Learning how to speak Chinese is a challenging and rewarding thing to do. As well as learning about a new culture and opening the possibility of travel and making friends, you will also improve your career prospects. There is no doubting the advantages of learning how to speak Chinese; but in what ways can we study it?
Before choosing a method you need to consider your own temperament and commitment to study, as well as thinking about your goals.
Do you want to become fluent? Do you want to learn the basics? Do you want to use Chinese for business, or is it for travel? Depending on your goals and what you are using the language for, you can tailor what you study so you do not waste your time. There are specific books and courses for business people for example, so you do not waste time learning about how to ask the nearest way to the shops!
Also you need identify the amount of time you can commit to study. If you are someone who can be motivated and committed without much help you can try and learn from a book. If you have free time to travel you may be able to enrol in a local class.
Most people need some kind of guidance and help along the way – the advantage of having a tutor is that you can ask for advice on specific problems you are having. You cannot change what is written in a book or what is recorded on a CD but if you have a tutor, you can ask them about a specific phrase you need to address an issue that you cannot find an answer too. You have someone to motivate you and make sure you are on track. You will have more of a schedule for study, which helps when you have a busy life.
You can also consider the cost of each of the methods listed here. Hiring a tutor may cost more than buying a CD, but you have to ask yourself if you would be able to learn more quickly and effectively compared to a CD. Learning how to speak Chinese is a different experience for everyone. Have a good think about what you want to achieve, compared to the time, effort and money you have.
Ways to Learn to Speak Chinese:
There are plenty of books on learning how to speak Chinese. They can be from basic level to advanced. There are books that also teach you how to read basic Chinese and how to start writing it. There are of course dictionaries that are always useful no matter what course you choose to embark on. Dictionaries are always useful in helping you with your Chinese language translation.
The advantages of using books to study is that they are cheap and affordable. You can get good language books for a reasonable price and you can dip into them whenever you want. Books are compact and can be carried around, and studied at work, on the train, on holiday and so on.
The disadvantage of just using books to study is that you may have a narrow viewpoint. If you choose to only buy one book, then the chances of it being able to provide you with all the knowledge you need is slim. You will need to spend more money of a selection of books to cover a broad viewpoint and it can become overwhelming studying a selection of books by yourself.
Books are also not interactive. A book will not know if you have studied it or not; it is completely up to your own initiative to use it. Sometimes, if you hit a difficult point it takes a lot of motivation to carry on with studies; there is no one there to clarify things.
Using books to learn how to speak Chinese means that you cannot hear how words are supposed to be spoken. This means that you may miss the subtle changes in tone and pronunciation.
There is no doubting that books will have their place in studying Chinese, but may have the most effectiveness if combined with another learning source.
If you are lucky enough to live in an area with Chinese language schools or regular schools that offer Chinese lessons you may be able to enrol in and attend classes.
The advantage is that you will have a live teacher. You will have someone to speak Chinese to you and to explain things as you go along. This makes learning Chinese easier and more effective you can also practise the language with your classmates and have the opportunity to practise your language skills in a public arena.
The disadvantage of learning in a classroom environment is that it may be inflexible to your personal life. If you have a job or a family, you may find it hard to fit attending class around this. If you have children you may need to find a babysitter for a few hours. You will need to find transport to get to classes and the times that the classes start may not be suitable for you.
Don’t forget that it is also a weekly commitment, and missing even one class can leave you behind the other students.
When you are learning with other people you also have to share the teachers attention and if you class is large then you may not get all the help you want.
Chinese language audio tapes have been the classic way of learning how to speak the language. Some people thrive with them, some people cannot learn from them.
The advantage of CDs/Tapes is that they are affordable and can be incorporated into your day-to-day life, you can listen in the car, or when you are falling asleep. You can hear how words are supposed to be pronounced and go over sections again easily.
The disadvantage of learning from tapes and CDs is that they can be dated. Some of the CDs can be decades old and the language has evolved, sometimes because of slang, making the version you are learning old fashioned.
Learning from CDs also means that you are learning how to speak Chinese and respond in a fixed way. For example, the CD may teach you how to respond if some says, “How are you?” But what if someone asks you the question but it is phrased differently? Do you still answer in the same way or do you need to adapt your answer? The audio will only teach you one way to respond to questions; it does not teach you how to converse and deal with all the changes in conversational speech.
There are many TV or Video series that will teach you a language. Some of these are run by the big TV companies (such as the BBC in the UK which has a series that teach languages).
The advantage is that you get to hear the speech and see the worlds as they are said. It helps you pronounce words and recognize them. Videos are often more interesting to watch than say reading a book.
The disadvantage is that these are harder to get hold of as it is not the most popular method of learning. A lot of these videos are old and have a somewhat dated look to them. If you are learning from tape and not a DVD it can be hard to rewind and go over small sections that you need to practise. Also be careful that you are not being distracted by the images.
There are many types of language software discs. The Rosetta Stone and Linguaphone are good examples.
The advantage of these are that they are interactive. You learn in sections and then you are tested to make sure you have got the answers correct. The software can mark you and let you know if you are right or wrong.
The disadvantage is that you must have a computer. You can only use the software if you are on the computer – this means you cannot study away from it. Even if you have a laptop you will need to have a power source.
Even though you are given answers to the tests you may not be given an explanation, which doesn’t help you if you have a persistent problem with say, sentence structure.
If you are lucky enough to have friend that know how to speak Chinese, or perhaps you have befriended some exchange students that are happy to share language skills with you.
The advantage of this is that you get human interaction; you can learn to speak Chinese in a conversational style and be corrected immediately.
The disadvantage is that not everyone has a friend with these language skills. Also, if you are relying on a friend it is not always possible to organise definite learning times – other people have busy lives too and you may find yourself getting distracted in classes or not having as many sessions as you wish.
If you are working with a language student then remember you need to spend half of the time teaching them your language too not just the other way around.
Learn Mandarin Online
Online Chinese schools now offer you the convenience to learn Mandarin online. It is now an extremely popular way to learn Chinese. There are hundreds of providers, so choosing a professional service is a must. Mando Mandarin (http://www.mandomandarin.com) is the ideal place to look if you want to choose a online provider who creates customized course plans that ensures you reach your goal, and live 1-on-1 tutoring.
The advantage of online learning is that you are learning at any time you want. You can enrol at any point of the year then fit the studies around your own schedule. A good provider will give you a tutor who you can personally address for any problems you are having, meaning that you will have one to one attention to deal with specific issues. Online providers will often give you the paper materials you need too (like course work and books) so you are able to study these when you are not at your computer.
The disadvantage to online learning is that you will need access to the Internet so you need to consider the investment of a computer if you do not have one.
No matter what method you choose, the most important thing is that it is an interesting way to learn and something that you can stick to. Learning a language can be easy and fun if you have the right kind of guidance. The rewards of learning a new language are myriad.