Chinese has a somewhat unfair reputation as being one of, if not the, hardest languages to learn. While learning Chinese certainly requires commitment and discipline, it’s not the impossible task that some people imagine. Furthermore, there is a number of ways you can make life easier on yourself when studying the language. Below are five tips for progressing quickly when learning Chinese.
Learning Chinese is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. During the long slog, it can be hard to track your progress if you’re not setting tangible targets.
After studying for a year or two, someone may ask you if you can speak Chinese and you’ll probably find yourself struggling to give a short answer. How do you define the level you’re at and the level you want to reach?
Increasingly, the HSK test is being used as the ultimate marker of Chinese proficiency. Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, or HSK for short, is the international standardised exam to judge Chinese language skills, via the testing of reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Whereas before companies were willing to hire Chinese-speaking foreigners based on the ability they demonstrated in person, in recent years a proper qualification has been increasingly required for both recruitment and some China visas. Regardless of whether you need it for your job, your visa or just a sense of personal achievement, the HSK tests are a great way to define and set targets for your Chinese learning and a tangible way to track your progress.
Book yourself a test for the level you’re trying to reach and then study towards that goal. It’s much easier to focus when you have a set exam on a set date than the general “I want to improve my Chinese” goal.
Although some people prefer to study alone (and there are plenty of great learning apps, podcasts, and books out there), sometimes nothing beats group or one-one-one lessons that will give you that structure and motivation to learn.
In addition, if you book a block of 20 lessons in advance, you’re much more likely to drag yourself out of bed earlier in the morning to go to a lesson you've already paid for than you are to open your book and study at home.
You’ve got to invest to progress. So what are you waiting for? Drop a few thousand on a block of lessons now.
A common excuse heard among foreigners when it comes to learning Chinese is that they don’t have the time to do it. More than just having the free time, it’s also about being in a frame of mind where you can stop what you’re doing for a moment, have a normal conversation and take the time to ask questions and expand your vocabulary in a no-pressure environment.
So, no more excuses. Make that time in your day. One of the best ways to do so is to go for a massage. They last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, the masseuse almost never speaks English and, if he/she is any good, you should be totally relaxed.
This is a great environment to work on your Chinese. There’s zero pressure as there’s no-one else around to judge you and there’s plenty of time to work out what’s being said and how you’re going to respond.
A massage is just one example. The same can be applied to getting a haircut, taking a long taxi ride or even being sat on a plane or train with a stranger.
A routine can be great for learning Chinese. It gives us the structure we need to plan our learning, practice and revise. Yet there are times when a routine becomes counter-productive.
Doing the same thing every day can lead you to have the same conversations with the same people, using the same vocabulary. One of the best ways to freshen up your vocabulary is to travel in China. It puts you in new situations with new people and forces you to learn new words.
Each region of China also uses Chinese in a different way. They all have their own quirks, and learning these regional differences and getting an ear for the varying accents can really enrich your own Chinese.
Sometimes, it can be all too easy to only speak English in China. Maybe all your colleagues in the office can speak English. Perhaps all your best friends are English speakers. Even if you have a Chinese partner, more often than not their English is better than your Chinese.
Usually, we form a habit of speaking to certain people predominantly in one language. And once that habit is formed, it’s difficult to change the dynamic without a very conscious effort.
A good way to forcibly break that habit is to introduce a “Chinese-only” day — one day a week when you’re only allowed to speak Chinese. Whether it’s on WeChat, email, phone or in person, you must communicate in the “common language”.
Those you speak to must also only use Chinese to communicate with you. Needless to say, you English-speaking friends will avoid you on these days!
Any more tips for getting good at Chinese quickly? Drop them in the comments box below…
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Keywords: learning Chinese
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