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How to Become Fluent in Mandarin Chinese

Updated on March 23, 2016

Chinese proverb: "Learn till old, live till old, and there is still one-third not learned."

Why should I learn Chinese? Don’t the Chinese learn English?

China has made headlines in the last 20 years as a rising economic superpower on the verge of overtaking the United States. China, despite dealing with some current financial issues, will no doubt dominate the world economy in a few years and leave the debt-laden US behind them. International companies are increasingly looking for skilled employees with Chinese skills who are willing to relocate to China. In addition, China is one of the most important trading partners of the US and China is regarded as a huge business opportunity by many American companies. The US has long-term investments in China and is looking to expand their investments in the Asian country. The knowledge of Chinese will give you an important competitive advantage when you are applying for certain international positions. China is opening up to the West and increasingly offering employment opportunities in all areas. For those interested in teaching English in China, the knowledge of Chinese can definitely be helpful. China has recognized the necessity to learn English in order to be active in international markets and the demand for native teachers from the US, the UK, New Zealand, Australia and other English-speaking countries is strong.


Great Wall of China near Jinshanling

Some interesting facts about China and the Chinese language

  • The country with the greatest population is China and every fifth person on this planet speaks Chinese. Besides China, Mandarin Chinese is spoken in the prominent Chinese communities of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Mongolia. Chinese is the official language of the Republic of China and also one of six languages in the UN.
  • There are many different Chinese languages and they differ as much from each other as the Romance languages. This means, for instance, that Cantonese and Mandarin are as different as French and German.
  • The Chinese writing system consists of 20,000 characters, although only 3,000 to 4,000 are used in the newspapers and on a daily basis.
  • The Chinese grammar is relatively easy to learn. Contrary to languages derived from Greek or Latin, there are no verb conjugations or tenses and nouns do not possess a gender

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing

Online Courses

1.Language Theory

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology provide some great learning material on their website.

They are made up of several units made for self-study purposes. You will be able to acquire a stable grammar basis, learn the basics of written Mandarin, learn the principles of intonation and much more. You will have to look for a different source to find relevant exercises though as this course only teaches you the language theory.

2.Written language

Skritter offers you a tool with which you can practice writing Chinese symbols. If you don’t have any knowledge yet, you can learn to write using this website or you can practice what you have already learned. You can use the demo or purchase the complete version.

Archchinese offers a learning system made my US teachers for language learners with little to no knowledge of the Chinese writing system. The website teaches you how to do the basic strokes and gives you possibilities to practice as well with printable worksheets.

3. Audio lessons

Chinesetools is a website offering a Chinese online phrase book, audio lessons which you can download as mp3 files, the Chinese alphabet, Chinese dictionaries and glossaries and Chinese news (for advanced learners). The website is very comprehensive and a must for everyone learning Chinese in the self-study mode.

Introductory Lesson 1

Some Mandarin Basics

4. Videos

Visualmandarin focuses on visual learning. You learn Chinese through videos made my natives which include videos on intonation, daily Chinese such as shopping, booking a hotel room or holiday plans. The videos come with flash cards, multiple choice questions, gap-filling exercises, and pronunciation exercises. The videos and exercises are divided into different proficiency levels including Beginner, Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced.

Chinese.yabla is a website where you can gather your first experiences watching Chinese television. The website provides videos in different categories including culture, comedy, drama, business, leisure, society and world, amongst others. The videos come with English subtitles, a vocabulary learning program and a dictionary. You can listen to the videos in a slow mode and do vocabulary games.


Introduce Yourself

Days of the week

Seasons

Ordering Drinks

Learn with native teachers

No matter how good the resources and books you use are, they are no substitute for real live teachers. Nowadays, many people decide to learn a language online as this offers many advantages. You are able to save time, you can learn with a native speaker even if he or she is located in his/her native country and you have more flexibility when it comes to choosing the times you learn. There are numerous websites on which you can learn Chinese with a native teacher. Quality language training is not free most of the time and this is the case for language training with native teachers as well. You will have to pay for their services, which makes sense as they will not be working for free and you want to be offered a high-quality service. On Chineseteachers.com, you can take live lessons with native teachers which are located in different time zones. Thus, it won’t be a problem finding a teacher in your time zone. Lessons are 1-on-1 and adapted to each proficiency level. Live lessons will always be focusing on your comprehension and speaking skills. Teachers are fluent in at least one other language so you are bound to find a Chinese teacher who speaks English. You will be granted a Chinese Learning Certificate on which it is shown how many lessons you took and the progress you made. Prices are as low as 10$ per hour. You can pay as you go or choose a 50-hour package.

On VerbalPlanet, you can find more native teachers who can teach you Mandarin Chinese via Skype. You will be able to find native Chinese teachers from various locations in China (Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Tianjin, QinHuangDao and many more) who speak at least another foreign language, most likely English. Prices on this website for 1-1 lessons are very attractive and much cheaper in comparison to other foreign languages.

Which language would you like to be fluent in?

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Chinese Online Community

Livemochais one of the best providers of self-study and live learning language courses on the web. You can start off with a basic course which teaches you how to read, write, listen and speak. You will be able to practice until you have mastered the course contents and you can interact with native Chinese people from the very first lesson onwards. Livemocha also has its own Chinese tutors who can give you online 1-1 lessons. Lessons are personalized, adapted to your level and focused on your learning needs. You are able to choose the teacher of your preference and build up a learning-efficient student-teacher relationship with your teacher.

A full view of the Giant Buddha Statue of Leshan, Sichuan, China

Chinese radio

Be sure to listen to Chinese radio stations on a regular basis, whether you are a beginner or you already have intermediate to advanced language skills. It is never too early to start listening to native Chinese speakers speak their own language. At some point you will have to speak in a live situation and will not be able to rely on your notes. The faster you get used to the speed and intonation of Chinese, the better. At the beginning, you will might only be able to understand a couple of words but as you get better, you will understand more and more words and eventually you will be able to understand whole sentences. On 4learningchinese.com, you will be able to choose radio stations from different regions in China including Beijing, Ningbo, Foshan, Shenzhan, Macau and other Chinese-speaking regions such as Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

There are endless learning opportunities on the web and the ones I have named are only a few. I went through many sources though and have selected the ones which I consider to be best. Nevertheless, if you want to become fluent in Mandarin Chinese, keep in mind the following.

Li River in Guangxi

10 More Useful Tips on How to Become Fluent in Mandarin Chinese

1. Practice all four primary language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

2. Study on a regular basis. It is better if you study only 15-20 minutes per day than if you try to get through 3 long study hours on a Sunday afternoon. Persistence and regularity are the key to learning a foreign language.

3. Use a variety of high-quality sources instead of a single source. The ones I have named above are the best sources in my eyes.

4. Learn to live Chinese. Listen to the radio, watch Chinese TV and talk to native speakers whenever you have the opportunity!

5. Repeat, repeat and repeat what you learned.

6. Listen to Chinese native speakers as often as possible (watch Chinese television and talk to your teacher).

7. Write Chinese texts and correct them with your tutor.

8. Plan a trip to a Chinese-speaking country and talk to the natives.

9. Make flash cards with useful phrases and vocabulary and take the flash cards to your office (you can spare 10 minutes of your working day to study vocabulary).

10. Talk to Chinese speakers on MyLanguageExchange: You can talk to people from all over the world and write emails with them or talk to them on Skype. They can teach you slang and colloquialism that you will not learn in a classical language course.

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    • profile image

      James Stave 2 years ago

      haye all we are make an online school there we educate the peoples if you want to learn then come on http://preply.com/en/chinese-by-skype

      Thanks.

    • Jennifer Madison profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Madison 3 years ago from Lohmar

      I'm glad you found this article helpful Maggie :) Thanks for reading!

    • Maggie.L profile image

      Maggie.L 3 years ago from UK

      I'd love to be able to speak fluent Mandarin. Thanks for the great tips and useful websites.

    • Jennifer Madison profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Madison 4 years ago from Lohmar

      I also think the most effective way to learn a language is to go live in the country. But as this is not always possible, we have to find alternative ways and really consistently follow them. I think I won't try to learn Mandarin though but rather Japanese, it is supposed to be easier and you can learn it faster. I admire people like you though who were able to learn it. :)

    • Desmondlee89 profile image

      Desmond Lee 4 years ago from Singapore

      Nice hub. Have actually tried out most of these points mentioned in your hub and they really work. I guess the fastest way my Mandarin Chinese improved was when I stayed in Taiwan for 8 months and communicated in verbal and written Chinese. And that experience helped me to clinch my first job as well:)

    • Jennifer Madison profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Madison 4 years ago from Lohmar

      Thanks a lot for your comment! I am thinking myself of learning a new language and am having a hard time deciding between Russian and Japanese. So thanks for sharing your experience, it will be easier for me to make up my mind now. :)

    • nufoundglory profile image

      nufoundglory 4 years ago from Asia

      I live in Asia, around mostly Chinese people, and Mandarin is the most used language among the Chinese here. I don't know about other Chinese language (Cantonese, Hokkien, etc.) but from my experience I do think Mandarin is the most difficult language in the world to master. French and German are pretty hard (IMO) but Mandarin is the hardest to learn (plus the characters!).

      Whereas, Japanese is a lot, lot easier. The pronunciations of words aren't hard like Mandarin and I've heard of (quite a lot of) people who were able to be fluent in Japanese without the help of teachers or formal courses or anything like that. But I've never so far heard this with Mandarin. Well, just sharing my experience, is all. ;)

    • Jennifer Madison profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Madison 5 years ago from Lohmar

      Thanks Ingenira, I am glad you liked the article. It might even have motivated you to start learning Chinese :)

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 5 years ago

      I like the Chinese proverb: "Learn till old, live till old, and there is still one-third not learned." you placed. Indeed, life is about constant learning.

      Interesting article on how to learn the Chinese language.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      @heatblast92: If one learns the traditional characters first, the simplified characters will be much more easier to learn. Like with anything in life, it takes a lot of self-discipline and practice when learning how to write characters.

    • Jennifer Madison profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Madison 5 years ago from Lohmar

      thanks for providing that information heatblast!

    • heatblast92 profile image

      heatblast92 5 years ago from Malaysia

      There are two classes of Chinese characters: simplified and traditional, the latter requiring more strokes, though if you mastered one, the other shouldn't be a problem to understand. At least, that's how I got along.

    • Doodlehead profile image

      Doodlehead 5 years ago from Northern California

      I had no idea these wonderful programs were online. Hmmmmm.

    • Jennifer Madison profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Madison 5 years ago from Lohmar

      Thanks a lot for your comment Paul. It is interesting to hear about all those different dialects. Yes, I have noticed as well that if you don't use the languages you learnt, you loose them. That is why I always tell my students to practice as often as possible by talking to native speakers, listening to the radio or watching TV in the specific language.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      Jennifer,

      You have presented a very useful and extensive listing of great resources for learning Chinese Mandarin. I envy learners today, because when I started learning Mandarin in 1967, there weren't any on-line resources. Learning to live the language and really get immersed in it is so important for becoming fluent. Yes, it is important to listen and speak to native speakers every day. Take it from me, when you stop using the language, you will slowly start to forget and lose it. Anyone who plans to spend any time in southeastern or southwestern China, would be well advised to learn another Chinese dialect like Cantonese, Wu, Minnan, Hakka, or Yunnanese and Sichuanese. All of this comes after you have a good foundation in Mandarin. Voted up and sharing.

    • Jennifer Madison profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Madison 5 years ago from Lohmar

      Thank you! I hope it makes you want to start or improve your Mandarin Chinese :)

    • Sunday Best profile image

      Sunday Best 5 years ago from Oxford, England

      Interesting and useful article.