It will only take 14 minutes to read this post, but 15 minutes every day to reap the benefits!
We understand how difficult it can sometimes be to start studying. Whether you’re new to learning Chinese, or you’ve taken a break from it, it can be challenging to jump back in and start again.
You’ve got your dictionary, notebook and mp3s, but you just need that little push in the right direction. We’ve recently created a 30 Day Chinese Learning Guide, that we believe will give you the kickstart you need to either start or continue learning Chinese on a regular basis. By following the guide you can easily master Chinese for beginners. You might also find that you fall into a natural routine of study that no longer feels like a hassle. After all, enjoying learning should be a pleasure, not a chore!
If you’re interested in learning Chinese and want a step in the right direction, read on!
First of all, if you haven’t already, you should probably go ahead and download the Learning Guide below:
Hopefully, one of the first things you’ll notice is that you definitely do not need to study for hours and hours at a time. Let’s be honest, it’s both boring and unproductive. We think that short bursts of studying are best (and way more convenient). 15 minutes a day is a nice amount of time to get going. You can do this on your commute to work or even on your lunch break.
One thing I think can really help your study, is the correct mindset. For me personally, to be in the right ‘mood’ for study, the environment is pretty important. I study both at work and at home.
At the Written Chinese office, I have several things around me to make my daily homework activity worthwhile. One of my favourite ‘tools’ that I have in the office, is my bigrams poster. Although I haven’t been very vigilant about crossing off the bigrams I know, I still enjoying taking a few minutes out just to look at it. If you have the Chinese character poster, it can be used to help you complete the Homework of the Day in the Written Chinese Dictionary or online Study Space. To the left of me, I keep a Chinese writing book (plus some spares) and some textbooks to get me in the mood. Of course, whenever I have a Chinese character query I just open the dictionary on my phone, which is pretty much stuck to my hand.
At home, my environment is a bit more relaxed. I’ve got my diffuser to the right pumping out some lavender oil to keep me relaxed, books on hand when I need them and a water pad for writing characters. It’s way more fun than writing over and over with a pen (although that is kind of important) and once you’ve completed your writing task you can draw something rude as a pat on the back (and no one will ever know, hehe!)
Let’s start by looking at the different tasks outlined for each week:
Week 1 – Writing
As stated in the week 1 introduction of the guide, learning the stroke order of a character is imperative and you should start this immediately. I should also mention that there are rules to writing a character, but if you’re new to learning to write Chinese characters, you definitely need to use the stroke animations. You can learn about the order of strokes and the name of those strokes in this article Chinese Character Stroke Rules.
If you’re going to learn Chinese, you might as well do it right! These 7 steps will guide you through the different elements you should focus on in order to learn a character thoroughly. We recommend beginning with the HSK 1 flashcard set because it’s free and studying towards an HSK exam can’t be a bad thing! If you want to learn more about the HSK exam, you can read about it here. There are other flashcard sets you can start with, such as Most Common Chinese Flashcards, that you can purchase inside the Written Dictionary app or on the Online Dashboard (flashcards sync across all your devices).
Radicals are the pieces of a character that suggest meaning and pronunciation. One of the methods for remembering a character is to create a mnemonic or story about the character as shown in the Learning Guide. If you come up with a great way to remember a character then you can post it on the character detail page. You can see the detail page for 爱 here.
Steps 3 – 4
Balance is a really important element of any Chinese character. A great way to keep your characters balanced is by using paper with a grid. You can probably find a template online or even make your own. Personally, I would use the proper Chinese character writing books with the grid and space for pinyin that we mention in the guide. You can get bundles of writing books here.
Although no one really enjoys rote memorization, writing the character several times will begin to help cement the stroke order and the meaning for you. Also, it’s unlikely that if you’re starting out, you write the Chinese character correctly the first time. Even seasoned learners make mistakes. Take your time as it’s easy to get muddled up with similar looking characters.
Week 2 – Speaking
In order to master the 5 tones of Mandarin, you need to speak out loud. You may have heard people say that learning tones are not essential because we’re always saved by context. Basically, it’s unlikely a Chinese person would think you were talking about a horse instead of your mother if you use mǎ instead of mā. However, tones are part of the Chinese language, and if you take learning Mandarin seriously, then you’ll take the time to learn them properly.
Steps 1 – 4
The idea of mirroring is pretty important to learning a language if you want to become fluent. I remember being at school and scoffing at all my friends who learned French (I took German) and, in my opinion, pranced around speaking with ridiculous accents. When I think about it now, they probably had it right. Speaking with the French accent was part of speaking French correctly, just as using tones or learning the correct way to pronounce pinyin is to Chinese.
One way that you can literally mirror the Chinese language is to study how Chinese people speak and what shapes they make with their mouths to create a certain sound. Find some videos online and just watch their mouths. You can pause the video and repeat the action yourself.
Steps 5 – 6
For many people, recording and having to listen back to their own voice is pretty horrific (having to listen to the first few TWCC podcasts we recorded was my worst nightmare), but it’s a surefire way to improve your spoken Chinese and make sure you’re on the right track. Also, there’s not much point in feeling embarrassed about it, after all, you’re learning a language you will eventually speak, right?
Week3 – Listening
Going over characters you learned last week or even the week before is key to learning characters. If you don’t practice, it’s really easy to forget. Often I’ll remember the radical because it suggests the meaning of the character, but forget the other bits. That’s why creating a mnemonic really helps to remind you how to write a character.
The Study function in the Written Chinese Dictionary app is a great way to review characters you’ve learned. If you’re only just starting out, make sure you switch the options to ‘Sequence’ instead of ‘Shuffle’. Once you’ve learned half the set you could set it back to ‘Shuffle’ and give yourself a challenge!
Another way you can review a character is to use the Chinese handwriting keyboard on your mobile device or the handwriting tool on the Online Dictionary. Write the character you want to test and if it’s correct (or almost correct), the character will appear on the screen. Learn more about handwriting on your mobile device here.
Now here’s the challenging part – Steps 4-7
Using the voice-to-text tool on your mobile device is a pretty genius way to practise your spoken Chinese. It can be quite challenging at first, but once you get used to speaking using the correct tones it will be a piece of cake!
Week 4 – Setting a Goal
Setting a goal or goals is something most people need to do in order to achieve a certain level of study. Whilst I’ve been studying Chinese, there have been periods of time when I too my studying seriously, and others when I’ve been so lazy and uninterested I cancelled my Chinese classes (pretty bad, huh?). When I finally sat down and set goals, it was much easier for me to keep going. Actually, it wasn’t just the goal, it was also the routine I got into and the bite-sized chunks of study I would undertake. I could have the best intentions in the world to sit for 1 hour every day to study Chinese and it would last all of 2 days.
My big goal is to achieve the next level of HSK, but what I focus on more are my mini weekly objectives in order to achieve the larger HSK goal. However without the goal, I’d be aimlessly learning here and there (I know, I’ve done it before).
Since creating the 30 Day Learning Guide, we have released a new version of the Written Chinese Dictionary that has a built in study goal option! If you have an exam in June, set your study goal to complete in May and each day, the dictionary will serve you with a specific amount of flashcards in order for you to achieve your goal! You can select any flashcard set in the dictionary to study, including your own custom sets.
Step 1 – 2
You can track your study progress in the dictionary, so if you miss a few days on studying, your daily goal will increase. You recieve coins for studying and posting homework, that you can spend on other flashcard sets! You can select any flashcard set in the dictionary to study, including your own custom sets.
If you visit the Online Dictionary and search for a character, you’ll see that some character pages (we call them ‘details pages’) have comments, pictures or sentences that users have posted. This space is for every learner of Chinese to share their ideas or questions with us. Chamcen, our superduper Chinese Written Chinese chick checks pages and leaves comments every day! I share my daily homework activity on the Character of the day page and you can do it too.
Take a look at one of the character pages and leave us a comment!
To make the most out of the Study feature, you can shuffle the cards to make it more difficult, remove the pinyin from the flashcards or view the English first and have to guess the Chinese (and vice versa).
Step 5 – 7
Don’t forget to keep practising those characters!
Calendar and Measuring
Measuring your results is a great way to know whether you’re on the way to achieving your goal. Practising a handful of characters each week is great, but wouldn’t it be even better to know if you’re on the right track or not? Keep track of your results over the 30 days (and beyond), and mark the characters you have problems remembering and focus on those instead of moving on from them. You can use the Calendar provided in the PDF to keep track of your goals and daily achievements.
The 30 Day Chinese Learning Guide Chinese Learning Guide is perfect for those who want to master Chinese for beginners, but we hope that you find the tips and weekly steps continue to help your studies well after the 30 days are over.
After the 30 days are up, feel free to give us some feedback in the comments section below. Tell us if it’s improved your Chinese (or not!), if we should add more information, or if you want another!