People always say that the fastest way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the culture, surround yourself by the language and you'll be fluent in no time. So how does it happen so often that even by following this rule, we find the limit of our Chinese skills at ordering the same dish at our favourite restaurant and asking where the bathroom is? Well, I can tell you as an avid language learner that this piece of advice is not flawed, it's just incomplete. Think of it like this; If you want to be a master of Chinese cooking, you ought to go to China. But what do you do once you're in China? You get into a kitchen and cook, of course! Well, it's the same concept with language learning. So how exactly do you go from saying “Chinese? Uhm, kinda, ya, I picked up some” to placing “Advanced Mandarin Chinese” on your resume? Here are a few tips to get you into the kitchen and start learning Mandarin Chinese.
Many times when we're surrounded by a language, we don't know where to start. Well here you have it, hold simple conversations with yourself, like “Hi, how are you”, “I'm fine thanks”, “do you have plans tonight?” “No, want to grab dinner together?”. If you can't translate naturally, you know where to start! You'll find yourself wanting to practice more and more, maybe even faking some phone calls to talk to yourself in a socially acceptable manner!
Studying Chinese can come in many different forms, particularly when living in China. Practice every day, whether it be hardcore coffee shop studying for hours,or memorizing one word on the subway; make sure to do something, anything, every single day, until it becomes routine.
Living in a major Chinese city, and teaching English as a job, one can go quite some time without speaking any Chinese whatsoever. If you want to learn Chinese this is exactly what you have to get out of the habit of. This starts with reading Chinese childrens' books (wrapped in a handy book cover to avoid awkward subway looks), watching the latest Chinese movies (most have English subtitles), and what I consider most important, memorizing Chinese songs, even if you don't understand them, for your next KTV debut.
This one's simple. Once you learn a Chinese phrase, take “what time is it?” for example. refuse to let yourself ask the question in English from then on, even in your head. Thinking in Chinese seriously helps fluency and even your tones!
Learning Chinese is truly a very hard test and the best tool you can use is your persistence. Don't let yourself give up or take a break if you find yourself thinking “oh, what was that word again?”, or “Ugh is that second or third tone?” Don't take a second before you reach into your flashcards or dictionary and check. Be relentless in your studies, and the payoff will be priceless.
So there you have it. By diving into the language head first you can learn Chinese. Remember, you don't have to live in China, but it does help. Since I started teaching English in China, my Mandarin has gone from strength to strength. I would definitely recommend making the move!