People learn Chinese for various reasons with different approaches. Based on the students I’ve taught over the years, those who have achieved high proficiency shared the same approach: they all adopted a Chinese learning lifestyle.
What is a Chinese learning lifestyle?
It’s a lifestyle that makes learning Chinese a part of daily occurrence. From listening to Mandarin audiobooks and podcasts; reading Chinese books; writing down thoughts and ideas in Chinese characters; to watching Chinese TV dramas or listening to Chinese songs. All these activities are carried out routinely and associated with personal interests and hobbies.
Why can this lifestyle help with learning Chinese?
Unlike many alphabetic languages that people write as they speak, Chinese uses a phonetic tool – pinyin – for pronunciation, and characters for writing. The two systems require different learning approaches and double the amount of time. The Chinese characters are evolved from ancient pictograms and formed by strokes, radicals and components. These structures contain a wealth of history, semantic and phonetic information that requires continuous practice and memorisation. The four tones in the pinyin system determine the meaning of words. All together, it needs accuracy and clarity which can only be achieved through frequent and regular speaking and listening practice. China is one of the oldest civilisations in the world, and learning Chinese means developing an understanding and appreciation for its culture, history and arts.
How does a Chinese learning lifestyle work?
- On a commute, lunch break or before sleep
Driving to work in the morning can be boring but if you put on a Chinese podcast, an audiobook or Chinese songs to listen or sing along to, the journey can be fun. If you want to get those tones right, listening to basic words or phrases and mimicking the sounds is an effective way. If you commute using public transport, you can also watch a TV drama, read a novel or even use some apps to practice writing the characters. Some people find listening to Chinese before sleep helps them to learn and relax, it’s also like a good lullaby.
- On evenings or weekends
Taking some quiet moments in the evenings to read aloud texts or dialogues, hear your own pronunciations and compare with those on the audios. To improve your oral fluency, why not use voice memo on your phone to describe your day or week? You can record as many times as you like until the message is smoothly delivered. Going to a Chinese karaoke bar at weekends with friends is a fun way to show off your Chinese, but teaching them the songs you know can also enhance your learning. If you want to practise the language and learn a bit of culture at the same time, how about making some Chinese dishes with the recipes written in Chinese? You can get the ingredients from Chinese supermarkets and have conversation practice with the cashiers at check out.
- On holidays
Holidays are great opportunities to meet Chinese speakers, and listening to their conversations can give you valuable practice for accents. If you go to a beach, why not write some characters on the sand and take photos of it? It’s a fantastic way to revise and share with friends at home. Dining in local Chinese restaurants could be a learning opportunity too. As you have all the time in the world, you could challenge yourself by setting your phone’s search engine or social media accounts to Chinese. By reading all the familiar terms in a new setting, it’s an exciting way to learn and revise.