Mandarin may be one of the hardest languages to learn for most people, but it doesn't have to be for you. Here are five ways you can master the language faster than most.
1. Make friends with a native Mandarin speaker
You can't go wrong learning and practicing Mandarin with a friend who actually speaks the language.
You can learn colloquial expressions that you may not get in a traditional class setting. You can learn the ways people really speak informally among friends, family members, or coworkers.
And you have someone always on hand to clarify things you're confused about.
For instance, I always wondered why Chinese people like to make the peace sign ✌️ when taking a photo.
A new friend who is a native Mandarin speaker explained that the ✌️ sign means happy in China.
I wouldn't have known that without feeling comfortable enough to ask a friend without fear of being laughed at for not knowing something that maybe would seem basic to someone else from China.
Just imagine what else you can learn from a native speaker who's also a friend!
2. Watch Chinese movies or TV shows in Mandarin with subtitles
Mandarin is a tonal language, making it one of the main reasons why it's a difficult language to learn. But the nice thing is, there are only so many sounds.
Learning how to recognize and pronounce the 67 sounds, called phonemes, in Mandarin, that make up words is key. And hearing those sounds spoken by native Mandarin speakers is super helpful.
While watching a Chinese movie or TV series with the subtitles on, you'll start to associate certain words with the sounds in Mandarin.
This helps with repetition, as some basic nouns, like water (水, shuǐ), son (子, zi), or female (女, nǚ) will be repeated often in one 30- or 60-minute TV show.
At the very least, you'll start picking up how to pronounce and recognize basic words in Mandarin.
You may be familiar with a Chinese movie that was quite popular in the U.S. in 2000 called Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
If you need more suggestions, check out this page for seven other Chinese programs and movies to watch.
3. Record yourself saying basic words and sentences
Don't worry, no one is going to hear you doing this.
Just record yourself on your laptop or your phone and practice pronouncing basic words and sentences.
Then playback the recording and compare how you sound to a native speaker saying the same words and sentences.
This is a good way to give yourself instant feedback about your pronunciation.
You can listen to a native Mandarin speaker pronounce basic words and sentences here.
4. Learn how to count to 10 in Mandarin
Learning numbers is actually pretty simple. Even I was surprised by how fast I learned when I took my first Mandarin lesson.
The numbers from one to ten are all distinct. For instance, using the Chinese radicals and pinyin, the numbers in Mandarin are:
1 (一, yī)
2 (二, èr)
3 (三, sān)
4 (四, sì)
5 (五, wǔ)
6 (六, liù)
7 (七, qī)
8 (八, bā)
9 (九, jiǔ)
10 (十, shí)
But then for numbers above 10, just use simple addition or multiplication to make the numbers.
For instance, the number 11 (十一, shí yī), it's just the two words for 10 (十, shí) and 1 (一, yī). Think 10 + 1 = 11.
The number 20 (二十, èr shí), it's just 2 and 10. Think 2 x 10 = 20.
I tell you, getting the numbers one to ten down will make you think tackling Mandarin will be a breeze.
While I can't promise that it will be super easy from then on out, you will start getting the hang of Mandarin being written in radicals and spoken using phonemes being put together to make a word.
5. Take Mandarin classes with a native speaker
Taking classes from a native speaker who is also a certified teacher is one of the easiest ways to learn Mandarin.
An experienced teacher can tailor the lessons to your learning style and help you overcome any anxiety about learning.
They can also make recommendations for learning and practicing the language outside the classroom, all based on your personal interests.
Make it even easier on yourself by taking lessons with our Mandarin teachers!
We are partnering with a Chinese language institute in the Los Angeles area to provide you with experienced teachers who are also native Mandarin speakers.
We have both group classes and private lessons for kids and adults.
Contact us today to sign up for classes, get a free assessment of your proficiency level, or take a free demo class.
You're sure to have a lot of fun learning Mandarin with us!
Jackie Donaldson is the owner and director of Amidon Studios Language Studies. She started Amidon Studios in 2017 after managing a language institute in Lima, Peru. She's taught English and Spanish to students from all over the world while living in Peru, Mexico, and the U.S. When she's not working or studying, you'll find her gardening, playing with her cat Frankie, swimming, and exploring the globe.