Basic Units Of Learning Chinese

Basic Units Of Learning Chinese

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Most language learners face two big challenges when learning Chinese: the tones and the written language. Both of these are harder to learn than they seem. Word lists make it easy to get a good start, but this quickly stops working once you start reading and trying to communicate.


Chinese is a tonal language, meaning a word’s meaning can change depending on its pronunciation. Pronunciation can be challenging for foreign learners, especially when dealing with tones that don’t exist in English (such as the “x” sound or the “q”). It’s crucial to study with a knowledgeable tutor, practice frequently, and pay attention to native speakers if you want to master Chinese pronunciation. The next step in learning the Chinese language is understanding how characters are constructed. It can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be painful. It’s important to focus on learning the stroke orders of basic characters first and then building up from there. Mandarin classes near me will make it much easier to understand these challenges down the road.

Lastly, it’s important to know that Chinese is complex. There are many different tones, pronunciations, and grammar rules that can make it confusing for foreigners to understand. It’s important not to be afraid to ask for help and to learn to know when you don’t understand something. It’s also helpful to remember that, unlike English, most words in Chinese are disyllabic and not monosyllabic. It means that a single character can have many different pronunciations and meanings. It makes it hard to be certain of what someone is saying if they don’t use any gestures or body language.


The most important thing to realize about learning Chinese is that the basic unit is the character. The characters form the logic of the language and provide a window into China’s history and culture. Unfortunately, many people who study Chinese do so without including writing in their program and end up making very slow initial progress before they hit a wall and stop learning entirely. It is because Chinese’s logical structure is different from Western languages. Unlike the alphabet of English, Chinese characters are ideograms rather than phonemes. It means that a character corresponds not only to a syllable but also to a meaning (in Chinese, they’re called sememes). It makes it very difficult to learn Chinese without studying the characters first. The good news is that it’s very easy to learn once you understand how the characters work and how they’re put together to make words. It’s even possible to make mnemonics to help you remember them. However, it’s important to avoid getting sucked into the Cthulhu bubble, where you spend all your time sorting out complex differences in how the characters were formed over the centuries. It only contributes a little to your fluency for the time you invest. It’s better to focus on the building blocks and use memory techniques to help you keep them in mind.


While learning characters is hard for any learner, nailing the tones sets Chinese apart from other languages. A word’s meaning can be radically altered by tone! That’s why learning and being disciplined about them is important early on. Beginner learners can find it helpful to use pinyin, which uses tiny tone marks to indicate the different tones. It is especially helpful when learning new words, as the tones can be difficult to remember and are only sometimes characterized by their syllable structure (as seen in the terms mother, hemp, and horse). However, while pinyin helps, it is only partially accurate. In Chinese, tones are rarely spoken in isolation. They are always paired with other tones and change based on their surroundings. For example, the third tone is often referred to as the angry tone because it drops sharply. However, it is also paired with the second tone and sounds like a command or scold. Therefore, it’s helpful to look at a tones chart or a free tool to help visualize how the different tones interact and work together. In light of this, it is best to practice the tones with other words before concentrating on pairs of tones to create a memory scaffold for the tones.


While tones and pronunciation are important for a new Chinese learner, they shouldn’t be the sole focus. Ultimately, language is about communication and the ability to express ideas. To do that, you need to understand the basic units of the language: words and characters. The fact that Chinese is a pictogram system means that it can be more difficult to understand the basic structure of a character than it would be for other phonetic languages, such as English or Korean. It is because there are far more Chinese characters to memorize (an educated person in China is expected to know around 8,000).

Another challenge is that, like all languages, Chinese words often require background knowledge that needs to be explicitly stated in the text. It can be a result of cultural references or simply because the writer of the text is writing for an audience that knows more about history, pop culture and current events than you do as a beginner learning Chinese. While many challenges come with learning Chinese, it’s also worth remembering that the benefits can be immense. With over 15% of the world’s population speaking Chinese, it’s a hugely useful skill to have in the modern world, and it can open up countless opportunities for jobs and travel.

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