What is The Best Way To Learn Mandarin?

20 May

What is the best way to Mandarin? How should one weight the importance of structured classroom learning against actually speaking? This is a short discussion on the importance of natural communication in foreign language studies.

The easiest way to learn a language is without a doubt to learn in through natural conversation – but that idea is not very helpful on its own. This is a story of how I got to a level where natural communication is possible, far faster than I thought possible.

For any person that want to delve deeper into an alien world and learn about a different way of a life, a five thousand year old culture and a rapidly changing milieu, China is the place to be, and Chinese holds the key!

The nature of Chinese Language studies is that learning Chinese can be gruesome and it can be really fun. China itself is a place that will offer up an opportunity for a great adventure to any foreigner that goes there, so to capitalize on that one should make learning Chinese as much about learning the language as learning about China. This will make the language studies fun, easier and in the case of me; it made it possible.

I could not learn Chinese chained to a desk, the language is way to hard to do that. The alternative to repletion in a classroom is speaking it on the streets; to repeatedly practice through natural communication.

I went to Beijing a little over a year ago and I found it to be a mind-blowing experience. Through a series of unfortunate coincides I ended up with a flight to Shanghai instead of Beijing, strange no? It was, I didn’t even realize it until I got to Heathrow!

As the plane touched the tarmac in Shanghai, the experience got a lot stranger. I needed to be in Beijing in 48 hours and the only way to get there on my budget was via train – just finding the railway station proved interesting enough, to find the right train ticket selling window, a major exercise in charades (which is how I got by in the beginning) and when I eventually arrived in the capital of the middle kingdom – to find the address of the school had changed, I decided that doing anything in China is more of an adventure than doing to the most adventurous thing in Sweden, where I am from.

The first and second weeks were great – the language school (which I eventually ended up working for, but that is another story) focused on personal content. I did not really understand the concept at first but when they handed me a custom made textbook – perfectly tailored to my professional ambitions and hobbies, I was pretty exited. The relevance of the text, to me, made me get through the initial repetitive grammar exercises like I was flying. Of course the classroom (which only held 3 other people) did not focus solely on my material – it was a mix between that which was relevant for all and that which was relevant for us as individuals – but the overall result was that I was able to say a few things about diving after only two weeks: and diving I went.

I traveled up to the foothills of the mountains north of Beijing, on that weekend, with a pretty amazing Brazilian girl and we went diving! In mountains! And the added kicker was that we went diving down to The Great Wall! How is this possible you ask? The Chinese had built a huge damn that had completely inundated a valley through which The Great Wall passes! To me, who rates diving, meeting new people and adventurous things as my three top hobbies: I might just as well have been in paradise.

The point of this little tangent is this: that whole weekend I was able to chat in Chinese about the dive, the diving equipment and the sights on the bottom of the valley. That meant that come Monday I had practiced not only my personal diving vocabulary, I had also practiced the general vocabulary which I needed to piece together coherent sentences and the otherwise strenuous grammar! And I seriously dislike grammar! But even though I am so dispassionate about syntax, the shear excitement of diving, which I love, made the whole experience of getting through the basics an adventure, not an ordeal.

And on that path it continued – Today I have a pretty good grasp on Chinese, I am actually living with that lovely Brazilian girl I went diving with on my second week here, and I got a job in China. All in one year. So my advice to you is find a place where you can study that which matter most to you and the rest of it will slot nicely into place.

Learning Chinese does not have to be gruesome, but it takes being in China, it takes finding a place where you can study the language in a way that is tailored to you, and foremost, it takes a sense of adventure. Connecting these three will let you not only get a great skill for life, it will prove the path to learning Chinese a lot more effortless than you might think and it will make that path one great experience.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin language school that is a great option for those that want to learn Mandarin in China. If you are interested in more information about the Mandarin language program that is offered, please visit the website of Beijing Gateway Academy.

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