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Where/how to start learning Chinese?


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To give some context on how much I already know, it is very very minimal. I am Chinese, but was born in the US and grew up speaking English although my parents spoke a mix of Mandarin/English to me. Because of that I can understand the very basic words in Mandarin (not really nouns since my parents would usually say nouns in English.) Also, I don't know grammar and how to go about forming sentences so I can't speak Mandarin at all.


 


Right now I'm 26 so I don't know if being older makes it harder to learn a language. I feel like my English isn't that great and I was terrible with Spanish lol.. In general, I've had harder times with languages especially when I was in school.


My goal is to learn Mandarin and get to the point where I can hold a normal conversation. I don't know if it's wrong to say this, but honestly I don't care about learning to read/write, I just want to be able speak/understand.


 


A lot of the resources I've looked at are not free, and I'm fine with paying money, but I don't want to purchase something that is not useful. I'm interested in finding something that could help me learn on my own (ideally a way where I could spend an hour/day learning.) If anyone could help point me to the right direction I would really appreciate it :)


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Maybe you can check if you have a Confucius Institute close to you in your city.

 

If you are looking resources for free ... you can start reading from Wikipedia, studying radicals and character sets, then playing with phone (pleco, etc) / desktop free apps for chinese learning... there many resources for reading but also you can find Mandarin courses in EDX.org all for free if you are not loolking for verified certification :)

 

If you install NJStar Chinese WP6 you have a nice "game" as "Hanzi of the day" to learn vocabulary graded as HSK levels.

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The OP said he or she doesn't particularly care about learning characters, so let's try not to make them the focus right from the very start. :roll:

 

I'd suggest getting a decent Pinyin-only course with plenty of examples and succinct yet thorough explanations so you lay a good foundation. The original (T'ung & Pollard) Colloquial Chinese course is still one of the best around (no need for a supplementary grammar book blah blah blah) http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/46593-our-favourite-textbooks/?p=353297 , and recently the audio was released for free http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/50783-colloquial-chinese-audio-is-legally-available-for-free/ .

 

Iff at some point decide you want or need to start learning characters there is even an excellent Character Text available for it http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/45121-my-fluentu-review/?p=339300 , though you can of course learn the necessary characters from any number of sources. And if you really get hooked on characters a nice affordable dictionary like the ABC ECCE will answer almost all the questions you might have about their modern forms and essential usage, both in simplified and traditional forms. For "etymological"-mnemonicy approaches meanwhile, http://www.zhongwen.com isn't a bad resource.

 

Either way, smartphone dictionary apps like Pleco are very useful and worth a look, as even the free version has many examples with Pinyin in addition to the characters (and you should be just about able to look vocab up and access those examples even if you don't quite know the characters). There are male and female recordings for each head-entry character and basic compound, with the audio stitched together (pretty smoothly and evenly though, I think it even takes account of basic tone sandhi [tone changes]) when providing audio for the compounds and example sentences. Playback speed for the last is adjustable.

 

Anyway, CC has enough in it that it should keep you busy for up to a good six months and bring you to roughly intermediate level in spoken Mandarin.

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This forum is a great start and you will here lots of brilliant ideas. One thing if emphasis to you though that I tell myself is perfect is the enemy of good

Ie stop looking for the perfect textbook to start learning, or the best way to start learning grammer. Just pick a resource and start putting some work in! Once you've put 10 hours in, you'll get a better idea of yourself. 

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Shelley

I wouldn't let your age or background put you off,  I started learning chinese when I was about 30 (that was about 25 years ago) so age doesn't matter and I did not have the benefit of any exposure at all to chinese. I think that you may underestimate how useful it might be that you have been listening to chinese sounds and tones all your life. IMHO I think it will be very helpful.

 

I know you say you don't want to learn to read and write but it is going to be hard to avoid while you are learning, lots of learning material will have it. I wouldn't ignore it but don't stress about it, if you learn a little along the way, it will be fine.

 

I would like to recommend a little app called Hello Chinese here is a link http://www.hellochinese.cc/ .

 

it is very good for speaking and listening, there is also some reading and writing which you might enjoy anyway.

 

If you are interested have a look at my blog, I describe all the learning materials I am using at the moment. http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/blog/108/entry-605-my-learning-materials-and-resources/

 

Welcome to the forum, lots of friendly, helpful people to aid you in your studies.

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Wei-Ming 魏明

I like chineselearnonline.com. It teaches with very gradual incrementation and constant review. Pretty painless. The downside is the dialogs all use Taiwan's accent and idiom. You can supplement this with ChinesePod, which uses Chinese Mainland accents and idiom.

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There is a book called "A primer for advanced beginners of Chinese" which is intended for learners who want to start from the beginning but who know some Chinese from having spoken it at home. I think it emphasizes reading and writing, but it also goes over grammar and might be useful for you.

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I used the Pimsleur audio tapes when I first started learning Chinese.  It's not free, but I found as a beginner having some structure (I did one tape per day for 90 days) felt good.  And since it's all listening / speaking practice, you're getting a solid introduction to the sounds and tones of Mandarin.

 

Each tape is 30 minutes, roughly, so you could do like I did and listen to a tape in the morning, then repeat it in the afternoon or evening.  (That's your 1-hour per day.)

 

For reference, when I finished the Pimsleur series my Chinese level was somewhere in the HSK2 range.  I could have very, very basic 2-3 sentence conversations.  But on the flipside, a lot of native Chinese told me that my pronunciation and intonation were quite good.

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Thanks to everyone that's posted so far. I have heard that one of the best ways of learning is having someone to talk to. Personally a lot of my friends are Chinese and know how to speak. I'm sure they wouldn't mind speaking with me in Chinese, but I'd feel really embarrassed to ask (since I'm sure I'd be butchering a lot of the pronunciation and such.) Does anyone have any advice on getting over that.

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eion_padraig

Sometimes you can find Pimsleur as CD's at US public libraries and with a computer you could turn them into MP3 files. Buying the recordings is quite expensive.

 

Good luck.

 

Eion

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Wei-Ming 魏明

Am I correct in thinking that Pimsleur's recordings (not methodology) are outdated? I.e. Using 「得」 as "must," etc. Very good for mastering pronunciation, though.

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Flickserve

Find text of a dialogue. Find a person willing to speak mandarin to you for free. Follow the text. And there you go. Your friends are not good for that - it would definitely test your friendship! However, they are good for asking 'how do you say this again?' And show them the text you are referring to.

If you really want to learn how to speak to any intermediate level, you will end up learning some simple characters out of necessity.

If you want to hold a normal conversation in Mandarin, you will have to talk to people who cannot use English on a daily basis. Simple conversations perhaps around 9months depending on how much you understand but cannot speak and on the frequency of exchanges. I have seen many heritage speakers; I feel the main aid to speed of learning is how much you understand. Some heritage speakers understand a lot but cannot speak. They can get up to speed pretty fast in an immersive environment in a few months. Those who have had the language around them, know the sounds but do not understand learn much slower.

I wouldn't worry too much about butchering the sounds. You will have an accent but you will be closer than the majority of learners of Chinese as a second language.

When you learn more and start speaking to your parents and relatives more using Mandarin, this will help motivate you.

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@Wei-Ming

 

You're right, I'm not positive when their dialogues were written, but even the English instructor of the course sounded a bit dated in his use of English.  That said, I'd say the worst that could happen is you'd sound slightly formal, sort of like when a friend just beginning to learn English greets you with, "Hello, how are you doing?"

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Hey, you have a very good environment to learn Chinese, please don't be embarrassed to speak Chinese with your parents and Chinese friends. Learning Chinese is not easy, but you are not alone to learn.

If you don't know how to form the sentences,the main reason is that you didn't read a lot. There are lots rules to form the sentences, but for me, it's boring to remember the rules. Finding the interest in learning Chinese is very important.  Maybe you can regularly read Chinese books or magazines, news or watch Chinese movies which interest you... Anyway, you can mark the new words and new sentences for later study. DucroZi might help you to search words and save words to personal word list for later study, it's free.  

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