Hi I’m Manu (my Chinese name is 高敏).
I’m starting this blog because I want to regain the Chinese I used to know and because now all the sites I used to use are really expensive (I use to use Chinese Pod when it was free*). I’m not starting with a clean slate because I do remember a lot, but I am starting from an
elementary intermediate level. Note that I am not a teacher, just a student (just in case you wanted to know, I studied Chinese for three years obsessively), so I’m just going to recommend how I was taught at university and taught myself. If you want to follow along, but are starting from zero, and are overwhelmed or lost, here is what I recommend:
1. Tone Pronounciation (~3 weeks 1-2h/day): When I first started learning Chinese I didn’t even know how to say “hello” and everything sounded incomprehensible. We spent the first three weeks in my First-year Chinese just trying to pronounce the tones and sounds. There are plenty of resources available online and I really, really recommend this daunting experience. When we went into Second-year Chinese you could tell who had had this nazi pronunciation training and who hadn’t, and it’s much harder to later correct mediocre or just plainly bad pronunciation.
- [READ] about the tones, how they are written in pinyin, rules, etc. at ChinesePod.com and listen to the tones podcast at Melnyk’s Chinese.
- [IMPORTANT] Pinyin: beware of this romanization, I recommend you not try to “read” it but instead learn the sounds that correspond to the pinyin.
- [IMPORTANT] Note about the third tone (like in “nǐ”): people have a lot of trouble differentiating between second and third tones, I recommend, as our Chinese teacher told us, cut off the rising part from the third tone and the second tone rise without a pause.
- There are some hard sounds in Chinese (zh, sh, ch, x, r, z, s, c, ü). You want to get them right. This resource is really good in general (click on the boxes for pronunciation).
- All kind of tone combinations, don’t worry so much about what they mean yet. Practice and record yourself and compare with the recordings on the sites. Yeah, you’re going to sound retarded, but you can do this at home with headphones.
- All the possible sounds and for that you need one of those charts. You can either print one out or download this for you computer. I suggest you print it out and keep in your pocket, purse, jacket, whatever so you can practice on the go (this is what I did). You basically just practice all the tones for each syllable.
- Listen a lot and try to get your ear to differentiate the sounds.
- If you have a chinese friend you that can correct you all the better! It’s actually really useful to have someone there to tell you “no, wrong. It’s maaaa not maa. Again!” (this was our nazi training).
- You can also try out Tingxie for free (in case you don’t have that chinese friend).
As you can see, you have plenty of material for 3 weeks, or more if you think you need it. In any case, pronunciation is always an ongoing process.
2. Characters (汉字): You can start this along with the Tone Pronunciation.
I assume on my site that you already know all the strokes, stroke orders, etc. Actually, I’ve started a series on how to write Chinese characters, see Part I.
- [FIRST] Print out some Chinese character sheets (you can just google “chinese character sheets” online, make sure they have the cross and diagonal guides on them). If you have an iPad like me I recommend a stylus and the UPAD app, you can then just import the pdf and practice (saves paper).
- [STROKES] Learn the different type of strokes and how to write them. Here you can find general information on the strokes and such.
- [RADICALS] Learn about the radicals, it’s not necessary to learn to write the radicals by themselves, but it is important to know them. I actually just ordered my own radicals and mandarin poster (~$35 free shipping all over the world yay!), there’s just nothing like having the characters around. But you can also print out the radicals for free.
That’s really all you need to follow along with me. I’m starting to study for the HSK (Chinese proficiency exam) and
I’m starting from zero (not anymore I’m almost through the HSK 4 list) there so once you have a feel for the strokes and radicals you’re good to go. I’m using this list and I’ll be going really fast at the beginning because I already know how to write a lot of characters, but when I started I used to learn about 5-10 characters a week. I recommend you bookmark that page.
I use nciku.com to check stroke order and proportions. In general, it’s a great dictionary and tool. On the iPad I use Pleco cause you can use it offline! So cool.
A note on myself: I write like a third-grader, according to my friend Tian. Obviously I’m not an expert on Chinese calligraphy, but I did what my teachers taught me so I at least not write like a first-grader:
- Learn proper stroke order
- Keep proportions (hence the cross and diagonal guides)
- Practice obsessively
It sounds really overwhelming, I know, and the first year it was. I remember I counted how many characters I had learned the first year and I think it was around 350-500. The second year I knew about 3,000. What I’m trying to say is, it gets easier, you’ll begin to get a feel for the characters and you won’t need to check stroke order. In my opinion, learning to write the characters is probably the best way to learn characters, as in be able to read chinese, and it’s also the first thing you forget 😦
*Check out some of their free iTunes lessons.