or with the tones? How do you know whether you are saying horse or mother when saying ma? How can you use Chinese music to increase your listening comprehension?

Well, all those issues are easily solved by booking lessons with an experienced Mandarin tutor. Professional teachers can point you in the right direction, pinpointing your strengths and weaknesses and clearing up all of your doubts during the lesson. Plus, there are other benefits of studying Mandarin with a teacher, such as:

  • Learn Chinese without doubts. Mandarin teachers have studied the language for years and know how to answer all your questions (even the most complicated ones!) so you leave the classroom without doubts.
  • Always feel motivated to learn. Learning a language (especially one as complex as Chinese!) can sometimes be frustrating. No matter how hard you try, learning the different Chinese tones can take a lot of time and effort. This is when your teacher can not only help you stay calm and focused but can also provide you with useful tips to keep on improving. And you can read our article about Chinese tones and start learning about this topic on your own!
  • Have more practice! While speaking to yourself in front of a mirror is useful, if this is your only speaking practice, you’ll miss out on many elements crucial to being fluent. These include non-verbal cues, hesitating, asking follow-up questions, and more! Luckily, you’ll be able to practise all of this with your tutor if you decide to start with your Mandarin Chinese lessons.

And the best part is that you don’t need to have a large budget to start studying Mandarin today. We offer affordable online open group courses where you’ll get to meet like-minded individuals who love languages as much as you do! Contact us and learn more about Language Trainers Connect.

Send us a quick inquiry today!

7. More Useful Resources to Learn Chinese for free

If you are looking to learn Chinese for free, there are several apps that can help you in your efforts. Remember, practice makes perfect. If you only have 15 minutes to spend on learning Chinese every day, make them count! And be consistent so your effort pays off.

Here are some of our top picks when it comes to resources to learn Chinese:

  • Our FREE level tests. They are very useful if you are not sure of your level and would like to learn Chinese, whether alone, with a teacher, or with a group of other students.
  • Duolingo, Memrise, or Drops (among others) to find bite-sized lessons to learn Chinese fast.
  • Forvo is a great option if you are looking to learn the pronunciation of individual words.
  • Join Tandem to find native and non-native Mandarin speakers with whom to practice while making new friends!
  • Follow our Spotify playlist to listen to the best songs in Mandarin Chinese and learn the language while you have fun and sing along to these hits!
  • Chinese Reader Practice has a lot of authentic texts you can use to increase your reading comprehension skills for free.
  • ChineseClass101 has an incredible number of podcasts useful for beginner, intermediate and advanced-level students to learn Chinese while listening to something that interests them.
  • If you’d like to practise your symbols, you can download Chineasy cards and learn Chinese in 5 minutes per day!
  • Enter the Great Translation Game site and have fun! You’ll have to translate poems or short excerpts from Mandarin into your native language and you will get feedback from more advanced students.
  • Take a look at our article with the best Chinese artists to follow to learn the language!
  • Clozemaster is an amazing tool for advanced Chinese learners. You’ll learn a lot of new vocabulary using the spaced repetition method.

8. So, Is Chinese Hard to Learn?

Chinese has a reputation for being hard to learn as an English speaker, and those who say so may be right. As we already mentioned, Mandarin has many elements that are too different from the English language, such as the writing system, tone usage, the vocabulary…

However, there are many other aspects of the language that are very easy to acquire! With motivation, effort, and perseverance, you’ll be fluent in no time. For example:

  • The pronunciation of Mandarin characters is always fixed, so they don’t change, no matter the tense, gender, or number. That’s a great advantage!
  • Mandarin uses particles to express whether something took place in the present, past, or future, so there are no tenses or conjugations.
  • You won’t have to deal with genders, as there are no masculine, feminine, or neuter words.
  • The word order is fixed: the pattern is always subject-verb-object.

Mandarin Chinese is easier than you think. Especially if you have a native-speaking instructor to guide you in your language journey. Give it a try! Click here and sign up for a FREE trial Skype lesson at a schedule that suits you!

9. Survival Phrases

If you are travelling to China soon and have never uttered a word of Mandarin before, you should seriously consider taking a short course for travellers to acquire the essentials. Plus, you can use the following survival phrases, such as greetings or ask for help, to try and survive in China as a tourist!

English Version Chinese Version
Greetings Hello / Hi 您好/你好
How are you?/ How are you doing? 您好吗?/你好吗?
Good Morning/afternoon/night 早上好/下午好/晚上好
Thanking others Thank you! Thanks! (You're welcome) 谢谢您! 谢谢!(不客气)
I appreciate it. 我十分感谢。
Asking for forgiveness Apologies 非常抱歉(正式)
I'm sorry /I'm very sorry 抱歉/我很抱歉
Asking for help Where is... the bathroom/the kitchen? 洗手间在哪里?/厨房在哪里?
Can you help me with... my luggage/my phone? 您能帮忙….我的行李/我的电话吗?
There is a problem with/ I have a problem with... ….有点问题/我的….有点问题
Asking for information How can I get to... the museum/ the hotel/ the restaurant? 我怎么才能到….博物馆/酒店/餐馆?
Do you know where... ? 您知道….吗?
Could you tell me...? 您能告诉我….吗?
Ordering at the restaurant I'd like the tuna salad/a sandwich, please 我想要一份金枪鱼沙拉/三明治,谢谢。
I'll have the steak/french fries, please 我想要一份牛排/炸薯条,谢谢。
Nothing for me, thanks. 我不需要,谢谢。
Asking for clarification Sorry, can you repeat? 麻烦您能再说一遍吗?
I don't understand. Can you say that again? 我没听明白。您能再说一遍吗?
What do you mean by...? 您的意思是….?
Inviting someone Would you like to... go to the cinema? 您想要….去看电影吗?
Do you want to ...? 您想要…吗?
Accepting an invitation Yes, thank you 是的,谢谢您。
Sure! 当然!
Let's do it. 一起去吧。
Rejecting an invitation No, thank you 不,谢谢您。
I'd love to, but I'm busy right now. 我想去,但是我现在很忙。
Thank you, I have other plans. 谢谢您,我有别的安排。
Asking for the price How much is this? 这个多少钱?
How much does this cost? 这个多少钱?

More resources that will help you be fluent in Mandarin:

Are you ready to get started with learning Mandarin Chinese? Reach out to us at Language Trainers and we will prepare the most interactive and communicative programme for you to learn this fascinating Asian language without effort! You just need to choose whether you want to study Mandarin alone or in a group, face-to-face or online. Learn with us anytime, anywhere!

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