How long does it take to learn to speak Chinese fluently?

I have been speaking Chinese for 7 years and this is one of the questions I get asked most. The simple answer is: it depends on how much effort you put into it. I’m not going to pretend that you can learn to speak Chinese fluently in a week, it does take time to get used to the sounds of the language and the grammar, just like any language. If you work at it for at least an hour a day, I think it would be very possible to start having simple conversations after 3 – 6 months. You Continue Reading

How many Chinese characters do you need to know?

A lot of people are put off learning Chinese because there are a large number of individual characters you have to get familiar with. The largest dictionaries in Chinese history contained almost 50,000 different single characters. The good news though, is that most of these characters are very rare, historical characters that are almost never used. Some of them may only have ever appeared a few times, so there is no need to be put off by this huge number. The number of characters in common use Continue Reading

Should you learn to speak Chinese before reading and writing?

This is another big question that I get asked. Often, when people start to learn Chinese it seems like a huge burden to learn to speak Chinese and to read and write characters at the same time. My advice is, if you are learning Mandarin, start your studies by learning Pinyin, which is the sounds of Mandarin written in the Roman alphabet. Practice making the sounds and pronouncing the tones. Then you can get hold of a Mandarin Chinese course to get you started. I recommend that you at least Continue Reading

Does Chinese have grammar?

It is a common perception from people who have never studied Chinese that because it uses individual characters instead of words that Chinese does not have grammar. Written Chinese is a standard language across all the dialects of Chinese. It has no singular and plural like English, it does not have tenses in the Western language sense, it has no genders (masculine, feminine or neuter) and nouns and verbs never change, there are no changing endings. You may be thinking, does this mean Continue Reading

Why it’s easy to learn Chinese

When I say that it's easy to learn Chinese, I don’t mean that you can become fluent in a few weeks or without effort, but that getting to a functional level reading and speaking Mandarin Chinese is in fact fairly straight-forward. Let me explain why. Learning to speak Firstly, Chinese is simply a set of repeating constructions, phrases and patterns. Mandarin or Cantonese, the principle is the same. In this respect, learning to speak Mandarin is similar to learning to speak other languages. Continue Reading

101 Reasons Why Learning Chinese Is Easy

Is learning Chinese hard? An age-old debate among language learners is whether Chinese is exponentially more difficult to learn than other languages. Here are 101 reasons why it is easy to learn to understand, speak, read and write Mandarin Chinese, why there are actually a lot of things in your favour and how there are a lot of tools that can help you. Chinese, like any other language, is just made up of repeated patterns, which can be practised and learnt. Verbs don’t conjugate in Continue Reading

Language courses for the self-learner have got to improve

It has become a trend now for people to learn languages on their own, using 'teach yourself' style language courses. A myriad of products have sprung up for those who don't want to pay for a full class, and want to learn in their own time, at their own speed and on their own terms. This is, of course, a great thing. It is great that more people are becoming interested in learning languages. However, we now see language courses with huge marketing efforts behind them, making some very bold Continue Reading

How persistence will get you to an expert level in Chinese

Yesterday, I published a guest post on 'Fluent in 3 Months', a language learning website that I have been a fan of for a long time. I am very grateful to Benny Lewis, the 'Irish Polyglot' for hosting me! Head to the homepage of his travel and language learning blog to find out more. Recently, a number of readers have asked me about what it was like when I first starting learning Chinese, when I started a university course in Chinese back in 2006. I have documented some of the challenges at Continue Reading

Should you learn simplified or traditional Chinese characters?

A common question I get asked by beginner Chinese learners is: should I learn simplified Chinese characters or traditional Chinese characters. Do I need to learn both? Should I learn one type first and then the other? Before I answer the question, let me start with some facts. 1. Simplified Chinese characters are mainly used in Mainland China, and also in some overseas Chinese communities. 2. Traditional Chinese characters are used in Hong Kong and Taiwan, they don't use simplified Continue Reading

Can you learn a language just by living in the country?

Many people believe that they can learn a language or 'pick it up' simply by spending time in a place where it is spoken and being around the language all the time.  Is it possible to learn a language through ‘osmosis’ or through total immersion? The answer is both yes and no. Let’s look at the no part first. If you travel to a country with no basis in the language and make no effort to study the language actively, and just count on ‘picking it up’, then it is unlikely to be very Continue Reading