Why Learn Chinese and Resources to Start

If you want to start learning Chinese, great! I’m hoping I’ll be able to help in whatever way possible. My background learning Chinese has been a lot of self-learning through the resources I’ve found.

Important to note, I’m no expert. I have a minor in Mandarin, but hoping to try to take the HSK 4 sometime in the near future.

I’ll start by talking about why I think learning Mandarin is so beneficial and useful. Hopefully trying to convince you in the process.

Then I’ll discuss my thoughts on why I learn Chinese and how I started. Why I chose Chinese. What I found difficult. My whole experience in the process. 

After that, I’ll get straight into the resources. So if you want to skip all my blabber, scroll through until the big Resources title.

Why You Should Learn Chinese

Apart from the fact that over one billion people speak it? I think there are many benefits. It’s a unique and challenging process of learning one of the hardest languages. Some days are just beyond frustrating, but then you might overhear one conversation, or understand a couple of sentences in a row, and it’s suddenly all worth it. China is also economically one of the largest globally, with its GDP value representing over 20 percent of the world’s economy.

It’s Easy (Sometimes)

Like with all the resources and courses available online, it’s never been easier than now. There are so many apps, videos and books online for free you can access. And with so many other learners online, you can always bounce ideas and questions off them.

Also, I’ve found the grammar of Chinese easy to grasp as it’s within the realm of English. Especially when compared to Japanese or Korean. Also when comparing to the latter two languages, Chinese does not have honorific grammar. Which is a brain saver.

With increasing technology use, handwriting is largely unused. Another absolute brain saver. I know this might be controversial, but I find handwriting characters largely overrated.

Size Wise and Usability

China has the largest population on earth, with over 1 billion native speakers. English is commonly taught in school. But I found when travelling throughout it was usually easier to use my average Chinese than try English. Over the last 50 years, China has gone from a 3rd world country to global superpower. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. The same concept applies to Chinese.

Niche Choice

Contrary to popular belief, learning Chinese isn’t all that popular, unfortunately. in 2018, out of 76,323 students in New South Wales doing one or more HSC level courses, only 224 (0.3%) were studying Chinese as a second language.

Whilst popular with native speakers, Mandarin isn’t a common choice for those wanting to learn a second language due to its perceived difficulties. But I think learning Chinese once having nailed the concepts, is a good language to learn. Not necessarily easy, but not as hard as you might think.

Hence, I think that choosing to learn Mandarin is a great leg up on others due to its overall usage, yet low usage within second language learners.

Why I learn Chinese

I remember my first solo backpacking trip abroad like it was yesterday. And I was young, naive and thought the world revolved around me. I can recall staying in hostels and just the pure embarrassment when I discovered I was the only person there that didn’t speak a second language. Nothing, nada. I just thought knowing English is good enough and will get me by in life. Will it get me by in life? For sure. Is it good enough for me? No sir.

So I was in Taiwan at the time of said embarrassment. Taipei had been my favourite destination that trip (although Hong Kong, Seoul, and Tokyo were all pretty darn close second). And I met some of the kindest and caring people of all time. I put my pants (along with my passport) through the wash like an idiot but everyone from those at the hostel to the embassy staff was nothing but patient, understanding and beyond helpful (shoutout to Ben).

So I came back to Australia with a goal to learn Chinese. A lot of it was self-study. But luckily my Uni offered Chinese language classes and I had a minor to fill up so that was my option! I did 6 semesters of Mandarin and loved it. The teachers were great and the students I learned alongside were beyond kind too. And now here we are. Back to self-study until I get a decent chance to use it!

The future is likely to be Chinese, I’m just trying to get a head start.

Resources

Apps:

Pleco:

The saviour I call it. Pleco is a Chinese English dictionary. But is honestly twice as good as anything else I’ve used though. It’s free as a base product, but I splurged and gave myself the handwriting OCR feature. Which is a lifesaver. When I was in China, reading a menu that bore zero resemblance to what I learned in class, I could just recreate the character in Pleco.

Anki

The GOAT spaced repetition software. Free on PC and Android. Sorry iOS users (including me), but it’s gonna cost ya. But I’ve found it’s paid for itself many times over. It’ll sync your progress across devices and give you stats about your cards memorised. I’ll be honest though, it’s not the most intuitive to use though. However once figured out it’s a beast. I import CSV files into Anki flashcards and all sorts of things. There’s a thriving online community behind Anki that can help too. From YouTube videos to its subreddit, chances are someone previously has had a version of your problem needing fixing. 

Hello Chinese: 

I’ve tried Duolingo Chinese before and I found it really meh. Few grammatical errors and just nowhere near as good as HelloChinese. The course on HC is huge so it’ll take a tonne of time to get through. They give a good mix of word learning, grammar and correctional type stuff. 

Google Translate:

Admittedly a perfect translator, but still solid. Big positive is their OCR software for photos. Perfect for taking photos of textbooks or signs and needing it translated. It’s amazing how often you’ll need it as you’ll often find you can’t copy and paste certain texts. Don’t recommend for dictionary use, but very good for getting broad context or photo translations.

HelloTalk

A chatting app that helps connect learners of languages to chat and converse. Gives the ability to translate texts, dictionaries and the like. However only a certain amount and then you’ll have to subscribe to the pro version. 

Very hit and miss. When it hits? Amazing, arguably one of the most useful apps. When it misses? Endless “Hi” conversations from hell.

The flaw lies in the volume of numbers. Learning Chinese? There’s probably around 10 native Chinese learning English for every 1 native English speaker learning Chinese. So you’ll probably get bombarded. Praise the lord I’m not a pretty woman cause I don’t know how I would handle all the messages. I just wish there just was a desktop version for PC.

TV Shows:

If You Are the One (非诚勿扰 ):

The hardest part about this resource is finding a way to watch it. Luckily in Australia, we have SBS showing constant episodes, with more available online. I’ve seen western versions of this show and I’ve hated them. I don’t know if this show is arguably better, or I just like it because it’s different and learning experience. It’s a Chinese dating show where one bloke puts himself in front of 24 women on podiums with lights and plays a few videos about himself and answers questions about himself after each video. If they’re interested, they leave their lights on. If not, the light goes off and a big sad noise plays. It’s so damn corny and wacky. Hence why I love it.

Yeah, this is big brain time.

Podcasts

ChinesePod:

Paid. But a great resource. I love their early episodes with Ken and Jenny. They teach mostly day to day Chinese, so you always feel like you’re learning something useful. If you purchase a subscription, there’s enough content to make your ears bleed. So don’t worry about not having enough content for your dollar. The only criticism I have is a lot of their lessons have about 1 minute of fluff at the start. So if you’re in the car and listening to a few in a row, you’d just wish they get right into the content already.

Websites:

Little Fox Chinese:

I can’t even remember how or when I found this site, but I rate it incredibly highly. I know it’s aimed for kids, but the resources on there are too good to ignore. Great quality animation videos with subtitles (pinyin, English and Chinese) along with transcripts. Then a table of words and their meanings. It’s unreal. Let’s say you start Mandarin from scratch and dedicate 8 hours a day on Little Fox, you’ll be set for ages because there’s honestly a boatload of content. A constantly more being added.

I think you have to create an account but other than that, I can’t really fault it. 

Conclusion

Overall I would combine at least a couple of these sources for your Chinese language learning. 

Both to get different perspectives and learning experiences. And to decrease boredom from learning from a single education source. Especially as a lot of these can complement each other. ChinesePod for the car drives. Apps for when on the train or bus. TV shows and websites for at night. 

That’s basically my system and reasons. So now that you have my secret sauce. Go forth and prosper.

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