Mandarin is an ancient and important language, and the advantages of learning it today are numerous. Understanding this language, however, is not easy, mainly because of the fact that it does not have a phonetic alphabet. Do not be concerned. I have lived, and learned, in China for quite a while, and I’m going to share some information that will help you achieve your Chinese language learning goals. To be good at studying Mandarin Mandarin you must follow these three very important steps.
Step One: Getting to Know Pinyin
What’s Pinyin? As I stated earlier, Chinese characters, for the most part, aren’t phonetic, which means they’ve got no sounds attributed to them. Instead, they are pictographs, symbols that represent distinct thoughts and ideas. These pictographs work nicely for the purpose of communicating visually, through reading and writing. For example, if I sketch a stick figure in the shape of the human form, we can both look at it and recognize that I am communicating something about a human being. The problem occurs when people from completely different geographical locations assemble and attempt to communicate verbally.
Why is there an issue? Because in my community people may see the aforementioned stick figure and pronounce it “person.” In your community, however, people may see precisely the same figure and enunciate it “potato,” which makes it very hard for us to communicate verbally. Pinyin was developed to fix this issue, and it is the only way for you to discover how to correctly pronounce words in Mandarin Chinese. Therefore, before studying how to read, write or pronounce Chinese characters, you must learn pinyin.
Step Two: Speak! Speak! Speak!
Once you understand pinyin, you need to use it, along with a native Chinese speaker, to learn how to correctly pronounce the language, including perfecting Chinese tones. I understand, you don’t have time to head over to Asia and learn with a native Chinese person. Don’t worry. You can find plenty of software packages and web-based courses out there that have recordings made by Chinese speakers.
You have to utilize these programs. It is extremely difficult to know how to pronounce Chinese tones without hearing them spoken by a native Chinese speaker. Exactly how crucial is it to get the tones right? A lot of Chinese words have four unique meanings, each of which is expressed by a change of tone. Unless you master your tones, you simply won’t be able to converse effectively using the Chinese language.
Step Three: Making Friends With Chinese Characters
After you have perfected pinyin, you’ll be able to move on to learning Chinese characters. Why should you do this last? Because when you memorize the meaning of a Chinese character, you will naturally assign a sound to it. Sure, in the early stages, you will just translate the meaning straight into your native language. As you improve, though, you’ll want to develop the ability to “hear” the appropriate sound, in Chinese, in your mind. In addition, if you plan on utilizing your ability to read Chinese characters in a realistic environment, in a restaurant, for instance, you will need to have the ability to pronounce them properly, and the only way to do that is to first learn pinyin and pronunciation.
Mandarin is cool language, and with the financial and political rise of Mainland China, learning the language has many practical benefits as well. Sure, it is a rather difficult language to learn, but if you carry out the three steps discussed above, your improvement will likely be quick and painless.
Best of luck to you, and if you have any questions or comments, or want more Chinese learning tips, be sure to visit my Live in Asia Blog.
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