You may be wondering, as someone studying Mandarin, if there is any difference in the learning methods of beginners and advanced students? If we use the same methods from the beginning level and up, does it work? As a Chinese teacher, I can give you a clear answer: NO! Each level has its own content and targets, and its own methods. A smart student is someone who can apply the most suitable learning method to his level.
Here is a typical example: Once, I was responsible for giving Chinese classes to two groups. One group was composed of beginners in Chinese. They were from Korea, Japan, South Africa and Kyrgyzstan. They had never learned Chinese before, most of them felt that Chinese was too difficult to learn, and some of them even refused to even say a word. The other group was composed of advanced students who had been learning Chinese for at least 3 years. They were quite confident in their Chinese. They tried to talk to me in Chinese not only in class but also during break time.
The totally different reactions from these two groups shocked me and made me think. What’s the difference between the beginner and the advanced learners? As a beginner, how can you break the ice and make learning go more smoothly? As an advanced student, how can you further improve?
As far as we know, Chinese belongs to Sino-Tibetan languages. There are five tones (including the light tone), and many characters, which do not exist in Latin Languages and Indo-European languages. Therefore, as a beginner, it’s quite normal if you have to relearn how to pronounce Chinese pinyin or if you are afraid to learn so many characters. Chinese is just like an unknown and brand new world for you to explore.
First, the most important thing for you is to have faith that learning Chinese is easy and interesting. For example, you will learn the five tones in the first stage. Some students may find it hard to distinguish them. The best approach is to think of the tones as five musical notes. They go up and down, and speaking Chinese is just like singing with high and low pitches.
Second, you need to develop the habit of previewing and reviewing. Before class, you should know what you are going to learn and predict what part will be the hardest one, so that you can put your full concentration on this part. After class, you must then go over all that you have learned so that you will be sure to keep them in mind.
Third, you should be interactive while learning. You are not just a passive audience, but are instead taking leading roles in class. So be active, be energetic, and be involved.
Fourth, try to use Chinese as much as you can, not just in class, but also in your daily life. Language is a tool for communication. It can motivate you when you are socializing. Do not worry about making mistakes. Making mistakes and correcting them is a natural process. It’s actually good for you.
Of course, as a teacher, we should do what we can to help our students. We may use a bit of English in the first stage to make the classes understandable. It’s also a transitional period for a student to adapt to the Chinese language environment. More than that, a good lesson plan is quite necessary. As a new learner, you can discuss with your teacher to make sure that every step is sequential and reasonable for you to understand the lessons better.
For Advanced Students
As advanced students in Chinese, what should you do to make learning better? Generally speaking, the students in this level are good at sentence construction and grammar. Thus, your focus should be on language skills and learning more about Chinese culture.
Once, a Korean student of mine told me that he felt very happy and lucky to stay in China. Why? Because it’s free to watch most of the Chinese television dramas and movies, while in Korea, they have to pay for it. This is a difference in the two cultures that my Korean student could appreciate and take advantage of. By watching these dramas and movies, he could significantly improve his Mandarin.
First, you should take advantage of various resources that are available. This is the internet era, with pictures and videos available online. Watching Chinese videos is beneficial to your listening and speaking skills.
Second, you can also read Chinese newspapers and novels. We all know that if you want to pass HSK-5, you need to know 2500 common words. That’s enough for daily talk. But the topics you can converse about may still be quite restricted. Reading newspapers and novels will increase your vocabulary significantly.
Third, try to write essays in Chinese using characters instead of pinyin. You can write these essays in a personal diary. Writing is a good way to get your ideas down clearly.
Last but not least, read proper books. Ask your Chinese teacher to recommend some. Learning a language is not only limited to words or sentences. Getting to know the culture by reading is vital as well. Knowing the culture means knowing the people better, so that you can get along with Chinese people and improve your social intercourse.
The bottom line is, no matter whether you’re a beginner or advanced student, there’s always something new to learn about Chinese, and there are methods that will help you learn them fast and well. You should not only study hard hard, you should also study smart! Get to know more about your situation and make yourself a proper study plan with your teacher. This will help you improve your Chinese language skills faster and more efficiently.