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Chinese Mandarin Language Learning Tips from David Liu

Student Learning Tips

Chinese Mandarin Language Learning Tips from David Liu

Student Learning Tips

learn and practise mandarin

After a year of learning Chinese with Chinese for Professionals in Sydney, David shares his top Chinese Mandarin language learning tips:

1. Keep in mind that learning Mandarin is going to be a very slow process. To give you an idea, I started Mid 2012 with New Practical Chinese Reader Book 2. I knew only pinyin, stroke order, some basic grammar and only had a small vocabulary (I’m Australian born – Cantonese background, but NCPR2 at the time was already difficult enough for me). Unfortunately I never got a chance to do an exchange (something I wish I did). I haven’t been the most consistent though, – started and stopped a few times. I’ve certainly come a long way, but I still feel like the more I learn the less I know.

2. Study during the first couple of hours in the morning. This is when your concentration levels are the highest. Study language the same way as you would a normal university subject – note taking, mind maps, summary reviews, etc. the way it works best for you (some people are better visual learners, others are audible learners)

3. Think of revision the same way as physical exercise. You need to put your mind into it, concentrate and focus on it. Avoid any temptation to multi-task or distract yourself.

4. If you are beginner level, do not neglect practicing characters. This will teach you stroke order, radicals and a feel for the form of Chinese characters. You’ll eventually need to recognise characters, and this will improve your reading as well.

5. See if you can get a copy of a few primary school textbooks in China (science, geography, history, mandarin etc.). You’ll find that even these are more challenging than the language textbooks.

6. Once you get to intermediate / advanced levels you’ll need to train yourself to be able to pick out words and sentences without subtitles. I will sometimes put on some audio just as I’m about to head to bed set for a timer of an hour and hopefully I’ll fall asleep by then.

7. Vocab is meant to be learnt in groups and chunks. E.g. pair a verb with an object when memorising. Also learn your 主谓宾定状补 grammar elements back to front. Some Chinese sentences can get very long, and an adjectival clause or adverbial phrase can extend from the beginning to the end of the line, very complex sentences can span for several lines and won’t stop. When reading, keep in the back of your head what the sentence structure is, what the subject of discussion is, what is the verb and what object is it targeting/operating on. To an english reader, its easy to lose track of a sentence pattern 只有…才…,虽然…但是 .. When they run across multiple lines with multiple commas as between.

8. Consider taking private lessons. They are expensive (it is a bit of a luxury), but are well worth it – if you work a corporate job today, you definitely can pay, and will speed up progression. I felt I hit a plateau about 3 years into studying and would have taken them earlier if I could turn back time.

9. I set up a revision calendar. After each lesson, I will revise the same lesson the next three days, then twice a week for 3 weeks, then twice a month for 3 months. By the time you reach the monthly revisions, you may already find that you’ve forgotten a lot of things. This is a good way to keep it in your memory.

10. Don’t underestimate the amount of work to do to get good. At the same time you don’t ever want to burn out or lose interest; don’t kill yourself over studying – because then you’ve lost as well. Consistent and persistent study is what shows results. Be sure to keep yourself interested, go to a good Chinese restaurant or put on a good drama occasionally.

11. Use apps to help with Chinese Mandarin language learning.

  • Chinese to English Dictionary: Pleco / Hanping Pro (Android)
  • Chinese Dictionary: 商务国际现代汉语词典
  • Podcasts: Ximalaya FM, 得到
  • Readings (Advanced):
    • The Australian https://cn.theaustralian.com.au
    • New York Times https://cn.nytimes.com
    • ABC https://www.abc.net.au/news/chinese/
    • Voice of America https://www.voachinese.com
    • BBC https://www.bbc.com/zhongwen/simp

David Liu has been learning Chinese with Shelley since 2019.

Shelley is an exceptional teacher who takes great pride in teaching Mandarin and genuinely cares about the progress of her students. She teaches for all different levels and across a wide spectrum of topics. In the group classes, she involves everyone and makes every effort to bring out the best in students. I started in a group class but have been taking private lessons with Shelley for over a year now and can say my Mandarin has significantly improved! Definitely recommended for all learners!

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