These days, it seems like China is on everyone’s mind. Both a hot-button political issue and the new frontier for investment and retail, China is undeniably a key player in the world. And it is one of the most widely spoken languages, with one in every five people speaking Chinese. You, the adventurous, confident Levo woman, might wonder whether learning Chinese is the ideal addition to your resume. Absolutely! Still, it’s best to take on this challenge well prepared. Follow these tips to learn Chinese and be set up for success.
Have a Purpose
Chinese is not an impossible language to learn, but it does require consistent, focused effort. In my experience, the effort to acquire even the basics of Chinese can only be mustered through a well-defined purpose. Before you enroll in a class or buy a book, take the time to identify why you want to learn Chinese. For your career? To use with your boyfriend’s parents? For an upcoming trip? Not only will your purpose for learning Chinese provide you continued motivation, it may also determine your studies.
Choose Your Dialect
Your purpose likely will determine the dialect you learn. For example, those intending to use Chinese for business should learn Mandarin, the official dialect of China and the one spoken in Beijing. If you are traveling to Hong Kong, Macau or anywhere in Southern China, focus on Cantonese. Rare dialects of ethnic minorities such as Tibetan or Mongolian will require more searching for language resources, but it can be well worth the hunt if that’s the language of your future in-laws. If in doubt, choose Mandarin — it is taught to all school children in China now, so more and more Chinese have at least a working knowledge of it.
Determine Your Learning Style
How do you learn information best? Do you retain information that you hear, read or recite? Do you prefer an academic approach, or more practical instruction? Chinese language books work for some; iPod lessons for others. There are so many options available to learn Chinese, from video tutorials to college classes and tutors in your area. Whatever means you choose, realize that you’ll need some form of immersion training to advance. Consider a stint in China or Taiwan at a language institute, or opt for daily use of an interactive software like Rosetta Stone to improve your conversational skills.
Focus on Speaking and Listening
…Rather than reading and writing. Contrary to learning Romance languages, studying written Chinese is not useful to a beginner. Chinese characters, either simplified or traditional versions, give few clues to their pronunciation. As you advance, you will learn that part of a character gives the sound, and part of the meaning of the word — but at the start, this will only slow your progress and produce minimal benefit. For most learners, the ability to engage in a conversation is enough. Unless you are planning to become fluent in Chinese, or your purpose for learning requires reading and writing skills, start with speaking and listening skills. And always perfect proper pronunciation first — mastering that alone will win you credibility with Chinese speakers.
Get Started Now
On average, studies show it would take at least a year of studying 30 hours per week to reach limited proficiency in Chinese. That’s daunting, but if speaking Chinese is your goal, there is no reason to delay. Learning a language is infinitely easier the younger you are. And while fluency or even proficiency may seem like a high bar, remember that learning a language is not just a means of communication, it’s also a way to develop rapport and show cultural respect. Every word counts!
Do you speak another language fluently? Tell us about it in the comments section.