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How You Should Approach Studying Mandarin Chinese

We’ve all been there. You do research on the language you plan to learn and then stumble across countless studying tips. Or perhaps you’re an intermediate learner getting bored and seeking new ways to keep yourself engaged in studying the language. Both of these situations are tough for the individual; you can feel stuck with a seemingly unreachable goal.

I believe that the best way to counteract these obstacles in our learning journey is to find optimal ways of studying based on learning types. But even if you don’t know what type of learner you are, you should still try out some of these methods and see which ones work best for you.

The Visually-oriented Learners

You will probably be reading and writing-oriented, and find it easy to remember characters, grammar lessons, and patterns you have read. Some things you can do to improve your learning include:

  • While doing a listening exercise, write down what was said. This will help you recognize the patterns in speech, and when you hear them, it will sound more familiar.
  • To improve pronunciation, read a sentence while looking at it, then either write down the tones or signal the tones with your hands. It may look quite odd to someone who sees you studying, but doing this can help you remember the tones.
  • Watch video lessons on what you are studying. If you see the grammar point on the video while hearing it talked about, it can really help you remember it. Furthermore, it is more entertaining to watch a video than just copying something onto paper.
  • Associate pictures with characters to help you remember. You probably know Chinese characters are derived from earlier characters meant to represent things like the sun, moon, and a person. Chinese characters are all made up with these radicals so it would be helpful to come up with a system like this.


The Auditory Learners

Another type of learner is the auditory learner who learns by hearing things and through repetition. As an auditory learner, you will most likely find it easier to develop speaking and listening skills. Reading and writing might be a little more challenging. Some study methods I’d suggest include:

  • Reading out loud or listening to someone read the text. This exercise will help you comprehend the things you are reading better. This can even help when trying to remember a tone while taking a test, because you can mouth the word or say it quietly to yourself.
  • Pretend like you are teaching and explain things out loud. This method will not only help you process the information, but you will notice that when you start to get unsure about something, you will stutter or pause. Because of this, you will know what you need to study.
  • Listen to audio lessons or video lessons. Hearing the tones and hearing the explanations will help you learn material better.
  • Sometimes you may just have to sit down and rewrite characters. If this doesn’t work, you could try to say the strokes out loud or count them. I oftentimes remember bits and pieces depending on the location of the strokes. For example, are the strokes higher up? To the side? On the bottom? Most radicals usually go in a similar part on the page.
  • Translating your favourite Chinese songs to learn new vocabulary. This way you are building up your vocabulary while doing something that is enjoyable. And when you go back and listen to the song, you gain a new understanding of it, and you can pick out the particular words. Do this with caution, learning words out of context doesn’t make you understand any better, make sure to analyze its use in the line.
  • Study with friends and ask questions in class. Using your resources is always important, and by doing this you are sparking a conversation, which is easier to refer back to for this type of learner.

The Kinesthetic Learner

And the last type of learner is the kinesthetic learner, I think these people may have a hard time studying a language at first because they are more hands-on learners. Here are some tips:

  • Signal the tones with your hands. Associating a physical movement with the text will make it seem more lively and lead to better memorization.
  • Walk around while trying to memorize something. Once again, physical movement while studying is significant for this type of learner. It can help clear your mind and enhance your understanding.
  • Associate pictures with characters. Imagine a scenario going on with the characters you are studying. The side of a lady’s face, a guy sleeping under an awning…whatever you can imagine can help you better remember these characters.
  • Try acting out a play in Chinese with friends. This is extremely fun and makes you study your lines beforehand. It will track you to speak and comprehend what others are saying. It doesn’t have to be a play from the internet; make one up on your own and have fun.
  • Use a computer sometimes rather than writing by han A little change can keep you engaged longer while studying.
  • Take short breaks between learning new things, but if you feel like you don’t need a break, then don’t take one! Use your extra energy to learn more lessons!

If you still feel stuck, do a little research. The key to active learning is to find interesting aspects of the language or culture that will hold your attention. When I first started learning Chinese, I didn’t truly find my passion until I started to listen to Chinese music. There are so many things the Chinese culture has to offer: history, art, music, movies, books, and so much more. Not only are you going to be motivated to study more, you will be building your sense of global competence. Through the studying of Chinese (or any language), you are opening yourself up to so many new points-of-view you may have not been exposed to before. What’s important is that you have the initiative to take charge of your own learning. Find what interests you, what works best for you, and go do it!

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Mae Leibrandt

Mae has been learning Mandarin Chinese for almost two years and hopes to continue her studies and possibly pursue a related career.

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