Many Chinese learners wonder how to learn Chinese fast. There are significant differences between English and Chinese, and Chinese takes a notoriously long time for English speakers to master. How do you speed up the process?
To address this question, in this post we’ll share some practical advice on how to learn Chinese fast, from what you shouldn’t do to what you should do. As we’ll go over, there are no magical shortcuts for learning Chinese, but there are ways to speed up your learning by studying more efficiently.
When you’re trying to learn Chinese faster, you’re bound to encounter programs and techniques that promise to speed up your studies. Not all of these are effective. Here are some of the things that you shouldn’t do.
The internet is full of products and programs that promise to get you fluent in Mandarin in less than a year—maybe even in less than a month. Unfortunately, these are misleading claims.
How long does it take to learn Mandarin? The US State Department’s Foreign Service Institute estimates that it takes English speakers an average of 88 weeks or 2200 classroom hours to reach professional working proficiency in Mandarin.
If you were to follow this intensive schedule, you would have to spend five hours in class, five days a week for 88 weeks with no breaks. This is what it would take to learn Mandarin at a fast pace.
The truth is that there are no shortcuts to learning Mandarin. No matter what your approach to learning Chinese is, you’re going to have to put in a lot of consistent time and effort into your studies. There’s plenty of material to cover, and you need to devote considerable time to practice your reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. Skimping on this practice time will hinder your progress in the language overall.
Consequently, you should remain skeptical about programs that claim to have found a shockingly quick way to learn Mandarin. If you really want to start learning Chinese, you’re much better off forming good study habits that you can sustain over the long run.
Memorizing Chinese characters can be a trying process, and it’s easy to turn to quick mnemonic solutions to get them in your head. One of these is learning folk etymologies.
Folk etymologies attempt to construct a framework of meaning around characters to explain why they are how they are, and the internet is full of them. These explanations are not derived from the most up-to-date linguistic scholarship on the character’s origins but from laypeople’s imaginations and conjectures.
While folk etymologies might help you remember a single character in the short term, they will hinder your understanding of Chinese characters overall.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to learn the character “蜻,” which means “dragonfly.” If you break it up into two, you get 虫 (“insect”) + 青 (“blue-green”). Using these components to form a folk etymology, you might say that a dragonfly is a blue-green insect.
This folk etymology might help you remember the character in the short term, but over time, it can end up confusing you rather than helping you. After all, aren’t there other blue-green insects that are not dragonflies? And aren’t there dragonflies that are not blue-green?
The character starts to make more sense when you dig into how Chinese characters actually function.
In this case, it helps to know that the components of Chinese characters are not always used for their semantic properties but for their phonetic ones as well. The character “蜻” is pronounced “qīng.” Within the character, the left component (“虫”) is used for its meaning (“insect”) while the right component (“青”) is not used for its meaning (“blue-green”) but for its sound (“qīng”).
Other characters that contain “青” as a phonetic component behave similarly, and once you have this pattern down, you don’t have to try to shoehorn the concept of “blue-green” into abstract characters like “情” (“feeling”; pinyin: qíng), “请” (“to ask”; pinyin: qǐng), or “清” (“clear”; pinyin: qīng) that really have nothing to do with the color blue-green (is a blue-green heart really illustrative of the concept of feeling?). You understand that the component “青” is not there for the concept of “blue-green” but for its sound as “qīng”.
When you’re studying your vocabulary and want to learn the origins of specific characters, use a trusted dictionary backed by credible scholarship to find the etymologies of Chinese characters. These will help you to understand the actual logic behind them, allowing you to learn them—and other characters—faster.
So, if there’s no secret shortcut to learn Chinese fast, then how do you actually speed up your Chinese learning?
Assuming you already have a solid study plan in place and maintain good study habits, this comes down to making your studies more efficient so that you get the most out of your time and effort.
One way to speed up your studies is through the proper use of technology. As you’re running the marathon that is learning Chinese, the right tools will make your studies more efficient. This efficiency will save you time and help you learn faster in the long run.
Hack Chinese is one such tool that has been built specifically to make your Chinese studies more efficient. Hack Chinese does this by optimizing the way you memorize and retain Chinese vocabulary.
Using spaced repetition, Hack Chinese prioritizes your vocabulary retention. Its personalized review schedules refresh your memories of words at the optimal times. In short, this means that Hack Chinese helps you remember the words that you’ve already learned, meaning that you don’t have to spend extra time backtracking and relearning words that you’ve forgotten.
Hack Chinese also saves you time by streamlining your studies. Making good use of Hack Chinese’s lists and built-in dictionary can save you loads of time. With these resources, you don’t have to input vocabulary lists on your own. You can just concentrate on learning.
When you efficiently build up your knowledge of Chinese vocabulary this way, you’re ultimately strengthening all of your language skills. The more expansive your vocabulary is, the sooner you’ll feel comfortable in different situations, whether you’re reading a difficult text or striking up a conversation.
Language immersion is a powerful method to learn a new language, and you don’t have to live in China or book the next flight over to benefit. Particularly with the aid of internet resources, you can immerse yourself in Mandarin wherever you happen to find yourself.
Immerse yourself in the language by incorporating a variety of different activities into your studies. Watch Chinese movies and TV shows. Find Chinese YouTube channels to watch, blogs to read, and podcasts to listen to. Listen to Chinese music and try learning a song or two! For speaking practice, you can try to find language exchange partners or tutors online.
Language immersion speeds up your Chinese learning by exposing you to the language in many different real-world contexts. You’re not just relying upon one textbook or source to learn Chinese. Through immersion, you deepen your cultural understanding of the language and cover material you might not have seen otherwise.
Language immersion also speeds up your learning by keeping you motivated. Motivation is a crucial ingredient to learning Chinese. If you find yourself getting bored of your studies, your learning pace might slow or even stall. Keeping yourself interested using different immersive activities will help you to maintain a good learning pace.
While there’s no magical way to learn Chinese fast, you can speed up the process by learning more efficiently. As we’ve gone over, you shouldn’t buy into shortcuts or use folk etymologies. You should also take advantage of technology and immerse yourself in the language. If you incorporate these tips into a comprehensive long-term study plan, you will learn Chinese more effectively and faster.