Many people ask us to tell them how to speak Mandarin Chinese quickly and effectively. Well, to help answer some of your questions, we invited Sarah from Speak up Chinese to share some of her experiences and give us some advice.
Hi Sarah, welcome; can you please let us know:
1. I can only speak English now. What are some of the easy ways to get started to learn speak Chinese?
a) An easy first step is to just familiarise yourself with the sounds of Mandarin. Watch movies with Chinese language, browse Youku (China’s Youtube), listen to podcasts –there are lots of free resources out there.
b) As another first step, you’ll want to decide if you will start through self-study or with a professional (there are pros and cons for both approaches at the start – see my blog post about this). Either way, don’t wait too long to jump in and start speaking; that’s where most learners find the root of their enjoyment, motivation and confidence to continue!
2. I can speak a little Chinese, but I often feel as if I’m forgetting what I’ve learnt too quickly. What should I do?
a) There are some excellent resources that utilise spaced repetition software (SRS) (Anki, Skritter…) to help plant new vocab in your memory, long-term. Flashcards and apps can get a little boring used exclusively and in isolation, though. Frankly the best way for me to remember phrases or vocabulary long-term is to use themin context.Go out and find an opportunity to bust out that new phrase. You’ll be sure to remember it if it helps you successfully express yourself.
b) The other way I have found that works is to explain it to others. Writing the Speak Up Chinese blog, with the edits and support from the team in Beijing, really helps me remember language points I struggle to remember because I’m required to explain them.
3. In your view, what are some of the best tips and secrets to speaking Mandarin fluently?
a) Establish relationships in Mandarin. Once you establish a friendship/working relationship in English, it’s hard to
change, so if you’re determined to speak Chinese you must be strong and not revert to using English – even if the other person does and even if it means communication is stunted somewhat at first.
b) Find a hobby or activity that mean you’ll regularly be hanging out with Chinese speakers using Chinese, whether that’s in China or outside. Even if that’s a commitment to patronize your city’s China town on a weekly basis and get to know the owners of all the restaurants! The point is: speaking the language has to become integrated into your life, not added in when/if you have the chance.
c) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Pride and perfectionism are two traits that will only slow you down with language learning. Leave your pride at the door and learn to laugh at yourself; even embarrassing errors serve to help you remember the correct way for next time.
4. Should I actually go to China to learn Mandarin Chinese?
With the range of media available today, you can get a very long way with learning Mandarin without being immersed in a Chinese language environment. However, to be in China just brings the language to life in a way that online and textbook learning alone cannot. My first time in China was a six-month stint in Wuhu (Anhui Province) in 2006. It really was great for kicking off my Mandarin studies because there were few English speakers there at the time; I was forced to open my mouth and apply my newly learned language… and it was enormous fun, if a bit scary at first!
5. Can you suggest any fun ways to learn to speak Chinese?
a) When I lived in Shanghai I used to enjoy going to get a foot massage, partly for the fun and partly because it was a great way to practice speaking Chinese (blog post about that here).
b) Another favourite in China is KTV. Go have a drink and sing Chinese songs in a karaoke room with your buddies. Even the most introverted, tone-deaf singer is likely to have a giggle.
6. Have you found any particularly good books or resources for learning Mandarin Chinese?
a) I’ve been a fan of ChinesePod since 2007, and worked there for a time in China. There are so many awesome options for learners now, but the original podcast service is still a great resource. I also recently came across these Graded Readers from Mandarin Companion, which look very good for reading practice.
7. I plan to visit China in a few months, can you tell me some simple phrases which I can learn that will really help me while I’m there?
I’m going to direct you to a guest post we wrote for Ollie over at Chinese Musings back in March. There are a number of phrases that Chinese speakers use every day, which I hope can be helpful! You can find it here.
8. I am not living in China currently. Where can I practice speaking Chinese? Should I hire a private tutor?
Try different ways! Mix n match! If classroom-based courses are not for you, try local meet-up groups (meetup.com), a language exchange partner, online tutoring etc.. I have tried various methods. For me, language exchanges never worked because we always would end up speaking too much English! I like online tutoring because it’s convenient and provides the structure I need to keep me focused.
9. Can you talk a little a bit more about your site Speak up Chinese? How does this help people to speak Chinese?
Speak Up Chinese is based in Beijing and provides online live Mandarin classes (one-to-one and group-based). Our mission is to equip students with practical spoken Chinese that they can use on the ground in China, while instillingin them the confidence to apply it. Too often students spend months and months learning Chinese ahead of a trip to China, only to discover that they have not perfected the pronunciation and tones, and don’t have the accompanying confidence to speak clearly and be understood. That is wholly demoralizing for learners, so we want to ensure all our students avoid this! All the teachers are native-speaking professionals, qualified in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. I learn with them myself and can attest to the quality of their teaching, all bias aside! Free trial classes can be booked from the website directly.
10. Just imagine you forgot how to speak Chinese, what would you do you get started again?
It depends on how serious I was about learning. If I was determined to see results and available to travel, I would start out with a tutor, take intense lessons for 6 months, then jump on a plane to a not-too-westernized third-tier city in China for a good long stint of immersion learning!
Thanks Sarah for taking the time to give us some of your ideas and tips about the best ways to learn Mandarin Chinese, we appreciate it.
We believe that that our readers and students at Learn Mandarin Now will surely find it much easier to study and become fluent speakers of Mandarin Chinese after reading your replies!