After almost two years of study, there are many different approaches I’ve tried for learning Chinese. These are the ones that stuck the most. I’m putting them into order of terms effectiveness, however I do get excited about ones I most recently discovered. My aim is to be able to speak Chinese via MSN with friends. This is going to take time.
I am biased towards the iPhone for software. Access to a dictionary, to learn on the go, is invaluable.
- ACCS - I recommend attending class. It helps for motivation. It helps to learn with a teacher. It helps to be encouraged by peer pressure if you fall behind your classmates. ACCS helps me learn to speak and to learn how to read & write characters. Try and find a class in your local area.
- ChinesePod - useful for both their regular podcast and forums. The best podcast on the internet, although now mostly hidden behind a paid wall. I’m yet to consider paying as am still working through their back catalogue. Jenny and Ken provide a lively dynamic that make learning fun.
- Dianhua Dictionary - comprehensive Chinese/English dictionary on a phone for free. Hard not to like. Combined with native input methods and can search using pinyin or by drawing characters. I also use a hard copy Oxford Chinese/English dictionary on occasion, but it mostly stays on the shelf.
- iVocabulary / ProVoc - flash card system with a Mac based desktop app(free) and an iPhone client. Creating paper flash cards was never going to happen. Putting this on the computer helped. Getting it to my phone means I actually study.
- Visiting China - at the moment I feel quite swamped by almost everything being in Chinese. That said, two weeks in China is doing great things for my Chinese. Hopefully, it provides motivation to continue. Spending time without a translator helps too.
- Chinese movies - watch many, in Mandarin. If you’re enthusiastic, watch with Mandarin subtitles instead of English. You understand less of the film, but learn more of the language.
- Chinese books / newspapers / etc - Aim to read something written by native speakers that doesn’t live in a text book or language course. I find the educational material can be contrived.
- italki.com - social networking site for meeting people to exchange language with. Still not fully sure of the usefulness, but seems to be an easy way to meet people who want to learn English and are native Chinese speakers. There are other sites that offer similar features.
- Lonely Planet - phrase book is helpful, iPhone app is useful if you’re stranded or forget the basics. To be honest though, I rarely refer to it anymore.
- Twitter - Adding people from China is helpful, but hasn’t led to as much learning of language as I had thought. That said, I’m learning a heap about culture and current events. Try following @YoukuBuzz for video content.
Note: I just found some MIT courses that are published online that include a few with Chinese. One even comes with a free text book in PDF form. I have not spent much time with it, but it looks promising.
Some of the resources will be useful for whichever language you are learning. If you aren’t learning a language other than your own, ask yourself why not? Learning a language will teach you a new culture and broaden your horizons. Worth the time. My challenge is not getting confused between English, German and Chinese.