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By Jane Feng, chief teaching officer at SN Mandarin
‘It took you at least three years to learn your mother tongue so don’t expect to become proficient in Chinese in a few months’
1. Don’t be afraid of characters
Beginners, and even people who have lived in Shanghai for four or five years, are often reluctant to learn characters. Characters are important and they’re not that difficult if you learn them in the right way. They are not an obstacle to your learning they are a support that will help you to master Chinese.
2. Use it or lose it
I teach my students to use the language, not to understand the language. At SN Mandarin we use real life teaching materials so students can communicate with local people very easily and have a sense of achievement, and so want to learn more.
3. Set goals
Students will get a sense of achievement if they set goals like – learn 300 characters in six months. And then they won’t realise it, but they’ll get to the point where they are the Chinese expert among their friends.
4. Get in the lab
In our school we have a language lab where you can read a sentence and the computer tells you if it’s correct or not, and plays it back to you along with the correct way to say it. It’s very important because students can memorise characters themselves, but they can’t learn pronunciation by themselves.
5. Be in China
A lot of the ex-pats are in Shanghai, but aren’t really in Shanghai, in China. They’re life and working environment is all ex-pats. There’s not a lot of difference from their life in London or in Paris or in New York. The restaurants, the apartment, the office are all international - so it’s really had to be motivated to learn Chinese. Even if they think they want to learn. They need to use the language in a real Chinese environment and realise that with Chinese life in Shanghai will be much more convenient.
6. Be patient
It took you at least three years to learn your mother tongue so don’t expect to become proficient in Chinese in a few months of lessons. It takes about 40 hours to learn basic street level Chinese and it takes one year to master it if you study two hours a day.
7. Drop in on Chinese corner
At our school we have a Chinese language corner every day, Monday to Friday, for an hour and a half. We chose a topic to discuss and a teacher is always there. Usually 10 or 20 students come. It’s good for listening to hear students from other countries speak Chinese.
8. Read the classics
Even for beginners I would recommend reading. There’s a series called Han Yu Feng that is only 15RMB/book with a CD from bookshops on Fuzhou Lu. As soon as students know 300 words they can read the red covers and when they know 500 words then can read the green covers. For intermediates there’s a good series called Book Worms that is actually for Chinese students to learn English. They are more than 40 classic novels re-written in simple English with the Chinese translation on the next page.
9. Go internet shopping
Using Chinese characters to search online is a great way to learn. I encourage my students to buy things on Taobao because they have to communicate with the shop boss in Chinese and they can buy stuff at a very good price!
10. Make friends with your Chinese teacher
Chinese teachers are very happy to be friends with their students. And the best teachers get to know their students’ personalities so that they know the way they learn. You have to know Chinese people to know Chinese life and language.
Last but not least
Don’t watch TV
Some teachers will say watch the CCTV news but at the very beginning meaningless listening is not very useful. It’s much better to listen to simple sentences from your class on your CD. It may be a little bit boring but it’s really useful for improving your listening. Especially if you follow the pin yin. It helps with pronouciation, listening and writing - so one stone three birds. For intermediate students watching movies in Chinese (no subtitles), listening to songs and watching TV can be helpful.