Mandarin Chinese is quite a complex language to learn, especially for English speakers. However, with commitment and daily practice, you may be able to master it by focusing on it just five minutes a day. Keep reading for a basic overview of the most important things you need to know about learning Mandarin Chinese.
1. Learn how to use pinyin.
Pinyin is a system used for writing Mandarin Chinese using the Roman alphabet. Hanyu pinyin is the most common form of such Romanization and is used in many textbooks and teaching materials without the student needing to learn complex Chinese characters. There are some different letter pronunciations, however, between English and Chinese. For example, the letter "c" in pinyin is pronounced like the "ts" in the word "bits." The letter "e" is pronounced like the "e" in the word "hers," and the letter "q" is pronounced like the "ch" in the word "cheap". Due to these differences, it is essential that you learn the correct pinyin pronunciations before using it as a guide.
2. Practice using the four Mandarin tones.
Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, which means that different tones can change the meaning of a word, even if the pronunciation and spelling are otherwise the same. It is essential to learn the different tones if you wish to speak Mandarin Chinese correctly. Mandarin Chinese has four main tones, as follows:
The first tone is a high, flat tone, like a sustained high musical note.
The second tone is a rising tone, as in the English question, "What?".
The third tone is a dipping tone, like English phrase "not found."
The fourth tone is a lowering tone, like the English emphatic" No!"
3. Study basic grammar.
There is a common misconception that grammar does not exist in the Chinese language, but this is not true. Chinese grammar rules do exist, but they are just very different from those in European or other language systems. Unlike these languages, Chinese is a very analytical language which is both good news and bad news for language learners.
However, despite the differences, Chinese uses the same word order for simple sentences as English, i.e. subject - verb - object. For example, the English phrase "he likes cats" is translated directly as "tā (he) xǐ huan (likes) māo (cats).
4. Memorize simple vocabulary.
Some good vocabulary lists to start with include the following: time of day (morning: zǎo shàng, afternoon: xià wǔ, evening: wǎn shàng); body parts (head: tóu, feet: jiǎo, hands: shǒu); food (beef: niú ròu, chicken: jī, egg: jī dàn, noodles: miàn tiáo); along with colors, days, months, transportation words, weather, etc.
Although having a wide vocabulary is good, remember that in Mandarin, accuracy is more important. It's no good learning a word if you can't pronounce it properly using the correct tone, as different pronunciations could have entirely different meanings.
So, five minutes a day reviewing words and focusing on using the right tone is key to future Mandarin mastery. Good luck!