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First lesson

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Hello, i recently gave myself the tough task of learning mandarin. Hopefully to a comfortable level to chat freely with Chinese people i meet wherever that may be. I know this will be a long journey but ive got a goal i know is 100% achievable

The trouble im having is, i literally havent got a clue how to structure or plan the coming months to benefit me the most. I have however booked a 1hr lesson via video chat to somehow kick start on what ive done in this first week, few rosetta stone levels, small phrase book etc

Obviously having just started, any help that would aid my learning would be greatly appreciated. Maybe some suggestion for books..??

Also i feel a bit underprepared for my video lesson with a tutor, should i just go with her flow and progress with the task she gives me..??

Love in advance for the help and tips

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Everyone has a different approach to this, and I'm sure others will contribute with other suggestions.


If you want to get to the stage where you can chat at a "comfortable level", I personally would recommend getting a solid foundation in the grammar. To this end, "Basic Chinese: A Grammar and Workbook" by Yip and Rimmington is an excellent introduction, and is what I used to start with. There are other similar books around, but I'm not familiar with them.


I personally wouldn't recommend starting with phrasebooks. They tend not to teach in a systematic way, and do not explain the structure behind the language. Even if you are good at memorising the phrases, it will be difficult to adapt them to your specific situation if you do not understand the grammatical principles behind them.


The book I mentioned is definitely not an introduction to conversation, so it won't tell you how to greet people and introduce yourself. However, it lays down the foundation you'll need if you wish to progress beyond a few superficial phrases.


As for your video lesson with your tutor, the first task is to get familiar with the pronunciation including tones. By the way, this is something that can take a long time to master, so continue practicing this frequently at the same time as progressing with other aspects of the language.


If your teacher is experienced or good at structuring a progressive course for you, by all means just go with her flow. Otherwise from a practical point of view, you could get a book (such as the one I mentioned above), and just work through it with her, concentrating on the pronunciation, and asking questions related to the grammar.


I would also advise learning characters from the outset. It is something that takes a long time, but even if you only learn five a day, after two years, you'll have more than enough to be literate in the language. This is important as your level progresses, because as you become more advanced, there is less teaching material available, and sooner or later you'll have to move on to native materials. I know that your objective is to chat with Chinese people, but being able to read in Chinese vastly expands the resources available to you, which will ultimately benefit your spoken Chinese. Writing by hand in this day and age is not essential (when most written communication is done by text), but in my opinion, is still a good skill to have if you want to have all-round competency in the language.

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I would agree with @anonymoose on all of the points mentioned.


I would add that Rosetta stone is not on my list of preferred methods. That system may well work for romance or other European languages but falls far short for Chinese. Its fine as an add on but not as a main part of learning.


I have to recommend once again New Practical Chinese Reader, this is a text book that takes you from beginner right up to upper intermediate/advanced. There are text books, workbooks, audio resources, video available on YT. Lots of popular apps include the vocabulary of this series, such as Skritter, TOFU learning and more.


I have written a lot about the resources (including NPCR) I use and how in my blog (see below) if you would like to read more.


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Finding a tutor whose style works for you is not easy. Unless you're very lucky, be prepared to spend a lot of time and maybe money on the search.


The first lesson is not the problem; the tutor will be prepared and try to impress. The problem is that preparation often falls down after that, and the burden to keep the lessons fresh and moving becomes yours.


A good tutor is a real treasure, and should be so treated if you find one.

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Jan Finster

You will most likely focus on pinyin, pronunciation and tones in the first couple of lessons. There are tons of Youtube videos on those topics. Make sure you really get this right. It will likely take a few weeks to practice the pinyin sounds with correct pronunciation.  Tones will take much longer.

If I were you, I would just use whatever beginner Youtube lessons you find and trust in your tutor. She may at some point recommend a book (HSK Standard, New Practical Chinese Reader, Integrated Chinese...). I personally would recommend against looking at a grammar book for at least the first 3-6 months.

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  • 3 months later...
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Hey, nice to meet you!


Textbook Notes:


I'd echo Shelley's recommendation regarding NPCR (新使用汉语课程). It was my very first textbook many moons ago, and was an excellent foundation. A good textbook will offer a far clearer structure than Rosetta Stone and the like. If passing Chinese exams is your bag, then I'd also recommend checking out the Standard Course HSK series (标准课程HSK). There are textbooks covering each level, from HSK 1 (very, very limited Chinese) to HSK 6 (at present, the highest qualification). Given the immensely limited content in HSK's 1 and 2, though, I'd recommend going with the first NPCR book and then studying with Standard Course HSK3 and up if that's the path you'd like to choose.


Important Point:


Once you've got to grips with pinyin (the anglicised writing system) and how pronunciation works, don't be afraid of the characters, and certainly learn them! In particular, for when you do, learn the radicals. These are the building blocks of the characters, as they were, and learning the first 100 or so will making learning characters invaluably easier. 


Favourite Additional Resource:


A personal favourite of mine is Olle Linge's website Hacking Chinese - it's filled with brilliant tips, tricks and explanations built off of the experiences of someone who's already climbed the Chinese mountain. There's a pretty good Beginner's section here


Dictionary and Spaced Repetition Software (SRS)


This is for very slightly later down the line (i.e. once you're learning characters and not just pinyin), but Pleco is widely used amongst Chinese learners as an online dictionary. It's packed full with definitions, translations and example sentences of any word you can really think of. There's odd bits of downloadable content that you can buy with Pleco, but - and I say this as a very stingy person indeed - it's so worth the money.


Also worth the money (if you download the app on an Apple product, that is) is Anki. This can be used to make decks of Chinese characters that you'd like to practice by using 'spaced repetition', i.e. making you practice characters and words just as you're about to forget them. I'll link a YouTube guide here regarding how it all works later, but in short, consider Pleco and Anki as your bread and butter (if/when you get them). They're worth their weight in gold.


I hope that helps as a starting point - other than that, good luck and 加油!

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On 9/11/2020 at 11:27 PM, Tommy155 said:

Obviously having just started, any help that would aid my learning would be greatly appreciated.


Hi Tommy. The first step is to master reading and writing Pinyin. There are some things in Pinyin that are difficult, so you need to get Pinyin down cold first.

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