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The Four Rules to Learning Mandarin

There is no secret formula of course in mastering a new language. However, based on my experience, the following 4 factors are key to learning Chinese successfully.

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10 Additional Ways to Learn & Improve Your Chinese Mandarin

Chinese Drama TV Shows & Movies

#10 - Watch Chinese Dramas


Are you a drama fan? I'm not. But I do love watching dramas in the Chinese language. Why? Well, what better way is there to observe Chinese being used in a variety of different natural settings, with different kinds of people, and also learn about Chinese culture at the same time! And even if you think you hate dramas, I guarantee you that you'll be hooked after an episode or two. When to do this: watch an episode every night before hitting the sack! It'll help you fall asleep too (hopefully).

 

Chinese Sticky Notes

#9 - Post sticky-notes around your home.


Learning a language takes memorization. Memorization takes repetition. Repetition means seeing something again and again and again. What are some things you see every day? Your fridge, your computer, your bathroom mirror, your toothbrush (I hope), your toilet, your bed, the list goes on and on. Get some sticky notes and stick them on every object you can get your hands on, even your cat, and write the Chinese word for it in pin-yin and han-zi if you can. From then on, you'll be seeing it every day and you'll have no choice but to memorize it. Before you know it, you'll be saying mao (which means cat) every time you see your cat. When to do this: take a couple of hours one evening to post the notes on anything and everything you can.

 

Chinese Flash Cards

#8 - Do Daily Flashcard Drills


For those vocabulary words that you aren't able to stick a note to (sky? spider? love?), you should make separate flashcards. If you are artistic, draw a picture of the object, or something that represents it (perhaps a boy and girl kissing for love, or the girl slapping the boy for hate). This will get the juices flowing in the visual side of your brain, which will help you associate the word with the image and help you memorize it faster. On the back of the card, write the Chinese word in pin-yin or han-zi (or both!). When to do this: take ten minutes every morning and evening to review your flashcards. If a card becomes very easy, remove it from the stack. Review the cards before watching the my video lessons in the evening; better yet, take words that you learn from watching the my video lessons (or the Chinese dramas) and make flashcards out of them! Try to get around 10 to 15 new words per lesson/episode! (No, you don't have to make a flashcard out of every new word. That would be overwhelming.) There will be flashcards available for each of my lessons later on which you will be able to print out in case you're not so artistically inclined.

 

Chinese Caligraphy


#7 - Take Chinese Calligraphy Lessons


Learning Chinese characters, han-zi, can be tedious. What better way to learn them than as an artistic skill that you can show off to your friends? Calligraphy makes learning Chinese characters fun. It also makes them easier to memorize. Check your local college or community center to see if they offer Chinese calligraphy lessons. Not only is it fun, but it's a great way to meet others whom you can practice your Chinese with. If you absolutely cannot find any lessons offered anywhere in your vicinity, you could purchase a basic calligraphy kit and learn from books. When to do this: see if there are any lessons available in the evenings or weekends. If learning on your own, it could be any time you choose, but make sure you grab that brush at least twice a week! (for those of you interested in learning to write Chinese, not in calligraphy, I will be offering a Beginner's Chinese Writing Course Online)

 

Chinese Writing Journal

#6 - Write a journal in Chinese


Some of you probably keep journals in English already. It is worth the extra effort and time to translate the main points of your original journal entry into Chinese (using PinYin or Chinese characters). Now, if you frequently write thousand-word entries in English, translating all of that into Chinese is indeed quite a project, so just summarize the main ideas. For example, for each paragraph that you write in English, write a sentence in Chinese summing up the main points. Getting into this habit will help you diversify your Chinese vocabulary and grammar. Also, if you have Chinese friends online, share the Chinese version of your journal (only with things you feel comfortable about, of course!) with them to get some feedback! When to do this: whenever you usually write your English journal, just take an extra 15 or 20 minutes at the end to summarize it into Chinese. If you don't already have an English journal, take around 30 minutes a day to write one up in Chinese. It can be about anything you want!

 

London Chinese Restaurant


#5 - Get a part-time job at a Chinese restaurant


Now, I know that this is not going to be an option for a lot of you since you already have a job or don't have the time. If you do have the time and you're looking for a part-time job, why not apply at some Chinese restaurants? They are usually happy to hire a motivated worker who is learning Chinese and can show you off to their customers, friends and staff. What better way to break into the Chinese community? And learning the names of foods and dishes in Chinese will really help you when you make your way to China. When to do this: if you have a few spare evenings or days off, it's well worth the commitment and if it's an authentic Chinese owned and frequented place, your language skills will soar! (not to mention some spare $$$ in your wallet!)

 

Talk To Yourself in Chinese. Really

#4 - Talk and sing to yourself in Chinese


Yes. It's not a joke. Many language professionals agree that the most reliable language partner is yourself! Unlike other language partners, you aren't going anywhere! You will always be there for yourself when you are in desperate need for someone to talk to in Chinese. At the beginning of the day, stand in front of the mirror and talk to yourself about what you plan to do that day. At the end of the day, talk to yourself about what you did. While you're typing your blog or writing in your journal in Chinese (see #6), first say out-load everything you intend to type. Better yet, if you love to sing to yourself, learn a Chinese song or two by heart and sing it to yourself frequently, like in the shower. When to do this: all the time! But preferably when nobody else is around...

 

Chinese Online Forums

#3 - Put out ads for a language partner


Even better than talking to yourself is finding a language partner to talk with. There are many overseas Chinese who would love to improve their spoken English-language skills. You want to improve your Chinese skills. It's a match made in heaven. Put up an ad at a local college or university, at a local tea or coffee shop, or at that Chinese restaurant where you work. Write that you are learning Chinese and that you would like to find a language-exchange partner to meet in a public place like at a Starbucks or at the library for two hours. For one hour you speak English, for the other hour you speak Chinese. Both parties benefit and you both go home feeling happier and wiser. You could also try posting on websites like GumTree, Cracker, and Craigslist. Just beware of crazies when posting here. When to do this: most overseas Chinese students have spare time in the evenings or weekends and would love to find a native English speaker like you to help them with their homework.

 

QQ -- China's most popular software

#2 - Make friends on QQ and WeChat


Are you Technically Inclined? Then you should try to download QQ and WeChat. These are by far the most popoular communication software in mainland China (including for social networking and chat services). If you want to tap into a country of over a billion people, this is one way to do it! QQ is a chat application that is available for both your computer and smartphone. There is also an international version of QQ that is in English (though it is restricted in some countries). Once you download it and create a basic profile, browse by location and start making friends! Want friends in Beijing? Search for people online in Beijing and say: "Ni hao!" Want friends in Shanghai? Not a problem! There are thousands of people in Shanghai using QQ right now! Just be friendly and don't take it personally if they reject your friend request. Many of them won't believe that you are actually a foreigner trying to learn Chinese! That is, of course, until you start your web-cam, and they will be surprised at your Chinese skills! Also, there are many chat rooms in QQ that are designated for Chinese-English language exchange, so join those rooms and start chatting in Chinese! WeChat is an app that can be downloaded for Android or iPhone. It is unique in that it uses GPS to track others in your area that are also currently logged onto WeChat. Many overseas Chinese use this program to network with each other. (Please exercise caution when using these applications and software. Definitely do NOT give personal information)

 

Find love in China

#1 - Get a Chinese girlfriend/boyfriend


And finally, the best way possible is to get into a relationship with a Chinese speaker (or marry one as many of my students have!). Why is this the best way? Well, depending on how good the English of your 'significant other' is, you will often find yourself in situations where you will be forced to use Chinese in order to communicate with each other. Also, your girlfriend/boyfriend will also want to improve their English, so you can reach a compromise with each other - set a Chinese time and an English time. You can help each other out with each other's homework, watch Chinese dramas together, post sticky-notes in each other's rooms, learn Chinese and English songs together, go to Chinese restaurants together, and so on. Of course, if you are already married or in a relationship, then this isn't really an option, but that doesn't mean that your partner can't learn Chinese too. Learn Together. Compete with each other. If you are single, then it's time to start browsing QQ and WeChat!