We often hear that the best way to learn a foreign language is by visiting the country and living there. While it may be true for Germans who lived in the Netherlands and could learn more than a handful of phrases, Chinese is much more complex. Unfortunately, most people find it barely possible to learn a language by just spending a year or more in a foreign country. Just being exposed to a language will only make some words and phrases sound familiar but will not give you the basics. While there are exceptions, learning a language is a complex process where you need professional guidance and a teacher who would help to correct the mistakes.
Is Learning Chinese Possible by Living in China?
One of the most common misconceptions about learning a foreign language in another country where it is a native language is a way how most people will listen to you. Once they can understand you or guess the words you are trying to say, they will not try to correct you since it will be a conversation where they have to follow you while you still talk. It is very challenging to learn something right this way, especially when there are numerous Chinese dialects. It shows that you have to learn the basics and at least discover the grammar, so you can read the words and form the sentences without major mistakes.
Nevertheless, learning Chinese or Standard Mandarin, which is an academic standard, is not that hard as many people usually think. A reason why Chinese often seems too complex is that most learners try to see the language as a great concept while it is much better to learn it step-by-step in blocks. Staying in China for a business trip or a journey that will last for a year will not help you to learn it in a better way or make things more simple. It is not like an average person will try to talk slower or pick the words without slang expressions or abbreviations. It is a reason why the work of a teacher is so complex because there is a curriculum where hearing, writing, listening, and translating are already included.
One of the most important aspects of learning Chinese without a teacher is not knowing the tones. Since Chinese is a tonal language, it is crucial to understand the basics that help to tell the difference. There are four tones where the same word has a different meaning. It all depends on how the word is pronounced. It is another reason why Chinese teachers repeat the same tone over and over to let a person understand the differences and how each word may vary. Talking to a stranger in China will often make you feel confused even if you know the words but cannot identify the tonal differences yet. It takes some time, yet it is the first step that must be mastered before it is possible to proceed further.
The next steps that follow include learning how to pronounce the words, which is often done before learning how to read or write. Once there is at least a basic vocabulary and a sense of Mandarin grammar, it is the high time to explore these mysterious Mandarin characters! Being in China has a very good advantage of hearing the language the way how it is spoken by people of different ages and verbal skills. Do not try to understand complete sentences right away but listen to the words and pronunciation.
What are Good Tips to Learn Chinese?
- Keep patient as you learn. It will eventually pay off! Take one learning block at a time.
- Use gestures and show what you want to say! A lot of foreigners who have spent some time in China know that Chinese people always look at your body language.
- Learn to listen. Once you get past the stage of tonal variations, things will become much easier.
- There are as many teachers as the Mandarin dialects! Explain how you would like to learn and ask about what kind of a lesson it is going to be.