If you’re learning Chinese as a non-native speaker, you have a long road ahead of you. Had you chosen to study French or Spanish instead, casual conversations would have been possible after about a year of study. As a Chinese learner, you might find yourself still learning the basics of Mandarin after the same amount of time. Although Chinese is frequently regarded as one of the most challenging languages to master, learning Chinese is far from an impossible task! Other non-native speakers have mastered Chinese before you, and you can do so as well. You just have to know how to study smart.
This post will give you tips for learning Chinese with consistency and efficiency so you can make quick progress. These tips will make your life much easier as a Chinese learner.
5 Tips for Learning Chinese Faster
1. Don’t Waste Your Time Handwriting Chinese Characters
An easy way to speed up the rate at which you learn Chinese is by not writing characters by hand. Of course the caveat here is that you should spend time learning how to write characters by hand if you’re taking a course or exam that requires that knowledge. For general learning, however, technology has diminished the importance of learning how to write in Chinese by hand. Nowadays you can simply type in Chinese using your laptop or phone, and there are millions of people who speak fluent Chinese without being able to write it.
Effectively, the ability to handwrite Chinese characters does not help you communicate in the language anymore. This means that Chinese learners don’t need to spend so much time memorizing Chinese characters, their components, and their stroke orders. For reading proficiency and typing proficiency, learners will still need to learn how to recognize characters when they see them, but handwriting proficiency isn’t a must here.
This frees up a lot of study time. Writing in Mandarin is challenging, and learning how to write Chinese characters by hand takes a lot of time. This is time that you can otherwise spend studying material that will actually get you communicating with others in Chinese.
2. Use Language-learning Software
The smart use of technology makes learning Chinese more effective, but it’s a tool that needs to be used wisely. The textbook is no longer the only resource out there for language learning. By now, helpful resources for learning Chinese are readily accessible from your phone and computer. There are language learning apps, digital and pop-up dictionaries, flashcard apps that implement spaced repetition software, language-exchange apps to connect with native speakers, and more.
These are all great tools that can supplement your learning, but you need to consider their individual strengths and weaknesses when you’re planning out how to learn Mandarin using their technological help. To make the most of internet resources and other technological aids for learning Chinese, learners must integrate them into a balanced study plan.
For example, let’s say you’re using a Chinese learning app that keeps you entertained through its gamified interface. This is great for keeping you interested in Chinese, but it leaves you feeling like you need more listening and speaking practice. When you’re learning Chinese, podcasts and videos can be great for extra listening practice. To target your speaking skills, you can sign up for a virtual tutoring session with a native speaker, no matter where you live. The options nowadays are varied and often quite effective.
The point here is that while language-learning software can be great for speeding up your learning, you must tailor your use of technology to ensure you are practicing your speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. No single app or program will individually fulfill your language-learning needs.
3. Regularly Review What You’ve Already Learned
As much as you might want to move quickly through your learning material, make sure you take time to review what you’ve already learned. Finding yourself in chapter eight of a textbook and not remembering much of anything from chapters one through five isn’t a great feeling.
If you regularly review past material, you won’t find yourself with seemingly insurmountable gaps in your knowledge. Forgetting is a natural part of learning, and as long as you account for it, it won’t derail your progress. Reviewing a few vocabulary items or grammar points a day is much easier than trying to relearn five chapters all at once.
Thankfully, technology (see tip #2) has made this issue much easier to deal with. If you want to learn Chinese vocabulary and review it at the optimum times, an app that utilizes spaced repetition software like Hack Chinese is a fantastic resource here.
4. Pace Yourself
To prepare yourself for the long journey of learning Chinese, you need to be realistic about how you spend your energy and enthusiasm. Take some time to think about how much time you want to spend studying Chinese. Set a goal for yourself that is both specific and realistic. If you’re just figuring out how to start learning Chinese, a schedule as simple as ten minutes every day can be a great start.
Studying for such a small amount of time might at first seem like a counterintuitive suggestion, but keep in mind that learning Chinese—no matter how much you study every day—takes a long time. It helps to form a habit of learning Chinese every day, and small sessions make that easy to do.
If you can get yourself to be consistent with your studies over a long period of time, all those small study sessions will add up, and you can gradually scale up or scale down your time commitments depending on your needs. Slow and steady progress is ultimately much faster than studying at a sprint and then burning out. Be aware of how much you’re pushing yourself, and don’t use up all your enthusiasm and energy in one go.
5. Integrate Chinese Language Learning into Your Daily Routine
Immersing yourself in Chinese throughout the day makes learning Chinese a part of your life, and the more contact you have with Chinese, the faster you’ll learn. Particularly with technological help (see tip #2), this is very easy to do—you don’t have to be sitting at a desk to pick up more Chinese learning time throughout the day.
Routine activities like washing the dishes, ironing your clothes, and sitting on the bus don’t require your attention. During this downtime in your day, you can learn the Chinese language by listening to a podcast, reading an ebook, or logging into your favorite language learning app. If you regularly read the news or watch TV in the evenings, try doing so in Chinese.
Regularly exposing yourself to the Chinese language throughout the day keeps you engaged and thinking about Chinese. The more of this exposure time you get, the more opportunities you have to practice your skills.
Study Smart, Save Time, Master Mandarin
If you want to learn Chinese more quickly and more effectively, give these tips a try! Learning Chinese may be hard, but there are ways you can actively work on making your studies more efficient and productive. With the right amount of dedication and some smart planning, you’ll find yourself communicating fluently in Chinese, and you’ll have yourself to thank for ensuring you got there faster.
Article written by Daniel Nalesnik, Founder of Hack Chinese. Daniel moved to China in 2009 for a year of full-time Mandarin immersion at Peking University (in Beijing) and Fudan University (in Shanghai). In the years since he has worked with teachers throughout China to discover what learning methods are most impactful for Mandarin Chinese learners. This experience inspired Daniel to found Hack Chinese, a spaced-repetition platform for learning Mandarin Chinese. You can follow him on LinkedIn here.