Just what are the best resources to use for students to learn Mandarin Chinese?
To help answer this question, we’re pleased to invite Eleni from Greek meets Taiwan, and who now lives in South Africa with her Taiwanese boyfriend, to give us some advice. Eleni kindly contributed to some recent research we at Learn Mandarin Now undertook about learning Mandarin Chinese and we believe she has tried several Apps and online resources.
Today, therefore, we want to go a little deeper into the topic and hear some of her recommendations.
1. We believe you have been learning Mandarin Chinese at University. Do you feel it’s important to have a teacher rather than just try to teach yourself Mandarin Chinese?
Actually, my university does not offer Mandarin. They are trying to incorporate it, but sadly, there is almost no demand for it. I am actually doing Chinese with a private teacher. I honestly do like having a teacher teach me. Since I am a student, my life is pretty hectic as I do have a lot of tests and assignments, and by having little tasks for Mandarin here and there- I am forced to put effort in. Prior to going for lessons, I did try teaching myself- but I really do feel as if it does help having a teacher who does teach not only random Chinese words, but also structure and grammatical rules. As my teacher said to me once, it is somewhat hard to find an application that will fully teach you grammatical rules and sentence structures, in which she is quite right.
2. We also believe you have tried quite a few Chinese learning Apps, but which ones do you use the most?
I have definitely tried my fare share of apps! I would have to say the ones I use the most have to be Memrise (I tend to use it for all my subjects since Memrise helps you memorise things more efficiently). Another one I use quite a bit would have to be Chinese Skill by Learn Mandarin Chinese by Skill Co LTD. This application is similar to the popular application, Duolingo (which is also pretty helpful). It starts off pretty easy but gets complicated. This application helps you understand characters, words, and phrases. You are exposed to a couple of different styles of exercises such as selecting the correct character parts to build up one character, translating a sentence into English, selecting the correct translation, and writing a sentence in either Chinese or Pinyin.
3. Many people like to use free resources to learn Chinese, at least to get started, so where can people find some free resources to learn Mandarin Chinese?
There are a multitude of platforms to look at when attempting to find some valuable resources. My first tip would be to look on mobile app stores and see if there are any applications that catch your fancy. That is personally how I got into the whole idea of learning Mandarin. Secondly, I would recommend using Youtube to just have some audio practice. I mean, it’s one thing to know how to write characters and know where tones are meant to be, but I believe that you do need to hear a language frequently to pick it up. And another suggestion can be to just Google and see if you stumble across any interesting pages. There are a few lovely ones if you do look!
4. When learning how to write Chinese characters, which methods have you found most useful?
I have only recently been learning characters (for around 4 months now). I find practicing to be the most useful one. I mean, as clichéd as it does sound “practice makes perfect.” In my classes, we go through five new characters every week and have to write them out ten times each. My teacher then sees how we do them, and if they are not perfect, she makes us rewrite them another thirty times for homework. I also have an option on my phone whereby I can physically draw/write a character on my phone. When conversing with some people in Mandarin, I tend to do that. On a slight side note, some people say memorising characters are hard! My teacher gives us flash cards for every 20 characters we learn so we get used to them. I also have a pinyin setting on my phone whereby it converts pinyin to characters and ultimately allows me to get familiar with those characters.
5. Talking about practicing speaking Chinese, have you found any great platform or ways online for people who don’t live in Taiwan or Mainland China to speak the language?
I actually recently discovered one which I am totally addicted to now. There is an app known as Tandem. This app allows you to communicate with people all over the world in a variety of languages. You input the languages you speak and the languages you want to learn. From that, you can choose to communicate with people in those languages either via texting, audio calling or video calling. I have found it to be quite helpful as I really get to engage with native speakers on a variety of topics, and get to help them, in return with their English.
6. For daily communication, we are curious whether you talk in English or Mandarin with your Taiwanese boyfriend and/or his family? Does it affect the way you learn the language?
For the most part, we stick to English. Growing up in South Africa, English is one of the main languages to communicate (there are a total of 12 official languages here). However, from time-to-time we do switch between English and Mandarin. Since I am far from proficient yet, I am still not fully confident to converse in Mandarin around his family. Furthermore, his family speak a dialect and even when somewhat eavesdropping into their conversations, I sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by the differences. Slowly but surely I am learning to converse with my boyfriend more frequently in Mandarin. I do feel that it does affect the way I learn the language, as I tend to know a fair amount more than my classmates due to my boyfriend teaching me new words or by picking up words of their dialect.
7. Do you find Chinese grammar difficult?
On occasion, yes. But for the most part, I do not find it that bad. I think growing up in a multi-lingual environment, and having to deal with grammar that is so vastly different- I do not find it too bad. However, as my Chinese teacher tells me on occasion “you’re speaking English Chinese.”
8. What are your favourite Chinese idioms or Chengyu?
I do not know all that many just yet, sadly. I do, however have two favorites!
1. 马马虎虎- Mǎmǎhǔhǔ = Literally, this means ‘horse horse, tiger tiger.’ Figuratively, this expression means that something is so-so and mediocre. It was the first one I learned.
2. 塞翁失马 – SaiWeng Shi Ma = literally “the old man lost his horse.” This expression means the equivalent to ‘a blessing in disguise’, which is quite true based on the wording!
9. If want to buy a book(s) to learn Chinese, which ones would you recommend?
I haven’t bought any books purely because the notes my teacher gives me are beyond incredible! But I emailed my teacher and asked her what she thought, and spent some time Googling them, and came across these two:
1. New Practical Chinese Reader– this consists of six volumes for beginners and intermediate students. What is pretty awesome about this one is that it also includes a DVD so you at least have the audio exposure which will benefit you in terms of hearing the differences between tones. It is also in Pinyin so one will not feel too overwhelmed when attempting to learn the language.
2. Integrated Chinese: Simplified Characters by Yuehua Liu- this book tends to follow a structure similar to my learning style. Each book is divided into lessons whereby it helps you grasp a scene and where to use those words. It also has sections based for review and assists with tones, grammar and dialogue.
10. For absolute beginner students wanting to learn Chinese, what are the essentials you suggest them to know?
1. Be persistent. Chinese can be overwhelming to some and therefore it is vital to carry on persisting and fighting. You will encounter many challenges along the way, but you will get over it.
2. Try to immerse yourself with other speakers. Why? So you can practice. And practice is key
3. Never ever give up.
4. Practice! Practice! Practice!
5. And most of all, do whatever you do with passion.
After hearing your answers and tips, Eleni, we hope that our students and followers at Learn Mandarin Now will find it all that much easier to become fluent speakers of Mandarin Chinese. Many thanks!