It’s always helpful to have advice from experts running their own business teaching Mandarin Chinese.
Therefore, today we are very pleased to invite Sara from TutorMing, a well known, popular website site for students from all over the world, to share some tips and advice about how to best start learning Mandarin Chinese.
1. Sara, thanks for making time for this interview, can you tell our readers a little about yourself?
I was born in the United States, but moved to Beijing, China at a young age with my family. I’ve always been fascinated with Chinese culture, and I was glad to have such a cross-cultural experience growing up. I’m happy to be working with TutorMing, because I have the ability to share my Chinese experiences and heritage with so many learners.
2. It seems that TutorMing has recently been getting lots of attention in the Chinese learning space. For those who still have not heard about TutorMing yet, can you tell us briefly what TutorMing is all about?
TutorMing is a live online service for learning Mandarin Chinese; it was founded in 2008 to meet the demand of Chinese learners everywhere. We teach on the Internet with real, live teachers. Our cloud-based classrooms are accessible on laptops and mobile devices, allowing the student to learn anywhere. Our Chinese classes are available around the clock, all days of the week, so learners can log in and book a class on their own time. Our parent company, TutorGroup, is backed by Alibaba, SoftBank, Temasek, and Qiming Ventures.
3. In your opinion, what is the best tip you’d like our Chinese learners to know about when they start to learn Chinese?
First of all, even though it seems like it would take a long time to learn Chinese, we promise that it is not as hard as you think. A lot of Chinese learners might feel discouraged at the beginning, which is why we make sure our teachers are patient and experienced. Secondly, since Chinese is such a tonal language, it is a language that you should be learning through live interaction with a native speaker. No matter if you’re learning via online videos or in a classroom, you should always try to find someone to practice conversations with. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or embarrass yourself! The only way you can get better at Chinese is to speak it with someone, so they can help correct your pronunciations.
4. As you can see from our research about the best ways to learn Chinese, it seems there are so many Chinese learning resources out there. What are some of the unique benefits TutorMing offers to help people to learn Chinese?
We always put our students first. We have a 24/7 customer protection team in place to make sure that our clients have the best learning experience possible. Another thing that makes us unique is our patented Dynamic Course Generating System (DCGS), which matches the client to the teacher and lesson that best suits his or her needs. Our teachers are all selectively chosen, with extensive teaching experience. Finally, our unique cloud-based platform allows you to take your Chinese lessons anywhere you’d like! As long as you have Internet, we’re here to teach.
5. Finding a tutor to help you learn Chinese is almost certainly the most effective way to learn. In fact, many of our Chinese learners have worked with tutors. What are some key things people should keep in mind when they are looking for a tutor?
Finding someone who is experienced to teach is important, but ultimately you want to find someone who you are comfortable with. We understand that learning a new language can be daunting. It’s scary to talk in a language that you aren’t familiar with! That’s why TutorMing uses a one-way webcam video, so you can see our teacher, but our teacher can’t see you. You can try speaking Chinese with confidence. You can also check if the tutor is certified to teach. In order to get a TCFL (Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language) certification from the International Association of Teachers of Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages , the teacher must pass a series of exams that test knowledge of Chinese linguistics, Chinese society and culture, and pedagogy. This will help ensure that you are learning Chinese from some of the best.
6. Some people believe they can learn Chinese or any other language all by themselves, as it’s much cheaper that way. What would be your advice to them?
There are certainly people who have managed to self-learn languages, but we don’t think it’s effective, especially for a tonal language such as Chinese! The problem with self-learning is that it takes a long time, and requires a lot of self-discipline. You don’t have someone to help correct your pronunciations, and you have to set your own lesson plan. It’s hard to continuously find resources such as Chinese textbooks and lesson materials. Plus, finding a native speaker to practice speaking with can be challenging! So while you might be able to learn Chinese all on your own, the extra time and effort you spend doing it may cost you in the long run! With TutorMing, we provide certified Chinese teachers and tailored lesson plans, so that our students can achieve Chinese fluency as quickly and efficiently as possible.
7. What are some of the major, regular mistakes you see people making when they learn Chinese?
When you compare it to English, Chinese has a radically different grammatical structure. There are no tenses, no plurals, and subject-verb agreement is non-existent. A lot of Chinese learners struggle with this in the beginning. Furthermore, since a lot of Chinese words are homophones (they sound exactly the same), they can get mixed up! This is a source of a lot of typos, even among intermediate students. However, with patience and an experienced tutor, you’ll be able to get a good grasp on the Chinese language.
8. As you may know, many students are planning to take the HSK test (one of the most popular Chinese proficiency tests) for intermediate or advanced Chinese learners. Can you help them to prepare for the test and take them to the next level? If so, how?
Yes! Our teachers have created lessons specifically for people taking these specific exams. We make sure that our students learn the vocabulary and grammar concepts that they will be tested on in HSK exams. In addition to that, our learning system can track their progress and help them work out their weaknesses while they are increasing their level of Chinese proficiency. Our free Chinese Exam Helper App (available on Android and iOS) has flashcards of exam vocabulary, taken from HSK exams and AP exams. We analysed the HSK exams to see which characters are most likely to appear in tests so our students can be prepared. The HSK exam has an oral test as well, where the test-taker will have to repeat sentences and answer verbal questions in Mandarin Chinese. The best way to practice for this portion of the test is to talk to a native speaker, which is why our 1-on-1 Chinese lessons can help you prepare.
9. How about absolute beginners? How do you suggest they get started? Can TutorMing help this type of student?
Certainly! We have many teachers that specialize in teaching beginners, and many lessons that start from the basics. Our goal with beginners to Chinese is to start by building a strong language foundation. We’ll gradually introduce new vocabulary and grammar with each lesson, and encourage students to practice things they’ve learned in the past so they don’t get overwhelmed!
10. For anyone who wants to have a look and try TutorMing, what is the best way to get in touch with you?
Thanks Sara, for sharing these great tips with us. We personally believe having a tutor can definitely accelerate your Chinese learning progress, no matter which level you are at right now. Therefore, we recommend you take a look at TutorMing. Good luck and happy learning!