Lessons in Chinese may prove difficult for native English speaking Australians, not least of all because of the grammar, characters, writing system, inability to practice or speak it day to day, and inability to understand certain elements of the culture. It is however one of the most rewarding experiences you can have,
Word on the street is that there are plenty of online and in-person resources you can find as an English speaker, even though learning Chinese is meant to be very difficult for us.
Getting to grips with things like the characters and taking onboard tips for how to master tones and pronunciation, you will find that step by step, you're getting fluent.
Don a different view for a moment, and you will find that when you start reading, writing, and speaking in Mandarin, there is a lot of appeal in learning a tongue and culture that is so different from the west.
There is a lot you can actually take from your Mandarin Chinese lessons in a psychological sense too. Over time in your classes, you will find memory and speech are improved.
Aside from the various dialects and languages that China has, Mandarin is the most prominently spoken and its phrases can be understood the land over. You can speak and understand others regardless of your level with Mandarin.
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Ways to master Chinese pronunciation
Whilst just as complicated to read and bearing tones and pronunciation in its phrases that are culture specific, being able to understand Mandarin is much more likely for a native English speaker and they will also be more free in their means of expression.
An example of just how rich Chinese is as a language is that on any given day, people might use the linguistic system at their disposal to practice different things in their speech, all just to suit the accentuation of the syllables in Chinese.
Speaking Chinese is actually a great practice to help you understand the culture of China itself. This will help your grammar with tones, and vocabulary too (which you can further consolidate online) as you're able to use the real-world resources around you to help you memorise sequences and patterns and adapt the system to your own system of understanding.
Beyond spending time being able to learn and understand the Mandarin language and its variety of tones, being able to express them yourself will make you sound more fluent.
A certain word can actually be a different word, which you will find is written with a completely different character.
When using your listening resources to understand what's going on as an English speaker, this can presumably lead many people to make gaffes if they don't understand what impact their vocabulary mistake will have in the culture at the time!
This can mean we mispronounce something to do with food when ordering in a restaurant, and end up sounding obscene. Fear not though - with practice, all makes perfect!
Find out our top 10 reasons to learn Chinese!
Learning to read and write Pinyin
Whether you're just learning Mandarin in your free time, are at beginner level, or understand the whole language word for word, you can benefit from understanding the characters in the writing system. Until such a point though, English speakers will save themselves a lot of time when they learn about pinyin, which is a phonetic writing system in Latin script.
This was thankfully made uniform in the 1970s, and made speaking and communication day to day much easier for those whose level of Mandarin isn't so high, and will also be a big help if you wish to work in China!
Beware though as between English and Mandarin, pinyin isn't actually pronounced as we would expect in English.
Read about all of the benefits of learning Chinese...
Learning Chinese, your teacher will focus on this disparate phonology and you will get the hang of it in no time. Tips for tone and how to memorise phrases on the road to memorisation of Chinese characters are abundant, so you can start to speak, and of course, start reading and writing in no time.
Learning about Chinese grammar
Immersion into the Chinese language is possible in context, through literature, and through exploring the rich history of dynasties in China.
It comes as no surprise that Chinese has a fundamentally very different base to romance and germanic languages, therefore you need to start with a clean slate when approaching it. Linguistic knowledge will come in handy when it comes to language acquisition, but you can't guess anything about Chinese as a westerner.
One big thing to note is that Chinese verbs don't conjugate, and verbs often don't change themselves - you can indicate that something is in the past for example by adding another character to your phrases.
This can actually be a breath of fresh air when it comes to memorisation though, since the grammar in this sense is significantly less complicated and you don't have to remember all of the irregular verbs.
Chinese is nevertheless a sophisticated and elegant language, just when translating word for word, it can become lost in translation as the way its grammar and vocabulary interact with its nuance are different than in English.
Some common features of English that you are not likely to find in Chinese are:
- inversion of subject/verb to build your question,
- numbers (singular/plural)
- unpredictable verb past participles
Despite how little Mandarin Chinese resembles English, it is not as foreign as you think - at a beginner level, you can find direct translations more almost all phrases.
The fact that Chinese syntax is different to ours is just one of the fascinating things you can learn during your Chinese lessons and will leave your brain all the better for it.
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Learning the Chinese Characters
If you've come this far, know that you're almost at the end - but there's still more information to come! This probably means that you're really motivated to learn Mandarin Chinese, and understand well the finer nuances of the language and how culture can interplay with this.
You've actually probably learnt some core information whilst reading this article that will be of use in your Chinese classes, especially if you'd never had anything to do with the Chinese writing system before.
We've covered the spoken and written components of the language so far in this article, so now, let's see what some of the common elements that learners find difficult and interesting are between both of these.
Words are often constituted of two or three characters - both in written and oral communication. This is not to say that an individual character doesn't have its own meaning, nor that it can't be a word in its own write. The semantic mingling of the different "units of meaning" if you will, can simply qualify the other characters or words to have a more complex or compound meaning - even if this meaning is relatively straightforward.
Think - in English, we know red and blue makes purple, but we don't call purple "red-blue". Chinese characters are like this, so the character for red and blue might be there, but the name obviously changes to something else.
Using flashcards is a great way to memorise Chinese characters, and doing one day by day then writing it down and trying to use this example in your vocabulary when speaking to people is a very effective means of acquiring language gently yet efficiently.
When it comes to a Chinese character, think about:
- its meaning,
- its pronunciation,
- the order of writing its lines
- and the meaning of each line.
This can definitely be meticulous work, and when at beginner level, whether reading, writing, speaking, or listening, can take all of your energy to focus and understand the grammar and vocabulary at play. Stay strong through - this really does work if learn and practice it in bite-sized chunks as we mentioned above.
So here's hoping your enthusiasm for Mandarin Chinese is still high! The rewards are absolutely worth the effort, especially if you want to work, travel, or study in China.
There are private Mandarin Chinese language tutors all across Australia on Superprof, who can come to you or meet centrally, and will be able to cater to your learning needs.
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