It's the ultimate Chinese learning dilemma: How do I remember everything? There are tones, grammar points, vocabulary, idioms and hundreds—nay, thousands—of characters.How can everything learned be retained?
Make Chinese stick by using the best method: Lifestyle language learning.
There's no need to struggle through rote memorization of Chinese characters. There's no need to learn textbook dialogues that are too fake to use in real life. Learn Chinese in a smart way, by using effective tools combined with authentic, real-life content.
When using lifestyle learning method, you can enjoy the challenge of language learning, savor the achievement and reap the benefits of knowing Chinese.
Live Your Life and Learn Chinese
To learn Chinese better, make language learning part of your lifestyle. By doing so, you target real-life, natural Chinese language.
But where do you start?
Start by learning the radicals, the building blocks of every Chinese word and character. Knowing radicals will make the characters make more sense, so you learn them and remember them better.
Next, know the four tones and the pinyin system. By knowing these, you'll be able to pronounce any Chinese word once you see the romanization.
Then, surround yourself with Chinese as much as possible, such as when you go online, when you chat or text with friends or when you create small reminders for yourself.
Finally, have a great attitude towards Chinese learning. Enjoy it, make it relevant to your life, be up for making mistakes and commit for the long haul.
4 Essentials of the Lifestyle Method of Learning Chinese
1. See Characters as Pictures That Tell Stories
See it—remember it. Easy. Most people are visual learners, according to the Social Science Research Network. So being able to see information will make it easier for you to learn it and retain it long-term. Luckily, Chinese can be easily interpreted visually.
Chinese characters are made up of repeating elements, called radicals. Basic radicals include: 火, 木, 日, 人, 口, 门, 山, 月. From the building blocks of radicals, Chinese characters are built.
Every radical is a visual representation of something. Look at 木 (mù), which means tree. The four simple strokes look like a tree, with a central trunk and two cascading branches.
A bunch of 木 is a forest. Therefore 森林 (sēn lín) means forest.
Many more Chinese characters can be learned and remembered in this pictorial way.
Look at 日(rì) which means sun. Now look at 早 (zǎo) which means morning. See how 早 is like 日 rising over the horizon?
Or, check out 山 (shān) which means mountain. See how 山 resembles the peaks of a mountain. Now take a look at 出 (chū), which means exit. 出 is made of two 山 stacked together. In ancient China, the emperor sent exiles off beyond the mountains. So now, 出 means to go out, or to exit.
In our daily lives, visually attractive and visually meaningful images stand out. Seeing and remembering is already a natural part of our lifestyle. It’s only one small step to bring this lifestyle habit into your Chinese learning.
Begin by choosing to learn text that’s most useful or meaningful to you.
It's fun to start by learning your own name in Chinese. Create a cool Chinese name for yourself. Consider the radical components and the "story" that your name tells.
If you read Chinese articles, make it a goal to study one or two articles a week. Pull out the new vocabulary, and break the words down into their components, in order to learn each character as a "story."
2. Speak Any Word by Knowing 4 Tones and Pinyin
Do you know the four tones of Chinese pronunciation?
For every sound in Chinese, there are four variations. Take the sound "ma" for example:
1st Tone: 妈 (mā) mother
Keep your voice high and level.
2nd Tone: 麻 (má) hemp
The voice rises slightly, similar to a question tone.
3rd Tone: 马 (mǎ) horse
The voice falls and then rises again. This tone is also known as the “dipping” tone.
4th Tone: 骂 (mà)
The tone starts high but drops quickly, almost like an angry interjection ("Hey!").
In some cases, there's also a fifth, neutral tone. Words with a neutral tone are spoken quickly and softly, with no regard to tone.
The four tones distinguish Chinese words from one another. They help us to pronounce Chinese the right way.
Tones are also a key part of the pinyin system, the system where Chinese pronunciations are romanized. Pinyin or romanization is extremely helpful for Chinese learners who already know an alphabet-based language, like English.
To master the right tone for any word, the best way is to hear the word pronounced.
Every week, make it a goal to master 3 new Chinese phrases that are most useful to you. It can be phrases for workplace dialogue or casual conversation.
Focus on practicing the tones in those phrases, aiming for native-sounding accent.
Practice these phrases throughout your day, for example, while driving, taking a shower or doing the dishes.
Use an online dictionary to check for accuracy.
3. Engage Chinese All the Time
Be with Chinese language all the time. Love it, live it. Involve more Chinese in your existing lifestyle by choosing Chinese entertainment, such as Chinese radio, TV dramas and Internet sites. Tudo.com and Sohu.com both have a great variety of entertaining video clips, drama episodes and gossipy tidbits.
Socialize, text and chat with Chinese speakers. One advantage of using Chinese in e-communication, such as emailing or online chatting, is that you can type Chinese in pinyin, using input method editor (IME) downloaded to Windows or Mac.
Once you're typing or writing in Chinese, use Chinese in your daily routine. Write short notes or a to-do list in Chinese.
Engage real-life Chinese content, such as Chinese commercials and music videos.
Choose one new Chinese entertainment website to be on your regular go-to list for entertainment. (In addition to Tudo and Sohu, other popular choices include Youku.com and PPTV.com.) Get hooked on a good Chinese drama of your choice.
If you know any Chinese speakers or fellow Chinese learners, use Chinese when you communicate, when you comment on their Facebook status or when you send them emails.
4. Think Like a Super Language Learner
To master Chinese, a great attitude is required.
Language learning is a journey: It's not a quick one, but it can be highly rewarding. Enjoy the process by making it fun, meaningful and relevant.
Set goals in order to keep motivated and on track. How about "learn 10 new vocabulary a week," or "watch one Chinese movie a month"? Set up opportunities to apply Chinese in your daily life, in work and in social settings. Why not go to a cafe in Chinatown and order in Chinese?
Embrace mistakes as a chance to improve. As basketball legend Michael Jordan famously said, "I can accept failure…I can't accept not trying." So try, try and try again! Reflect on your mistakes and figure out how to improve. Be proactive. Get constructive feedback from a teacher or a native Chinese speaker, or check your own grammar and pronunciation using online tools.
Actively seek a conversation partner or a context in which you can regularly speak Chinese. Consider joining a language club, frequenting Chinatown, or joining cultural or hobby clubs where you can meet Chinese speakers.
Success feeds on past successes. Start with small, achievable goals that will give you a sense of accomplishment once you reach them. When you gain some traction, stretch yourself with greater goals.
The key to lifestyle learning is focusing on language that's useful and relevant to you, enjoying learning, and keeping up a great attitude. Daily lifestyle servings of Chinese language can go a long way. A video clip here, a song there, and you may easily rack up 10 to 20 new words. Before you know it, you may well be on your way to fluency.