I am talking about Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) here. After almost two years of studying I can survive in basic situations in everyday life. I can maintain a relationship using only Chinese. But still I am in the beginning of my journey which will never end. My goal is to finish a bachelor degree in Chinese language in four years and be fluent at the time I graduate.
These are the things that have benefited me during my language learning:
1. Speak, speak, speak. Your can master the written Chinese and still be unable to have a conversation. From the very beginning it is important to speak Chinese as often you can. Don’t worry about making mistakes because everyone makes them.
First one and a half years I studied Chinese in Finland. I was afraid to open my mouth outside the classroom even I had the chance to speak Chinese. I was worried I would sound stupid. But only stupid thing was to slow down my learning with my shyness. The problem got solved when I came to China and I had no other option than to speak it.
2. Use it every day. It can mean going to classes, speaking in Chinese with a friend, chatting in QQ, watching movies or just reading blogs. Just use Chinese daily because after a break it is difficult to start again.
I haven’t been studying for weeks now. It all started when I got in to the hospital and then continued when I came to Finland. But I have done something. Every day I speak Chinese over QQ or send a text message. It is not much, but it keeps me going during the lazy season.
3. Have a teacher. Learning by yourself is totally ok, but most of us need someone to kick our butt. It can be a proper teacher on your Chinese course or a Chinese student who is willing to be your tutor.
Right now I’m using Chinese but not learning anything new. It will change soon because I know that I have to do my exams after I go back to Guangzhou. I have my teachers who will notice and punish me if I don’t improve. They are also there for me to answer my questions and leading me on my journey.
4. Write by hand. If you want to master Chinese it includes being able to write the characters by hand. And you can do that by practicing with pen and paper (or with electronic tablet and pen). Keep a journal where you shortly write about your day in Chinese. When your skills improve your stories will also become more complex.
I have noticed that there are many words I can write with my mobile or computer. But I can’t remember how to write them by hand. So it is back to basics. I need to write the character many times in order to remember it. And then write sentences to learn how to use it. It can be either depressing or supporting to see that also native Chinese speakers once in a while forget how to write a character.
5. Keep it fun. Even if you are highly motivated and totally in love with Chinese it can feel boring sometimes. (If not, you’re a lucky guy!) That is why it is important to study in different and creative ways. For example you can: watch a movie, read comics, play Alias, listen to music, chat, go to local Chinese restaurant, try QQ or Chinese version of Facebook, learn to sing a song or go shopping. Just remember to do all this in Chinese.
I am in the process of making Chinese my major instead my hobby. Right now I am still an exchange student but only studying Chinese language. Next year I will apply to a BA program. This also means that it is not always fun to learn it. Sometimes I just don’t want to open the books. Surely many times I have to force my self to study because that’s what I have to and want to do. But sometimes I can be little bit lazy and watch a Chinese movie instead.
Also remember to keep your eyes towards the goal. What you want to achieve with Chinese?