Learning Chinese could very well be one of the most important decisions you ever make. Chinese is fast becoming the
language to learn in the 21st century. With the world's largest population and a rapidly growing middle class, China stands to become the engine of the world's economy in the coming years and decades. This will make learning Chinese vitally important for people in many industries, or for those of us who wish to visit China or learn from it's culture and history.
There is an ongoing effort to modernize the writing system and standardize the language. An overwhelming number of people learning Chinese are learning Mandarin
Chinese. There are other languages of China, such as Cantonese, but Mandarin is the most common, standard language. Most language courses teach you Mandarin unless specified.
For native English speakers Chinese is one of the most difficult and radically different languages there are to learn. The vocabulary is wholly unfamiliar and unlike anything we know. In addition is the Chinese tone system - words are spoken in rising or falling tones which help to differentiate between them. While this is not completely unheard of in English, we don't use anything like the complex array of tones in Chinese.
Furthermore, there is the Chinese writing system - a collection of thousands of individual ideograms, or symbols, which represent a word or idea. These ideograms have no phonetic value - that is, we can't tell how the word is pronounced by how it is written. There is a method to present written Chinese in a phonetic script called pinyin. If you are learning Chinese, you will be working with this pinyin system, but the beauty of the traditional writing system should not be passed up. All these factors make learning Chinese singularly difficult for us. So how do we go about learning Chinese? Let's take a look at some of the best available methods.
Transparent Language offers a free vocabulary trainer to get started learning Chinese. Get your Free BYKI™ Lite download by Transparent Language
Living Language Ultimate
This is a well-constructed language learning program that includes a 400+ page coursebook, 4 cd's that are coordinated with the book and an additional 4 cd's to work with away from the book. This is a great combination of the old school approach, with the big coursebook for the serious student, and the all-important audio component . The extra cd's are a great addition. An ideal choice to learn Mandarin Chinese that isn't too hard on your wallet.
Pimsleur Chinese (Mandarin)
As far as ease of use and quality of the material and method, Pimsleur is the best. You learn to speak Chinese in a natural and comfortable way. It's the same for all Pimsleur language programs, but some require extra effort when it comes to reading. Chinese is clearly such a case. Pimsleur provides a reading booklet and cd for each level of the Comprehensive program, but their focus is clearly on speaking skills, and this is where they shine. Because Chinese uses such a radically different writing system from English, extra effort must be given to studying written Chinese, if you want to, and additional materials will be needed. Pimsleur Comprehensive is my favorite method and would be my first choice with that one caveat in mind. Note that Pimsleur has a Cantonese program, but only for Level 1.
Read my more in-depth
Review of Pimsleur Products.
Tell Me More Chinese
This is my new favorite language learning method! It's just the right mix of useful content, activities and games, dialogues, native speaker audio, video and more. It's a sophisticated and great-looking language program. The best part of Tell Me More Chinese is the amount of content for intermediate and advanced learners. It may be the most complete and comprehensive language program yet made and is an excellent method for learning Chinese. Read my review of Tell Me More or go to their website and see the online demo.
Resources for Learning Chinese
Here is a short list of links and resources you can use to supplement and advance your study of Chinese. Also, look for penpals, chats and forums, and other helpful resources and links on the
General Resources page.
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