It’s always difficult to know what study aids you really need when learning a new language. Can you just go online, find some sites and start scribbling down a few words? Maybe find some videos on YouTube named ‘Learn Basic Chinese in 5 minutes!’ or buy a glossy copy of ‘Chinese for Dummies’ in your local book emporium. All of these things are great, but sometimes it’s easy to get lost or fall off the wagon when you aren’t using the right tools!
In no particular order, here’s a list of some of the essential tools we feel you need to help you study Chinese (or other language) like a master!
1. A Dictionary (字典)
You’re not gonna get far without one of these. Whether it’s online, a mobile app or one of those ones made of paper, a dictionary from a good reliable source is essential for your Chinese studies! There are plenty of free options out there too, so there’s really no excuse. A good dictionary should include radical breakdown and stroke order, as well a the good old translation of the word.
2. Educational MP3s
Audio files are a great way to learn a language on the go, especially when most of us are trying to study whilst also balancing family life and a career. If you want to learn Chinese, now is not the time to feel embarrassed about repeating sentences on the bus, metro or walking down the street! There are some brill resources, but our favourite and probably most well known is ChinesePod. You can also listen to your audio files whilst you sleep, which is apparently a great way to improve pronunciation and fluency!
3. Hanzi Writing Books
As you probably know, Chinese characters have made up of stroke patterns. These can be quite difficult to master especially if you’re a beginner, which is why students in China use these funky looking writing books which have guidelines (known as 田字格 – tián zì gé) to help you write the character correctly. This isn’t cheating by the way, it’s just to make sure your characters don’t look like a 4 year old wrote them.
4. Water pad and brush
Yes, you can buy notebooks and pens and get practicing your stroke patterns, but it’s way more fun to get a water pad and make some non-messy mess with water. Also, its a nice reminder of those paint-with-water books you may have had as a kid.
5. Study Books
I think this is one of the most important tools for learning Chinese. Not only does it give you a direction in which to study, but also a sense of accomplishment once you finish a unit. A book can’t really replace a teacher, and I have done both at some time or another, but it can get you on the right learning path. You can check out a list of books in our book shop recommended by students of Chinese.
6. A Chinese teacher/friend
So as I mentioned above, having a Chinese ‘teacher’ really is important when trying to study a language. Although many people will do well without one, you will no doubt have many questions about the language, such as: ‘When do I use 会， 可以 and 能?’ ‘How do I say ‘Please stop staring at me’?’ And ‘Why did that taxi driver tell me he was from Funan…?’ All of these things can probably only be answered by someone who is either Chinese or has a good (really good) understanding of the Chinese language and culture. Of course, the other option is to find yourself a Chinese gal/guy and learn from them.
7. Chinese Music, TV Shows and Movies
One of the best and more interesting ways to study Chinese is by using free resources such as Chinese movies, tv shows and music. You can access all of these things on Youku, Viki (also hosts a lot of Korean tv shows) and Kugou (you can download a desktop player to stream music). You can also find many tv shows and music videos on YouTube. Using media to learn with is not just good for your listening skills, but also for reading. Even the shows on the Chinese sites like Youku often have Chinese subtitles on the video.
8. Chinese Character Wall Chart
This is a bit of a novelty, but can make learning Characters more fun and enjoyable. You can even just appreciate this as a piece of wall art.
9. Voice Recorder
This one might seem a bit strange, but tones and pronunciation can be a difficult part of learning Chinese and recording your voice whilst speaking Chinese might help correct those problems. Just use your phone to record yourself practicing and play it back to hear what you think. Yes, I know, it’s awful listening to yourself, but it’s a great way to improve your spoken Chinese!
10. A quiet place to study
This might not be a tool per se but finding a place where you can focus and study without distractions is definitely worthwhile, especially if you’re a bit of a procrastinator.
11. Find a Chinese Hobby or Interest
One of the ways in which you can keep yourself motivated is to find something about Chinese culture that interests you – and go with it! You could learn to play Chinese Chess, Mahjong or even learn about different Chinese tea.
12. Setting goals and sticking to them!
Goals can really help you feel motivated when learning Chinese gets you down or you feel like your studies have come to a stand still. Many people aim towards an HSK exam, but this isn’t for everyone. Setting personal goals means you’re probably more likely to succeed than trying to follow someone else’s schedule. I have a notepad where I write down 4 new words a day. During the day I look at the words and try and make sentences with them. In the evening I test myself and highlight the ones I know. If learning 4 words, or even just 1 new character is your goal, then go for it and succeed!