Making Mandarin flash cards (Shutterstock)
Article 21 November

5-step guide to learning Mandarin

Travelling to China? A little Mandarin can get you a long way – here's how to get to grips with the basics

1. Select key vocabulary

Lessen the task of learning Mandarin by identifying vocab you will really need. For example: basic courtesy, directions, favourite dishes, numbers and key phrases such as ‘how much is it?’.

2. Memory prompts

Chinese words are made of one-syllable sounds, such as ‘ma’, and can be hard to memorise. Get creative and make up your own memory prompts, eg ‘ni hao’ means ‘hello’. It’s pronounced ‘knee how’ – to remember it, think ‘how’s your knee?’.

3. Learn the four tones

Quite simply, people will find it hard to understand you unless you add the tone to each sound you make. It’s not as hard as it seems, and it doesn’t matter if you’re tone deaf, you just need to go for it. Always copy a native speaker to get your pronunciation right (use a CD or go online).

4. Familiarise yourself with pinyin

Chinese doesn’t use an alphabet so pinyin was invented to give a written aid to pronouncing Chinese characters. Many pinyin spellings are easy to work out, like ‘ding’, but some you need to learn, like ‘qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’).

5. Take it easy

Pace your learning. If you over burden yourself you'll probably feel deterred. Any Mandarin you master will be appreciated in China. And once you start learning, you may find you don’t want to stop.


Want more tips? This advice was taken from Easy Peasy Chinese by Elinor Greenwood (DK; out now, £9)


Main image: Making Mandarin flash cards (Shutterstock)