What You Need to Know Before Learning Chinese

I started learning mandarin Chinese a few months ago, and I figured I should share some information that would have really helped me when I was just beginning.

First off, if you plan on learning how to write, you may seem overwhelmed at first. But no matter how “crazy” the character is, as Nike would say “Just do it”. Just forget about how complex it looks and take it slow and you will get it. I actually started off sketching each character because I wasn’t used to writing those different lines. Soon you will get to the point where you can write each one, with little trouble. After some time you will also notice that many characters are made up of different combinations of different strokes. Then it’s just simply a matter of “putting this stroke with this one”.

Chinese consists of only one syllable words, such as: Cha, Chang, Kan, Jiao. Each one has its own meaning, but then when you combine two or more words together you get a new word. For example, the word “Shi” means City and “Chang” means Open Space; when you put them together you get “Shi Chang” which means Market or Open City.

Chinese only has about 400 one syllable words, but each one of those words has 4 different tones. Tones are how you fluctuate your voice when you say the word. For this overview we will use the word “ma”, notice how the meaning changes with each tone. The first tone is constant, as in you don’t change your voice at all. An example of the first tone is ma1 (ignore the numbers for right now) which means “mother”. The second tone goes from low to high, such as ma2 which means “hemp”. The second tone kind of sounds like a relief, as if you were carrying something heavy and then set it down as you say the word. The third tone starts high, goes down low and then raises at the end of the word. Think of it as trying to make an arc with your voice as you say the word. Ma3 is an example that means “horse”. The fourth tone is opposite of the second, the word starts high then ends low; ma4 means “scold”. As you can see if you don’t learn tones, you could might as well be speaking gibberish!

Lastly, you will often see the pronunciation of the character in English, this is referred to as Pinyin. The English pronunciation is usually followed by an arrow or a number, which indicates the tone that should be used. In the above paragraph I used pinyin to write the pronunciations of the word “ma”. Some words aren’t as pretty as “ma”, many have Qs, Xs, and Zs. These all have different sounds than in English. The Q is pronounced like a J, and the X and Z are S and Ch respectively.

Now your done with that there is so many resources out there for people wanting to learn Chinese. There are sites similar to frenchlanguagedojo.com, but instead of French it’s Chinese, and you can learn some secrets to easy learning and memorization. I would recommend learning five to ten characters a day and then learn how to speak up to 20 words. Since you only need about 2000-3000 words to read a Chinese newspaper, five characters a day will get you moving at a good pace.