Learning Chinese doesn't have to be difficult. Rosetta Stone shows you how to learn Chinese with bite-sized lessons.
If you’ve hesitated to learn Chinese because you’ve heard it’s difficult, take heart. With the right approach, learning Chinese doesn’t have to be overwhelming. And there are lots of reasons why learning to speak Chinese, specifically Mandarin Chinese, is worth the commitment. Chinese is the most spoken language in the world, with roughly 1.2 billion native speakers. Although some people in China and across Asia speak Cantonese, the majority of Chinese speakers (about one billion) speak Mandarin. China has the second-largest economy in the world, and Mandarin Chinese is its official language.
If you want to learn Chinese, it’s essential to choose a language program that scales gradually towards understanding and builds confidence in speaking Chinese. Online programs and apps that promise you can learn Chinese in a few minutes a day sound enticing, but it’s hard to develop confidence in the language unless you get beyond vocabulary acquisition and focus on all the aspects of language learning like Chinese grammar and writing.
With over twenty-five years of building successful, award-winning language learning programs and apps, Rosetta Stone understands that learning Chinese is about the journey towards understanding and speaking the language. That’s why our language learning programs are built to scale naturally from simple, frequently used conversational phrases in context to more complex components of the Chinese language like verb conjugation and the characters of the simplified writing system.
Learning Chinese for Beginners
While some language learners may have concerns about the difficulty of learning Chinese Mandarin, we’re here to put those to rest. The Chinese writing system may be challenging, but spoken Mandarin does have several things in common with English, including quite a few elements of grammar and sentence structure. Mandarin is also straightforward in that it does not contain gendered or singular versus plural nouns.
In Mandarin Chinese, most sentences follow a structure that will look familiar to English speakers. Simple sentences are built beginning with a subject followed by a verb and then an object, much the same way sentences in English are structured. For instance, “wǒ bù dǒng” means “I don’t understand” in Mandarin where “wǒ” is “I,” “bù” is “don’t,” and “dǒng” is “understand.” While you can’t always count on a word for word translation that you’ll understand, many simple Mandarin sentences do in fact follow this basic grammatical rule.
One of the best ways to introduce yourself to speaking Chinese Mandarin is to begin with some conversational phrases taught in the context of real-world situations. Rosetta Stone offers bite-sized lessons that introduce you to common Mandarin phrases you might need to order in a restaurant or to greet someone in a shop. These common conversational phrases are coupled with visual and audio cues to help you recognise and recall the words as well as opportunities to practise and review phrases until you feel confident. Because these bite-sized lessons sync across all your devices, you’ll be able to learn Chinese anytime, anywhere and pick up exactly where you left off.
How to Learn Chinese Pronunciation
One of the critical aspects of learning Chinese is that it is a tonal language, which means the inflection of your tone and pronunciation of the words communicates meaning. Learning and practising tones should be one of the first things you do as you being your language learning journey before you start trying to memorise Mandarin words and vocabulary lists.
Mandarin has four main tones which are “stress-timed,” meaning the stressed syllables in a word are pronounced at regular intervals. These tones include a level tone (ping), a rising tone (shang), a departing tone (qu), and a final tone (ru). To master the tones, language-learning experts suggest paying close attention to Mandarin pronunciations and trying to mimic them. You’ll hear that while some words are made up of the same sounds, the pitch with which you pronounce them conveys the meaning. Because English is not tonal, this component of Chinese pronunciation may be a bit trickier for beginning language learners.
The key to successful language learning programs is to focus not on vocabulary acquisition and memorisation, but on pronunciation and opportunities to practise speaking Chinese. Rosetta Stone incorporates practising Mandarin pronunciations into every lesson with a patented speech recognition engine called TruAccent. TruAccent encourages language learners to repeat words or phrases, comparing your accent to that of native Chinese speakers and providing instantaneous feedback for improvement.
Learn how to say "Excuse me, where could I find the best xiao long bao?" from a native Mandarin speaker.
The Best Way to Learn Chinese
The best way to take up any endeavour, no matter how challenging, is one step at a time. Language learning is about your commitment to the journey of learning Chinese from the basics you’ll need in real-world conversations to the more complex characters of the Chinese writing system. When you invest in Rosetta Stone’s language learning program, you get the convenience of a program built to scale naturally towards understanding. Whether you want bite-sized lessons for beginners or lessons for more advanced Mandarin speakers, these tips will help you accelerate your learning and make the most of your language program.
1. Start with some basic vocabulary and phrases
Before you start mimicking tones in Mandarin, you’ll want to learn some conversational words and phrases to use in your practise. A handful of greetings and common phrases are a great place to begin so you can get a feel for Chinese pronunciation. Rosetta Stone also offers a Story feature and an Audio Companion that can help you extend your learning offline and get in more practise both listening to and speaking Mandarin Chinese.
2. Focus on Chinese pronunciation and tones
As we mentioned before, Mandarin is a “stressed-time” tonal language, so practising pronunciation until you feel confident is an essential first step in speaking Chinese. That’s why Rosetta Stone incorporates the opportunity to speak and get feedback on your Mandarin pronunciation from the very first lesson. Our patented speech recognition engine TruAccent® will help you hone your pronunciation, matching your accent with that of other native Mandarin speakers.
3. Speak Chinese daily
Your commitment to learning Chinese is important, but that doesn’t mean spending hours a day pouring over vocabulary lists and verb conjugation tables. Setting aside time daily to practise and speak Mandarin Chinese with Rosetta Stone’s bite-sized lessons is a simple way to make progress in your language learning without being overwhelmed. That way you can make the most of the time you do have, whether it’s on the bus, waiting in line, or spending your lunch hour at the cafe (咖啡店, kāfēi diàn).
4. Immerse yourself in Chinese
One of the things that can really advance your understanding of Mandarin is to immerse yourself in the Chinese language. Watching movies with subtitles turned off or listening to Chinese music or podcasts helps you subconsciously pick up nuances of pronunciation. Following an authentic Chinese recipe in Mandarin or learning the traditions of the Chinese tea ceremony can also be windows into advancing your understanding of the language and culture.
Learning Chinese Writing
Understanding Chinese characters is one of the areas that many language learners are hesitant about because the writing system seems so different from a traditional alphabetic one. However, there is a method to the madness of those delicate swoops, furls, and slashes. Both Cantonese and Mandarin use the same Chinese writing systems: traditional and simplified. Simplified Chinese writing, as the name might make you believe, is easier to learn and is used widely across China. The traditional Chinese writing system lingers throughout Hong Kong and Taiwan, where it is used in an official capacity.
Here are some tips for getting familiar and feeling comfortable with the Chinese writing system.
Learn the basic characters of Chinese writing
There are about 200 primary characters in the Chinese writing system, and most of the other characters of simplified Chinese are derived from these more common symbols. Learning just these few hundred characters can get you up to speed quickly and cover many of the more common situations in which you might need to be able to read and write Chinese, like road signs and menus. For instance, learning the characters for birth (生 ) and day (天 ) might help you decipher that 生日快乐 is “happy birthday.”
Master the radicals of Chinese writing first
Components of each character are called radicals and memorising those first will help you understand more complex words. For instance, 氵, which looks remarkably like three water droplets trickling down an incline or stick, is a radical that represents water. While this radical may not help you translate the exact meaning of a character, you may be able to discern that 瀑布 (waterfall), 海洋 (ocean), and 湖 (lake) are all water-related words because they each contain the radical for water.
Learn pinyin to help you type in Chinese
Chinese doesn’t have an alphabet, but pinyin is the next best thing. Pinyin is a kind of shorthand for typing Chinese where each character is represented by a roman numeral. It is a way of representing the sounds of the Chinese language, but it can be confusing for beginners who struggle to try to equate it to a traditional alphabet. Pinyin is best learned after you have had at least an introduction to radicals and simplified Chinese.
How to Make Learning Chinese Mandarin Easier
There are no shortcuts in language learning, but there are some tips that can help you accelerate your progress and ease any anxiety you might have about learning Mandarin. Get a glimpse of how you can begin learning Chinese with Rosetta Stone.
Here are a few recommendations to help you approach learning Chinese and avoid being overwhelmed by the language that is a cornerstone of communication in the East.
Focus on speaking Chinese first
Because the writing system can be complicated, you should spend your first few weeks or months focusing on just learning to speak and perfect the tones of Mandarin Chinese. After all, your goal is to be comfortable having Chinese conversations in the real world, which involves not reading or writing in Chinese but understanding and being understood speaking Chinese.
Learn Chinese radicals and the simplified writing system
Just picking up a few radicals and basic characters from the simplified version of the Chinese writing system is probably enough to get you through reading road signs, menus, and basic instructions in public spaces. Mastering the writing system is something more advanced learners can really dig into, so save that for when you feel confident having conversations in Chinese.
Take your commitment to learning Chinese seriously
Set aside time daily and commit to learning the language, but understand you may have to build slowly towards confidence rather than racing towards the elusive goal of fluency. Like any language, the ease and speed at which you learn Mandarin Chinese will depend on the time you have to commit to learning and the quality of your language learning program.
Accelerate Your Chinese Learning with Immersion Techniques
Whether you partner up and practise with another language learner or use a variety of other immersion techniques, this is definitely the way to take your Mandarin to the next level. Rosetta Stone offers an online community for language learners where you can interact and chat with others who speak Mandarin on your desktop PC and get some practise with having real-world, unscripted conversations.
Try Our Award-Winning App
Surround yourself with Chinese whenever, wherever with the Rosetta Stone app.
Download a unit and knock it out on the train or a flight. Select a 5-10 minute lesson and sneak it in while you wait in line or for your ride to show up. And explore dynamic features, like Seek and Speak, where you can point at an object in the real world and get a translation.
The best part? You don’t have to choose between app or desktop. Both come with your subscription and sync, so you can switch between devices seamlessly.