2020/04/11

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Im new here, how should I begin to study Chinese?1


When you first begin to think, I want to study Chinese for a while, you cant help thinking, I hear that Mandarin is the most difficult language to learn in the world, Im worried I wont learn very well, and that my time and money will be wasted.

 

To begin with, is studying Chinese really that hard? As a Chinese native who has been teaching Mandarin for nearly ten years, I think that for people not born in China, and for whom Chinese is not their first language it can be difficult, yet in some ways this language can be very simple.

 

First of all, this kind of so-called difficulty is true for when you start to study or do anything, like beginning to lose weight.

Secondly, this kind of difficulty comes from anything that is completely novel. When we are used to using the roman alphabet, we can still sound out words we havent encountered yet. However, to the English speaker it is just like trying to use iOS for someone who has always preferred Windows. Differences between Chinese and English can seem like they are N times more. The third thing is, because Chinese can be so completely unique to a learners experience, with almost nothing already known, it is then difficult to grasp, set effective goals for, or find the best path of study. Without discovering effective study methods double the efforts will only get half the results. After all the hard work a sentence of Chinese might still remain so difficult that a learner eventually gives up.

 

So Chinese is somewhat difficult, however it also has its own logic and rules. In these years of teaching, I must absolutely tell all of our students that Chinese is not as difficult as you imagine.  Your need is to clearly conceive of your objective, like a key to unlock the world of Chinese, a map to navigate it, and an able guide to easily explain the difficult and profound.

 

Just imagine for a moment, a present-day Chinese character passed down from antiquity is able from within its structure to represent the flow of history. Study Chinese it will be like you are swimming in the river of the languages history.

 

This article as a whole establishes how to study Chinese, and all that follows looks in detail at the different stages to studying Chinese, while introducing each step along the way.

 

So, when studying Chinese, what sections should I study?

In general: Pinyin, Chinese characters, vocabulary, grammar and sentences, and communication topics.


01

Pinyin

For Chinese, each part of a character has its own ideography, the sight of which can allow a reader to guess its meaning, and with pictophonetic characters the ability to read it aloud.


Luckily, along with society, the language also was part of the need to grow, and so Pinyin was developed. Pinyin is a phonetic tool to assist in the reading and pronunciation of Chinese characters. It provided phonemes for Mandarin, the common language of the Chinese. On 11th of February 1958, the National Peoples Congress of China proclaimed the plan.  In 1982, it became the international standard ISO7098 (Chinese Pinyin written in the Roman alphabet). Chinese people in other places of the world, such as Singapore, also adopted and taught Pinyin.


Therefore, the foundation of our classes is introducing students to Pinyin. Pinyin is made up of three parts, the initial sound, the final sound, and the tonal variation. In the modern Chinese language, there are 23 initial sounds in total, 24 final sounds (among them 6 single finals, as well as 18 compound finals), with 16 whole syllables.

Initials and finals together compose more than 400 syllables.

The difficulty, just as every learner might imagine, is in the tones.

Its obviously important that you have good pronunciation. What is interesting in China is that with good, authentic pronunciation you can quickly close the distance with a native Chinese speaker, to the extant that many people will automatically think, "Oh, you can speak Chinese, You can speak Chinese fluently", or, "Your Chinese is very, very good."

However, at the beginning, perfect pronunciation is not required or necessary. At the very least, it is good to pronounce clearly and correctly and avoid misunderstanding. With effective practice, it is likely that long-term you will gradually reach the target, authentic pronunciation.


02 

Chinese Characters

What should be your target for Chinese characters at the elementary level?

1. Basic strokes, stroke order of characters and correct writing.

2. Basic pictographs, monographs, and pictophonetic characters

3. Basic Structure of Chinese Characters

4. Pictophonetic characters and simple radicals.


Usually after finishing the first level, students will have a basic understanding of Chinese characters and be able to recognize approximately 100 Chinese characters.

According to a statistic, there are nearly 100,000 Chinese characters, while we generally commonly use only 3,500 of these. After mastering these 3,500 Chinese characters you can basically understand more than 90% of all Chinese language materials. Of these prevalently used characters, 1000 are very common, and on the whole represent 80% of all such materials.


Chinese Characters in the HSK:

Level 1 requires 150 Chinese characters.

Level 2 requires 300 Chinese characters.

Level 3 requires 600 Chinese characters.

Level 4 requires 1200 Chinese characters.

Level 5 requires 2,500 Chinese characters.

Level 6 requires 5000 Chinese characters.

Each one level up has twice the characters of the previous level.

It seems that the number is vast, however, when larger course learning goals are divided into smaller ones, with mastery of each level, it becomes very achievable.


While some may say that learning Chinese characters are unnecessary, this isnt supported by the science. Without learning characters, one progresses blindly with a limited perspective. Chinese characters are both the root and foundation of the Chinese language. Without them, the pathways to Chinese will eventually be exhausted. As you reach the intermediate level, it becomes difficult to distinguish the same or similar sounds and Chinese characters from each other, let alone understand the meaning and culture carried by Chinese characters. Naturally at that point it is difficult to proceed further onwards and upwards.


After you have a general understanding of Chinese characters, numerous exercises in writing and recognizing Chinese characters can help you remember them. Here one encounters the second major difficulty in learning Chinese. Each Chinese character is like a story unto itself. In the process of learning, you are reading each of these stories. All you need here is patience and persistence. The sense of accomplishment and tranquility that you gain will exceed your imagination.


We will continue to talk about how to start learning vocabulary, grammar and topics tomorrow!


Many thanks to our student and friend, Justin, for helping us with this article! He has been learning Chinese since the founding of Chinese Surfing in 2015 and is now learning HSK 5-6. We are so lucky to have him and feel proud of him!

Want to start or restart your Chinese journey? We welcome you to book a free class. Let us help you put your ideas together and set an achievable goal for you!

If you have any other questions, challenges, difficulties and learning experience, welcome to talk or share with Lili, [email protected] or by WeChat 15158116008.

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