Why do things the hard way if you don't need to? Learning a language is not a "one size fits all" endeavor. For this reason, we suggest selecting a study method and focusing your energy towards your intended target level. Sounds obvious, yet it's amazing how often students get lost and fail to meet their own expectations.
No matter where you are on your Chinese journey, you might benefit from choosing one of these four levels and taking direct action on it:
1. Survival (生存): Just enough to get by when visiting China.
Learn your ten most frequently used survival sentences in Pinyin.
Become comfortable counting and using numbers; learn hand gestures.
Find listening opportunities and get used to the sound of spoken Chinese.
Key tools: a basic textbook and mp3 files.
2. Solid: speak well, but don't sweat the characters.
Build vocabulary, capture volumes of usable words; structure comes later.
Mimic the sound of excellent speakers to improve your pronunciation.
Memorize several Chinese jokes so you can share them with friends.
Key tools: language tutor (online or in person), Chinese movies, flash card utilities.
3. Proficient (精通): speak and read with confidence.
Learn characters and Pinyin together; strive for steady improvement.
Cover all aspects: vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar and more.
Read everything you can find, online and offline.
Write a Chinese diary or blog, connect and comment on social media.
Key tools: electronic dictionaries, Chinese websites, and more flash cards!
4. Mastery: translate, learn dialects, pimp out your linguals.
Broaden your horizons to literature and poetry.
Simultaneously translate movies, news, tv, radio, anything that talks.
Discuss and debate with friends using only Chinese.
Spend several hours a day for two solid years pushing for brilliance.
Key tools: all kinds of Chinese media.
You may start off pursuing "solid" Mandarin and then shift to "proficient" as you progress. No problem – best to remain flexible and open to new ways to accelerate your learning.
Most of all, find language material that you enjoy and conversation topics with relevance to your work and personal life. There's nothing worse than studying stuff you know you're never going to use! Whatever you find yourself itching to chat about in Chinese right now, start there and observe where it leads you.