Mandarin Chinese, the official language spoken in mainland China, is now one of the world’s most popular languages to study. With the opening of China comes a desire by the world to learn about China’s people, history, medicine, economy, and culture.
As a westerner and non-native Mandarin speaker who has mastered Mandarin (but continues to use and study Mandarin on a daily basis), I would like to offer you three powerful tips on how you can more quickly and effectively master this fascinating language that is spoken by hundreds of millions of people across the worldwide Chinese diaspora.
My Three Tips
1. Set your goal before beginning your studies.
As with any undertaking, first determining at what point you’ll declare success will enable you to reasonably plan how deep and how long your Mandarin studies will need to go.
Specificity helps, so if possible, first list out what level of language competency you’ll need to achieve to declare your studies a success.
Questions to consider: Would you like to be able to both read and write simplified characters? What about reading and writing traditional characters that are used in Hong Kong, Singapore, and much of the worldwide Chinese diaspora? How stringent of requirements will you place on your spoken Mandarin? Is simply being able to converse with Mandarin speakers sufficient, or will you only be satisfied when your Mandarin is a good (Mandarin: hao) as a native speaker?
2. Study in the ideal language environment.
If your goal is to learn to speak standard Chinese Mandarin (Mandarin: putonghua), consider moving to northern China for a time, studying in a reputable language school, meeting with native Mandarin speakers and speaking hours of Mandarin on a daily basis.
Questions to consider: Are you able and willing to dedicate a period of time in your life (or a chunk of time each year) exclusively towards language studies in northern China? Are you willing to meet with Mandarin speakers from northern China on a regular basis?
3. Focus on “how to speak” instead of “why saying this makes sense”.
One of my initial obstacles to learning Mandarin was asking and then over-analyzing why a certain word was listed as a verb in the dictionary, but was also commonly used as a noun in everyday speech.
I later learned to accept what was spoken as “how to speak” without knowing exactly why. Rather than analyzing, I highly recommend imitating. The goal, after all, is not to become a grammar or vocabulary expert, but rather a person who can hold conversations on a wide range of topics in everyday, understandable Mandarin Chinese.
Questions to consider: Are you a perfectionist? Can you accept being told that you’re incorrect and then not questioning at length why you’re incorrect? Can you accept another country’s language (and its inherent cultural implications) without debating or judging the related cultural background?
Following the tips listed above will put you in the correct mindset for studying, imitating, and then ultimately mastering Mandarin Chinese or any other foreign language.
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Sources: Confucius Institute Online, The World’s Most Widely Spoken Languages