Everything you need to know about learning Mandarin Chinese

This guide will touch upon the different aspects of Chinese study including commonly asked questions, misconceptions, and ways to maximize your learning efficiency. If you notice any mistakes (spelling, layout or content) then please point them out. It is hard to avoid mistakes in a larger article such as this and as different people have different language-learning experiences, there is always room for feedback to make it more accessible to others. This is the first draft and will be revised and added to often.

While written for beginners, there is also good information for intermediate and advanced learners. Just skip to the relevant part.

This guide will not teach you Chinese. Ultimately, learning a language is down to the individual. It will, however, give you a lot of practical information you can use to improve your study habits. As Chinese typically takes thousands of hours to master, approaching it efficiently will save you lots of time.

When we talk about Chinese in this guide then we are referring to Mandarin Chinese, the standard dialect that is taught in all schools across China. Any Chinese characters in this guide will be written in simplified Chinese unless otherwise specified.

Non of the recommendations given in this guide are paid advertisements. 

Mouse-over the Chinese to see the pinyin and translation.

Contents

Facts about the Chinese language

Here are some interesting facts about the Chinese language:

Chinese is one of the six official languages used by the United Nations. The others being French, Arabic, Russian, English, and Spanish.

Chinese characters are called logograms. A logogram is a written character that represents a word or a phrase. English letters represent sounds and therefore are called phonograms.

Today, the most common form of Chinese that is spoken is known as Standard Mandarin (known to the Chinese as 普通话), which is based on a dialect spoken in Beijing. The Chinese government realized the need for a unified language and enforced the teaching of standard Mandarin in schools across the country. In 1956 then it was officially defined as the standard form of modern Chinese.

Most cities in China have their own dialect. Some dialects sound so different from standard Chinese as to be unintelligible to people who have not lived there for a while. When people from different areas in China meet then they will speak standard Mandarin.While the Taiwanese speak standard mandarin, they write in traditional form. The difference between simplified and traditional writing is quite significant. For example is written as .

Chinese used to be written vertically in columns going from right to left. In 1955 then national newspapers and textbooks changed to writing left to right and top to bottom. A famous Chinese scholar called 叶籁士 was at the forefront of these changes as he believed it to be a quicker way of reading.

Commonly Asked Questions

Is it hard to learn Chinese?

Chinese is commonly considered a very hard language to learn. For people who grew up speaking English, Chinese is certainly very different and it is the differences that can be confusing. The characters and tones are things that they are just not used to. While English does use tones, they are not used in the same manner. Instead of focusing upon the difficulties, it is more beneficial to look at what aspects of Chinese are easier than English.

  • Chinese grammar is quite simple compared to most other languages. You do not need to conjugate verbs or remember which words are masculine/feminine (or neutral, if you learn German). Past tense is mainly accomplished through using either 了 or 过. To say that there is no grammar is wrong, but it is more straightforward than a lot of other languages.
  • Sentence structure is similar to English. At a basic level, Chinese too uses subject, verb, object sentences: 我吃饭 being an example of this.
  • A lot of English words are hard to guess. Zebra for example takes it’s etymology from Spanish, Italian and Portuguese influences and is therefore impossible for an English speaker to instinctively know. However, Zebra in Chinese is 斑马 which could literally be translated to striped horse. A horse drawn carriage is 马车 or literally horse car. A centaur is 人马 or literally person horse. Once you develop a feel for how Chinese works and and what characters are most commonly used then guessing words becomes quite intuitive.

How do Chinese children learn characters?

At the age of seven Chinese students begin to learn characters at their schools. They will usually have been introduced to reading and writing by their parents or kindergarten teachers at an earlier age but official schooling begins at seven.

Pinyin is only studied for a few weeks, it is not considered reading but is used for annotation during the student’s schooling. For example: in a students workbook then a new character might have the pinyin displayed above it allowing the student to immediately see how it is pronounced.

The Chinese national syllabus shows us how many characters students of each grade are expected to read and write:

Grade 1-2: Read 1600, write 800.

Grade 3-4: Read 2500, write 1600.

Grade 5-6: Read 3000, write 2500.

Grade 7-9: Read/write 3500. – This is considered the number of characters to have a general reading fluency.

The manner of learning often comes down to repetition. Students will write characters sometimes hundreds of times on squared paper and teachers will mark each character highlighting which ones were written particularly well.

Should I use mnemonics to remember characters?

We all know that the character  looks like a person with their arms stretched out wide like they are holding a BIG fish. This kind of mnemonic is very useful for remembering certain characters but should not be relied upon entirely. Once you start reading more then you will realize that some characters are incredibly similar and that simply using mnemonics might confuse you into misreading a character that looks like another.

For example, 威 and 成 look similar until you look a little closer.

So, use mnemonics where the connection is clear and easy to remember. When characters start getting a bit trickier you should rely more on character components. Let’s talk about these next.

What happens if a Chinese person forgets how to write a character?

To answer this, we need to first understand that Chinese characters are made of different components. A lot of Chinese characters have phonetic components which give a clue as to how to pronounce the word.

For example:  has the component which gives a hint as to how it is pronounced (more on this further in the guide).

All Chinese characters contain a radical which is mainly used for classifying characters in dictionaries and sometimes giving a hint as to the meaning of a character. Radicals are usually positioned to the left or underneath a character.

When a Chinese person has forgotten how to write a character, someone can explain it to them by telling them the different components of the character. This will usually jog the memory of the writer and allow them to continue without any problems. Let’s see this in action:

 is composed of aradical called a 言字旁 and a  called a 绞丝旁 To describe this character a Chinese person might say 记是由一个言字旁 和一个己组成. In English this might be: “Ji is composed of a 言字旁 and a 绞丝旁.”. There are English translations for each radical but the use of learning these is very debateable.

法 is composed of a radical (Called a 三点水) and a and a Chinese person might say 法是由一个三点水和一个去组成.

A final example is the character meaning river. is composed of theradical again except this time it is next to a . As you might have guessed, a Chinese person would describe this as 河是由一个三点水和一个可组成.

It is a good idea to be able to recognize some radicals (there are 214 in total), especially the ones you will be seeing a lot. They will provide some help differentiating between similar characters. Here are ten radicals that you can find in a lot of different Chinese characters:

Radical Chinese Radical Chinese
言字旁 秃宝盖
绞丝旁 偏厂
两点水 单人旁
建之旁 双耳旁
宝盖 广 广字旁

 

Breaking down characters is a very important skill and one that will greatly help reading. The website hanzicraft.com is an amazing website that breaks down Chinese characters into their individual components. It is highly recommended that you make use of this site.

My friend told me he doesn’t use tones, are they necessary?

There are lots of non-Chinese people in China right now who are not using tones and ignore this particular aspect of the language. This is because they are generally using Chinese in places where context is already provided, here is an example:

If you go into a Starbucks and order a coffee then your tones are not hugely important because the staff already know that you are there for a coffee so when you say 咖啡 then it does not matter how you said it. The context for the situation is already set in place and so anything you say will be understood providing that it is related to buying a coffee or a muffin. Context is the most important thing when speaking toneless Chinese.

You might be thinking now that you can skip your tones and, realistically, if you are visiting China for a week or two and just want to learn some survival Chinese then you are mostly correct. Anyone who wants to just get by in China can generally make do with learning some set phrases because Chinese people will understand the context that the words are spoken in.

As you are a student of Chinese then you need to know that learning tones is mandatory if you hope to have meaningful conversations. The tonal differences to a Chinese person’s ears are as wide as the difference between the English words dog and enough  and 够.

So, in short, if you want to avoid saying the wrong words and having people constantly guessing what you were trying to say then tones must be very high on your list of priorities when it comes to Chinese.

General language learning advice

Many guides tell you what you should be doing then fail to give you steps on how to accomplish it. Try to put some of the ideas here into action to work out which is best for you.

Here are some things that you may already know, but are important to learning a language. They are not specific to just learning Chinese but to learning any language. While the advice here has been said many times before, that is because it really is vital to learning a language.

You have to make mistakes

This is one of the biggest hurdles facing many language learners. The feeling of embarrassment that arises from making mistakes can often discourage students from wanting to communicate. The way to get around this is by looking at mistakes as opportunities to learn. Mistakes are essential to learning any language and the sooner you are comfortable with making them the faster you will improve.

Steps to overcoming embarrassment:

  • Aim to make more mistakes: by making more mistakes you will become more comfortable with them. Once you detach your errors from the feeling of embarrassment your desire to speak will skyrocket. After you have made several hundred mistakes then this problem simply goes away.
  • View mistakes as progress, after a mistake then note down what you did wrong. Through reflecting upon mistakes we can make sure that they are never repeated again.

Remain consistent

Consistency is the best friend of a language learner. Even languages that are considered “easy” take a long time to learn. Consistency ensures that you will eventually complete the goals that you have set.

Steps to remain consistent:

  • Allocate some time each day to studying. It is important that you keep to the schedule you devise for yourself. If you keep a schedule going for a couple of months then it will become a habit and you will feel strange if you miss a day of studying.
  • It is best if you set up a schedule where you study a little and often, rather than studying for long periods of time all in one go.

Remain motivated

An important part to maintaining consistency is to be motivated to study. One way to be motivated is to remind yourself why you want to learn Chinese. Here are the two reasons that most people seem to have:

  • Non-Chinese natives that can speak Chinese are relatively rare. This makes Chinese a very attractive language to have on your C.V. By learning this language, even to a moderate level, you will be more employable.
  • Another major reason to learn this language would be the fact that you can make new friends. China has a big non-English speaking population and each person has interesting stories to tell. Simply put, by learning Chinese, you will be able to make new friends from across the world.

Here are some ideas to help you stay motivated:

  • Watch Chinese movies/TV shows that interest you. Study sessions don’t need to be dry and boring, you can mix them up sometimes. Try watching a TV show and mimic what is being said. You can find recommendations for Chinese shows on page 18.
  • Listen to some Chinese music and follow the lyrics.
  • Read about things that you find personally interesting. If you enjoy reading about history then you will have no problems working through a hard passage on this subject. However, start reading a long passage about a topic you hate and you’ll start looking for housework that needs to be done!
  • A simple change of scenery can be motivational. Instead of working indoors you can head to the park with a book or go to a coffee shop to finish your homework.

Always review

Reviewing has been shown by many studies to be effective. It has been shown that those students who carry out a review of what they have been taught shortly afterwards are able to retain the information much better. Do not wait until the day before your next class to review, review straight after class. It has also been shown that those who review show improvements to how much they can remember per review.

  • A good review starts with looking over the notes you hopefully took from class. Then reading through any passages of writing you have studied recently. Follow this up by finishing any homework you might have been set relating to the class or topic.
  • At the end of every week take note of what you found hard and make it a goal to review it again. Do not just review things that are easy!

Find more time!

Time is a precious commodity when it comes to language learning. The difference between studying for one hour per day versus two hours per day is huge. One of the traits that good language learners have is the ability to find more time to study. Some of the best suggestions are:

  • Change your alarm clock to give you a morning wake up call in your target language.
  • Look at flashcards while commuting and listen to a narrated book/podcast while driving. Take listening even further and listen to your target language while doing the dishes/walking your dog or filling out paperwork. A simple MP3 player loaded with podcasts is one of the best tools a language student can have.
  • Create paper flashcards for times where you cannot use your phone. These can be used at anytime including boring work meetings (if you can get away with it).
  • Describe things around you (internally of course). When you are waiting in line for a coffee at starbucks you might start describing the people in front of you. If you are a beginner you can go through their clothing and the colours they are wearing while an intermediate learner might be able to create a story surrounding the person. The trick is to always keep your brain working.

Getting used to tones

Learning to speak Chinese takes time and effort. To be personal for a second, if I was going to learn again then I would take a three month high-intensity course so I could develop a strong foundation right from the start. However, this luxury is not available to everyone so let’s look at more realistic ways we can improve, starting wth the basics.

Introduction to the 5 tones (including the neutral tone)

First tone

This is a high flat tone. The pitch should not rise or dip in any way throughout the sound. An important part of maintaining an unwavering pitch is to prepare your mouth/tongue placement before starting the sound.

Second tone

A rising tone similar to the way English inflects upwards when asking a question.

Third tone

A tone that drops then rises again. The best advice for this tone is to let your pitch drop really low. The rise is not as important as getting the low baritone sound.

Fourth tone

This tone starts high and ends low. It is often descibed as an angry sound in that it starts off high pitch and quickly drops down.

Neutral tone

Some Chinese characters (especially some two-word combinations) do not have a tone. Pronounce them with no special emphasis.

Three important tonal rules

There are three important rules for tone changes. Instead of explaining them in a half-baked manner, please go to this website to read about them. They really are very important and will make speaking much easier.

Developing and improving pronunciation

The physical aspect of pronunciation

If you want to improve your pronunciation then there is one thing you must be comfortable with: you are going to make a lot of speech errors and some of them will probably sound very strange. When you make each sound, try to pay attention to how it sounds in comparison to native speakers of the language.

While you’re making each sound, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How is my mouth moving?
  • Where am I placing my tongue? For a lot of Chinese sounds, the tongue should be placed behind your front lower teeth with a degree of rigidity to it. However, for some sounds such as “sh”, “ch” and “zh” then the tongue should rise to the roof of your mouth.

If you are wondering why these questions are so important, it’s because you need to recognize the physical aspects behind pronunciation in order to accurately reproduce the correct sounds. The best way to understand the physical side of speaking is to ask a native Chinese speaker (preferably a Chinese teacher) to help correct you.

Allow Someone to Correct You CORRECTLY

If you know a native Chinese speaker that can correct your pronunciation, then let them. Yes, receiving criticism with an open mind can sometimes be hard, especially when you thought you sounded great, but you need to keep a positive attitude and listen to the native speaker. When learning any language, being corrected is a natural process that you need to welcome.

Do not fall into the common problem between a mediocre teacher and student; the teacher saying something and the student saying it poorly, only for the teacher to say it again and the student to say it poorly again. Repeating again and again will not make it sound right if you are doing something fundamentally wrong. Watch your teacher’s mouth and see how it moves when the sound is formed. Ask what their tongue does while speaking. Attempt to understand why you are producing the wrong sound instead of just repeating the same thing hoping for a miracle.

Practice Tones in Pairs

Thinking of tones in pairs has helped many people improve their Chinese pronunciation.

Go ahead and pick a word you are familiar with. For example, you could choose 很好 which you pronounce with a 2nd, then a 3rd tone according to the tone change rules listed above. By doing this, you will be able to familiarize yourself with other words that have the same combination. Once you can produce the tones correctly for this combination then other pairs with the same tonal pattern should not be so hard to pronounce. To start with, practice combinations of 2nd – 3rd tone and 2nd – 4th tone. Then move on to other combinations. Although this will sound like a broken record, doing this with a teacher is much more effective than doing it solo.

How to overcome poor pronunciation

It should be noted that this advice might not be of benefit to everyone. Pronunciation mistakes vary from individual to individual and often depend upon a number of factors such as previous language learning experience and the person’s mother tongue.

Pronunciation is very difficult. Even after trying all kinds of things to sound more natural we still struggle to get it quite right. Once again, the importance of finding a good Chinese teacher cannot be overstated. Here are some tips that can be really helpful:

1) Smile – not a grin but a small smile. Then speak Chinese while consciously activating the same muscles you use while smiling. This didn’t mean you have to always smile when speaking but you should activate this muscle group when you speak to apply a little bit of tension across your mouth/cheeks.

Initially, it might feel strange and take a long time to develop the habit of using this muscle group to speak since you might not usually use these muscles when speaking. After a while though, you will find that when you speak Chinese you feel that you are using slightly different muscles across your face/mouth.

2) Start again, slowly – This can be very frustrating if you have been learning Chinese for some time. It can be important to slow down, a lot. If you want to say something, take your time and slowly go through each character fully pronouncing the tone. You can also exaggerate the tone slightly to help get it right.

It may take a couple of months before you are able to talk at normal speed, but you will realize that despite the fact you are speaking quickly again, you are still forming the tones much better than ever before.

So, if you want to improve your Chinese, remember to speak slowly, fully pronouncing each character and to smile while you do so! While you are thinking about these sounds, here are some of the harder sounds in Chinese and how to pronounce them like a native:

The Chinese “r”

This is a sound that native English speakers often struggle with as most English speakers are used to forming their Rs with a relatively flat tongue. This is quite easy to fix, however. Make this sound by raising your tongue to the roof of your mouth, similar to “ch” “sh” and “zh” sounds. This will almost instantly give you the correct type of R sound and you can alter your tongue position and ask people how it sounds in order to narrow down exactly where you should be placing your tongue.

The difference between “zh” and “j”

Simply put, the “zh” is the same as the English “j” except your tongue is a little bit further back. The Chinese “j” sound is made by saying the English “j” with your tongue kept quite firmly behind your front lower teeth.

The difference between “t” and “c”

This one often causes Chinese people to laugh when someone asks for vinegar  and instead says  which means to throw up. Avoid this situation by pronouncing “t” exactly as you would in English while pronouncing “c” as “ts” from the word “mats”.

Pronouncing “u” and “ü”

The “u” sound is almost identical to the English “oo” sound. The “ü” sound is made by saying the English “ee” and rounding your lips and not allowing your tongue to relax as it would do for “u”. If you round your lips and tense your tongue you will notice that you are no longer saying “ee” but the chinese “ü” sound!

Record yourself (It helps a lot even though we hate to do it!)

By recording your own voice, you will become aware of the way you speak and how you sound to others. You can pinpoint mistakes and rectify them over time. Keep some of the recordings of when you first started and after a few months compare them to how you sound now. You will be able to hear a big difference and it is a great way of measuring progress and providing motivation.

Record yourself attempting to pronounce the sounds listed above. You should be able to hear clear differences between them.

Learning to read Chinese

The process of learning to read Chinese can be broken down into two areas of focus:

  • Learning individual characters and the words they combine into.
  • Regularly reading through suitable Chinese articles and passages.

In short, learn words and read often. Reading does get easier, it can feel overwhelming to start but after a while it all starts to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

What vocabulary should beginners start with?

After downloading an appropriate flashcard app, (discussed in the Study Aids section below) learners are faced with a decision of what characters and words to begin with. One answer to this is to find a frequency list of the 100 most commonly used words in the Chinese language and start working through that. In all honesty, the top 100 characters are quite boring and many of them are grammatical in nature. Nonetheless, they are key to learning to read Chinese.

The next thing to do is to add a slightly more interesting list to your studies. Colours, animals or vehicles are nice topics that can help to keep things interesting. After this, it is time to add a HSK1 list. When you start with this list, you will find that have already learnt some of the HSK1 words from the frequency list and other topics.

At this point then it might be helpful to learn some common anglicisms (words that sound similar to English ones / borrowed words) as they are easy to remember and add some much-needed vocabulary for very little effort. Here are some:

Chinese

Meaning

Chinese

Meaning

汉堡

Hamburger

沙发

Sofa

咖啡

Coffee

三明治

Sandwich

沙拉

Salad

巧克力

Chocolate

比萨

Pizza

高尔夫

Golf

吉他

Guitar

芒果

Mango

麦克风

Microphone

布丁

Pudding

坦克

Tank (army)

悠悠球

Yo-yo

澳大利亚

Australia

拜拜

Bye-bye

咖喱

Curry

Cool

卡路里

Calories

培根

Bacon

Find phonetical components

This is the key to learning to read Chinese. It is estimated that around 80% of Chinese characters have a phonetical component that will provide clues as to how to pronounce the character. Sometimes the pronuniation will be exactly the same between characters and sometimes the tone will change. If you take some time to learn about these components you will find that reading Chinese becomes more logical. Let’s look at this further:

After looking at the character (mouse-over) 马  – Here is a question: how do you pronounce the following characters?

妈 骂 吗

If you guessed they are all variations of ma then you are correct.

请 蜻 情 晴 all have as the phonetic component.  They have different meanings but all have the same phonetical component. Simply by knowing and recognising common phonetic components you can guess how to pronounce many different characters.

There are too many phonetic components to neatly fit in here, but see “useful websites” below for a link to a website containing them all. It is worthwhile spending a few hours becoming acquinated with the most common components. A few hours of study will save you many hours of guesswork further down the line.

What to read?

There are many places you can find Chinese passages to read. Advanced learners might go to BBC news Chinese or pick up a newspaper. A beginner is much more limited in choice. The reading series “Chinese Breeze” is a great place to start as they have books written for different reading levels and they are not entirely annotated in pinyin which, as we will learn below, is usually a good thing.

If you do not want to pay for books then there are several websites online that have lots of reading passages on them.They will be listed in the “Useful Websites” section at the end of this guide.

Do not rely on Pinyin

When reading Chinese a person should cover up the pinyin while they are reading. You will find your eyes are automatically drawn to the romanised writing and that you subconsciously read it before you look at the actual characters. Cover up pinyin or (unless you are a beginner) stop reading texts with pinyin above all the characters.

When learning to read, writing the pinyin above characters to help remember is fine. However, if you find yourself writing the pinyin for most characters then you are probably reading something a little too hard for your reading level.

Reading silently vs aloud

Reading silently and reading out loud are two different things. If you want to improve your reading speed then read silently. If you want to work on your speaking and become more used to pronouncing the sounds then read aloud. It is optimal to mix the two depending on your overall goals.

Great apps, podcasts, TV shows and online tuition

There are a lot of different tools available to you which can supplement your studying. The internet has greatly enhanced language learning and made it accessible to anyone with a connection. Let’s go through some different tools available.

Flashcard apps

The best flashcard apps use spaced repetition software. Spaced repetition is great as it will help you review characters regularly and will focus on the ones you often forget. There are lots of studies that have shown this to be more effective than normal flashcard usage. There are several apps you can use for this which I will talk about below. Try each of them to see which works best for you.

Anki – This is a no-nonsense flashcard application that is simple to use. It has a high amount of customization options which means you can tailor it to your learning style. If you don’t want to see pinyin then you can hide it. If you want to review first then you can, or if you prefer to start your day by learning something new you can do that too.

Anki is potentially the “fastest” flashcard app in that you can review more flashcards in a short space of time when compared to other apps. Most polyglots seem to prefer Anki for it’s speed.

Memrise – This app is smooth. It incorporates a lot of mnemonics to help remember the characters although you might find that eventually they just devolve into funny pictures. It is easy to find new courses on lots of different topics. A downside is that there are sometimes mistakes in the courses as they can be submitted by anyone.

Skritter – If you want to learn to write Chinese then look no further. It not only teaches you characters and words but gives you sample sentences and the stroke order for each character. If you use a writing tablet then you can write the characters and the software will tell you if you are correct or not. If you take this approach then you will learn a little slower (as you will be writing characters), however, you will also be learning to write and this will help you remember characters (and the components they are made up of). This might ultimately be more beneficial to your end goal, if you can keep up the habit of writing a little everyday.

Podcasts

There are a lot of Chinese podcasts available. They are great for listening and often come with teaching materials for each lesson which will help your reading/writing and overall comprehension. Beginners should start with podcasts aimed towards Chinese learners. Let’s start with some of the paid podcasts:

Chinesepod – This podcast has been going for a long time and has built up a huge library of over 3500 lessons with learning materials for each. There is a podcast on any topic you could think of which makes it great for building up your vocabulary.

Pop up Chinese – Compared to Chinesepod, this podcast has fewer lessons but I find them to be more engaging than Chinesepod. If motivation is an issue for you then these podcasts provide a little more humour. You can listen to all lessons for free with an option to upgrade to premium if you want to download them.

Slow Chinese – This is a cultural podcast produced by native Chinese speakers designed for Chinese learners. They speak at a slightly slower pace than normal. You can listen to all the podcasts without paying but if you want transcripts and other learning materials associated with the podcasts then you will have to buy them. This podcast is perfect for intermediate learners.

Now let’s look at some completely free options:

Beartalk (狗熊有话说) – This podcast is hosted by a native Chinese speaker who talks and talks while occasionally playing some music tracks. The Chinese sounds very natural and his manner of speaking is lovely to listen to. Beartalk is not suitable for beginners but anyone else should give it a listen and see how you find it. The topics spoken about are generally very educational such as language learning.

The pastimes of youth (青春愛消遣) – An informal podcast that talks about various topics. It is fun and keeps listeners interested. This podcast is very popular in Taiwan and is generally lauded for it’s high production value. This is a good podcast for listening to in your car when you want something entertaining. There are no transcripts or lesson materials as this is not aimed at Chinese learners.

Chinese TV

Once you have a basic grasp on Chinese then watching some TV shows can help supplement your listening and even reading skills as most Chinese TV shows are subtitled. There is a fantastic Chinese video platform called iQiyi (Chinese name: 爱奇艺) that has a lot of movies and tv series available for you to stream. A lot of the content is free but some movies and series require a subscription. 

While watching a show, write down new words, especially ones that you hear a lot. Most TV shows have the same themes recurring throughout and so after you watch an episode or two then it will become much easier to understand. You will learn a lot of new phrases and words through context alone.

Here are some TV shows that you might enjoy:

爸爸去哪儿 – This show has lots of dialogue with children so the speaking is often slower which makes it good for beginners. Watching the interactions between children and their parents is always entertaining.

快乐大本营 – Mainly for advanced learners as this topical show can be quite fast-paced. Funny games and conversation.

舌尖上的中国 – Some people like cooking shows, others don’t. If you are a fan of delicious food then this show is for you. It showcases food from around China and has a clear-sounding narrator.

人民的名义 – A political drama focusing upon an anti-corruption police officer. For advanced learners.

咱们结婚吧 – A love story based around the idea of “leftover women” who are considered too old to get married. The show proves it wrong! It is quite easy to understand because there is a lot of context provided.

暗黑者 – A personal favourite. Starts off difficult to understand but after a few episodes they often repeat the same vocabulary again and again.

Online tuition

In a way, a teacher is the ultimate language learning tool. The benefits of having a teacher who you speak to two or three times cannot be overstated. A good teacher will set you appropriate homework and work through your weakest areas. If motivation is a problem then paying for lessons will encourage you to keep learning because you will not want your money to go to waste. A downside of this is that it can cost a lot. Ten dollars per lesson (and a good teacher often charges more) turns into 120 dollars a month if you have three lessons a week. Although expensive, there is no denying that a good teacher is by far the best way to learn.

When searching for a teacher, you should shop around and try different websites. You want to find a teacher who will use Chinese as much as possible because nothing is more annoying than someone who will instantly jump back to English before you have had time to consider a question.

If you do not want to pay for tuition then you could consider finding a language partner. The concept of this being that you provide them English practice in return for them giving you Chinese practice. This is good because it is free, but it does consume more time. As the person will not be qualified to actually teach Chinese then it is advisable to have a reasonable level of Chinese already or communication might just swap back to English very quickly.

To conclude things

If you have made it this far then thanks! This guide will be constantly updated and improved upon. If you have any feedback then please E-mail [email protected]. Feedback is vital to helping improve this guide for future readers.

Useful websites

www.mychinesereading.com

Our own website that also features a lot of different Chinese texts. Not sure why I would need to plug my own website but if you wandered here off google you might not realise that this website has lots of useful reading articles.

https://www.yoyochinese.com/chinese-learning-tools/Mandarin-Chinese-pronunciation-lesson/pinyin-chart-table

A pinyin table, useful for beginners to practice pronunciation and, of course, to learn to read pinyin.

www.hanzicraft.com

A database of Chinese characters that breaks them down to their individual components. It also have a fantastic page showing all the phonetical components in Chinese.

https://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/Grammar_points_by_level

Chinese grammar simply explained.

www.chinesereadingpractice.com

Although the owner seems to have stopped updating it, there are lots of different Chinese texts that are beautifully translated. 

www.thechairmansbao.com

Provides news written in simplified Chinese, The news is graded into various skill levels which means learners of all levels can find something. Requires a paid subscription but certainly high-quality content.