About China

Language Learning Tips for Chinese Newbies

By eChinacities | 2016-12-29

The Yew Chung International School of Beijing’s Secondary School Chinese Curriculum Coordinator Jessica Sun Shares How to be an Effective Chinese Language Learner.

For non-native speakers, learning Chinese can be a tall order even if you live in China. Big cities like Shanghai and Beijing are full of English language resources for newly-arrived expats and there is no shortage of Chinese with a decent English language base keen to practice their English with a native speaker. This makes it easy for non-Chinese speakers to avoid the daunting task of learning the local language.

However, learning the local language can be a very rewarding experience, both practically (new friends, ease of life, a greater access to delicious cuisine) and developmentally (an expanded worldview, a greater appreciation of new cultures). If you’ve just moved to China or are looking to jump-start your language learning, YCIS Beijing Secondary School Chinese Curriculum Coordinator and veteran Chinese teacher Jessica Sun have some essential tips that will make sure you’re learning the right way.

Take Risks 

Underlying every non-native speaker with great Chinese skills is dedication to one thing: practice. While it is an exercise in humility to speak a foreign language, especially when you’re just beginning, make an effort to open your mouth and speak the language at any point, even if it’s just making sure you use Chinese when buying groceries or being chatty with the locals who make your jianbing. Open-minded and curious students who are always willing to take risks will be the most successful. Get out and meet the locals if you’re truly dedicated to learning the language.

Simplifying Strokes and Radicals 

While listening and speaking is all about interacting with native speakers, writing characters is relatively self-sufficient, relying more on independent determination than interacting with other people. However, it’s vital when learning characters that you understand stroke order, the system that dictates how individual characters are written, and radicals, the different pieces that make up any individual character. While it may seem like an unnecessary hassle to the beginner student, mastering these two facets of Chinese characters will actually make your Chinese-learning life substantially easier in the long run. As the characters become increasingly complex, learning characters actually becomes easier; memorizing characters eventually becomes a matter of simply arranging already learned radicals in new positions and writing them in a different order.

Studying with friends? Students at YCIS Beijing study characters with friends to share  their ideas on how to effectively memorize specific characters. This can make the process a lot more fun, especially when devising various mnemonics to help remember each character!

Use the Right Resources 

Nowadays there are a plethora of excellent resources available online for students of any foreign language. If you’ve just arrived in Beijing, a dictionary app is essential; Pleco has been a mainstay for years and continues to be a top choice in this category.

For learning new characters, especially as a beginner, having a flashcard app that lets you trace characters with your hand is essential. At YCIS Beijing, students regularly use Quizlet, available both on desktop and mobile.

For more advanced learners, podcasts and videos are a great resource for listening and character memorization with subtitles. Students will have no problem finding videos or podcasts dedicated to their subject of interest.

If you take these recommendations to heart, we promise you’ll be learning Chinese more effectively and efficiently than ever before.

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