How to learn Chinese?

Estimated read time 5 min read

Getting started in learning a new language is a real challenge, so it’s best to take it step by step. If you are new to Chinese, looking to master the language but don’t know where to start, this guide is for you. How to learn Chinese? Should we focus on pronunciation or characters? We go over the important points you will need to address to start and progress in Chinese and we give you some useful resources for learning Chinese online.

What are the essential steps to start in Chinese?

To learn Chinese easily, there is a golden rule: do not skip steps. Some learners prefer to skip tones at first, and this is one of the main pitfalls to avoid! If you are starting from scratch in Chinese, you might as well build a solid foundation.

Pronunciation: start with Pinyin and tones

It is important, from the beginning of your learning, to start practicing your pronunciation. Do not neglect this aspect, because the way you pronounce a word in Chinese can change its entire meaning: this is called tones.

To learn the pronunciation of initials and finals, you will start by learning Pinyin . It is a phonetic transcription system, invented in 1958, which uses the letters of the Latin alphabet.

If Pinyin helps you a lot, you will not be able to do without tones to learn the Chinese language and make yourself understood. There are indeed few combinations of consonants in Chinese, and the tones will be decisive in understanding the meaning of a word. There are four different tones:

There is also a neutral tone that stays flat. Of course, you will never learn the tones by reading their descriptions in writing. To learn Chinese pronunciation, you must first listen to it and repeat it.

Once you have learned the main initials, finals and the 4 tones, practice pronouncing syllables and then words, taking your time and repeating them until you understand them.

Become familiar with Chinese characters

When we think of Chinese, we often first think of characters. If you can do without it at first and focus on Pinyin, you will have to get started one day. As early as possible, because mastering type requires becoming familiar with a whole new way of writing.

There are traditional characters and simplified characters in Chinese that are used in different regions of China. Depending on your goal, you’ll most often start with the simplified characters . The ideal, in the long term, is to learn both systems.

Then, there is no secret: to learn the characters, you have to break them down, understand the layout, and repeat it. The order in which the characters are drawn is indeed important! At the end of the article, you will find online resources to practice drawing Chinese characters.

Learn the basics of Chinese grammar

Knowing how to speak Chinese is of course also knowing how to make sentences. No language escapes grammar. That of Chinese is quite different from French grammar. This can confuse beginners: there is no conjugation or agreement. The sentence structure is also different.

To learn Chinese quickly and master the grammar, the best thing is to follow a real method, whether in online Chinese lessons with a teacher or by learning on your own. As with pronunciation and characters, don’t rush and take the time to familiarize yourself with each concept.

How to master Chinese quickly?

Mastering the basics is good, but how quickly can you expect to master Chinese? It depends on a lot of things: your goal, the Chinese dialect you learn, the method used to learn… Here are some tips that will help you optimize your Chinese learning.

Find a learning method that suits your purpose

Depending on your final goal, you can take more or fewer courses, to learn more or less intensively. To know where you are going and what you need, you must already know if you want to learn Mandarin or Cantonese Chinese . Or if you need to learn the basics of Chinese and Pinyin, or to master all aspects of the language such as Chinese characters.

If your goal is to pass a certification to know your level, to obtain a diploma or to prepare for a trip to China which is coming soon, you can opt for intensive online courses. The principle is simple: take lessons to learn Chinese several times a week to progress more quickly.

Expand your vocabulary to learn to speak Chinese

Mastering the pronunciation of Chinese words takes time. It is important, at the same time, to learn new vocabulary words to speak Chinese and construct sentences. The best thing is to learn new words every day.

Start by learning how to write a word in Pinyin and then learn the word each time in writing and orally. This will allow you to develop reflexes in dialogue. If you already know a little Chinese, try to learn the words in context, putting them into sentences.

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