How to Learn Chinese – Part 1
Getting familiar with the Sounds of the Language and Pronunciation
Before you start to learn Chinese intensively, you need to be familiar with the sounds of the language. Mandarin has a number of sounds that are very different from English and other commonly spoken languages. It also has 4 tones (four different ways of pronouncing any given syllable). You need to be familiar with the phonemes of the language and the tones (producing them and recognising them).
To familiarise yourself with the sounds of the language, take any course CD or Mandarin audio spoken slowly, and just play it, listening to the language carefully. Then try to copy/ shadow the sounds you hear, casually, imitating the speaker as closely as you can. The purpose of this is to get your mouth moving and producing the language, even though you don’t understand anything at this point.
Then go onto a website that has a Pinyin table. I recommend the ChinesePod Pinyin Chart software: download it at http://chinesepod.com/tools/pronunciation. Pinyin is China’s Roman alphabet transcription system for Mandarin. It is also used as a pronunciation guide in dictionaries, beginners courses, and you use it to type Chinese on a computer or phone. Learning how to represent Chinese sounds in Pinyin is therefore very important. Go through the interactive table, checking through each sound, and practicing it yourself in all four of the tones. After a long practice session or when you feel comfortable, get a friend to test you :
1) Click on one of the syllables and see if you can say what the Pinyin is for that syllable and whether it is tone 1, 2, 3 or 4. If you can do this, it shows that your ear has tuned in to the language and you have learned Pinyin thoroughly.
2) Pick any given syllable and tone combination, try to pronounce it yourself, then click on the syllable to compare your pronunciation to the native speaker’s. When you find out which syllables or tones are difficult for you, practice them a lot by imitating and comparing yourself to the recording, until you improve。
At the beginning stage, it is important to get your mouth moving as much as possible, imitating and practicing the language. When you know Pinyin and you have practiced the sounds of the language, you will be able to take to a course easily.