Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese


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Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby tst » Jun 18th, '12, 22:48

I'm looking for some input from anyone who has learned Mandarin as a second language (i.e. those who learned Mandarin later in life, non-native Mandarin speakers, etc.).

Anyone have any tips or success stories? I'm aware of the Rosetta Stone software, and I've also heard of the Pimsleur software. Anyone use either of these and can give feedback?

Any books or other methods you may have found useful? Aside from speaking, I'm interested in learning to read as well.

I've studied foreign languages in the past, and I'm well aware of how difficult it can be, as well as how easy it is to "lose" what you've learned unless you frequently "use" it.

Thanks in advance.
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby Poohblah » Jun 18th, '12, 23:13

Rosetta Stone is not terribly useful. I've found that the following websites and blogs have been of use for English speakers learning Chinese:
http://www.skritter.com/ (A subscription flashcard website geared towards learning to write Hanzi. Trial period available. My personal favorite for crunching vocabulary, including reading, writing, and listening. Supports many popular Chinese textbooks, making it a great tool for students who need to practice vocab learned in class. Includes a great forum with many active users)
http://ankisrs.net/ (another flashcard program; non Chinese-specific. However, it is free, and there are premade flashcard decks you can study, or you can make your own as you go)
http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php (dictionary)
http://www.nciku.com/ (dictionary)
http://www.pleco.com/ (the best dictionary for smartphones)
http://www.slow-chinese.com/ (great podcast/blog for learners, probably my favorite podcast)
http://readchinese.nflc.org/?page=home (fantastic online resources for learning reading and listening; includes enough material for a full course in Chinese)
http://chinesepod.com/ (a popular subscription service, includes videos and tutoring)
http://www.peggyteacheschinese.com/ (blog/podcast run by an enigmatic Taiwanese woman)
http://horsedragonfish.com/ (comics in Chinese)
http://chinesehacks.com/ (blog/learning tools, includes lessons on words and phrases, one of my favorite Chinese learning blogs)
http://ctext.org/ (classical Chinese documents. A fantastic website for students of classical Chinese)
http://chinesehacks.com/resources/web/t ... -podcasts/ (list of podcasts)
http://www.sinosplice.com/ (blog)
http://www.chineseteachers.com/ (resources for finding tutors online)
http://laowaichinese.net/ (blog)
http://www.yellowbridge.com/ (study aids such as dictionary, writing tools, sample sentences, and other things)
http://lingua.mtsu.edu/chinese-computin ... p?Which=MO (a tool for finding new words that I use occasionally)
http://resources.allsetlearning.com/chinese/grammar/ (Chinese grammar wiki)
http://ilearnmandarin.blogspot.com/ (blog)
http://castleofcostamesa.com/rain-noodles (blog)
http://www.lanterninstitute.com/ (great for listening practice and for learning vocab, but requires a subscription. Some of my favorite videos are on this site; it's almost like being in a real classroom)
http://studymorechinese.com/ (blog, includes lessons)
http://study-and-learn-chinese.blogspot.com/ (blog)
http://english.cntv.cn/learnchinese/ (videos and news reports and other resources, I have trouble getting this website to work properly however)
http://toshuo.com/index/ (blog)
http://www.theworldofchinese.com/ (online Chinese learners' magazine)
http://eastasiastudent.net/ (a British student's personal blog)
http://www.yemaohao.com/ (podcast)
http://www.perapera.org/ (a plugin for Firefox and Chrome that gives dictionary entries when mousing over Chinese characters and words. Free and immensely useful, especially for browsing Chinese-language websites)
http://mandarinposter.com/ (a poster you can purchase and hang on your wall to help you remember characters)
http://hanzistudyposter.com/ (another poster)
http://www.pinyinjoe.com/ (tools for Chinese-language support on Windows [OSX has native and easy-to-use Asian language support])
http://hanzismatter.blogspot.com/ (and finally, for comic relief, a blog of misused Hanzi and Kanji on tattoos)

In my experience, by far the biggest challenge is finding native speakers willing to converse with you in Mandarin. Without that, it's very difficult to practice speaking. The rest can be done on the internet. Movies, podcasts, news reports, and so on are easy enough to find to practice listening.
Last edited by Poohblah on Jun 23rd, '12, 18:32, edited 9 times in total.
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby tst » Jun 18th, '12, 23:20

Wow.

Thanks for all the links Poohblah. I really appreciate your help, and I'll be looking into these sites.

Much appreciated.
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby Poohblah » Jun 18th, '12, 23:25

I edited it a bit to include more annotations (as I keep remembering more and more sites, I've added and annotated them and then updated my bookmarks accordingly :wink: ). I don't know if you're starting from zero or not. I think it might be useful, if you're a total beginner, to buy entry-level textbooks that will organize grammar and vocab lessons to ease learning. Without structure at the beginning levels, learning can progress slowly, as you probably are aware.

Oh, and - 加油!
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby yanom » Jun 19th, '12, 03:32

I think the best site for advice is here:
http://www.chinese-forums.com/
I'm sure there are some stickied topics there full of helpful info and suggestions, as well as lots of encouragement.
If you want to be discouraged, try this site:
http://pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
I can fully agree with the following quote from that text:
Someone once said that learning Chinese is "a five-year lesson in humility". I used to think this meant that at the end of five years you will have mastered Chinese and learned humility along the way. However, now having studied Chinese for over six years, I have concluded that actually the phrase means that after five years your Chinese will still be abysmal, but at least you will have thoroughly learned humility.
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby SilentChaos » Jun 24th, '12, 15:10

Poohblah wrote: 加油!


Car running out of petrol? :mrgreen:
Just kidding :P
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby Lerxst2112 » Jun 25th, '12, 14:14

I'm actually taking Mandarin at our local college. Our instructor gave us some sites to peruse:

http://www.archchinese.com
http://www.nciku.com
http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php

The first site is really cool, as it draws characters for you. Insofar as advice? *shrugs* when you're learning, listen closely. Pay attention to which tone is being used, because if the wrong one is used, you may be saying something other than what you're intending. :shock:

~Jess
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby Poohblah » Jun 25th, '12, 18:41

Yes - one common mistake is to ask to borrow a bī (vulgar term for female genitalia) instead of asking to borrow a bǐ (a pen or pencil).
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby TwoDog2 » Jul 3rd, '12, 22:10

tst wrote:I'm looking for some input from anyone who has learned Mandarin as a second language (i.e. those who learned Mandarin later in life, non-native Mandarin speakers, etc.).

Anyone have any tips or success stories? I'm aware of the Rosetta Stone software, and I've also heard of the Pimsleur software. Anyone use either of these and can give feedback?

Any books or other methods you may have found useful? Aside from speaking, I'm interested in learning to read as well.

I've studied foreign languages in the past, and I'm well aware of how difficult it can be, as well as how easy it is to "lose" what you've learned unless you frequently "use" it.

Thanks in advance.


The websites listed are good. For podcasts, you can check out "pop up chinese" on itunes. It will help.

And if you are really serious about learning Mandarin Chinese, move to the Mainland. Immersion is the best way to learn any language.
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby AlexZorach » Jul 13th, '12, 16:50

I'm surprised no one has mentioned this yet, but listening to Mandarin Chinese radio broadcasts in the background while you are doing other work can do wonders for helping you develop an intuition for the pronunciation. Search online and you can find a lot of good streaming broadcasts. Most major countries broadcast a national radio (like Voice of America for the US) in Mandarin if you wish to avoid listening to Chinese government propaganda.

My experience has been that most Americans struggle immensely with both pronunciation and perception of the consonant and vowel sounds in Mandarin Chinese, but especially consonants. Although these sounds are Romanized using our alphabet, the sounds do not correspond in a particularly meaningful way to the sounds that we represent with these letters, and the correspondences used in Pinyin can be highly misleading. This problem, more so than the tones, seems to be the largest pitfall that I find Americans serious about learning Mandarin struggle with.

Listening to radio made this much easier for me. It also helps you develop latent recognition of various words. You will start to recognize a lot of words even before you know what they mean, and then, when you learn them, you will often remember them immediately once you are told their meaning, rather than having to memorize them or be told them repeated times.

I also think though that it is important to get native speakers to check and correct your pronunciation very early on, when you are trying to master consonant and vowel sounds. If you get this figured out, everything else will fall in line. If on the other hand, you stumble with the consonants, you will find you can study a lot of Mandarin and still really struggle to both understand and communicate with actual Mandarin speakers.

Good luck! Mandarin is very tough to get started learning, but once you get over the initial hurdles it is relatively easy to progress in learning it.
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby Poohblah » Jul 13th, '12, 17:03

AlexZorach wrote:...My experience has been that most Americans struggle immensely with both pronunciation and perception of the consonant and vowel sounds in Mandarin Chinese, but especially consonants...
Speech therapy, as the practice of learning foreign sounds is sometimes called, is a good way to boost proficiency and fluency when learning any new language. There are some good speech therapy tools for English speakers learning MSM here: http://www.sinosplice.com/learn-chinese ... in-chinese
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby yanom » Jul 14th, '12, 02:25

AlexZorach wrote:Mandarin is very tough to get started learning, but once you get over the initial hurdles it is relatively easy to progress in learning it.

Interesting -- I found the opposite! Once I got pronunciation to a half-decent level, initial progress in basic conversation was quite easy. But after the first year, working through intermediate and then advanced (textbook) levels, reading books or trying to puzzle out newspapers, I've found it gets more difficult at each stage. :roll:
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby riccaicedo » Sep 17th, '12, 10:01

I can speak/read Japanese as I studied Japanese for a long time and even lived in Japan. Will it help me when trying to learn Mandarin or will it hinder me?
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby TokyoB » Sep 17th, '12, 14:07

riccaicedo wrote:I can speak/read Japanese as I studied Japanese for a long time and even lived in Japan. Will it help me when trying to learn Mandarin or will it hinder me?


I lived in Japan for 5 years and learned to speak/read basic to intermediate Japanese before starting to learn Mandarin. I don't think Japanese will help much with the spoken language but it will help in terms of understanding the meanings (if not the pronunciation) of the written language. I find that almost all of the sounds in Japanese are also in the English language. This is not true for Mandarin and Mandarin is tonal on top of that. That said, the grammar for Mandarin is rather simple.

Good luck!
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Re: Learning to Speak Mandarin Chinese

Postby pimli » Sep 27th, '12, 07:58

Fantastic post by Poohblah!

I'm just a beginner myself. I've been trying to learn Mandarin Chinese for the past 3 years, with a year enrolled in a formal course at the university, and the rest self-study.

My essential Chinese tools (most of which are already mentioned, so I will just second them):
Pleco for my smartphone - Once you get the hang of stroke order, this is immensely useful for looking up characters you don't know. Prior exposure to Kanji will be useful here.
Perapera-kun - installed on my home and work computers. I love that I can save a new word I've encountered online into my wordlist, with a single keystroke.
Chinese Tools IME - for typing characters online, in case you're on another computer that doesn't have an IME program installed.
• Tons of Chinesepod episodes, especially the free Qingwen podcast, for grammar and usage. It's more fun that it sounds.
Memrise - like Anki, only more fun. I tried Anki but it never stuck. This one turns flashcards into a game. With points! And a leaderboard! It got me and a few other friends addicted. Highly recommended. I learned more vocab in a few months of using this than in school. (Trying not to sound like an ad. No affiliation.)
Happy Chinese - a CCTV TV series.

Will try to think of more later.

On of my favorite quotes about learning Chinese: "Learning Chinese is a five-year course in humility." Only I think "lifetime" is more like it.

Good luck!
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