You may find it hard to learn Chinese because the spoken is not connected to the written. But I have some solutions for you. There are patterns that can be learned, but those don’t come into play until you reach late beginner to intermediate. Here is a quick overview of my philosophy for learning Chinese more quickly.
Context is sooo important. I think a lot of language learners don’t realize this. Kids learn to connect the dots with context, because they have no other choice, whereas adults are used to being told what to learn by memorizing. Kids remember more, precisely because it’s not fully logical. They remember images of where they were and what they were doing, which reminds them of what they are trying to say. Adults that study a language out of a book, just remember staring at a book of vocabulary.
Ask yourself these questions about the material you are trying to learn from:
Is it just vocabulary, or is it phrases? Both are necessary.
Am I interested in the subject? If you’re not, then change to another topic that you care about. For example, instead of memorizing vocabulary, you could be searching Baidu for topics you’re interested in, and seeing how many characters are familiar to you.
Is it at my level? Even if it’s not, that’s okay. You can still look for familiar words. But it’s best to start with material that has a comfortable percentage of familiar words.
Method of learning. Am I listening, or speaking, or reading, or both? Is it passive learning or talking to a real person?
It’s good to have a variety of sources. Read books, read the internet, and look at your friends’ social media with WeChat and HelloTalk.
If you are beginning, I would recommend getting a native speaker to talk to, and call them once every day. Also, have some translated phrases written down to ask them to help you practice. Then the conversation will not just be awkward and un-directed learning. You can find and talk to friends on the app WeChat, HelloTalk, or Skype. I strongly recommend the first two. To find more dedicated learners, go to a site like italki.com.
Mentally, you must be aware when your embarrassment from trying to speak another language, is reducing your ability to take in and pay attention to what people are saying to you.
When you’re watching or reading, a good practice is to let go of the urge to stop or pause over every character you don’t know. That kind of slow and deliberate study should be reserved for detailed work.
But I try to mix reading fast, with deliberate study. Why? Because think about how a child learns, naturally. Not just in school. They don’t have time to think about each character, form a sentence with correct grammar, and then make sure their pronunciation is just right.
In other words, know when you are experiencing, versus when you are studying. Both are learning! Which leads to the next point…
Speed-reading and Real-time Learning
The quote below, explains a new paradigm for how we can learn faster.
Most of what we know, we don’t use
A large percent of what we learn ( I would guess 40% in some situations) is not going to solidify in our brains through conscious study, but through the use of context. I often consider how children learn (outside of the classroom), as a metaphor for how I could learn, too.
They learn much more outside the classroom, than inside. They don’t need all that memorization and tutoring, but they learn to love that environment because that’s where their friends are.
Another thing about children is that they’re not afraid of mistakes. Which allows them to stay in the moment much longer and simply perceive without processing. They haven’t really learned how adults like to slow things down, at least not until the age of about 6 or 7.
“If they don’t know, they’ll have a go” – Ken Robinson.
In much of life, our social constructs have built solid walls around things that keep us from mentally relaxing and perceiving new information. But as we let down our guard, we become closer to the mindset of a child.
Chinese Characters – Embedded Meanings in Plain Sight
One day, I was looking up a lot of characters in the Pleco dictionary app for iPhone. I found a secret; I realized there are corresponding meta-categories for each of the 4 tones.
Here is the secret pattern I discovered:
1st tones are: happy, loving, peaceful, resting (think about how this tone is sometimes referred to as the “singing” tone)
2nd tones are: questioning, interrogative, inquisitive, curious, building, growing, (rising)
3rd tones are: thinking, processing, considering, computing, (mental)
4th tones are: aggressive, declarative, action, concrete (material)
也许 ye3 xu3 – perhaps; probably; maybe
何时 he2shi2 ; what time? ; when?
玩耍 wan2shua3 ; play ; have fun
愿 yuan2 source; origin; start
注意 zhu4yi4 pay attention to; take note
It seems crazy that there would be such a consistent pattern, because most people think that languages are just haphazardly created. But that is because they cannot see the bigger picture.
However, the universe has an infinite, intelligent, life-force which surges though all things. Our galaxy has its own Logos, which is a certain balance of this energy which creates similar patterns.
How does this help me learn?
This pattern is so valuable because you can recognize the overall meaning through sound of the tone, instead of your memorized vocabulary. Which helps you guess, and remember what is being said, even at the subliminal level of consciousness.
You can use this all the time. When you’re listening to spoken Chinese, just think about the tones, and it will help connect the overall contextual meaning of the phrases.
Hope these tips help you learn Chinese faster (and other languages).