[Guest Post] Learning Mandarin Chinese: 5 special tips

Below is a guest post from the folks at Learn Mandarin Now. It focuses on 5 special tips for Chinese learners, including a link to an Infographic that I was able to contribute to, which you can see here.

This guest post is unique in that it combines interviews and tips from other language learners that is linked throughout the post. Feel free to leave comments below as well, letting us know what some of your favorite tips and tricks for learning Chinese are.

Without much further ado, onto the post!


As part of our continuing efforts to help you with learning better Mandarin Chinese, we are always looking for ways to bring you new ideas, tips and suggestions.

However, before we go any further, we’d like to thank Greg for his recent contribution to our Infographic and for letting us make this post: both greatly appreciated.

So, anyway, what are these special tips?

Best Resources to learn Mandarin Chinese

We thought it worthwhile to summarise in one place the details about several top resources such as Pleco, Skritter or Italki which have been mentioned frequently during our recent interviews and research with top bloggers and language experts, especially in How to learn Chinese.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not always necessary to spend lots of money to learn Mandarin Chinese and, in fact, there are a number of free, helpful resources available if you hunt around the internet.

Learning Mandarin Chinese in China

Even though there are many very useful online resources available, a number of the people we talked to suggested that the most effective strategy is to go to China and learn the language.

This is certainly one of the best ways to get ahead if you are really serious about learning Chinese and want to improve your skills quickly. In fact, we recently had an interview about this topic with several foreigners such as Jo, who is studying Mandarin Chinese in China.

A great tip for intermediate Chinese speakers: many foreigners these days choose to go and live in second tier cities such as Chengdu where English is not widespread and they can enjoy more opportunities to practice Chinese with locals. Plus, the living cost is much cheaper! So, why not try this?

Secrets to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese

Once you do you get to China to live or work, one of the best ways to improve your language skills when you are there is to try to blend into the local culture and talk as much as you can to native Chinese speakers.

If you are not able to travel to China, there are websites such as Italki where you can still speak with native speakers—indeed, we know of some foreign students who learnt to speak Mandarin Chinese even though they are not in China!

Another tip for intermediate Chinese speakers: “one on one” coaching has proven to be one of the best ways to improve Chinese speaking quickly! If your budget is tight, then here are some resource platforms that you can use for free:

(1) Wechat: the most popular chatting App in China where you can connect with a billion, active Chinese speakers and also make Chinese friends

(2) Youku/Tudou: the most popular Chinese video platform where you can watch the latest TV, films or videos for free to let you catch up with popular expressions, the latest slang and so on.

Should you be learning Cantonese as well?

Many students want to learn Cantonese as well as Mandarin Chinese and this is well worthwhile if you are living and/or working in Hong Kong, Macau or Guangzhou—and maybe have a spouse or close friend who is from Hong Kong. Some ideas and suggestions about learning Cantonese are offered in 10 great tips from a Cantonese speaking expert

Learning Chinese characters

Learning Chinese characters is an important element of learning and, in fact, we offer some tips and the strategy about how to learn Chinese characters in this interview about learning Chinese characters.

There are many different ways to learn Chinese characters, but Skritter seems to be the tool many people recommend, and it’s certainly worth taking a look at.

Sometimes, students cannot decide whether to learn simplified or traditional Chinese characters. However, in our opinion, it’s more important to get started and begin to learn. If you can master either type of character, you can basically understand the other.

Yet another tip for intermediate Chinese speakers: although everything seems to be digital these days, one other great advantage about learning characters is if you want to pass the HSK TEST. The test is from level 1- 6 and is becoming more and more popular in China; having the HSK certificate can increase your chances to get a scholarship in a university in China or getting more job opportunities.

In any event, if you are really keen to start learning Mandarin Chinese, remember to keep reading the interesting articles, advice and tips we continue to provide—and you’ll enjoy your learning journey that much more!

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Ninchanese – a new comer to the online Chinese language learning arena

I had been following the progress of Ninchanese for a little while. I joined the beta program a while ago, and it was a few months ago that I received news that the beta was ready. I’ve gone in and played around a bit, and thought it might be worth taking a look at and giving a brief introduction into this new Chinese language learning resource!

Ninchanese’s Goal? Learning Chinese Should Be Fun

Ninchanese focuses on the idea that learning Chinese should be a fun experience. And to reach that goal, they’ve created this adorable little world with characters and stories that guide the learner through Chinese. It has a trailer video, which outlines a bit of this story:

A Little Background

I had the chance to talk to one of the founders not too long ago to get an idea of what their backgrounds were, what inspired them to work on Ninchanese and more. Here’s what they had to say:

We’re a small 3 person team passionate about Chinese. My partner and I started imagining Ninchanese because we couldn’t find the resources we wanted to keep learning Chinese. So we decided we’d create our own Chinese learning app. It’s been quite an exciting adventure since our first mockups on paper, and it gave us the chance to work with some pretty great people, ones who joined the team. We’re proud to have reached a stage where we can invite other learners in. It makes us really happy to see learners use Ninchanese, progress and send us extremely positive feedback on it (and great suggestions!). The more we work on Ninchanese, the more we realize what else it needs to be a strong, entertaining system with which to learn Chinese and that’s why we decided Kickstarter was a good place for Ninchanese!

I was surprised to find out that it’s only a three person team behind all of Ninchanese. It’s pretty impressive considering what they’ve managed to build up in the past couple years, and their passion for Chinese does show through in their efforts.

The App Itself

Now with that introduction all set, let’s take a look at the app itself, keeping in mind that it’s still in beta stages and could change.

The interface is sleek and modern, and upon login, the user sees a dashboard that provides a plethora of detail about their current progress and where to go next:

Ninchanese1

Also listed on the dashboard are the different lessons that, as you progress, unlock one by one:

Ninchanese2

The lesson organization itself is pretty well done, and goes in an order that makes sense to a new Chinese learner. One nice thing too is the grammar lessons are spread out pretty evenly, and there is a focus on dialogs and situations than just grammar points. There is a story line that is interwoven throughout the lessons, and is displayed in a instant messaging style format:

Ninchanese3

The “training” is also not lacking. There’s quizzes where you input the Pinyin, the English and character training. These are called ‘time attack” trainings, and you can see how well you do in a given amount of time. There’s also audio for each and every character and phrase you’re working on. One of my favorite trainings, though, is the drag and drop sentence structuring training. I think this is a fantastic way to learn the sentence structure and get immediate feedback:

Ninchanese4

It’s also nice, being a modern web app, that you can sign in and learn from pretty much any device–including tablets. Not being restricted to a single platform does make a world of difference if the the itch to study and keep progressing with the story crops up when you least expect it.

Gameification is also a big part of Ninchanese, and using the app is encouraged through fun badges you can earn:

gameification

You’re also given stats to see your progress, including how many points to the next level, skill progression, and scores:

stats

There’s a huge social aspect as well, where you can add friends and challenge them, as well as share progress through Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it’s a modern, colorful and fun way to learn Chinese. There’s friendly competitions you can have against other students, and so far it seems like there’s more than enough content to get yourself started learning Chinese. I would even argue this can actually be a great learning tool for kids.

That being said, it’s definitely very cute, and at times very kiddish, so more serious learners may be slightly put off but the cartoony story and characters. Still, I can definitely see these elements really pulling in people as they immerse themselves in the world, and for that it is very effective.

The beta is still invite only, but if you’re interested you can head here and sign up.

They also have a Kickstarter campaign going, as it turns out, which you can check out here.

WaiChinese – A complete tone changer

I have to preface this by saying I am extremely impressed by WaiChinese. I have absolutely always wanted an app that was able to actually track your tones as you say them and it’s finally here! So please go and try it it out!

Now onto the full review!

It all comes down to tones

First and foremost this app is specifically focused on improving your tones and, by extension, your regular daily conversation. Phrases are recorded by native speakers, and I’ve had some recorded specifically for me to focus on particularly difficult tone combinations. The app provides live-as-you-record sound charts so that you can see how the tones are actually said, both yours and the ones the teacher records.

Below are two examples of how this looks in the app. The sound chart on the top is the teacher’s original recording, while the chart on the bottom is the student’s:

kaihui

On this screen you can touch on the “translate” text at any time to see the English translation of the phrase you’re currently studying. In addition, you may notice a green book on the side with a grade on it:

Nihaograde

If you click on the green book that has the grade on it, you’ll be taken to this screen:

Archived

Here, all of the recordings done by a student for a particular word, in this case 你好, will appear on this page. What this means is that a student see and hear how they’ve progressed over time for any word submitted on WaiChinese. The student can also see the teacher’s grade and comment. This provides a great way to focus on improvement for particularly difficult tones and tone combinations.

And in case anyone is curious, the app’s designer has also provided a little peak into the teacher’s view:

Teacherinterface

From here the teacher can see the list of students and is also able to grade them very quickly. This is where WaiChinese fits into a very unique niche: not only is it a great resource for students, but it also becomes an invaluable tool for teachers as well.

Originally I wanted to point out that this is an excellent app for Chinese language teachers to be used in the classroom or in 1-on-1 sessions. But I can also see this being really helpful for learners using Skype or even just language exchange partners. Certainly, at least, the “I have a teacher that will assist me” option makes it seem like this would be a great broad use case for this app.

My Personal Experience

I’ve been using WaiChinese for about a week now and I have to say it has made me much more conscious of my tones. I find myself thinking about them on a more regular basis than I normally would. Plus, the comments from the teacher as well as the visual representation of how my tones are being said, has been particularly good reinforcing how and where I need to improve.

IMG_2191

So I am admittedly very impressed about how this app has made me be much more aware of the tones and how I’m actually saying them–compared to how I think I’m saying them. Especially because, after using this app, I noticed there is definitely a big discrepancy between what it actually sounds like versus what I think it sounds like.

Some Video Goodness

Below is a short demo video showing how the system works:

There is also another great demo video which you can find on Vimeo here.

Conclusions

Ultimately it’s the fact that this app is not limited to pre-configured flashcards, but rather any vocabulary word or phrase you want to learn that can be recorded is available to you.

But really it’s better if you try it out for yourself: So sign up today to beta test WaiChinese–it’s completely free! It’s available both for Android and iOS.

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