Looking up Chinese characters

Don’t use a paper dictionary (but know how to use one), use an electronic one. (Even Chinese people sometimes have difficulty looking up paper dictionaries)

Traditionally, Chinese look up characters in the dictionary by first identifying the radical (the key component of the character) which they find in the radical index, and then counting the number of strokes in addition to the radical to identify the specific location in the index for that character, after which they see the page number. Basically, it’s an enormous waste of time. Continue reading

Learning to read Chinese

At the beginning…
Learn the radicals – the components of the characters (refer to the “background” section), because then characters will start to make sense… You’ll see characters and even if you don’t know what they mean you’ll be able to recognise them and make some sense of them, and then when you do come to learning characters, many will already be familiar and easily remembered. Continue reading

Getting Chinese Pronunciation Right

Chinese pronunciation is not particularly difficult, the range of sounds is fewer than in English, and there are no special tricks such as rolling of the tongue. Basically, anyone can learn it, and some foreigners who learn Chinese have better pronunciation than many Chinese people! We use PINYIN to learn Chinese pronunciation, and there are countless resources available for learning PINYIN.

The important thing to understand is this: You won’t get all the sounds exactly right at first, because your ear isn’t fully tuned into the Chinese language. That’s why it’s important to listen carefully to recordings and then repeat. Slowly your ear will better discern the sounds and your pronunciation will improve along with it. Some people advocate going out and speaking a language as much as possible from the beginning, this is actually a double edged sword… Continue reading

Background to the Chinese language

Chinese is a tonal language with a character-based writing system. To understand what this means we can compare it to English. In English the word “horse” can only have one meaning, no matter which tone you use when you pronounce it (e.g. say it in a rising tone or falling tone does not change the meaning of the word).

In Chinese however, if you say “ma” it can mean “mother”, “horse”, “scold”, or “hemp” depending on the tone you use when you pronounce it. Continue reading

Guide to learning Chinese

Here I’m going to write my very own guide to learning the Chinese language. I’m writing this guide because in every learning resource I’ve found there are omissions of information which I’ve found vital to learning the language. I want to share this information with other learners. If you read my guide, probably 80% of it will be stuff you already know, but that 20% which you don’t know might be a vital piece of the puzzle which was missing from your language learning and could make all the difference. Please enjoy and feel free to leave comments or feedback.