Dear Skritter: 2013/09/10

In Uncategorized by Skritter

author photo Welcome to the weekly Skritter blog! This week we’ll be kicking off our “Dear Skritter” column and looking into questions readers like you have about learning Mandarin and Japanese. I’m sorry to say this, but due to personal time constraints (I just started teaching at University) I am not going to be able to answer multiple questions at once as I had originally intended. Instead, I’ll try and respond to one question per post in the order that they appear in my inbox. Sorry to all those who’ve already submitted your questions… I haven’t forgotten about you!

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the first question comes from Gawie in South Africa, who writes… 

“Many thanks for a very interesting blog on Mandarin learning. Your blog is full of important stuff for a beginner like me. My goal for the future is to become Mandarin fluent in some way too. I want to study full time for a period of 12 to 24 months. Where does a beginner like me start with my Mandarin studies? Any suggestions of where to study in China?” 

Where to start? 

First, let me just say thanks for the kind words, and best of luck on your goal to being fluent in Mandarin Chinese! When you’re just starting out learning Mandarin Chinese, I think it’s best to get a good idea of what you would like to accomplish with the language. Are you looking to learn spoken Chinese, written Chinese, or both? Regardless, the best place to start is some kind of introductory level Chinese textbook. We’ve integrated a lot of textbooks into Skritter’s study lists, so be sure to check our list here to find one that works for you! If you’re looking to get started with Chinese characters, be sure to check out our “Skritter Chinese 101” list, which gives an intro into radicals, characters, word formation, and some super high frequency words.

The reason I say that you’ll want to start with a good textbook is because they’ve been designed to give you a solid foundation of the four skills of language learning: listening, speaking, reading, and writing (both characters and composition).You don’t need to start with a textbook, of course, but I do like the fact that intro level textbooks start from the very beginning, helping one learn all the sounds that exist in Chinese. While not required by any means, it would also be good to have a teacher, or a native speaker help you practice some of these sounds from the start, so that you can learn how to hear and pronounce tonal differences, and learn about correct tongue and lip placement (super important for making your “zh, ch, sh, r” and “ΓΌ” sounds properly). I also recommend Pinyin Trainer for iOS and Android for helping to drill and practice basic sounds.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the basics of pronunciation, it’s time to focus a lot of time on actually listening and producing the language.You might consider something like ChinesePod for listening practice, and italki or Verbling for pairing up with native speakers and teachers. All are great services that can get you very far in your language studies!

Where to study?

China is a huge country, and with the increasing interest in Chinese language learning, study options are seemingly endless. Unfortunately, not all programs are the same, especially when it comes to cost or quality. I don’t have a “you must go here!” recommendation for you, but here are some things you might what to consider while looking for a place to go:

  • Will you be working while you study?
  • Are you looking for strictly language classes, or a study abroad program (which might also have classes taught in English)?
  • How many hours a week are you looking to spend learning?
  • Do you want a large expat community?
  • Are you okay with air pollution?  
All of these questions are going to determine what kind of experience fits your needs (and your budget). Big cities like Shanghai and Beijing are filled with schools and private programs, but so are “less” visited areas of China. There are lots of discussions about various programs on Chinese-forums, and a quick Google search might help provide some information for you as well. Personally, I think it would be a good idea to talk with some other language learners and see what programs they liked and and why. It can be a great way to get to know how a program operates and what you might learn during your studies.

Regardless of where you go, or which program you might choose, one thing is certain. The fact that you’ll be exposed to Chinese everywhere you go is going to be a huge boost in the speed with which you acquire the language. Embrace your new environment and make the most of of your time, cause nothing beats being able to use the things you’ve just learned in the classroom!

I hope that this give you a few things to consider as you start your Mandarin learning journey. While I’ve highlighted a few resources here, don’t think that those are all of them! If you’re looking for a very comprehensive list of language learning resources, I would highly recommend that you check out Adam Ross and Jillian Tsai’s “Online Chinese Language Resources” list. All resources on the list are broken down into various categories, and it even has links to great language learning bloggers to follow.

Again, best of luck, and I hope this helps to answer some of your questions. Thanks to everyone for reading, and be sure to stay tuned for our next “Dear Skritter” post in a few weeks.

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