Many people think learning Chinese is difficult. I do not think that is true, but rather think that it is one of the most easy languages. Why? Chinese requires you to learn less grammatical structures, there is no conjugation and time is not that relevant.
The only challenge about Chinese is that the language is different and entirely new. If you speak English you may find it easy to learn similar languages like Spanish or French. So due to being completely new, it may take a little more time to learn Chinese but I promise you the process is simple.
About two years ago I started learning Chinese from scratch. During this time I experimented with different learning methods and figured out what works best. While I would not claim to be perfect, I am now able to hold basic conversations and get around in day-to-day life.
The focus of the strategy I present in this article is on speaking and listening skills. In my opinion these are more important than writing and reading.
1 Focus on speaking skills and pronunciation first
Many Chinese courses overwhelm beginners. They make you learn Chinese characters, pronunciation, meaning of words and grammar at the same time. Yet speaking and listening is in my experience the most important skill. If you are able to speak with people, this will motivate you to keep on learning. Further having a clear and correct pronunciation will save you from many embarrassing situations in the future. Let your teacher know that you would just like to focus on speaking skills first and learn the characters later. Or pick a course straight-away that focuses on it.
2 Invest in a quality course
Many people think being a language teacher is easy, yet it requires extensive knowledge about how students learn a language. There is a difference in quality between language courses and books. I have found the best course for Beginners to be offered by www.yoyochinese.com. The website offers a comprehensive course schedule and makes learning easy. You only need to come back to the website, watch videos and follow the process.
Further great options for intermediate to advanced students are Fluentu and Chinesepod. These mainly improve your listening skills and help you to expand your vocabulary.
3 Do not do language exchanges but practice with a tutor
This seems counterintuitive but let me explain. Most language exchanges are ineffective for two reasons. First, language partners have misaligned incentives. If you have a language partner, they may be interested in becoming friends with you more than helping you improve your language. This way you waste time socialising, you could spend on learning. Secondly, language partners may not know about specific grammar or structures of their mother language. This way if you have question you are likely to get an answer along the lines “I am not sure why, but this is how you say it”.
If you are seriously interested in learning the language get a tutor to help you with learning instead. As you pay them, they are interested in teaching you and will be focused on this. Further they are likely to be more knowledgable about grammar and can explain mistakes.
I have personally used www.italki.com to practise my Mandarin speaking skills or check assignments with tutors. It is inexpensive and you will find skilled tutors through the platform.
4 Study on a regular basis
Keep up your progress by ideally studying on a daily basis. Do not study for hours, but reserve 20-30 minutes every day for studying and revising. It’s ok to take a break for a few days once you feel you need it, but make sure to keep up the frequency.
With these four essential tips for studying Chinese, I believe that you got a head start on other learners. The toughest thing about learning a language is staying motivated over time. I found the best way to do this is through using quality learning materials or courses and through studying in small chunks on a regular basis. Counterintuitively, language exchanges may not be right for you, but you can achieve better results by investing in a tutor you pay for their work.