Learning a new language has a host of benefits for people of all ages. Besides improving your overall intelligence, learning a new language helps improve your multitasking skills, can decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, increases your memory and heightens your decision-making skills, and will make you better at English, too! Finding out how to learn Chinese does not have to be overwhelmingly difficult, expensive, or stressful, but it will be life-changing!
If all of those reasons weren’t enough to convince you, then learning a second language will because it will open a whole new world of culture and people to you. With another fluent language under your belt, traveling is easier- and your friends and family will be amazed! Taking the initiative and discovering how to learn Chinese is the first step to your new language fluency.
What Is Chinese?
Chinese is the oldest written language in the world and is spoken by nearly one-sixth of the world’s population. The oldest recorded use of the Chinese written language dates back to 1776 BC.
Development of the Chinese Language
Old Chinese is the earliest form of Chinese. The pronunciations of many modern Chinese characters can trace their roots back to Old Chinese. Poetry, histories, and inscriptions have all been found written in Old Chinese. Middle Chinese was used between the 6th century AD and the 10th century AD. In the 20th century, Mandarin Chinese became the most widely spoken dialect of Chinese, spoken by most inhabitants of China and Taiwan.
Where is Chinese Spoken?
Chinese is the official language of China, Singapore, and Taiwan. There are ten different Chinese dialects (Mandarin, Jin, Wu, Gan, Xiang, Min, Hakka, Yue, Ping, and Huizhou), and almost 1.2 billion people speak Chinese. In the United States, over 2.9 million people speak Chinese in their homes.
Why Learn Chinese?
Learning new languages, no matter how young or old you are, has been scientifically proven to change the way our brain works - in a good way! Learning languages not only improve skills for you personally, like multitasking, memory, and decision-making, it makes you more able to understand and appreciate people of other cultures and different ways of life. Learning another language literally changes the way you think.
Everyone has their own reasons for choosing to learn a new language - perhaps you’re planning a trip soon and want to have a better understanding of the native language, or maybe you have made a new friend whose first language isn’t English, and you want to deepen your friendship by learning their native language. Whatever the reason, the vast number of resources focusing on how to learn Chinese and the comparative ease of learning Chinese for an English speaker make it the perfect additional language!
What Makes Chinese How to Learn Chinese from Other Languages?
Unlike English, Chinese is a tonal language. This means that words can change meaning based on the tone of your voice when you speak. There are four tones in Chinese, and while the use of tones in language may be a shift, if you can sing (even poorly) you too can discover how to learn Chinese successfully.
Chinese has four main tones and one neutral tone:
When there are two marked tones in a row, the word defaults to the second tone.
What Makes Chinese Easier to Learn for English Speakers?
Although the Chinese system of characters differs completely from the English alphabet, Chinese grammar is strikingly similar to English grammar. For example, each Chinese sentence contains a subject, a predicate, and an object- similar to English with a subject and a predicate. Chinese also does not have singular/plural forms or differently gendered words.
How to Learn Chinese
Chinese characters are often one of the most intimidating parts in the process of how to learn Chinese. However, just like English speakers learn the letters of the alphabet, so too can Chinese learners learn the different parts of Chinese characters step-by-step. While each character has its own specific meaning, additions to that base character change the meaning, sometimes drastically.
Chinese characters are not the same as English letters- each Chinese character in one syllable. Fluent and educated Chinese speakers generally know around 4,000 separate characters. Luckily for Chinese language learners, there is a system called pinyin that transcribes Chinese characters into English letters. This is a great way to learn character meanings. Pinyin also includes lines above and around the words that indicate the tone in which the word should be said to have different meanings.
How to Learn Chinese: Step 1
Begin your Chinese learning journey by learning pinyin pronunciations. Even though they are written in English letters, some Chinese pronunciations are slightly different, so practice the four tones. Use YouTube videos or a subscription service (some are paid, some are free) to listen to and repeat tones.
How to Learn Chinese: Step 2
Find and follow a guide to beginning basic words. These words will probably include greetings, easy conversational questions and responses, and any purpose-specific topics you want to be able to use soon. Continue using pinyin during this step to practice correct pronunciation.
How to Learn Chinese: Step 3
Learn Chinese characters! While there are more than 3,000 of them, with patience and practice you’ll pick them up in no time. Try to focus on topics that interest you and set yourself a daily or weekly goal for your character memorization. It also helps if you are learning or practicing with someone else- not only can you help each other learn, working together will give both of your motivation and inspiration when things get tough.
As you continue learning Chinese and increasing your fluency, consider ways to practice. Is there a Chinese club at your school or in your community? Do you have friends or colleagues who are native Chinese speakers? Can you travel to a Chinese-speaking country? Practice is key to retaining your new language!
How Long Will it Take to Learn Chinese?
Some websites claim that you can be a conversational Chinese speaker in as little as 3 months! The program, the amount of time you can dedicate to Chinese, and your natural language-learning ability will all factor into how quickly you will be able to learn Chinese. If you need or want to know how to speak fluent Chinese in a short amount of time, then you should dedicate yourself to learning and consider paying for a tutor or subscription to a highly rated language program.
After about six months of Chinese language study and practice, you should have a good grasp of conversational Chinese and be able to travel in a Chinese-speaking location without too much trouble.
There are so many ways to start your how to learn Chinese process that choosing one method might be the hardest part of the whole thing! You can still hire a tutor and work one-on-one with a physical teacher, but there are also a number of free and paid smartphone apps that let you learn, listen, take quizzes, and get results anywhere and at any time.
There are also a wide variety of language learning subscription services that will keep you on track with your lessons if you don’t want to fend for yourself and keep yourself motivated independently. The most important part is to know what teaching and learning style works for you and to commit to finding an option that fit your needs.
Chinese is a beautiful and intriguing language, but it does not have to be difficult to learn! It takes time to gain fluency when learning any new language, but because of the parallels in grammatical structure and pinyin language translation, Chinese is one of the easiest languages for native English speakers to learn, practice, and eventually master
With more than 1.2 billion Chinese speakers around the world, the chances are that you will encounter someone whose native tongue is Chinese at some point in your life - that is if you haven't already! Whether you want to establish a new friendship, create a business connection, or pursue a romance with someone who is a native Chinese speaker, or simply learn more about the history and culture of China, fluency in Chinese will benefit you.
Discovering how you can learn Chinese has never been so easy! All you have to do is decide how you learn best and then invest your time and attention to your chosen Chinese-learning process, whether it’s online, in a classroom, or with a friend. We hope this article has helped you better understand how to learn Chinese in a way that's best for you. A new language and a lifetime of learning, laughter, and conversation is within your reach!