Chinese|June 30, 2011 5:54 am

How to Learn Chinese: 3 Things to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Chinese language Program

Want to learn Chinese? Cool? It’s a great language, and, with China now a global player, it’s a handy language to know.

It’s a tough language to master, though, so don’t just dive into it blindly. Before starting a Chinese language learning program, ask yourself the following three questions. Also be sure to check out my Rocket Chinese review before buying any software.

Question 1: Why am I doing this?

This is an important question to ask because you don’t need to learn Chinese characters to communicate verbally in Chinese. This is different, for example, for Chinese people who want to study English. In their case, the first thing they do is learn the English alphabet. Why? Because it helps them pronounce English words. This is not the case, however, with Chinese characters; learning them will not help you communicate verbally.

Couple that with the fact that Chinese characters are quite complicated and time-consuming to learn, and you may start to realize that learning them is not the best use of your time. Who should learn them? Well, if you’re planning a vacation to China, I suggest that you spend your time learning survival phrases, not roots and radicals. Doing business in China? Again, improving you verbal communication skills is going to be much more useful to you than mastering Chinese characters. If you are planning a long-term move to China, then you may want to dive into Chinese characters, along, of course, with learning to communicate verbally.

To be clear, I’m not saying that travelers and short-term businesspeople wouldn’t benefit from learning to read Chinese characters—they would. As is with everything in life, however, it’s a matter of time, and I think your time will be best spent if you focus more on verbal communication.

Question 2: What’s the best learning strategy for me?

People learn all sorts of stuff, but they rarely sit down and learn how to learn. Don’t do that! Before you dive into a Chinese language program, figure out what kind of learner you are. Then develop a learning strategy that suits you. I’ll give you a personal example. If you tell me that the Chinese word for “apple” is “pinguo” I’ll hear you, and I’ll understand what you’re saying, but 30 seconds later I’ll forget what you said.

If, on the other hand, I study with a flash card that has a picture of an apple on one side and the Chinese word “pinguo” on the other, that vocabulary word will stick in my head forever. I’m a strong visual learner. Knowing this, what kind of learning strategy should I employ? Should I spend a bunch of time listening to MP3 dialogues? No, that would be a huge waste of time for me! To find out what kind of learner you are, Right Click Here and choose “save as.” What you’ll download is a test that will teach you what your learning strengths are. Take the test, and then develop your very own Chinese language learning strategy.

Question 3: When am I going to do this?

I’ve lived in many countries; consequently, I’ve spent a lot of time studying languages. With some endeavors, I’ve enjoyed success. With others, I have failed miserably. What’s been the difference? Persistence.

If you want to learn Chinese, you need to set aside a certain amount of time each day to study. You cannot study hard one week, and then take a week off. You can’t study for several hours on a Saturday and then put the books away until next weekend. You have to be persistent. You have to study a little bit each day. If you don’t you’ll struggle. That’s just the way it is when learning languages.

So, do yourself a favor and ask yourself the question, “When am I going to do this?” For me, the best time is the first hour of each day. I get up. I get it done. And then I go on with the rest of my day. When is best for you? Well, hopefully you’re working that out right now.

And hopefully your working everything else out too, asking yourself, “Why am I dong this,” “What is the best learning strategy for me,” and, as I just mentioned, “When am I going to do this?” Best of luck to you, and if you’d like I mentioned earlier, don’t forget to check out my Rocket Chinese Review. You’ll find lots of great screenshots and some cool analysis!


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