Advice & Tips For Studying Chinese — Or Any Language
A guide to language learning
Background: I am a student with a real passion for learning foreign languages. I have taken six years of Mandarin Chinese, and in my last year, I did an assignment about giving some advice and tips to those pursuing the language; this is the written format of that assignment. I hope that this guide will be useful to those not only seeking Chinese but any other language.
Always Practice Writing
At first, it will look like garbage, but practicing helps improve how it looks.
First and foremost, when learning anything new, it’s always best to practice. There’s no exception when it comes to learning a new language. When it comes to learning a different writing system with characters like Chinese, Arabic, or Russian, you must practice, or you’re never going to get it to look “perfect.”
Practice makes perfect, as they say!
For Chinese specifically, I recommend printing out character sheets. (As shown in the image) These were commonly used in my beginner Chinese classes and are great for improving your handwriting when you have free time. Even just using a blank sheet of paper can be a great substitute if you don’t have printer access or choose not to waste printer paper.
I’d suggest taking a minimum of 10 mins a day for just character practice.
An additional thing that I should point out is that your handwriting may never look like you’re a human typewriter. (We all know that one person) Cutting yourself some slack and not stressing over perfect strokes will be very rewarding. It will cause you less stress over obsessing about having the best writing.
In actuality, the goal should be to develop your handwriting in the language, as you have your own in your native tongue.
Speaking is an equally important aspect of language learning, and it will not come easy, either.
It would be best if you went beyond the recitations in class. The same principle of practice applies here, and repetition will be your best friend.
My recommendations for this would be to use flashcards and study them aloud. Quizlet is always a good option, and I’ve seen it able to speak in a foreign language. So you can set it to do that if you desire. You may also choose to use the old-fashioned way and use physical cards.
Also, listening to recordings of pronunciations can be great if you’re an auditory learner. I found that listening helps the memorization process a lot. It’s like having your teacher in your room reminding you how to pronounce things.
For practicing to speak, I’d recommend trying 15 mins a day.
Getting A Good Dictionary App, Not Just Google
Never rely on Google Translate. Ever!
When it came to those translation assignments that we had to do, my teachers have vehemently warned against the use of Google Translate due to its inaccuracy. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it; it just means that it shouldn’t be your only translation source.
I found that corroborating my translation sources with my class notes improved my grades and my understanding and translation abilities.
I still used Google, but I also experimented with other dictionaries such as Pleco and Line Dictionary. (I prefer Pleco because they seemed to have more characters in their database than Line). However, you may even want to consider getting a physical dictionary. For some, the act of flipping through a book to find words can help with memorization.
Another good tip is writing down definitions for words that you don’t know or words you happen to find while looking for others, which will help with your memorization and recognition of words.
Investing In Extra-Curricular Activities
There’s a lot more language exploring opportunities beyond the boundaries of a classroom.
The most recommended activity to immerse yourself is to go abroad to a country whose natives speak the language you’re learning. Many find this to be highly rewarding and an ultimate test of your skills.
Other less financially compromising options may include college courses,
immersion programs and language fluency Certifications.
While these are also great options, I highly recommend that if you ever get the chance to travel abroad, you should take the opportunity to do so. Having the opportunity to prove if all your studying has paid off is probably the best outcome than any class or certification could give.
Plus, isn’t that the goal anyway? To be able to communicate with others?
The only real way to test your language abilities is to use it in a practical setting.
Alternative Ways To Immerse Yourself
If you aren’t financially able or feel less comfortable with the options above, there are plenty of other ways to immerse yourself.
Alternative ways for traveling may include going to a restaurant or a store where the people speak the language you are learning, which is a much cheaper option and less intimidating since you might have to depend on speaking entirely in a foreign language.
And for those who aren’t quite ready to speak at all, they may consider getting a pen pal through apps designed specifically for language learning and for those who wish to talk to others to master their language of choice.
An appealing app I found was Hello Talk, a pen pal type app where you can talk to people worldwide. If you aren’t ready for traveling, you can use this app to talk to natives, and this app works as a way for both individuals to learn each other’s language. Here you’re able to correct each other’s texts, record your voice, and so many other cool features!
Other ways to immerse yourself if you feel like you are not ready for those activities may include watching shows/movies, listening to music/news, and reading books/newspapers.
Utilizing The Internet
Finally, I would like to conclude this guide by sharing some other resources.
A few apps that can help with your daily practicing include:
- Duolingo (Everyone’s favorite green bird!) — A staple language learning app
- Drops — An excellent app to do quick 5min practicing, Although the work gets tedious since the activities are quite limited.
- Pimsleur — A language classroom in an app
- Tandem — An alternative to Hello Talk, I’ve never personally tried it, but it looks like it does about the same as Hello Talk
Some other resources for language learning:
- Chinese Grammar Wiki — A great grammar articles specifically for Chinese. It has things like sentence structure, something I struggled with
- YouTube — Is a haven to learn anything. There are plenty of videos to do anything!
- SkillShare — Another great source to find videos to learn how to do things
- Spotify — Yes! Spotify! A music app is an excellent way for you to immerse yourself with music from other countries. However, depending on where you live, you may not get access to certain songs. To fix this, you could either use a VPN or consider listening to music on Youtube, SoundCloud, or any other music service.
- Podcasts — There are lots of great podcasts out there, and I’m sure there are some dedicated to learning a specific language
- Medium — There are lots of other guides out there geared towards language learning! Here are some interesting ones:
An Introvert’s Guide to Navigating a Foreign Language
Learning another language can be hard.
3 Ways to Learn A Language Faster
I’ve been learning French for about a year and a half now. I’m still not as proficient as I’d like to be but I’m…
How To Train Your Brain To Learn A Language
Simple steps to help you achieve conversational fluency.
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”