Common Questions about the Mandarin Chinese Language Answered

Chinese Learning Resources and Tips

Learning Chinese can be very daunting, and you might be left with a lot of questions. Trust me, I have been there! Learning any new language is difficult but many people tend to find Chinese particularly challenging. After learning Chinese for a few years now, here is my advice to the most common questions asked about the Chinese language!


Q: Is Chinese hard to learn?
 

A: No... If you practice. Like any language, even your native one, it takes time and effort to learn. If you never listen, never speak, and never read Chinese, how can you expect to learn? Tones, characters, and sounds not commonly found in English like it can be intimidating to an English speaker at first, but once you have the basics down, it becomes more about putting in the time and effort to practice.

 
Q: Can I learn mandarin on my own?
 

A: Maybe. It depends on the type of learner you are. If you are very proactive about your learning and self-reliant, I would say yes. If not, and you would rather have someone help you along, then at least classroom instruction might be best for you. I say this because while there are independent study resources everyone learns differently.

 

Q: Should I use Pinyin or Zhuyin?
 

A: It depends. Pinyin is a romanticized script using the alphabet to represent sounds. Zhuyin or Bopomofo is a phonetic symbol that serves as a transliteration device and is most commonly used in Taiwan in conjunction with Pinyin to teach reading. You should learn pinyin, but whether you learn to use Zhuyin is up to you and what you think is best for your learning.

 

Q: Should I learn simplified or traditional characters?
 

A: That's up to you. I think traditional characters are more elegant and I would like to visit Taiwan someday, so I choose to learn traditional these days. However, I started with simplified because it was not ironically simpler to write. Choose whichever lines up best with your personal goals.

 
Q: Things sound so similar. How do I learn the difference between tones and similar sounds?
 

A: When you speak, exaggerate the sounds. Eventually, you will start to notice the difference between where your tongue is in your mouth or the way your teeth are set or even just the subtle difference in sound. Tones are important when the ideas you express begin to get more complex, so learning to say and hear the correct tone is a must. A small example that I've developed an issue with is 请问 (qǐng wèn), which means to ask a question. But I have been lax with my tones lately, so I began to say qīng wěn which can be misheard as 亲吻 (qīn wěn) or to kiss.

 
Q: How can I speak faster?
 

A: Speak more and speak often. This question comes down to practice too. Eventually, you will get used to saying certain phrases you use commonly, so you can say them faster.

 
Q: How can I listen to Chinese better? Native speakers speak too fast.

 

A: In my experience, you unfortunately just have to get used to it. Listening to people talk quickly will allow you to adjust over time.

 
Q: Do I have to learn stroke order?
 

A: If you want good handwriting, yes. My native friends notice when I make a stroke order mistake and it can make my handwriting sloppier than if I remembered stroke order

 

Q: I read Chinese characters too slowly, how can I read faster?
 

A: You are not recognizing the characters quickly, so the best thing is to test your speed with flashcards of individual characters until you can recognize them almost instantly. Also, read more.

 
Q: What are some resources to learn Chinese?
 

A: Now is a good time to head over to the article on "10 Best Chinese Learning Resources". There I explain more about some resources I really like.

 

For Chinese language learning resources, check out the Language Learning Directory, where there are over 300 resources to choose from!