Want to learn Mandarin? You’re not alone. In the last decade the number of English speakers studying Mandarin has skyrocketed as China grows in prominence, and as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan claim their rightful places on the global stage.
Here’s your free starter kit, everything you’ll need to fall in love with the Chinese language: some online resources which I have found to be particularly helpful.
Note: to learn to write Chinese, you’ll need to learn two different writing systems. I know, right? But trust me, the first system, Pinyin (Romanized Chinese) is going to save your life. It has no exceptions and no irregularities. Given, it is not exactly the same as English, but it uses the Roman alphabet so that it easier for us to use. Pinyin will help you know how each word is pronounced.
However, you’ll still have to learn a Chinese character for each word in order to know how to read and write it. So yes, to learn Chinese, you’re pretty much learning two separate writing system (in the eyes of a westerner).
Then, you’ll learn characters.
I'm working on making a Pinyin course, because I've had trouble finding good resources for this. If you're interested, please let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe for updates!
LEARNING THE CHARACTERS
Chinese characters take commitment. I recommend taking the time to solidify the basics of stroke order, not because that’s the way you’re “supposed” to do it, but because if you get in the habit of writing characters the same way every time, you’ll learn to write by muscle memory, the way the Chinese do.
APPS TO LEARN CHINESE CHARACTERS
Skritter - Note, current downloadable version is not up-to-date with current iOS. There is a link here that lets you download an old version.
LEARNING THE TONES
Mandarin tones are actually not that hard (especially if you compare them to other tonal languages!) The hardest part of learning the tones will be learning how to modulate your pitch so that the tones all sound natural next to each other in a sentence. The best (and in my opinion, only) way to do this is to drill, drill, drill. Listen to as much Mandarin as you can, and speak as much Mandarin as you can, until you learn them by heart, even if you can’t consciously explain how you know them. Here are the tools I recommend for improving your tones:
After so many readers wrote in to ask how I perfected my Mandarin tones, I created this exercise based on the ones we did at Columbia University, which has a famously rigorous Mandarin program. It is simple, boring, and very effective. Check it out here!
I recommend getting a Chinese tutor on italki (see below) to sit with you (on Skype) and listen to you do your Glossika reps, sort of like a personal trainer. Get your discount for Glossika here
FINDING A TUTOR
Italki: There are dozens of excellent tutors for Mandarin on italki. If you're just starting out, look for a Professional tutor, ideally with over a thousand classes under his or her belt.
Mondly: Lessons will all be in Pinyin instead of Chinese characters, but as long as you are working on your Chinese characters elsewhere this is a big help (because after all, you need to know how to pronounce the words, and the characters aren’t much help!)
Memrise: Great for learning vocabulary on the go. Try these packs:
ONLINE SELF-STUDY PROGRAMS
FINDING A TEXTBOOK
Not everyone likes to learn Chinese from a textbook, and you certainly don’t need to, but they can be a convenient way to structure your learning.
FINDING A LANGUAGE PARTNER
If you want to practice Chinese, here are some places you can go to find a partner!
TV SHOWS TO WATCH
Chinese dramas are here for you! Here are some of my favorites.
All Is Well (都挺好）
MOVIES TO WATCH
Lust/Caution (do not watch this with your parents)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Want to study in a class? If you go to China, I can personally recommend:
But you might also want to try Taiwan (just be aware that you’ll be studying Traditional Characters). There are many programs to study Chinese in Taiwan, but I haven’t tried any of them myself. Can anyone recommend one?
This post includes affiliate links, but I’ve only included products that I’ve tried myself and stand behind.
Have any more suggestions? Please leave them in the comments! I’ll update this post as much as I can as I find new resources!