“There is no single way of learning something.”

This maxim, spoken by Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC), just goes to show that any learning methodology needs to be tailored to each individual student in order to learn better and retain information.

For example, when learning Chinese as a second language, some students find it harder than others to memorise and pronounce the tones of the Chinese language, while others have trouble remembering how to read and write Chinese characters, or understanding the romanised Chinese writing system, hanyu pinyin.

We do not all have the same mnemonic capabilities. Some people possess a more oral memory, others a more visual one. In other words, some people retain things they hear, while others remember better if they see or read something.

There’s more to learning Mandarin than just showing up to your language course: Chinese is a difficult language that requires motivation, discipline and diligence.

To learn Chinese, you need to undertake daily independent study. Here are four tips to assist you in arriving at your Chinese lesson completely prepared - a necessary step in the process of learning the Mandarin language.

You can also read these tips for the best ways to learn Mandarin.

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Revise The Prior Lesson Before Your Next Chinese Class

It’s worth repeating: learning Chinese is not easy.

Mandarin is a millenia old language and even the most educated of Chinese - academics and other intellectuals - don’t remember all of the Chinese characters off by heart.

So it’s fair to say that any beginner Chinese student has a long road ahead of them! But don’t be daunted, as improving your Chinese is not impossible.

In fact, you “only” need to know about 400 Chinese characters - about 2/3 of the most frequently used characters - to get by sufficiently after three years of Chinese language classes.

You might be wondering how you get there when you are just starting your beginner Mandarin course?

The main thing is to carefully revise your classes as you go. Don’t forget or you may find yourself with gaps in your knowledge, and become overwhelmed. 

This is vital if you are taking a beginner Chinese course. Remember:

  1. Being focused in class and listening to your teacher is 50% of the work.
  2. Revising your notes and reviewing regularly with a clear head makes up the remaining 50%.

Here are our recommendations to assist you in preparing for your Chinese classes and memorising what you learn:

  • Ensure the conditions during your classes are suitable to learning, enabling you to focus your concentration and maintain a good posture.
  • When you are re-reading your prior lesson, disconnect all of your devices: computer, smartphones, tablets etc.
  • Take a small break every half hour: 5-10 minutes to have a glass of water or air out your mind
  • Avoid distractions such as your phone, Instagram and Facebook, or television.
  • When revising your Chinese classes, make notes of things you do not understand so you can ask your Mandarin teacher the next time you see them (a particular translation, Pinyin transcription, the order and direction of the strokes in Chinese characters, or the meaning of certain characters…)
  • Revise your Mandarin classes and notes every day: the best time to memorise is at night, shortly before going to sleep.

Even if you still have trouble learning Mandarin using these good habits, you should still take the time to review your lessons at regular intervals.

Summarising Your Chinese Classes and Using Flashcards

Summing up your Chinese language classes on flashcards is a great way to help you memorise the language - or, indeed, French, English, or Spanish - quicker.

You could also put up sticky notes or posters to help you remember Chinese characters, pronunciation, and vocabulary.

You can avoid stress when studying for exams by summarising the main points of the classes in bullet points on small flash cards, rather than re-reading dozens and dozens of longhand A4 sheets. This assists the brain in retaining only the important information.

Make flashcards to help you learn Pinyin.
Using flashcards will make learning Chinese Pinyin easier. Photo credit: http://klarititemplateshop.com/ via Visualhunt / CC BY

If you’re not that organised or lacking a bit of motivation, here are some tips for summing up your lessons and making flashcards:

  • After each Chinese language lesson, take your notes and reformulate them digitally or by longhand.
  • Summarise each part of your Chinese classes in a few simple bullet points, keeping sentences short.
  • Re-organise your lesson notes so they follow a clear structure: titles, subtitles, bullet points.
  • Colour-code your notes: underline, highlight or circle the key points.
  • Revise the key words, definitions, and translations of Chinese words.
  • Create mnemonic devices to memorise Chinese characters.
  • Make charts and graphs to illustrate points of Chinese grammar or the order of Mandarin characters.
  • Make one flashcard per idea: Pinyin transcription, pronouncing the Chinese phonetic alphabet with its 23 initial consonants and 35 final vowels, the tones of Mandarin speech, Chinese grammar rules, the stroke order and direction in Chinese characters, Chinese vocabulary by theme…

By grouping each lesson into summed up flashcards, your vocabulary and pronunciation exercises will become easier. For example, you might try repeating these words aloud every day:

  • Learn how to say “hello” in Chinese: « nĭ hăo » (你 + 好)
  • Learn how to say “good-bye” in Chinese: « zài jiàn » (再 + 见)
  • Review your numbers: 八 (two), 五 (five)

If you don’t have a Mandarin teacher, get help from the internet.

Do a Small Amount of Work Everyday

Whether you are learning to play an instrument or learning Chinese, it is pointless revising just before your class.

To retain the Chinese language, it’s better to work on it approximately 10 minutes per day than intensive, hours-long revision.

It can also be useful to pretend you’re in China right now…

Take advantage of some of these great Mandarin learning tools.

Immerse Yourself in the Chinese Language Right Before Your Class

You might be wondering why you should immerse yourself in the language as a beginner, who may not be visiting a Chinese speaking country anytime soon.

The explanation is simple: it allows your brain to soak up the Chinese language.

As the language of Confucius is a tonal language, its phonemes sound strange to our ears.

In order to better understand your teacher’s lessons, it can be useful to hear Chinese spoken every day by native speakers for listening and comprehension practice.

Let’s consider some options:

  • Watch Chinese TV and Chinese, Taiwanese or Singaporean news.
  • Watch Chinese movies (with English subtitles if need be).
  • Listen to Chinese songs and music.
  • Download Chinese podcasts, such as Chinesepod.
  • If your city has a Chinese quarter, go do your shopping there.
  • Speak Chinese on social networks or with any Chinese friends you might have.
  • Install a free Chinese learning app and take one class per day to get a head start on your Mandarin lessons.
There are Chinese film festivals where you can watch Chinese movies.
Watching Chinese movies at film festivals in their original language is a great way to immerse yourself in the language. Photo credit: digitALWINner via Visualhunt / CC BY

Watch Chinese Videos

It is commonly known that online videos - from YouTube, for example - can assist you in learning a language easily. Learning Chinese is no different.

The problem is that YouTube is not available in China. They use a similar site called Youku. A beginner student will likely not understand much, so it's necessary to know the basics of the Chinese language and understand some spoken Chinese in order to follow the videos.

But listening to the language even when you don’t understand what’s being said can still help your brain to learn to identify the tone and sounds of new words better in the future.

Find a Native Speaker

One final tip to absorb the Chinese language is find a native Chinese speaker. Get yourself a language partner - a native speaker who will teach you how to speak Mandarin while you teach them how to speak English for example. 

Improve your Mandarin with a native speaker and language partner.
There are many Chinese students out there who would like to improve their English. Photo credit: maltzevans via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Mosalingua has a page which features links to various tools that will assist you in speaking Chinese like a native. One of them is Italki: https://www.italki.com/home, a site that helps you find a language partner or a native speaker to help you with Chinese classes. It’s like a Chinese Superprof!

The Italki app is very easy to use. The downside? It costs about $15 to $27 per hour for a teacher who is also a native Mandarin speaker. However, the language partners are free - it is a real intercultural training program where you can participate in an international exchange of linguistic competence.

Prepare for your Chinese lessons Melbourne!

Find the best Chinese teacher for your learning requirements.

Use Your Favourite Chinese Learning App to Practice

There is nothing simpler than using smartphone apps to assist you in revising your Chinese classes.

What’s more, using an app on your smartphone means you can practice your Chinese vocabulary everywhere you go.

There are over 500 million Chinese watching videos online, and giving Chinese courses is a way for them to earn some money, or learn English, French, Spanish, German or Portuguese in exchange.

Learning the native language will help you on your travels.
Improve your Chinese language skills for your next trip to China. Photo via Visualhunt.com

Hello Talk is one way to learn the Chinese language and speak to native Mandarin speakers. This app has over one million users across the world and matches you with one of their thousands of language partners.

It’s kind of like the Facebook of foreign language courses: you can send a message to whomever you like and begin exchanging languages!

Here is what you need to do (it’s quite simple):

  • Download the app onto your smartphone.
  • Create a profile (including e-mail address, name, password, birthdate, and profile photo).
  • State your native tongue and land of origin.
  • Put Chinese as the language you would like to learn.
  • Give your level of proficiency.
  • Find a language partner!

The Hello Talk app is perfect for free Mandarin classes and for practicing your written Chinese.

Is your trip to China on the horizon?

The Internet is a treasure trove for discovering Chinese culture between classes, practicing your Chinese, and undertaking a language immersion course before even arriving in China!

How much do you think Mandarin courses should cost? Find tutors to help you learn Chinese with Superprof. It doesn’t matter where you live, you’ll be able to learn Mandarin Melbourne.

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Alison

Ali is an Australian writer, community manager and art curator living in Paris.