January 20, 2015 | Articles
It’s common knowledge that Mandarin Chinese is not the easiest language to learn. To add to that preconception, you may hear talk of tones, pinyin, characters, measure words, or radicals.
To learn it all at once would be overwhelming, so you might find yourself asking:
“So where should I start learning Chinese?”
This post will introduce the key concepts of the language. If learning Mandarin looks daunting, this post should inform you on what you’re dealing with. Learning Chinese will require a lot of discipline. However, all things considered, it is a manageable task that yields many rewards.
Here is a brief rundown of the key concepts required in order to start learning Chinese:
Characters are the basic building blocks of the written language. Characters can be simple (子) or complex (魔). Each character represents a syllable and has a pronunciation associated with it. Learning the characters is not necessary for spoken Chinese, but if you are planning on reading anything from a dinner menu to a textbook, they are essential.
The problem for new learners is that it is not possible to pronounce characters until you have memorized their pinyin pronunciation. Pinyin is a transliteration (rewriting) of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet. Some of the pinyin letters are pronounced similar to English, making things simple. (Pinyin: la; pronounced: “lah”) However, some pinyin characters take on a completely different pronunciation. (Pinyin: zhao; pronounced: “djow”) Learning pinyin correctly is essential to speaking Chinese that is understandable, not to mention, correct.
Tone is the pitch with which a character is pronounced. When speaking Mandarin, tone plays an important role in distinguishing meaning. There are four main tones in Mandarin Chinese and one neutral tone. The difference between the tones is the musical pitch and fluctuation used when speaking.
Chinese words can be made up of a single character, or multiple characters. A word is correctly spoken when it is said with the right pinyin pronunciation and tone.
So, if you didn’t deduce this already: Learning pinyin and tones will prime you for pronouncing words. To put it in list format, this is how to learn Mandarin Chinese:
- 1. Learn Pinyin
- 2. Learn the Tones
- 3. Start Learning Words and Phrases, etc!
We really hope this article gave you some insight on how to learn Mandarin Chinese. Study hard and everyday you will progress!