1 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, they are just very different to those in European or other language systems. Unlike these languages, Chinese is a very analytic language which is both good news and bad news for language learners.
For instance, in Chinese there are no complicated rules with regard to conjugations, agreement, gender, plural nouns or tense. Most words consist of single syllables which are then combined to make compound words. This makes sentence construction fairly straightforward.
However, Chinese has its own set of grammar rules which do not have an equivalent in English, or other European languages. For example, Chinese uses grammatical features such as classifiers, topic-prominence and preference for aspect. As these features are not used in English, they can be quite difficult for learners to grasp.
However, despite the differences, Chinese does use the same word order as English, i.e. subject – verb – object, making it easier to translate word for word. For example, the English phrase "he likes cats" is translated directly as "tā (he) xǐ huan (likes) māo (cats).
2 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.
Pinyin allows students of Mandarin to focus on their pronunciation, while also enabling them to read and write, without needing to learn complex Chinese characters. Although Pinyin uses the Roman alphabet, the pronunciation of its letters is often not intuitive to English speakers, which is why it must be studied carefully before it can be used.
For example, the letter "c" in Pinyin is pronounced like the "ts" in the word "bits", the letter "e" is pronounced like the "er" 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.
Although learning Pinyin pronunciations may seem like a pain, it can be extremely beneficial to your language learning and is still significantly easier than learning to recognize traditional Chinese characters.
3 Practice reading and writing Chinese characters.
The final hurdle in learning Mandarin Chinese is learning to read and write traditional Chinese characters. This can take a very long time (even years) to master, as the only way to learn them is through memorization and continuous practice.
According to the BBC, there are over 50, 000 Chinese characters in existence, however most of these are rarely, if ever, used. An educated Chinese person will probably know about 8000 characters, but only about 2000 of these are necessary in order to read a newspaper.
When writing Chinese characters, you will first need to learn each of the 214 "radicals" – which are essentially the building blocks of every Chinese character. Some radicals can stand on their own as independent characters, while others are used only within more complex characters.
It is also important that you follow the correct stroke order when writing the characters. There are a specific set of rules you will need to follow, such as left to right, top to bottom and horizontal before vertical.
There are many Chinese workbooks you can buy which will guide you in the correct formation of characters. These are usually intended for schoolchildren, but are useful to anyone attempting to learn Chinese characters.
One of the major benefits of learning Chinese characters is that you will also have access to Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and other literatures, which also use many traditional or simplified Chinese characters in their writings, even though the spoken languages are not the same.